In this new series I’ll be providing you with stylish travel guides to some of my favorite cities around the world. Besides highlighting the best sites each city has to offer I’ll also be focusing on where to shop, eat and drink. Because you know…a girl’s gotta get her priorities right.
Nestled half way in between Paris and Amsterdam, Brussels is the perfect place for a weekend away or a holiday. Besides offering great museums, unique art walks and many architectural gems the city also counts many trendy spots and interesting boutiques. In recent years, it’s become a little bit of a gourmet destination as well so you’ll never have to go very far to find a lovely bar or restaurant to relax at after a hard day of
shopping sightseeing. Oh, and did I mention they make some of the world’s best chocolate?
Here are a few tips to visit ‘Europe’s capital’ in style:
Great things to see and do
Most of Brussels top attractions are located within walking distance of each other which makes things really accessible once you’re in the city centre. Of course, you could also use buses, trams, metros and bicycles to get around.
♥ Have a giggle – Manneken Pis might be Belgium’s most celebrated fountain but when seen up close the statue depicting a little boy peeing into a basin looks incredibly small. His costumes are pretty cute though (Belgians love to dress him up) and it’s always a fun place to take a few selfies.
♥ Follow the Comic Book route – Brussels is often nicknamed ‘Comic city’ because so many famous comics (The Smurfs, Asterix, Tintin just to name a few) originated from here. The city counts over 50 comic strip murals which depict some of its most famous comic heroes. Many of them are located in the city center so the comic book route is a great alternative way to discover Brussels.
♥ Space out at the Atonium – The Atonium was originally built for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and it’s now one of the city’s most iconic monuments. It is a little bit of a crazy building but the futuristic design is definitely worth a look. Also, the top floor offers a panoramic view over the city. If you have kids (or are a kid at heart) then you should also visit the nearby ‘Mini-Europe’ which features miniature monuments from all over the continent. Very kitsch but oh so adorable…
♥ Listen to the music – If you are interested in music then you simply can’t miss the MIM (Musical Instruments Museum). It contains over 8000 instruments from all over the world and from various periods of time. The audio sets are also incredibly clever and you can listen to the sound of each instrument as you walk by them! If you’re a fan of Jacques Brel you could do the Jacques audio tour of the city – a magical experience!
♥ Marvel at Art Nouveau & Art Deco buildings – Brussels is one of the best places in the world to see Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture. The Horta museum in particular is amazing but if you can’t be bothered visiting another museum then you could always have a coffee at the Falstaff cafe.
♥ Wake up and smell the flowers – The ‘Grande Place’ (central square) is Brussels main and most beautiful attraction. It features an array of large buildings from the Gothic, Louis XIV and Baroque areas and each is more beautiful than the next. Every second year in August, Grande Place also features a giant carpet made of flowers which draws in thousands of tourists.
Best shopping haunts
Image via Glorybox
Brussels offers a great shopping experience with a good mix of local designers and international brands.
♥ The usual suspects – For brands such as Mango, Zara and the likes head to Rue Neuve and the City 2 shopping center.
♥ Local talents – The Dansaert area is very trendy and includes many cool local brands. ‘Stilj’ is a beautiful store that stocks high-end Belgian designers such as Ann Demeulemeester or Dries Van Noten. Glorybox is another great place for smaller but equally exciting labels. Dansaert is also a good place to grab a bite, have a drink and people watch. Alternatively Rue Bailli offers some great independent boutiques as well as a few clearance stores.
♥ The crème de la crème – If you’re not afraid of higher price tags then go to Avenue Louise where you’ll find Louis Vuitton, Gucci and other high-end designer stores.
Also, if you’re looking for souvenirs, head to the streets around Grande Place or visit the nearby ‘Galleries Royales St-Hubert’. The Victorian style gallery has a great selection of shops that sell lace, gloves and other Belgian specialties. You can also never go wrong with Godiva or Neuhaus chocolates…
Best places to eat, drink and be merry
Brussels is definitely not the city to visit when you’re on a strict diet. Between fluffy waffles topped with mountains of cream, artisan chocolates or mussels and fries, Belgian specialties are not exactly on the light side. Oh well… since you’re being naughty, you might as well wash it all down with some delicious craft beer!
♥ Great restaurants:
Maison Antoine – Possibly the best fries in town
Les fils a maman – a lovely place that recreates childhood classics. Their pan-fried Babibels are to die for!
La Mer du Nord – delicious seafood snacks which people can eat standing up on the place St Catherine with their glass of wine in hand. This is my friend Cendrine’s favorite place!
La Mamma – great pizzas and grappa
Chez Leon – world famous for their delicious mussels
Comme chez soi – for a luxurious night out
For a quick snack head to one of the many waffle and French fries hole-in-the-wall shops located all over Brussels!
♥ Trendy bars and clubs
A la mort subite – a Brussels institution. The name literally translates to ‘Sudden death’ in English so don’t say you weren’t warned…
Champagnoteque – an amazing little place where you can sample any champagne by the glass. A.k.a, my dream come true.
Cafe Belga – with a great terrace overlooking the Ixelles ponds
Les aperos urbains – a series of outdoor events that take place between mid may and mid September.
L’archiduc – famous jazz bar with numerous events
Moeder lambic and Delirium cafe – Two great places to try Belgian beer…
Jeux d’hiver – the celebrities’ corner
The Fuse – to dance the night away
Like most European cities Brussels offers a wide range of accommodation to suit every budget. Here are a few popular options:
♥ Mini Budget – Sleephere (B&B), Meininger Hotel, Residence les ecrins
♥ Mid-range– Hotel Ibis, Hotel bloom, Thon Hotel
♥ Boutique – Hotel Made in Louise, Hotel Saint Gery
♥ What budget? – Sofitel Brussels – Le Louise, Hotel Odette en ville, Rocco Forte Hotel amigo
♥ The tourism office on Grande Place will be able to provide you with a map to the city as well as itineraries for the comic book route, the art deco/art nouveau walk or any other info you may need.
♥ Brussels is a bilingual city so you’ll probably hear some people speaking in both French and Flemish whilst there!
♥ Belgium’s currency is the euro.
♥ Remember to pack an umbrella if traveling outside of the summer months as the Belgian weather can be a bit ‘fickle’.
♥ If you have an extra day up your sleeve then head to gorgeous Bruges, Ghent or Anvers! Belgian is a small country so every city is pretty much an hour away from Brussels (by train).
This mini guide was written with the help of my friend Cendrine who has been living in Brussels for the last three years. Thank you Cendrine!