Brussels is the capital of Belgium, and one of three main regions in the country. It is home to over a million people but receives about six times as many visitors each year. This cosmopolitan city comes alive during summer and Christmas thanks to the non-stop events and festivals held. A visit to Brussels, also known by its French name Bruxelles, is a must for lovers of art, history, culture, and of course, beer.
There are many famous places in Brussels, Belgium to visit and explore. So, without further ado, let’s learn about the top Brussels attractions and things to do while in the city.
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How to get to Brussels
Belgium is surrounded by France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. This makes Brussels very convenient to get to. You can easily fly to Brussels Airport, which is only 13 kilometres north of the city centre. There are three main railway stations: Brussels North, Brussels Central, and Brussels South. Catching the train from the airport to Brussels Central takes roughly half an hour.
If you’re already in Northern Europe, consider catching the train from a nearby city. Thalys is the high-speed train that links many cities to Brussels. Trains depart Gare du Nord in Paris 22 times per day and take an hour and 22 minutes to arrive at Brussels South. If you’re coming from the Netherlands, the train from Amsterdam Lelylaan Station is just under two hours. Getting from Cologne, Germany also takes less than two hours by train. You can easily find all the routes and timetables online.
What to expect in Brussels
Brussels is the most multilingual part of Belgium, with many residents able to speak three languages. Signs tend to be in both Dutch and French, but English is also widely spoken by most. If you’re wondering which language to use for greetings, you can avoid confusion by sticking with English.
Belgium is within the European Union and therefore uses the euro. If you’ve already been travelling around neighbouring European countries, you won’t have to worry about converting your money. Unlike nearby countries, however, tipping isn’t necessary in Belgium. Most restaurants will include an additional 10 to 15 per cent charge to your final bill. Unless you really want to, you don’t have to worry about rounding up or leaving a tip.
You’ll also notice a large expat community here. As of last year, the number of foreigners living and working in Brussels was about 220,000. This number is continually rising, and most expats are between 25 and 40 years old. This shows that Brussels is one of the most attractive cities in the world right now and home to a diverse bunch of residents. When you visit Brussels, expect to meet people from all around the globe.
Things to do in Brussels
You’ll never be bored in this city, as there are always interesting things to do in Brussels. Be sure to explore some of the many impressive museums.
The Museum of the City of Brussels showcases the history and folklore of the city. The museum is within the Maison du Roi (aka King’s House), a marvellous neo-Gothic style building. Information is presented using a range of mediums, including artefacts, tapestries, sculptures, paintings, photographs and dioramas. The famous Manneken Pis statue can also be found here.
The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium are a collective of museums in the Royal District on the Coudenberg hill. Together, they hold over 20,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures by Belgian artists. The majority of works are from the 15th to 18th centuries.
Another complex worth exploring is Mont des Arts. The site notably includes the Royal Library of Belgium and the National Archives of Belgium, as well as a meeting centre and a public garden. Regardless of your interest in history, you should visit this spot for its beautiful view of the city. It’s also conveniently within walking distance of many other tourist attractions.
If you’re looking for free things to do in Brussels, you’ll be pleased to discover how many attractions don’t cost a thing. The majority of buildings and landmarks are free to see and take photos of from the outside. Among those that are free to enter is Le Palais de Justice. It was once the largest building in Europe, with a grand 100-metre tall foyer. A new and taller dome was constructed after the original one collapsed at the end of World War II.
It seems counterintuitive to suggest going to a flea market, but you can have an enjoyable time by simply browsing. Place du Jeu de Balle is a square in the Marolles district that holds a famous market every day of the week. There’s a plethora of antiques, old vinyl records, vintage clothes, rare books, and of course, artwork. It begins at six a.m. for those that get up bright and early, then wraps up at two p.m. on weekdays and three p.m. on weekends.
After your Brussels sightseeing adventures are complete, you can take a relaxing stroll through one of the city’s many beautiful parks and gardens. Promenade Verte, which translates to Green Walk, is a luscious trail that encircles Brussels. The entire stretch is 60 kilometres, but you can enter and exit wherever. It’s popular with cyclists if you want to rent a bike and go for an afternoon ride. Otherwise, Parc du Cinquantenaire is a gorgeous place to relax, read a book, and marvel at the triumphal arch. More than just a park, it’s a national celebration of 50 years of independence for Belgium. There are festivals, concerts and other events held here throughout the year, so remember to check what’s on during your visit.
When in Brussels beer tasting tour is a must. Belgian beer is like no other, with over 180 breweries in the country. Local brews like Stella Artois, Duvel and Jupiler are popular all around the world. There are beer festivals, beer museums, and even beer buses. One of the best things to do in Brussels at night is to book an affordable beer tasting experience. Companies like Beer Experience Brussels will introduce you to brewing, teach you about the different styles, and give you a taste of five of the best Belgian beers.
If you don’t want to learn about the whole process, you can still taste a local beer in the evening. At dinner, ask your waiter for a recommendation on which beer to try. You could also head to some of the best beer halls and gardens in Brussels if you want to set your own pace. Café Belga, Au Daringman and À La Mort Subite are three charming and authentic places to grab a drink.
If you’re visiting Brussels during the summer, check the cultural calendar to see what festivals are on. The annual Brussels Summer Festival, the Flower Carpet event and the Christmas Market all draw huge crowds.
Places to visit in Brussels
You’ll find many beautiful places to visit in Brussels. Here are some of the best attractions you’ll want to see when you’re in the city:
- Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a shopping arcade dating back to 1847. Regardless of whether you’re in the mood to shop, it’s worth checking out for the architecture alone. There are two major sections with glazed, arched shopfronts and a stunning glass ceiling. The arcade is a beautiful place to wander down and find a spot to eat some authentic Belgian chocolate.
- The Grand Place, known as the centre square of Brussels. It’d be hard to leave this city without stepping foot in the Grote Markt! It’s surrounded by the Maison du Roi and the City Hall. The square is known for its grandeur and elegance, and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the world. Many historic events have taken place here, though it is home nowadays to regular cultural festivities and markets.
- The Atomium, a fascinating and bizarre landmark in Heysel Park. It was created for a world fair in 1958 and is made up of nine stainless steel spheres. The spheres of the building illuminate at night, and escalators allow you to see the panoramic views from inside.
- The Royal Castle and Royal Greenhouses of Laeken. This area is currently home to the Royal Family of Belgium and worth getting a glimpse of. Unfortunately, the monumental greenhouse complex is only open to visitors for two to three weeks during April and May, the peak of spring. If you can get this rare opportunity to visit, don’t pass it up! Otherwise, the views from the outside will still amaze you.
Where to stay in Brussels
There is no shortage of fantastic accommodation options in Brussels. No matter your purpose for travelling or the size of your group, you’ll find somewhere that meets all your needs. Here are three suggestions for where to stay while in Brussels.
Located in the hip suburb of Ixelles, you’ll find Made in Louise. It’s an elegant townhouse from the 20th century in the centre of the art nouveau district. The modern wallpaper and interiors give this boutique hotel a relaxed and casual atmosphere. You’ll be treated from the moment you arrive with free snacks, hot beverages, and public areas to play chess or a game of billiards. It’s a great place for both couples and solo travellers.
Citadines Sainte-Catherine Brussels is perfect if you’re staying in the city for longer than a few days. They offer modern and stylish studios and apartments that can fit up to four people, ideal for a small group. Both room options come fully equipped with a kitchen area and living space. Everything you need to make Brussels your temporary home will be provided for you here. It’s perfectly located in the Quartier des Quais area and right by the Sainte Catherine Station.
A unique option for both solo travellers and big groups of friends is the Train Hostel. Accommodation options here vary from train dorm, train room, train cabin, and train suite. The cabins and suite are within luxury railway carriages, although all options incorporate trains into the decor. The rooms can fit up to nine people, with a variety of double, twin and bunk beds. You won’t be too surprised to discover that the hostel is right by a train station. It’s mere steps away from Schaerbeek Station, as well as the railway museum Train World.
Tours to do in Brussels
A wonderful way to see Brussels is to go on a walking tour. Be aware that although many group walking tours are listed as free, you are expected to pay at the end what you think the tour was worth. In addition to showing you around all of the best Brussels points of interest, some tours will tell you about the urban legends and ghost tales of the city.
Art nouveau and art deco tours are also organised by a number of tour companies. With over 200 enchanting art nouveau buildings, many of which the public can enter, you may not know where to begin! Fortunately, there are guides who can show you around the most impressive places. In two to three hours, they will also teach you about the architectural history and style of Brussels. However, if you’d prefer to explore at your own pace, there are maps you can print out that show you all of the best buildings to look for.
If you want to mingle and meet new people, join a small group tour run by Global Enterprises Tours. You can go beer tasting and sample a range of Belgian foods with your new friends.
You now know all of the best things to do in Brussels and are more than ready for an incredible trip! You will quickly fall in love with the city and understand why it’s becoming such a popular destination for travellers and expats.
Recommend budget tours in Brussels
- Luxembourg Day Trip from Brussels: Two Countries in One Day
- Ghent and Bruges Day Trip from Brussels
- Small-Group Brussels Beer Tasting Tour
- Brussels Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
- Brussels Chocolate Tasting Tour
- World War I Battlefields Tour of Flanders from Brussels
- Private Brussels Food Tour: 10 tastings
- Private Tour: Battle of Waterloo from Brussels
- Amsterdam Day Trip from Brussels
- Bruges Express City Tour from Brussels
- The Brussels Card
- Brussels Half-Day City Tour
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