This article is about the best things to do in Brussels Belgium, with tips on attractions and tours. These is also a video tour I made of the city.
Aside from the fact that I fractured my ankle while there, I had an unexpectedly good time in Brussels. (And can confirm they have a good health service!)
We had gone there on Eurostar for a long weekend and was a bit concerned as the day approached, as wondered if the city would be dull and bland like the stereo type that tends to do the rounds, and is the butt of jokes. Maybe partly as we were not expecting much and so just embraced what it had to offer, we had a great time. Though it did only take 2 days to do really.
The city is probably most famous for being the host city for the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, and known for its waffles (with many side stalls through the city selling them) and chocolates (with many of these shops too).
It is very easy to get to Brussels with the Eurostar that runs many times a day from the very beautiful St Pancras Station in North London. It takes about 2 hours, and you are very central once you get to Brussels. We had gone in early December and the train was busy, as the city is famous for its annual Christmas market and many people travel to go there and also to stock up on equally famous Belgian choclates for the festive season.
The traffic in the city seemed pretty bad, and we seemed to shuffle along from the station to the hotel. The city itself is not very large and the main streets seemed packed. On first sight the city is not that attractive, and seems quite bland and concrete like. Though as we found out later once we strolled about and started to explore the side streets that there were some very pretty and charming parts of the city.
It was quite a surprise as after arriving at the fairly uncharming railway station and travelling to the hotel (Sheraton Brussels) we had the feeling that it was not going to be the most appealing cities, but by the time we left (hobbling off on crutches with a plaster cast) our opinion had changed.
Two guys who work with me are from Brussels and when I had asked them for tips, they seemed almost nervous and reticent to suggest much and implied that there was not a lot to do. Though looking online I saw there are things like 80 museums, and so after being there what are my top tips for visiting Brussels.
Best time to visit
We went in early December which is of course winter. But I think this was a great time to go as this is when the Christmas Market opens and although cold, the streets are decorated, busy and bustling and lots of stalls and events around the place. There is a great atmosphere and buzz and I recommend this as a great time to be there.
There was so much going on in the streets around the whole Christmas build up and made for a lot of fun. I am sure summer is fun, but this is when the city seems to come alive. In the Grand Place area there are decorations and an amazing light show on the building on one side of the square, with a huge blue Christmas Tree in the centre.
I have a video of the event and the show. Then there is the full Christmas Market about 10 minutes walk away which is full of stalls, ice skating rink, huge ferris wheel and places to eat and drink. Really good fun.
Round the city bus tour
There is not a lot to see in Brussels, but this 1.5 hour hop-on hop-off tour is great. Your ticket is valid for 24 hours. There are at least 2 different options, and we chose the blue “Brussels City Tours”. It cost 18 Euros each and you get some earphones and can listen to a commentary which was lively and informative.
There are 14 stops you can get off at, but for me the highlights that are worth exploring are:
This is for me the highlight of the visit to Brussels. It was built in 1958 as the Brussels stand at the World Fair held here and has recently been renovated. It is based on an atom that is 1.5 billion times larger than real life. It is a series of huge metal balls connected with long arms. It is amazingly modern looking considering its age. You can get a lift to the top ball and then after coming down you walk through the others catching the longest escalators I have ever seen. The exhibits in the balls are ok, but not brilliant – but the attraction itself is striking and breathtaking. We loved it. I made a video of the place.
This is the “town square” of the city and a huge open space surrounded by stunningly beautiful old buildings. It really is quite breathtaking, especially at night when lit up. As I mentioned earlier, at Christmas time there is a stunning light and music show every hour. In the streets around this area are many restuarants, mostly more tourist trap style though we did have a great dinner in one to be honest! Then there are many small shops mostly selling chocolates and some great waffle stalls.
You need to see this small statue of a boy relieving himself, as this is a symbol of the city and they dress it up for events and important visits. There a museum that displays all the outfits he has been dressed in. It is not the most exciting thing to see in the city, but you kind of need to take a picture of it as is so famous.
This is a charming area with antique market, the small but interesting Mercedes Benz shop/ museum and many chocolate shops. A fun area to stroll around and explore. Nearby are some large museums if you feel more cultural.
Parc Cinquantenaire/ Jubelpark
There is this massive and very imposing gate monument that is a bit like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris which is very stunning. Also in the area is Autoworld (car museum), Royal Military Museum and Art & History museum.
This is a must see, though probably no need to spend a lot of time here.
Eating Brussels is best known for mussels and waffles and that is a must. Saying that there are also a lot of places serving steak and chips. Yummy.
Brussels was a pleasant surprise, and a good short visit. You can spend a busy 2 or 3 days here and then probably venture out to the nearby Bruges (very pretty and charming city) and Antwerp (which also has a lot of charm).
Watch these 4 video tours I have made based on what I saw while there: