Welcome to the capital of Belgium and the European Union. At times it can feel a little stuffy, but it is also a picturesque and historic city with lots to offer to intrepid traveler. The city has plenty to keep you busy (especially if you’re a fan of beer!) and makes for a great stop over between nearby Amsterdam and Paris.
There have been people in the Brussels area since the Stone Age. Its location enabled it to benefit from trade, growing rapidly under Roman and then Frankish rule. The city was almost destroyed by the French during the Nine Years Wat in 1695 when over 4,000 buildings were destroyed. The region was then controlled by the Netherlands until 1830 when the Belgians declared independence.
There is a lot of things to see and do in Brussels. I think the city is worth a good two or three-day visit in order to soak in all the history, food, and beer!
Things to Do and See in Brussels
Don’t want to watch the video? Fine! Here’s a list of everything you should see:
- The Royal Palace – This palace was originally constructed in the 18th century. It’s where the King and Queen host receptions and handle state affairs, though they don’t actually live there full time. To help you get a sense of the size, the facade of the building is actually 50% longer than Buckingham Palace!
- Notre Dame – This 15th-century Gothic Catholic church, officially titled The Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon, was where the city’s rich and well-off came to worship. The church is also home to two incredible Baroque chapels that were added in the 17th century.
- The Palace of Justice – The most important court in Belgium, the Palace of Justice was built in the 19th century and was actually the largest structure built in that century. This massive building is actually larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and cost approximately 45 million Belgian Francs to construct and furnish.
- Manneken Pis and Jeanneke Pis – These are two famous statues in the city. One is a replica from the 17th century while one is a more modern addition. What makes them interesting (and a bit odd) is that they are of children peeing. They are meant to reflect the Belgian sense of humor, which is why they are hugely popular in the city.
- Petit Sablon – This park has a collection of 48 statues, each representing a historical profession that was common in the city. Every pillar and statue has a unique design, as does each section of the wrought-iron fence. The central fountain is surrounded by a semicircle of 10 famous individuals from the 16th century.
- European Parliament – Book a tour and get a glimpse behind the scenes of the unofficial capital of Europe. These informative tours will give you a much more nuanced understanding of how the EU works and how it goes about making changes that affect all of its member states.
- Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert – This is the oldest shopping arcade in Europe, home to cafés, restaurants, and chocolate shops. It was designed as a way to create a shopping area that was well lit, to prevent illicit and nefarious goings-on (essentially it was made so the rich could feel more comfortable going there).
- Cantillion Brewery – This brewery was founded in 1900 and now offers tours to the public. On the tour, you’ll get to watch the beer-making process in action, learn about older brewing equipment and methods from the 20th century, and sample some of their beer!
- Drink at Delirium – This place has the longest beer menu in the world, home to over 2000 beers (they actually won the Guinness Record for it!). There are beers from over 60 countries here, including a wide selection of Belgian beers. Sure, it’s crowded and touristy, but it’s fun and a great place to try the local beers.
Budget Travel Tips for Visiting Brussels
To make the most your of your visit, here are a few tips to help you enjoy your time in Brussels:
- Brussels is a tiny city and incredibly walkable. Save money on public transportation and just walk everywhere!
- The area near the Palace of Justice as well as the Place Jordan is great for dining and drinking.
- Skip the Beer Museum as it’s not worth the money. Instead, head to the brewery in the video for a more engaging experience.
- If you’re flying into Brussels Charleroi Airport (the budget airport), be sure to book your ride to town in advance. FlixBus is the cheapest option, with tickets for as little as 5 EUR. BlaBlaCar is another budget-friendly option, as well. The regular shuttle from the airport will be around 14 EUR.
- Get the plat du jour. Many restaurants offer a dish of the day or a fixed menu at cheaper prices during lunch, which will save you a few bucks if you plan on eating out.
- Rent the Villo. These bikes are available around the city for free if you are traveling for less than half an hour. If you need it for more time, a day pass is 1.60 EUR and a 7-day pass is 8.20 EUR.
- If you’re going to use public transportation, get a metro pass. A single journey on the metro system is 2.50 EUR but the day pass is 7.50 EUR. If you’re staying longer in the city, buy a MOBIB basic card for 5 EUR. It will save you almost 1 EUR per trip!
- Skip renting a car. Unless there is a specific reason or you’re going to be driving out into the countryside, you don’t need a car. Traffic can be slugging, and the trains and buses are perfectly fine for getting around.