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Brussels, Belgium - Grand Place

Brussels: A Destination Guide

Introduction

 

Sandwiched between Paris and Amsterdam sits the seemingly quiet city of Brussels. Quiet is hardly right – not only is Brussels host to the European Commission and Council of the EU and European Council, there is so much going on in this city for the foodie in all of us. If the numerous chocolate specialty shops don’t win you over, maybe the locally brewed beers, or the scrumptious waffles at every corner will convince you otherwise. And if food’s not your thing, Belgium’s picturesque towns are only a quick train ride away from its capital city, Brussels – close enough for a day trip filled with exploration.

Know Before You Go 

  • Currency: Euro (€)
  • Airport: Brussels International Airport (BRU)
  • Language: Dutch and French are the official language in the Brussels-Capital region, though English is widely spoken as well.
  • To/From the Airport:
    • Taxi: A licensed, metered taxi would cost approximately 45€ from the airport to the city center.
    • Uber: An Uber from the airport to Brussels will cost about 30€
    • Public Transportation: From the airport, you can take the train into Brussels Central train station and costs 12,70€ one way. The train runs 5am and midnight, 7 days a week, and takes about 20 minutes.
  • Getting Around:
    • Brussels is a very walkable city, but if your destination is further than walking distance, the metro (“STIB”) might be a convenient option, at 2,10€ a per ride.
  • Tipping: As with the rest of Europe, tipping is not required, though it is not uncommon to tip at your discretion for excellent service.
  • Credit Cards vs Cash: Credit cards are pretty widely accepted.
  • Neighborhoods – Brussels is divided into 19 municipalities, and as a visitor, you’ll likely spend the most time in the City of Brussels, which is home to most of the city’s main sights. Nearby Ixelles is known for its bustling nightlife and fantastic café scene. Etterbeek brings a mix of business (many EU offices are based in this neighborhood), shopping, and nature – you’ll find a leafy haven in Jubelpark/Parc du Cinquantenaire.
  • Days Off: Most museums and some restaurants, shops, and bars tend to be closed on Mondays, so be sure to check hours of operation and plan accordingly.
  • Must-Try Food: While locally brewed beer, artisan chocolate, and waffles are a given when visiting Belgium, be sure to try boudin blanc (a white sausage made with milk), carbonnades flamandes (think beef bourguignon but with beer), and mussels served with fries while you’re there.

The Details

See & Do

  • Grand Place – Brussels’ most notable landmark, the Grand Place was established in the 10th century as an open air market. In 1455, the Brussels’ Town Hall was completed in the square. The Breadhouse (Broodhuis), which today houses the Museum of the City of Brussels, was built by the Duke of Brabant in the 1500s, while the guilds of Brussels built many of the Guildhouses that sit on the square. The late 1600s saw an attack on Brussels’ city center by the French army, though the buildings were restored to their former grandeur in the late 19th  century.
    • Museum of the City of Brussels – Located in the Breadhouse building, it features artifacts and paintings that reflect Brussels’ history, including the original Manneken Pis statue (and a collection of its outfits over the years). Open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 AM to 5 PM. Admission is 8€
    • Town Hall of Brussels – While this remarkable landmark was built in phases during the 1400s, the iconic tower was added 1454. The bombardment of Brussels in 1695 resulted in the building burning down, but was rebuilt shortly after.
    • Flower Carpet – Every two years, hundreds of volunteers get together to assemble this sweeping (well) carpet of flowers that take over the center of the Grand Place square. The tradition has been in place since 1971 and draws in thousands of visitors for the four days the display of 600,000(!) begonias is in place.
L-R: Town Hall, Guildhouses, Breadhouse/Museum of the City of Brussels, Panoramic photo of the Grand Place
  • Parc du Cinquantenaire / Jubelpark – This gorgeous public park, filled with manicured gardens and adorned with striking buildings, is. located in the European Quarter of Brussels. Built under the direction of King Leopold II in 1880 to celebrate Belgium’s 50th independence anniversary, the notable arch wasn’t added until 1905. Today, park goers can visit the Royal Military Museum, the Jubelpark Museum, all located within the buildings that line the park. Tip – the top of the arch can be accessed through the Royal Military museum, admission to which is free.
L-R: Jubelpark arch, Tree-lined walkway, Sitting area in the park, Royal Military Museum
  • Mannekin Pis – This tiny landmark bronze statue, dating back to about 1618, depicts a little boy urinating into the fountain. It’s oddly highly trafficked, and is said to be a reflection of the sense of humor of the people of Brussels. The statue is dressed up for special occasions, as frequently as several times a week, to celebrate holidays or milestones. You can check the schedule of costumes, posted on the gate by the fountain, for upcoming costume changes. To see a history of the costumes (as well as the original statue), to head to the Museum of the City of Brussels.
  • Atomium – If you find yourself outside the city center, it’s pretty hard to miss this unusual structure, constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.
  • Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral – Though the church has been around dating as far back as the 9th century, the remarkable towers weren’t added until 1226. The church was completed as we see it today in 1519, and was given cathedral status in 1962. It served as the co-cathedral of Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, along with St. Rumbold’s Cathedral in Mechelen.
  • Place Saint Gery – This square was once home to the Saint-Géry church, which was destroyed in 1799 during the French occupation. Today, a market stands in its place, which takes form of a night market, art exhibit venue, or private venue, depending on the day of the week. Stop by during the day and enjoy a beer from the café inside the market, or one of the many bars and restaurants than are outside on the square – perfect on a summer day in Belgium.
  • Church of St. Catherine of Brussels – Located on the square that bears the same name, this Gothic meets Baroque church was built on the site of a basin of the former port of Brussels. During the holiday season, the square is lit up with a Christmas Market – a good option if you’re trying to avoid a much larger crowd at the Grand Place. Right behind the church is the Black Tower, one of the best preserved remains of the first walls that were built around Brussels in the 13th century.  (Blink and you’ll miss it – it’s surrounded on three sides by the Hotel Novotel Brussels Centre Tour Noirebuilding on the same block.)

L-R: Mannekin Pis, Place Saint Gery, Church of St. Catherine of Brussels
  • Chocolate Shops: It would be remiss of us not to speak to Brussels’ numerous chocolate shops. World known stores like Godiva and Neuhouse are well represented in their hometown, but you should be sure to stop into the smaller chocolatier shops. We liked Pierre Marcolini, Mary Chocolaterie, and Elisabeth. Be sure to leave room in your luggage to bring sweets home with you – you won’t regret it. Le Comptoir de Mathilde sells hot chocolate at their store in the Grand Place area. If you happen to fall in love with your concoction, you can bring a piece back with you – they sell their hot chocolate in solid form like fudge on a stick.
  • Day Trip:  Brugges – If you’ve ever seen the movie “In Bruges”, you’ll know what a picturesque place this little city is. It’s not without its character, of course – there is so much history and charm at every turn.
    • Markt – The main square in Bruges, situated at the heart of the city. The square has served as a marketplace since 958, though these days it’s mostly a gathering place, lined with Guildhouses, restaurants, and the Belfry, and the Provinciaal Hof (Provincial Palace). On Wednesdays, a market is still held here, local artisans and farmers still gather at the square and sell food, flowers, and local crafts.
    • Belfry of Brugges – The city’s most iconic monument, this landmark once served as a lookout post for invaders. You can climb to the top of the Belfry, for 10 euro and 366 steps. Stop on your way to the top to admire the numerous exhibits reflecting the Belfry’s history, including the room that houses the carillon, which comprises of 47 bells. The view at the top is incredible and well worth the trek.
    • Quay of the Rosary (Rozenhoedkaai) – Quintessential Bruges. Where Groenerei and Dijver canals meet; it’s one of the most photographed places in the city.
    • Beginhof Ten Wijngaerde – It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and the only preserved beguinage in the Belgian city of Bruges. Easily the quietest place in all of Bruges, the white house fronts and tranquil garden was once home to beguines (though today is inhabited by nuns). The peaceful, tree-covered garden is worth a visit, even if just to clear your mind.
L-R: Belfry of Bruges, View of Markt from the top of the Belfry, Quay of the Rosary, Beginhof Ten Wijngaerde

Drink

  • Delirium Village – While definitely tourist central (if its location and crowd didn’t give it away), it’s hard not to stop by this bar, which offers an incredibly extensive list of beers – over 3000! So many that they’ve made it into the Guiness Book of World Records. The bar has numerous levels – the upstairs (“The Hoppy Loft”) will be the most relaxed, while the first floor is fast paced and high energy – not to be missed when visiting. Be sure to check out the basement and monasterium as well – every room has a different atmosphere.
    Impasse de la Fidélité 4, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
    http://www.deliriumvillage.com/
  • Moeder Lambic Fontainas – If you’re in the mood for a casual beer, stop by this beer bar, which has a great selection of beers on tap, and a few good bites on the menu to boot. On a sunny day, be sure to snag a seat outside while you enjoy your brew.
    Place Fontainas 8, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
    https://www.moederlambic.com/
  • Poechenellekelder – Hands down the most interesting bar we stopped at, the décor of the place is… undoubtedly unique (read: puppets). Don’t let its looks scare you off – the staff is incredibly friendly and eager to help you pick the best beer for you, plus they serve complimentary snacks with your beer (and were quick to refill the bowls when we were running low). It tends to get busy due to its location – it’s right by Mannekin Pis, so getting a table can be tricky during peak hours due to high foot traffic!
    Rue du Chêne 5, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
    http://www.poechenellekelder.be/
  • Brussels Beer Project – You’ll likely see their beers on menus at bars and restaurants all over Brussels, but stop by their tap room, open Thursday thru Saturday 2 PM – 10 PM for a fresh pint straight from the source.
    Rue Antoine Dansaert 188, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
    http://www.beerproject.be/en
L-R: Beers at Moeder Lambic, Outdoor seating at Moeder Lambic, Table at Poechenellekelder, A glass of Brussels Beer Project at Place Saint Gery

Eat

  • Bar Bik – The menu changes regularly here, depending on what’s in season, but no matter what you order, everything will be cooked to perfection. The menu is posted up on a huge sign at the back of the restaurant (or they’ll bring a little board over to you), adding to its casual and friendly environment. Don’t let the laid back atmosphere of this spot, nestled in the outskirts of Brussels, throw you off – everything is plain, simple, and delicious. Reservations accepted (and encouraged!), but only by phone.
    Quai aux Pierres de Taille 3, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
L-R: Interior at Bar Bik, Bar Bik Menu, Entrecote and frites, Bar Bik Exterior
  • Gaston Ice Cream – While Brussels may be the chocolate lovers’ paradise, ice cream should not be overlooked. This ice cream shop, which uses in-season ingredients to create classic and creative flavors – think anything from chocolate ice cream to apricot yuzu sorbet. Plus, ingredients are all locally sourced and made on-site. Not to be missed are the cookies, brownies, and blondies – a great option in the winter when it might be too cold for ice cream. PS – It’s walking distance from Bar Bik if you’re in the mood for dessert after dinner.
    Quai aux Briques 86, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
    http://glaciergaston.be/
L-R: Chocolate ice cream at Gaston, Blondie bar with Pecans
  • Fin de Siecle – This bar and restaurant combo is a power house, serving up a solid offering of beers on tap, plus classic Belgian dishes. Our favorites? Carbonnades de Chimay, a beef stew, served with a hearty portion of potatoes, and the Chicons Farcis, leeks stuffed with chicken cooked in beer. The best part about this place is that you won’t break the bank dining and drinking here. Cash only.
    Rue des Chartreux 9, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
L-R: Beers at Fin de Siecle, Chicons Farcis, Carbonnades de Chimay, Interior of Fin de Siecle
  • OR Coffee Bar – Located in the Dansaert neighborhood of Brussels, this coffee and espresso spot brews up some serious cups.  To make sure they’re brewing only the best beans, they take yearly trips to coffee plantations around the world to find the beans that fuel their bar. With two locations in Brussels (and two more in Ghent!), there’s no reason not to stop by for a cup to fuel your day of sightseeing.
    Rue A. Ortsstraat 9,  1000 Brussels
    https://orcoffee.be/
  • Peck 47 – Not your traditional Belgian café, but if you’re in the market for an American-style brunch (eggs benedict and the like), this is your go-to. The wait during prime time brunch time can get lengthy, so pop in right when it opens or at around 3 PM onwards, when the crowd dies down. Don’t miss out on the refreshing and ultra-instagrammable juices and lemonades, served in mason jars and colorful straws.
    Rue du Marché aux Poulets 47, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
  • Leopold Café Presse – Nestled in Etterbeek, this quirky neighborhood coffee shop is a treat to pop into for a latte (and not too far from Jubelpark, if you happen to be in the area). While they brew an impressive cup (and toss a couple pieces of biscotti on your tray to boot), don’t miss the display of fun knickknacks and appealing array of travel books at the counter.
    Avenue de Tervueren 107, 1040 Etterbeek, Belgium
    http://www.leopold-cafe-presse.be/
L-R: Cappucino and Latte at OR Coffee Bar, Eggs Benedict with Salmon at Peck 47, Acai bowl at Peck 47, Lattes at Leopold Café Presse 

Stay

  • The Dominican – A trendy lobby and bar downstairs coupled with well-appointed rooms makes this a travelers dream when staying in Brussels. Centrally located, the property is a three minute walk from the  De Brouckere metro stop – ideal for venturing outside of the Pentagon. Read our full review here. Room rates range from 125-300€.
  • Novotel Brussels Grand Place – A great option if you’re looking for the basics. The hotel offers no-frills accommodations right at the city center and steps away from the Grand Place and the Brussels Central train station (convenient if you’re taking day trips to other cities or hopping on the train to get to the airport). – Room rates range from 100 – 200€.
  • Sofitel Brussels Europe – Located steps away from Jubelpark, this property is a great option for those looking to stay outside of the city center. Beds are notably comfortable, and rooms are modern and updated. Rooms are on the smaller side, but service is tops.  Room rates range from 140 – 300€.
L-R: Exterior at the Dominican, Dominican guest room, Dominican Bathroom, Exterior of the Novotel Brussels Grand Place
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