The size of the capital of Belgium is ideal for a weekend, but it will be essential to extend the trip to visit nearby cities such as the mythical Bruges. Here's everything you need to know to make the most of your visit to Brussels.
1. Take a guided tour of the city center.
The most important thing, of course, is to get to know the historic center of the city. Here you will find the two most famous landmarks of Brussels: the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis. However, if you walk around the center on your own, it is easy to stay there and this is only the surface of what the city has to offer to the traveler.
With a guided tour of Brussels you will learn about the history of the city and discover its corners and monuments from a different perspective. These tours are not only limited to historical data that you can find in a guidebook, but are led by locals who bring you closer to the customs and legends of the city.
The most relevant stops
- The Grote Markt
- The Royal Palace
- The Stock Exchange
- Mont des Arts
- The church of San Nicolas
- Saint Hubert galleries
- The Manneken Pis statue
- The Royal Library of Belgium
2. Tour Brussels from the tourist bus
The city of Brussels is much more than what you can see walking around the center, but sometimes we do not know very well what to see or what to look for. For that, the Brussels sightseeing buses have a route designed with audio commentary and panoramic views that goes all over the city. You can read more about it in my article in Hop on Hop off Bus Tours:.
Making use of the tourist buses also means saving time in the displacements in the different points of interest of the city. It is also a way to avoid the winter cold and long walks.
How it works
All you have to do is purchase a pass (you can do it online) for one or two days and activate it during the first use. For 24 or 48 hours, depending on your choice, you will have unlimited access to the Brussels sightseeing buses and can hop on and off as many times as you want and at as many stops as you want.
Even if you are going to use the tourist bus to move between monuments faster than you would walk or take the subway, my recommendation is that, at least once, you take the full route to listen to the audio commentary about the city and enjoy the sights.
3. Try Belgian chocolate
Surely Belgian chocolate needs no introduction or at least not among cocoa lovers. I can tell you firsthand that in few European cities you will find a delicacy as exquisite as this one. You'll have dozens of opportunities to taste it while touring the city, but you can also take a chocolate tour of Brussels.
This is a guided tour in which you are first introduced to the making of chocolate (you can even taste the raw materials during the elaboration phase and be surprised by how their flavor changes throughout the process) and then you can try the different types that exist.
This tour also takes you through some of the most typical cafes and stores of the Belgian capital where you can find chocolate and sweets to enjoy on the spot or to take home as a souvenir of your trip.
4. Hire a beer tasting session
If chocolate is Brussels' delicacy par excellence, beer is undoubtedly its best-known drink. The Belgian capital is famous worldwide for its craft beer and places like the Delirium Tremens Café have more than 2000 different brands. You can try them on your own, but if you go on one of the many beer tours in Brussels, the experience will be much more complete.
This type of tour is divided into several parts: the history of beer and its importance in the country, the brewing process and, of course, the tasting. Far from being a boring monologue by the guide, the beer tour is rather an opportunity to spend a relaxed time with a local and get to know the city from a less official perspective than when you are sightseeing.
5. Visit the city of Bruges
Rarely does the fame of a small city surpass even that of the country's capital, but in the case of Belgium this is the case with Bruges. The city known as "The Venice of the North" is located one hour from Brussels and is the most visited city in the whole country.
You can visit Bruges on an organized tour (I tell you more here: Bruges Day Trips from Brussels:) or on your own, but before I give you the details I will tell you why it is so famous. Bruges is a place crossed by canals and full of medieval buildings and cobblestone streets.
The whole city resembles a storybook landscape being at the same time a cultural center of reference with emblematic buildings such as the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the Church of Our Lady, the City Hall or the Monastery of La Viña.
On an organized day tour from Brussels an expert guide will tell you the secrets of the city and show you all its corners. This type of excursion also includes transportation to and from the center of Brussels and, sometimes, additional visits to other nearby cities such as Ghent.
6. Take an excursion to the surroundings of Brussels
Bruges is not the only city near Brussels that you can visit during your trip. Belgium's train network is characterized by its excellent performance and abundant connections. This means that from the capital you can also reach cities such as Antwerp:, Ghent: or Liège, either on your own or as part of organized excursions from Brussels.
If you are up for it, you can also take the leap to Amsterdam: and you can go and come back in the same day. My advice is to draw your own route with a map in front of you and then look at what excursions cover the stops you have decided to make, as many times the price compensates a lot and you will take much more advantage of the time than going on your own.
7. Follow the comic book route
Why a comic book route in Brussels? If you have read Tintin or Asterix and Obelix comics when you were young, you will already have the answer; Belgium is a country that has given great cartoonists. Today, besides being able to visit the Comic Museum in the capital (every day from 10 am to 6 pm) you can also find in its streets different murals paying tribute to different masters of comics.
Among the most prominent are The Smurfs, Tintin, Spirou, Lucky Luke, Asterix and Obelix, Titeuf or Marsupilami. You can look for information on the official route or let yourself be surprised in your walks through the city by the different graffiti you find on your way.
8. Visit the European Parliament
The European Parliament can be visited every day until 18:00 pm except on exceptional dates. Inside you can access the hemicycle, the plenary room and the visitor center with detailed information about each country.
It is located in the European quarter, a bit far from the center but accessible by metro. If you are going to visit the parliament during your visit to Brussels do not forget to also visit this neighborhood and some of its main points of interest such as the Belayrmont building, the Council of the European Union, the Leopold Park and the Cinquantenaire Palace.
9. Contemplate the view of the city from the Atomium
Surely you have heard that when the Eiffel Tower was installed in Paris, the inhabitants of the city shouted to the skies even though today it has become a symbol par excellence of the city. The same goes for the Atomium in Brussels.
This stainless steel structure of more than one hundred meters was built for the Universal Exhibition of 1958 representing an atom. Today it is one of the symbols of the city which you can access to contemplate the aerial view of Brussels or to eat in the restaurant located in one of its spheres.
10. Stroll through the Saint-Hubert Galleries
You may be one of those who think that shopping when you are traveling is an empty way to spend your time, but I assure you that if you do it in the Saint-Hubert galleries you will change your mind. These shopping arcades with more than 200 meters long are one of the main attractions of the city.
Besides marveling at its architecture, you will find luxury stores, jewelry stores, famous chocolate shops and terraces where you can enjoy a coffee. It is true that most of these places are reserved for people with a lot of money in their pockets, but you should not miss the experience of the walk.