Brussels is the capital of Belgium, but it’s also called the European capital. Indeed, a lot of European institutions are in Brussels (European Parliament…). It’s nice to spend 2 days in Brussels. The city is not too big, nor too small and it’s not too crowded. People are nice, the beer is good, you can savor delicious waffles and eat your weight in chocolate! There’s a nice vibe in Brussels, and there are many monuments and museums to see. Here’s what to do for if you plan to stay two days in Brussels!
History of Brussels
It’s hard to know exactly when Brussels was founded, but the name of the city appears as early as 695. Officially, Brussels was founded in 979. For a very long time, it was an European commercial hub, especially thanks to its port. Nowadays, Brussels still forms a bond between the Latin cultures of South Europe and the Germanic cultures of North Europe. And as I said, Brussels is seen as the European capital.
Description of Brussels
Brussels is a surprisingly compact city to visit. Sure, it’s an European capital, but almost all the main attractions are in the city center or close to the historical center. Apart from the Atomium and Mini-Europe, you can visit almost everything by foot, it’s enjoyable! The locals are nice, but you’ll probably notice their accent!
In fact, it’s easier for me to notice since I’m French an they also speak French in Brussels. It might be different for English-speakers. But the funny thing is, it’s close to France but they use a lot of different words. I wasn’t surprised to realize French was different when I was in Montreal, but it was fun to see here in Brussels. Oh and you’ll notice something else. Like Amsterdam, Brussels has its own red light district located at gare du Nord (however this one is a lot less famous).
What to do in Brussels?
It’s impossible to go to Brussels, and not go see the Grand-Place (Big Square). Actually, even if you want to avoid it, you won’t be able to miss it. It’s in the heart of the city, you’ll get there at some point! It’s one of the most beautiful places of Brussels, and French author Victor Hugo said it was one the most beautiful squares of the world. It’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998! You’ll find a lot of gothic buildings and the famous Brussels City Hall, 96 meters (314 ft.) high.
Actually, all the buildings in the Grand-Place used to be the houses of various workers (bakers, painters, cabinetmakers, brewers…). They date back to the 17th century! There’s also la Maison du Roi, the King’s House! Go to the Grand-Place in the daytime but also nighttime, to admire the wonderful lighting effects.
Not far from the Grand-Place, you’ll find Manneken-Pis, the symbol of Brussels. You can’t miss it, there’s a big crowd of tourists taking selfies in front of it. Manneken-Pis means peeing kid and attracts a lot of tourists but let me tell you, it’s a tiny statue (55 centimeters, 24 in.). You might be disappointed… So you’re gonna admire the statue of a little boy peeing. Manneken-Pis, sometimes called Petit Julien, isn’t of great interest to me. You see it just to say you saw it.
Manneken-Pis was erected in 1619, it’s usually naked but sometimes he has clothes on, depending on the local celebrations. Actually Manneken-Pis has a wardrobe of 883 outfits! For your information, the real Manneken-Pis, the original one, is actually in the Brussels City Museum. Oh and you also need to know Manneken-Pis has a female counterpart called Jeanneken-Pis, located in rue de l’infidèle. It’s a girl peeing. Not only you have Jeanneken-Pis, but there’s also Zinneke-Pis, a dog peeing!
The royal Saint-Hubert galleries
The royal Saint-Hubert galleries are long alleys covered with a glass roof. You’ll find there numerous shops, cafés, and chic restaurants. There are also chocolate shops, you have to go! It’s the oldest shopping arcade in Europe, it dates back to 1847, and it’s very chic! A must see! It’s also a nice place to have a drink. There’s another one in the same style but more modern called les Halles Saint Géry.
The Belgian comic strip center
I’m not a big fan of museums in general, but I have to admit I wanted to visit the Belgian comic strip center! You’ll learn everything about the history of Belgian comics, you’ll see original sketches, the creation process… A nice immersion in the Belgian comics universe. You’ll see famous characters in Belgium and Europe mostly like Tintin, Gaston Lagaffe, Billy & Buddy,the Smurfs…
For your information, everywhere in Brussels, you’ll see large comic strips murals showing the famous comics heroes (Lucky Luke, Asterix…). If you have time, go to Louvain-la-Neuve. It’s 45 minutes away from Brussels. There’s the Hergé museum there, dedicated to Hergé, the creator of Tintin.
Mini-Europe is a miniature park located north of Brussels. It’s a nice park to see, and it allows you to admire the most famous European monuments, but in miniature. It’s a good way to see the Eiffel tower, Big Ben, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Berlin wall, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, the Maestranza, the Acropolis of Athens… Click here to buy your ticket.
The Atomium is sometimes called the Belgian Eiffel Tower. The Atomium was built for the 1958 World Expo of Brussels, and it was supposed to be dismantled after six months. But seeing how popular it was, they decided to keep it. The Atomium represents the enlargement of an atom 165 billion times. It’s 102 meters (335 ft.) high and there are nine 18 meters (60 ft.) diameter spheres.
It’s possible to get inside and to visit the different rooms. There are temporary exhibitions and also permanent ones. It’s possible to get on top of the Atomium, where there’s a restaurant with an amazing view of Brussels. The Atomium being popular, I suggest you to buy a skip-the-line ticket to avoid waiting when getting there. Click here to buy your ticket.
The mont des arts
The mont des arts was built for the Brussels International Exposition of 1910, and it’s so beautiful. When the weather is nice, you have a very beautiful view of Brussels. A lot of museums, cultural buildings and institutions are in the surroundings. Take some time to have a walk in the garden, really wonderful. When the sky is clear, it’s possible to see the Atomium. If you like parks, there’s also the Parc du Cinquantenaire and the Brussels park to see!
Other things to do in Brussels
I’m not really in museums but there are many in Brussels! The royal museum of fine arts is very popular, the Magritte museum, and also the MIMA. If you have some time, go visit the European Parliament, it’s free! You can also go see the Place de la Bourse (Stock Exchange Square), the Place du Grand Sablon… Finally, the cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, a gothic cathedral, is amazing. I went there, you have to go inside, it’s impressive!
To go back to the museums, if you plan to visit several of them, get the Brussels Card, valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours. It gives access to many museums and public transportation. Click here to buy it. You can also just go on a guided walking tour. Click here for more info.
What to eat in Brussels?
The moules-frites (mussels and fries) is the Brussels’ signature dish, you have to try! Where to go then? Chez Léon, a very famous restaurant in Brussels! It opened in 1893, and it’s managed by the descendants of the founder!
You need to get waffles. It won’t be hard to find them, there are many stalls on the way from the Grand-Place to Manneken-Pis.
Regarding chocolate, you’ll find them all over the city, but I suggest you to go to Choco-Story, the chocolate museum of Brussels. We learn about the history of chocolate, there are tastings… Click here to buy your ticket. It’s also possible to go on a chocolate tasting tour, and even a chocolate making workshop.
Obviously, you cannot go to Brussels and not try the local beer! The most famous bar of city is the Delirium bar, which sells more than 2500 beers! Their menu is as big as a phone book! The name of the bar comes from a Belgian beer called Delirium Tremens. Opposite the Delirium bar, there’s the Floris Bar, where they sell absinthe! For those into beers, go to the musée de la gueuze (beer museum). And of course, there’s a Belgian beer tasting experience in Brussels. Click here to enjoy the tasting.
How to get to Brussels?
If you’re not too far (Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Cologne…), the easiest way to get to Brussels is by Thalys train. The train tickets are not expensive, and it will take a few hours only to get there. Otherwise, check the latest flight prices to go to Brussels.
How to get around in Brussels?
As I said, Brussels is not a big city, you can visit all the main spots by foot. The Atomium and Mini-Europe are further, but that’s it. For a profitable visit to Brussels, get the Brussels card. It’s valid 24, 48 or 72 hours, you can use public transportation as many times as needed. Moreover you get access to more than 40 museums : Choco-Story, the Brussels City museum, the Magritte museum, the MIMA, the Natural Sciences museum, the Belgian comic strip centrer… Click here to buy your Brussels Card.
When to go to Brussels?
Brussels isn’t known for its nice weather. Summertime, Brussels is enjoyable but it’s too crowded. Ideally, you have to go in April/May or September/October. The temperatures are good and it’s not too crowded.
Day trips from Brussels
Brussels travel tips
- Traveling soon? Check out my travel resources page!
- Never ever travel without a travel insurance! Here’s why you should buy travel insurance!
- Want a tailor-made trip to Belgium? Get a free quote here!
- Click here to check the hotels available in Brussels.
- If needed, get a Brussels guidebook
- Always use a VPN when traveling. I use ExpressVPN and I love it! Here’s why you should use a VPN when traveling!