Brussels is Belgium’s capital and one of the most important cities in Europe. It’s home to the European Union, which gives it a very charming international flair not found in other major European cities. Art Nouveau, a style of architecture born in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, adds to the charm of Brussels. While the city has a reputation for being more expensive than other cities in Belgium, there are plenty of different ways to save money and experience Brussels on a budget.
The Brussels card, for example, gives travelers free entry into Brussels museums as well as discounts to different tourist attractions, restaurants, tours, and bars. There is also an option to include unlimited public transportation with your Brussels card purchase, making all of the best things to do in Brussels accessible.
Trust me, you’ll never be wondering what to do in Brussels. This city is full of sights to see, local events to experience, and great food to sample. Once you leave Brussels, you’ll start planning your trip to return.
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The best time to visit Brussels
Brussels city is a place you can visit year round. The temperature drops from November until February, but with a warm coat, the city is still quite enjoyable. For budget travelers, the best time to visit Brussels is between March and May or September and October. During these months, crowds are smaller and the prices are cheaper. Most tourists visit the city during the summer months of May until August, which is why can expect to pay much more during these months.
What to expect in Brussels
Brussels is a very diverse, international city, which is why you will hear a bunch of different languages spoken when you walk down the street. The main languages are French and Dutch, but English is widely spoken in tourist sectors. Chances are you won’t have much trouble ordering dinner, giving directions to a taxi, or checking into your hotel.
Belgium is a part of the European Union and therefore uses the Euro as its currency. I recommend withdrawing money from an ATM in order to get the best exchange rate. Be sure to check with your bank before traveling so that you are familiar with the different fees associated with international transactions. You will want cash on you at all time, but you can expect to be able to use a credit or debit card as well. Your Brussels budget should be around 40 – 60 Euros a day if you are going to stay in hostels, cook your meals, and use public transportation.
You don’t need to worry about tipping in Belgium because a service charge is added onto the end of the bill at most restaurants. Normally the charge is between 10 and 15%.
You probably had no idea that some of your favorite foods come from Belgium. If you like french fries, chocolate, and waffles, you’re going to love Brussels. Many people think that french fries originated in France or the United States. But Belgium actually was the first place to start frying potatoes. It wasn’t until World War 1 when American soldiers stationed in Belgium tried fries that it really became popular worldwide. Be sure to stop in a friterie, or french fry shop, in Brussels to try some. To satisfy your sweet tooth, stop by a chocolate shop or a waffle truck around the city.
You could spend an entire day wandering around and trying some of the best chocolate on earth. Another really popular Belgian food is mussels. They are typically steamed in white wine and then served in a massive pot. You can share with friends as an appetizer or eat them yourself with a side of fries. Other common Belgian meals are very hearty. Stews, meatballs, and seafood are all on the menu when eating at a typical restaurant in Brussels. If you are looking for cheap eats in Brussels, street food is going to be your best option.
Boudin, a type of white pork sausage, is the most popular food served on street corners, but kebabs, durum, french fries, and waffles are also seen all over the city. Finally, you can’t talk about food in Brussels without mentioning the great beer that typically accompanies any meal in Brussels. Belgian beer is world famous and for good reason. There are breweries, bars, and craft beer stores all over Brussels. No matter where you are eating, chances are you’ll have more beer selection than you’ve ever had in a city before. Beer lovers cannot miss Delirium Café, which offers 3,000 different types of beer. Brussels is a great place to indulge in some of the world’s best comfort foods and beverages.
How to get around Brussels on a Budget
Brussels city is an easy city to navigate. It’s very walkable, but public transportation is also very extensive. The easiest and most affordable way to take advantage of public transportation is with the Brussels Card. If you purchase the corresponding package, you’ll have free access to museums around the city as well as unlimited use of public transportation for the day of use.
There are 4 metro lines that allow for access to the city center of Brussels. The metro is definitely the easiest form of public transportation in the city. There is also a large bus system through which you can access areas that don’t have a metro stop near. If you want to get outside of the city, use the train! Day trips to Bruges or Ghent are one way to experience other parts of Belgium without traveling too far.
Budget things to do in Brussels
Explore the City Center
Wandering around the city center is not just one of the best things to do in Brussels,it’s also free! The main attraction is the Grand Palace, which I recommend visiting multiple times throughout your time in Brussels. There is always something different going on, whether you visit in the afternoon or later in the evening. The city center is very navigable on foot, making it easy to explore the nooks and crannies of this historic area. There are also plenty of museums, restaurants, and stores to visit. Take your time in the city center and you will really start to feel the charm of Brussels.
Do a Walking Tour
There are a lot of different companies that offer walking tours of Brussels. These walking tours are normally advertised as “free” but will expect a donation at the end of the tour. That being said, the tours are worth the money! Not only will you learn about the historical background of some of the main sites in Brussels, but you’ll also hear legends, politics, and local secrets of the city. I recommend doing a walking tour early on in your visit. In doing so, you’ll have a much more contextual understanding of the city of Brussels throughout the rest of your stay.
Learn about Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau is popular all over Europe, but it was actually started in Brussels by an eclectic group of artists. Just wandering around the city, you’ll see houses that stand out from the rest. I recommend visiting the Horta museum to learn about Victor Horta and his influence on Art Nouveau. After, you can walk around the city and visit some of the most popular buildings of the architecture style. The Ciamberlani House, Les Hiboux House, and Saint-Cyr House are three of my personal favorites.
Educate yourself in Brussels Museums
Brussels is regarded as the capital of Europe and it’s a great place for history and culture buffs to learn more about the continent. The House of European History is a great place to start for those who want to spend an afternoon learning. The best part about this museum is that entry is free! Another cool museum is Train World, which explains everything from the very first steam engine trains to hyper-speed trains that exist nowadays. It’s a massive museum that is also kid-friendly.
Indulge in some Chocolate
The chocolate made in Brussels is regarded as the world’s best. So you should definitely set aside some time to try and sample some of the famous chocolate shops in the city. The city center is a spectacular place to visit, but when it comes to chocolate, it’s quite the tourist trap. Instead, head to Maison Pierre Marcolini, Frederic Blondeel, or Passion Chocolat. Be sure to budget properly because the chocolate can get expensive quickly. Once you learn to savor the smallest morsel, you’ll be a true chocolatier!
Enjoy a Picnic in the Park
Brussels isn’t a massive, hectic city like others in Europe. But that doesn’t mean you won’t want to escape the concrete jungle at some point. Fortunately, there are a few great parks around the city where you can relax, go for a jog, or enjoy a picnic with friends. Some of my favorites include Sonian Forest, Parc Du Cinquantenaire, Parc Leopold, and Square Marie Louise Plein. There are also many gardens or jardinesin French, around the city that are worth a stroll.
Places to visit in Brussels on a Budget
If you’re wondering what to see in Brussels,just head for the Grand Place on one of your first days in the city. All around this plaza you’ll see tours offered that highlight the different tourist sites in the city. You can then plan out your days accordingly. The Grand Place is the center of Brussels and by far the most popular place to visit in the city. The history of the Grand Place dates back to the 14th century. If you want to learn about all of the different historical events tied to this important square be sure to book a local tour. You won’t regret it!
Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert
After you’re done in the Grand Place, head over to the Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert. This building is known for the massive glass-roofed arcade bound to make your jaw drop. Inside are shops, restaurants, and theatres. If you’re backpacking Brussels, you’ll want to spend your money elsewhere. But it’s still a great place to walk around and feel a part of the elite class in Europe.
Manneken Pisis Dutch for “Little Pisser”, which is exactly what this statue depicts. It’s a statue of a young boy taking a pee in the basin of the fountain. The statue dates back to the early 1600s and is said to be a symbol of the open-mindedness of the citizens of Brussels. The original statue is kept in the city’s main museum because of its poor condition. It can take a bit of navigational skill to find the statue, but the little nook it occupies is very charming and worth the effort.
Belgian Comic Strip Center
One staple of every Brussels Travel Guide is the Belgian Comic Strip Center. In fact, Belgium played a large role in the development of comic books. Tintin is the most famous character to come out of the city, but you’ll be able to learn about the history of other characters and styles at this awesome museum. The museum also highlights all of the different comic strips that make up murals around the city. If you’re really interested in learning more, book a tour that visits all of the different murals.
The Atomium is a staple of Brussels tourism. This landmark was built in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair and is an accurate depiction of an atom molecule. At the time, this was a groundbreaking discovery that the world was stoked about. Today you can take an elevator to the top and enjoy a a great view of the city. I recommend coming to visit the Atomium if you want to enjoy some green space and see an awesome landmark in one afternoon.
Brussels Churches and Cathedrals
Brussels has its collection of massive churches and cathedrals like other major European cities. Notre Dame Du Sablon is a chapel that was built in the 14th century and is very characteristic of Gothic architecture. The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula is another popular place to visit and is even older than Notre Dame Du Sablon. Visiting churches is a great way to sightsee Brussels on a budget because there is no entry fee!
Where to stay in Brussels on a Budget
If you want to experience Brussels like a local, then you should try and stay in the Les Marolles neighborhood. There are lots of hostels in the area that will fit in a backpacking budget. The neighborhood is also full of restaurants, bars, and cafes, which hold local events. It’s also a very diverse, international area where you are bound to make some new friends. There is also great access to public transportation, making it easy to explore Brussels. We have also written an extensive guide on Where to stay in Brussels.
Another neighborhood that is popular for budget travelers is Saint Gilles. The hipster crowd of Brussels flocks to Saint Gilles. The neighborhood is home to writers, artists, and musicians from all over the world. If culture is your thing, you’ll want to stay here. There are constantly events going on in the area, which your hostel should be able to point you towards. The city center is a bit more expensive to stay at, but you’ll be located much neared to the main attractions of Brussels, saving you money on transportation.
Cheap tours to do in Brussels on a budget
Belgian beer is certainly delicious, but it also has a very rich history that dates back centuries. You can learn all about the history of brewing in a beer tasting tour. You’ll also learn how to distinguish different beers and flavors from one another.
Brussels may not the nightlife capital of Europe, but there are still plenty of great places to go for a night out. A pub crawl is a good option for backpackers in Brussels because a local will be able to guide you to all of the hot spots and you’ll have the opportunity to meet other travelers. Typically a free drink is included at each stop along the way as well.
Brussels can have an eerie feeling at night, especially when walking along cobblestone streets that are lit by dim lamps. One of my favorite things that I did in Brussels was this tour. Brussels is a medieval city, and there are so many different legends that give the city character. This is a great alternative to the traditional walking tour!
Want to learn how to travel on a Budget? Check out our dedicated “Budget Conscious Travel Guide”
Recommend budget tours in Brussels:
- Ghent and Bruges Day Trip from Brussels
- Cologne & Monschau from Brussels
- Brussels Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop
- Day Trip to Bruges from Brussels
- Luxembourg Day Trip from Brussels: Two Countries in One Day
- Amsterdam Day Trip from Brussels
- Belgian Beer Tasting in Brussels
- Mini Europe and Atomium Combo Ticket
- The Brussels Card
Get your guide is a Great company, that often offers heavily discounted tours! Check out a few options below:
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