Brussels is the capital of Belgium as well as the capital of the European Union. With so many things to do in Brussels, there is no surprise that the Belgian capital became a booming city with attracts countless international tourists. We particularly love the architecture in Brussels which spans from interesting elements of Gothic and Baroque to minimalist postmodern buildings. The Grand Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s perhaps the most visited part of the city. Brussels is home to an array of cultural events and festivals year round and the city is known for its exquisite chocolate and extravagant beers. There is no surprise tourists from all around the world continue to add Brussels to their list of Euro itineraries. Here are the coolest things to do in Brussels for first-time visitors.
The Grand Place
The Grand Place also known as the Grote Markt is the main square in Brussels. Marvel at the extravagant guildhalls which surround this beautiful square. This is the most visited touristic spot in Brussels and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful squares in the whole of Europe. In 1998 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you wish to see the square with fewer tourists, we recommend heading there at first light during summer time. It’s a good time to catch some soft light for pictures as well. During our visit, we sat down in one of the cafes in the square and just enjoyed how vibrant the place becomes at around noon.
The Manneken Pis is a small sculpture of a little boy peeing into a fountain. Many believe this is the original, but that’s not the case. The original Manneken Pis is kept in the Museum of the City of Brussels. This is an important attraction in Brussels as it is meant to represent the local sense of humour.
Visit the Atomium
Make your way to the Atomium from the centre of Brussels. We decided to walk there so we can explore the lesser known areas of the city. The Atomium was constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. You can enter it and admire the exhibit halls. At the top of the sphere, you will find a restaurant which offers amazing views of Brussels.
Close to the Atomium is Mini Europe, a miniature park with small moments located in the European Union. It’s great fun to see London from above or feel taller than the Eiffel Tower. Mini Europe is especially great for families travelling with children. Mini Europe is home to about 80 cities and 350 mini buildings. It’s one of the most popular attractions in Brussels, receiving over 350,000 visitors a year.
Brussels Comic Strip Trail
En route back to the city centre from the Atomium, take the Comic Strip Trail. Ever since the 90’s, Brussels celebrates Franco-Belgian comics on its walls. You can find the map here so you can do a self-guided walk. When we lived in Bristol, we used to take our family and friend on the famed Banksy walk so we really enjoy these type of tours. It’s a really cool way to experience the lesser known areas of a city, whilst hunting for street art.
Promenade on Avenue Louise
No trip to Brussels is complete without a wonderful evening promenade on the gorgeous Avenue Louise. This is known as the posh area of the city, lined with international brands and expensive cafes. Even if shopping is not your favourite sport, the avenue is still perfect for a romantic walk. There are several hotels, bars and restaurants for an extravagant dinner.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
This one is for all the chocolate lovers in the world: visit Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert are lined with all sort of chocolate shops, some of which offer some incredible varieties of chocolates with matcha, cakes with yuzu and truffles with the finest cocoa powder. We spent half a day exploring the chocolate path.
Eat your Belgian waffle
Belgian is well known for its sweet and fluffy waffles so what’s better than eating your way around the city? Traditionally, Belgian waffles are served warm with confectionary sugar on top. Nowadays, due to tourist demand, waffles are served with ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate and fruit on top. Waffles are made with eggs and dairy so if you travel vegan, I’m afraid you will have to skip this dessert.
Order Belgian Fries
I know what you are thinking… French fries as a local dish in Belgium? How come? Fries (frites) were actually invented in Belgium. The name “French Fries” was given by American soldiers during WWII. It is believed that because they didn’t know their exact location as they were in the French-speaking part of Belgium. Whatever their history, everyone loves a good portion of fries and luckily, you can enjoy them as street food in Brussels. In Belgium, frites are served with sauce on top so if you want a vegan option, make sure you order yours with salt only. Love food? check our Antwerp food guide as well.
We can all agree that Belgians are peculiar about their beer. Almost all brands of Belgian beer are served in their own glass to ensure the flavour is properly developed. In 2016, Belgian beer became part of UNESCO on the list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. So if you ever wanted to taste a variety of great beers, Brussels is the place for it. Most bars will offer tastings of several beers so you can decide what you like most. Alternatively, you can book your tour here.
Parc de Laeken
We love a leavy city, so we couldn’t miss the chance to walk around Parc de Laeken. Visit the Leopold I Monument, the Castle of Laeken and the wonderful Royal Greenhouses of Laeken. On a beautiful day, you can grab a blanket and have a picnic here. There is plenty of green space where you can enjoy the sunshine.
Notre Dame Du Sablon
You don’t have to spend a romantic weekend in Paris to see the Notre Dame. Brussels has its own version and it looks just as splendid. The Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon is a Catholic church located in the district of Sablon. The church has a Brabantine Gothic exterior. Its interior includes two Baroque chapels.
Brussels has so much culture going on. You can find various concerts and theatre plays going on at any given time. Some of these performances are free, so make sure to keep an eye online for such options.
Enjoy a romantic hotel
We visited Brussels in order to spend a romantic weekend away. We wanted to stay close to the centre so we picked Boutique Hotel Saint-Géry. There are various accommodation options in the city, and there are many cool areas to pick from. We wrote a guide on where to stay in Brussels to help you decide how to pick the best hotel for your needs.
Take a day trip to Antwerp
Located just one hour away by train from Brussels, Antwerp is a lovely city, known for its Flemish art, fashion and diamond industry. There are so many things to do in Antwerp, and we believe it’s great to spend at least one day exploring other interesting Belgian cities as well.
Royal Palace of Brussels
The Royal Palace of Brussels is the official palace of the Belgian Royal Family. The Royal Palace of Brussels is open for tours every summer.
Bois de la Cambre
If you wish to escape the bustle of the capital, we recommend a walk around The Bois de la Cambre. This is a beautiful public park with an area of 1.23 square kilometres. It features English style gardens.
Are you ready to explore all these cool things to do in Brussels? Where will you be heading first? Let us know in the comments section below.
Thank you Visit Brussels for hosting us in your great city. As always, thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely our own.