Brussels is a city of lively culture and a lively atmosphere. Known for being the birthplace of beer and chocolate, the most beautiful capital of Europe always gets all the accolades. Walking through Brussels you will be able to perceive the contrasts that its streets harbor, and, who knows, you will fall in love with it too.
If you are thinking about what to see and do in Brussels, but you are just passing through with a stopover or only have 24 hours in your itinerary, a full day may be enough to get a general idea of the city and tour its historic center. It may seem a bit ambitious, but it won't be complicated once you read this guide with all you need to know before you go.
1. Get to know the most important site of the city: the Grand Place
The first stop on this day in Brussels is one of the most beautiful squares in the world. And why do we start here? Because you can enjoy it with few people and admire all those buildings that surround it as they deserve. They are historical architectural works and governmental headquarters that are very famous for their facades. In fact, they are considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The buildings that stand out the most are the Hotel de Ville, the Maison des Brasseurs, the Maison des Ducs de Brabant, Le Renard, Le Cornet and Le Roi d'Espagne. You will also find the Maison du Roi, which was once the residence of the royal family, but now houses the Museum of the City of Brussels and Le Pigeon, the building where the French novelist Victor Hugo lived during his exile in Belgium.
In addition to its beauty, the square owes its fame to all the important events that took place there. For example, the first Belgian Protestants who were burned to death during the Inquisition or the great bombardments by the French.
In this period, many facades were still made of wood and, as you can understand, they were destroyed. When they were rebuilt, the choice was made to rebuild them with stone and ensure them much more durability.
Ana's Traveller Tip
A very nice place just five minutes from the Grand Palace is Mont des Arts, where you have panoramic views of the city.
2. Take a visit to the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
This building corresponds to the Cathedral of Brussels, of an incomparable Gothic style and built in the 13th century. It is the main catholic church not only of the city of Brussels, but of all Belgium. In the past it was known as St. Michael's Church, but in 1047 it received the remains of St. Gudula and adopted its current identity.
If you want to make the most of your time, you can not miss visiting it inside, because its interior is as impressive as its exterior. And not because it has objects of great value, since it was looted on several occasions. Simply the details and colors of its stained glass windows are impressive.
You can also visit the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, protected by a large wrought iron gate, dating from the eighteenth century. But the most majestic object is a spectacular organ with 4,000 pipes, surrounded by statues of the apostles, a real luxury. A real luxury, and admission is free!
3. Go shopping at the Saint Hubert Galleries
Welcome to the most Parisian place in Brussels, the Galeries Saint Hubert... They were designed in 1847, which makes them the first shopping arcades in Europe. Although the prices are excessively high, you can take a nice stroll through this famous shopping mall to catch a glimpse of its glamorous atmosphere.
The stores you will find along these 200 meters are of the best and most recognized brands, but the architecture itself is what calls us all tourists. You don't need to buy anything, but don't forget to take some unique pictures at this iconic stop in the city.
But it's not just its beauty, it's also its history. In the 1800s, this was a meeting point, where the city's intellectuals and artists met in the evenings under the wonderful glass roof.
4. Meet the Manneken Pis
The Manneken Pis is a symbol of the city of Brussels and consists of a tiny bronze sculpture of 66 centimeters of a little boy doing his thing. Over the years it has become one of the most visited points of the capital and everyone who passes through the city takes his picture with him.
Its history is quite interesting, since this figure was created in 1619, but then it was stolen and replaced by the reproduction that you can find today. But this was not the only unfortunate event that has happened. The city, later on, was bombed, but the pissing boy did not suffer a scratch. At that point, he became a beloved character for the city's inhabitants.
The peculiarity of this child is that he is always changing his attire, as he has a large collection of costumes depending on the occasion or the party in town. And he even has a museum: the Museum of the Manneken Pis Costumes, more precisely. Can you believe it?
But the Manneken Pis is not alone in Brussels, he has other friends scattered around. If you continue your walk, you will meet his female colleague Jeanneke Pis, and even a canine friend, Zinneke Pis.
5. Continue to the Church of Notre Dame Du Sablon
If you liked the visit to the Brussels Cathedral, you should also visit Notre Dame Du Sablon, another architectural work of the same style that has nothing to envy to its cousin the Cathedral. It is located in the upper part of the historic center and is one of the must-see attractions in the center of Brussels.
I assure you that you will be left with your mouth open with the eleven gigantic works of art of 15 meters high that you will see inside, along with the columns that support this incredible church. And of course, you can also get in for free.
Inside, the central pulpit undoubtedly stands out. The image of the virgin that is there was donated by a man to whom the virgin appeared and told him to take her image to this chapel. The gentleman of course obeyed and today all visitors enjoy it equally.
6. Take a break at Place du Grand Sablon and Place du Petit Sablon
This square retains a more traditional style compared to the others in the city. After walking without rest, it seems to me a good place to take a break.
You will have many dining options, art galleries and very good quality chocolate shops. The streets surrounding the square are also very nice and picturesque. If you are lucky enough to be there on a weekend, you will also find an antiques market, especially silver objects and second hand books.
Place du Petit Sablon has the particularity of housing 48 bronze statues. If you pay attention, you will be able to identify that each one of them pays homage to some ancient craft. An interesting curiosity of the corners of Brussels.
7. Palace of Justice
The headquarters of the Belgian Judiciary has a rough and tumble history, having suffered several fires and many restorations over the years. But, even so, it has become another must-see site on your visit to the city of Brussels.
The Palace of Justice building measures more than 26,000 square meters in area and 104 meters in height. A real giant that, being located in the upper part of the city, will give you access to unparalleled views of the whole of Brussels.
8. Don't miss the Parlamentarium
The visit to the European Parliament is well worth it if you still have time in these intense 24 hours in the city. Especially if you are a political buff, as this exhibition will tell you about the history of Europe and how the European Union was devised.
The exhibition is didactic, interesting and modern, as well as being available in several languages, so that no one is left out of the explanations. You will be given a multimedia guide so that you can visit the site at your own pace. You have no excuses!
9. Discover the best breweries of the city
What would a trip to Brussels be without tasting its beer? I recommend that you do not miss the chance to delight yourself with the most precious drink for the Belgians during your visit to the city.
My favorite bar is Delirium, of great fame and recognition in the world of beer, as it holds the Guinness record for the largest variety of beer in the world. It is not an inexpensive place, of course, but visiting it is quite an experience. It has many rooms to explore and of course, a high quality beer.
Other great drinking options are A la Mort Subite, Le Cercueil and Au Bon Vieux Temps. If you can't decide which one to go for, you might as well try a glass at each of them, right? A tour of the best breweries in Brussels is always a very good plan.
10. Taste the best waffle
Waffles are the typical Belgian sweet dish. And if you want to know why, you have to see for yourself. There are many varieties everywhere, but the authentic one is the Liège style, which only has sugar sprinkled on top.
If you're in the Manneken Pis area, you'll be particularly attracted by the aroma coming out of the Maison Dandoy store, a famous little shop rated as one of the best.
But if waffles are not your thing, you can read this article about the best chocolate tastings in Brussels. What you can be sure of is that you can't leave without tasting something sweet during your visit to Brussels.
Tips for a trip to Brussels
If you have a day and you want to visit some points further away from the center, keep in mind that Brussels has the best tourist buses to save time and move easily around the city. But if you prefer to move around by public transport, I advise you to buy a day pass that will save you money and give you more freedom.
In addition, I recommend you to check out the best museums to see in Brussels. The exhibitions are very varied and for all audiences, but you should always coordinate your visit in advance.
If instead you need information about more extended itineraries, you can also consult my guide about 2-day itinerary in Brussels, 3-day itinerary in Brussels or 4-day itinerary in Brussels through the city of Brussels.