Bonjour, Brussels! We visited Brussels in the winter and had a fabulous time! I was honestly surprised at how much we liked Brussels. It is cute and has a ton of charm.
We visited Brussels for one day as a little day trip before leaving Europe for the United States. You could easily spend much longer than a day, but a day in Brussels was enough for us to see most of the attractions that we wanted to see in the city.
Brussels is the capital of Belgium and also house the headquarters of the European Union. French and Dutch are the official languages, but a lot of people speak or understand English too. It’s a very historical city, founded in 979 AD.
How to get to Brussels
Brussels has 2 main airports, but they are very different in terms of proximity to the city. If visiting Brussels, especially for just a day, I recommend flying into Brussels Airport (BRU) as it is much closer to the city center.
If arriving by air, you can take public transportation, Uber, or taxi to the city center or your hotel. Ubers and taxis range from $40-$60 depending on the time of day. The taxi to our hotel near the Midi Train station from the airport cost around $60 during a weekday rush hour.
Train is a popular way to travel to Brussels. We left Brussels via train. There are multiple trains daily to major cities such as Paris and Amsterdam. We took the Thalys train from Brussels Midi Station to Paris and it only took around 1.5 hours and was much cheaper than flying.
If coming or going by train, I recommend purchasing your tickets early directly from the Thalys website.
Plus, if you are 26 or less, you are still considered a “youth” and qualify for discounted tickets through Thalys.
Getting around Brussels
There are multiple ways for getting around Brussels, but I recommend walking when possible, especially if you’re staying near the city center. There are many incredible things to see that you may miss if you Uber or take transportation between every place you visit. We found a ton of amazing places on accident just by walking around. Also, most of the places to see in the city center are in pedestrian-access-only areas.
However, sometimes you are unable to walk far or you’re trying to go somewhere that’s a little farther away. If using public transportation, there are both buses and a metro system. Uber also works in Brussels and there are taxis available.
Things to do in Brussels
Eat tons of chocolate
Belgium is known for chocolate, so naturally there are a bajillion chocolate shops all over Brussels. I am a big chocolate lover, so I was super excited when it seemed that every other storefront was a chocolate shop. We decided to try truffles from 3 different shops to compare and try different flavors.
The chocolate shops we tried were Chocolatier Elisabeth, Corne Dynastie Artisan Chocolatier, and Neuhaus. They were all delicious in different ways and had many flavor choices to choose from. In our experience, the chocolate is paid for by weight, which ended up being around one Euro per truffle.
For some reason, peeing statures are quite popular (and common) in Brussels.
The most popular is Manneken Pis, which is a small figure peeing. Sometimes this statue is dressed up for different holidays throughout the year.
Another nearby peeing statue is Het Zinneke, which is a peeing dog.
A little further away is Jeanneke-Pis which is a peeing girl.
I do not know why these are so popular, but apparently they are one of the most popular things to see while in Brussels.
Try the Fries
Another popular food in Belgium is Frites aka fries. You can find many shops throughout Brussels selling fresh hot fries with a choice of many different sauces. They come often in large paper cones with the sauce drizzled over top and a little wooden fork is used to eat the fries and sauce.
The hostel we stayed at in Brussels recommend Fritland, which is where we decided to get fries. They were delicious and only 5 euros for a huge amount of fries with sauce. I tried the Andalouse sauce (which is tomato mainnonaise, vinegar, and herbs) and it was delicious. They also had many other unique sauce choices to choose from, along with the usual ketchup.
I recommend trying Fritland for fries and also trying different sauces as you may find a new combination you love.
Explore Brussels Coffee Culture
One thing that surprised me about Brussels was the coffee culture. There are so many incredibly gorgeous (and delicious) coffee shops everywhere. The two coffee shops we went to in Brussels were two of the most beautiful coffee shops I have ever been in. (Plus oat milk is a free add-in in most coffee shops!)
The first I recommend is Gruun, which is a coffee shop and plant store combined. It was packed full of lovely green plants. I had an oat latte which was so good.
The other we went to that was lovely was Café Capitale. They roast their own coffee, have great vibes, and there’s a ton of seating both indoor and outdoor.
If you like coffee, then you will love the coffee shops in Brussels.
Grand Place is the main square and essentially hub of most tourists. On every side of the square, there are cute buildings in typical Belgian style, many parts plated in gold. Some of the buildings originated in the 1600’s, so they’ve definitely seen a lot of history.
Some buildings in the main square include the Hotel de Ville de Bruxelles, Musee de la ville de Bruxelles, and Maison Grand-Place. There are also many shops and eateries nearby.
Walk around the cute cobble stone streets (and enjoy the street art too)
The streets surrounding the Grand Place are cute and full of shops. Narrow cobblestone streets are lined with chocolate shops, fry venders, and clothing stores. Wander the streets around. The farther away from the square, the less touristy and less crowded the streets become.
There is a great abundance of street art throughout Brussels. As you meander the streets, look out for all kinds of street art, big and small.
Eat a Waffle
Another popular food in Belgium are waffles (“Belgian Waffles”). They are hot on a small plate with a load of toppings or just powdered sugar. They are more of a dessert or snack (rather than a breakfast food like in the United States). Each place we passed had at least 20 different waffle options.
We tried a waffle covered in warm Nutella. It was definitely delicious. I recommend trying a hot waffle, especially if you have a sweet tooth! There are waffle shops everywhere, so just pick one that looks good to you.
Mont des Arts and Jardin du Mont des Arts
To the east of the Grand Place, you will find Mont des Arts which has a large garden and statues. It is surrounded by museums and various historical buildings.
Walk through the free gardens and if the weather is nice, maybe even sit and enjoy the views from a bench.
Close to the Mont des Arts is the Galerie Ravenstein. There is not much to do here besides shop, but its worth popping in to see the unique rotunda ceiling made of glass tiles.
Cathedrale des St Michael et Gudula
The St Michael and Gudula Cathedral is the best cathedral we visited in Brussels (and we visited 6 or so). It is a huge cathedral with giant, intricate stained-glass panels. From the outside, it looks really simple to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The cathedral is even popular with the Belgian royal family, some of which have been married inside the same cathedral.
If you have 1 euro in coins on you, you can even go down under the main cathedral floor to see archeological remains. Otherwise, the cathedral is free to visit.
East of the St Michael and Gudula Cathedral is Brussels Park. It is a large park with multiple fountains and walking paths. When we visited in the winter, it wasn’t super spectacular since the fountains were empty and the trees had no leaves, but I imagine in the summer that it is gorgeous. The park ends in front of the Royal Palace of Brussels.
Royal Palace of Brussels
At the southern end of the Brussels Park, you will find the Royal Palace of Brussels. Gates surround the palace, but you can see it through it’s golden gates. Sometimes visitors are allowed in the palace (unfortunately not when we were there), in which you can purchase tickets and tours online.
Walk around Place Royale Bruxelles
Close to the Royal Palace, you can find the Place Royale Bruxelles. It is a large square with various historical buildings and museums. Here you can find Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg Church, Musee Magritte, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Jardin des sculptures, and the Visit Brussels Tourism Office.
Church of Our Lady of Victories at the Sablon
A large church close to the Place Royale Bruxelles is the Church of our Lady of Victories at the Sablon. It is not as large as some of the other cathedrals, but it is still gorgeous and has less tourists than some of the other cathedrals.
When we visited, there was a couple playing violins inside which made walking around inside feel a little more magical.
Law Courts of Brussels
The Law Courts of Brussels is another popular place to visit in Brussels. It is a very large building and can be seen from very far away down the street. When we visited, it was covered in scaffolding, so we didn’t walk up close to it, but opted to look at it from afar.
Visit a Museum
There are so many different museums to see in Brussels! Depending on what you enjoy seeing, there are various options to choose from. There are multiple art museums and history museums, but also museums such as a Comic Museum, a Military Museum, and Musical Instruments Museum. The full list of museums in Brussels can be found on the Brussels website.
If you plan on visiting multiple museums, you can check out the Brussels Card which if purchased can give you access to 49+ museums.
Other things to do in Brussels (that take a little more time)
There are several other things that we wanted to do, but just couldn’t fit in on our one day trip to Brussels. If you have extra time, you may be interested in checking out some of these attractions.
The Chocolate Museum
There is a chocolate museum close to the city center. Tickets were all sold out on the day of our visit and they are also a bit pricey. If you’re interested in checking out the Chocolate Museum, check out their website for ticket availability.
There is a giant metal structure in the shape of an atom. It seems super neat, but is a bit out of the way. It is not really in walking distance from the city center, so you would have to take a taxi or metro. For more information about the events and activities around the Atomium, check out their website.
Parc du Cinquantenaire
This park is in the eastern part of Brussels. It has a famous gate to the city with three arches. Also in the area are several different museums. It is a little farther away from the city center, but could theoretically be walked to if you wanted to take a longer walk.
Tips for Visiting Brussels
Opening times of locations may be different than you expect
We like touring cities early in the mornings before places get super crowded, and in most cities, stores and bakeries open quite early. However, in Brussels we found that things tended to open a little later than we would expect. Some coffee shops didn’t open until 10 or after and many stores didn’t open until 11. Just something to keep in mind if you plan on grabbing a coffee or pastry at a specific place early in the morning.
It is a city
That sounds like silly tip, but just a reminder that it comes with any risks and benefits that a city usually does. We were warned that there are a lot of pickpockets and people stealing luggage, so we were a little cautious. However, we didn’t find it to feel more dangerous than other cities. Actually, to me it even felt a little more quaint and safer than many other popular cities (**cough NYC cough**).
Do not visit while on a diet
This is another silly tip, but really all of the popular foods are fries, chocolate, and waffles. Not exactly diet foods lol. To fully enjoy your time in Brussels, prepare to eat lots of yummy food.
This is my guide to a day in Brussels! I hope it helps you in planning your trip or has inspired you to visit. Let me know any questions or comments you may have down below in the comments!
Thanks for reading!