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 Brussels. Here you will find the two most famous landmarks of Brussels: the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis. However, if you walk through 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
- The Mont des Arts
- St. Nicholas Church
- The Saint Hubert Galleries
- The Manneken Pis statue
- The Royal Library of Belgium
2. Tour Brussels by sightseeing bus
The city of Brussels is much more than what you can see by taking a walk through the center, but sometimes we do not know very well what to see or what to look for. For that, the tourist buses of Brussels have a route designed with audio commentary and panoramic views that runs throughout the city.
Making use of the tourist buses also saves time in moving around the different points of interest in the city. It is also a way to avoid the cold of winter in Brussels and long walks.
How it works
Simply 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 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 metro, 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. Taste Belgian chocolate
Belgian chocolate probably needs no introduction or at least not among cocoa lovers. I can tell you first hand that in few European cities will you find a delicacy as exquisite as this one. You will have dozens of opportunities to taste it while you walk around the city, but you can also take one of the chocolate tours in Brussels.
It is a guided tour in which you are first introduced to the manufacture of chocolate (you can even taste the raw materials during the manufacturing phase and be surprised how its 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. Especially recommended if you visit Brussels with children.
4. Book a beer tasting
If chocolate is Brussels' delicacy par excellence, beer is undoubtedly its most famous 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 that will take you to the best breweries 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 capital of the country, but in the case of Belgium this is the case of 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 or you can get from Brussels to Bruges on your own, but before I give you the details I will tell you why it is so famous. Bruges is a place crisscrossed by canals and full of medieval buildings and cobblestone streets.
The whole city resembles a fairytale 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 Town Hall or the Monastery of the Vineyard.
Although the duration of the tours to Bruges is usually one day, you also have other options. On an organized day trip from Brussels, an expert guide will tell you the secrets of the city and show you all its nooks and crannies. This type of tour also includes transportation to and from the center of Brussels and sometimes you can book a tour to Bruges that includes Ghent in the tour.
The prices of the excursions from Brussels to Bruges are quite affordable; therefore, and because what you will see in Bruges in this type of tours will allow you to get a very complete idea of the city, my recommendation is to hire the organized tour. Check if the chosen tour includes food or not; otherwise here are recommendations for eating in Bruges and also some tips if you make the trip from Brussels to Bruges with children (whether organized or on your own).
6. Take a trip 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 Brussels you can also reach cities like Antwerp, Ghent or Liège, either on your own or as part of organized excursions.
If you are up for it, you can also go from Brussels to Amsterdam in the day or go to Luxembourg from Brussels. My advice is to plot your own route with a map in front of you and then look at which excursions cover the stops you have decided to make as often the price is well worth it and you will get much more out of your time than going on your own.
7. Follow the comic book route
Why a comic book route in Brussels? If you read Tintin or Asterix and Obelix comics when you were young, you will already have the answer; Belgium is a country that has produced great cartoonists. Today, besides being able to visit the Comic Museum in the capital (one of the museums you have to see in Brussels) every day from 10 to 18, you can also find in its streets different murals paying tribute to different masters of the comic.
Among the most prominent you have 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 district, a bit far from the center but accessible by subway. 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 views of the city from the Atomium
You have probably heard that when the Eiffel Tower was erected in Paris, the inhabitants of the city cried foul despite the fact that 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 100 meters was built for the 1958 World Exposition, representing an atom. Today it is one of the symbols of the city to which you can buy tickets for the Atomium and 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 malls with more than 200 meters long are one of the main attractions of the city.
In addition to marvel 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.
When to travel to Brussels
In addition to all there is to see in Brussels, the activities you can do if you go to Brussels in summer are very different from what you will do if you visit Brussels at Christmas. Every time of the year has its charm in this city, but since the Belgian capital does not reach extremely high temperatures, the month of August in Brussels is usually among the favorite ones for tourists.
If you want to avoid the summer crowds and the high prices that can occur in December in Brussels for Christmas, I advise you to go in March to Brussels since the temperatures will not be as cold as in winter and there will not be as many people as in the summer months.
How many days to see Brussels
After the when, comes the how much. The city of Brussels is manageable for two days, or you can even see Brussels in one day if you hire the transfer from the airport to the center of Brussels and do not waste time upon arrival. However, since it is well connected to nearby cities, you can also stay in Brussels for three days or even spend 4 days in the Belgian capital and take the opportunity to explore its surroundings.