By Devashree Sanghvi.
An enigmatic city bathed in a blend of historic and contemporary architecture, Brussels is a place that will keep drawing you back time and again.
The literal heart of Europe, this electrifying capital packs a ton of things to do, see and experience.
From streets lined with Art Nouveau buildings to museums packed with some of the world’s greatest art, squares bustling with activity to cobbled alleys full of delicious food, modern buildings with the globe’s largest businesses to splendid churches, Brussels is truly a masterpiece of a destination.
Easily accessible from all of Europe and with flights coming in every minute from all corners of the world, this European Union capital is one of the most visited cities in the world. I was here recently with Visit Brussels and explored much of this beautiful Belgian city within 48 hours.
Here’s what you should absolutely do, see, eat and explore in Brussels:
From museums to parks to palaces to churches to pubs to shopping streets, there is a lot to experience in Brussels. Get yourself a Brussels Card which is like your key to this city, offering free/discounted entries to all museums/attractions, sometimes free unlimited public transport and deals on restaurants/bars/shopping along with free city guides and maps!
Here’s are some experiences you can’t miss in Brussels :
1. Walk around the spectacular Grand Place:
Unquestionably one of the world’s most beautiful squares, Grand Place is Brussels will leave you spellbound. Marvel at the architectural masterpieces as you stroll around this bustling square, always full of activity. Grand Place is approachable from small cobbled streets scattered around it, drawing you to the one main centre studded with magnificent buildings whose golden arches and detailed craftsmanship will leave you in awe.
The opulent guild houses, 15th-century city hall and Maison De Roi make this UNESCO world heritage site one of the most visited places in Europe. If you’re lucky enough to visit during summer, you can also experience the beautiful Brussels flower carpet over Grand Place.
2. Visit the Palais De Royalle :
Located on the south side of the Parc de Bruxelles (Brussels Park), the Palais De Royalle (Brussels Palace) is the official residence of the Belgian King and Queen. It is open to visiting during summertime and also houses an interesting museum. The extravagant architecture and the sheer beauty of this grand building make it one of Brussels’ must-visit sites.
3. Go on a spiritually enriching journey at the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart :
A true architectural masterpiece located in Koekelberg, Brussels the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart is the fifth largest church in the world with opulent pillars, intricate carvings and massive halls gracing this beautiful gem. The massive green dome also acts as an observatory and offers spectacular views of the city. While this is a little away from the city centre, it’s free from fluttering tourists and is a must-visit hidden gem of Brussels.
4. Get hypnotized by the Atomium:
One of Brussels top attractions, the Atomium is proof of how diverse Brussels is in terms of its architecture. A modern marvel built for the 1958 Expo in Belgium this unusual building is a symbol of modern science and unity. You can enjoy a picnic in the garden of the Atomium or walk around its giant spheres to get some Instagram worthy shots!
This spectacular building also houses a modern museum and viewing deck offering stunning views of Brussels.
5. Stroll down Parc Du Cinqantenaire:
One of Brussels most famous and largest parks, the Parc Du Cinqantenaire or Jubelpark is perfect for an evening stroll. This lovely green space boasts of an iconic arch extending into two interesting museums on both sides, one being an auto museum and the other being a war museum. The arc is quite grand and is one of Brussels most famous photo spots. You can also just walk around this breath-taking park or marvel at its many marvellous buildings and fountains.
Apart from the above you should also definitely go see the cute Manneken Pis, explore the new chocolate museum, spend a day at mini Europe or shop at the lovely Royal Gallery of St Hubert near Grand Place.
A complete foodie hotspot, Brussels has some of the world’s best fries, waffles, chocolates, meats and more.
With an electric mix of street food, local eats and fine dining, Brussels is a city of gastronomy, perfect for all us food lovers.
Here’s what and where you absolutely must eat in Brussels:
1. Belgian Frites (Fries) at Belgian Frites, Grand Place:
Founded in 1987 this immensely popular street store serves some of the best Belgian fries cooked fresh, crisp and golden brown for you. You can have these with a variety of toppings and sauces of your choice. This is a Brussels speciality you can’t miss.
2. Brussels waffles near Manneken Pis :
The lane next to Manneken Pis is full of stalls selling beautifully garnished fresh Brussels waffles that will leave you drooling. Just a look at these shop windows full of waffles of every shape, size, colour and topping is enough to make your hearts burst with happiness. I tried the traditional Brussels waffle topped with fresh strawberries, whipped cream and brown sugar. I still can’t forget how delicious it was. You can’t go to Brussels and not have waffles!
3. Belgian chocolates at The Chocolate Museum, Brussels:
That’s right! Brussels has its very own chocolate museum in the lane adjacent to Manneken Pais where you can learn all about the evolution and making of chocolates. It’s called Choco-Story Brussels. They also have a fun live chocolate making demonstration and free chocolate tasting. Brussels has some of the world’s highest quality and best chocolates and a visit to this chocolate museum is an absolute dream come true.
4. Try Belgian beer at Delirium Café, Brussels:
One of the most popular bars in Brussels, Delirium serves over 2000 beers from around the world! They even have a Guinness World Record for it! This fun old place also has a lot of local Belgian beers that are extremely popular. Strong, light, spiced, fruity, you name the beer and they have it. This place is an absolute must-visit!
5. Enjoy a meal at Aux Arms De Bruxelles:
Transport yourself to the early 19th century as you walk into Aux Arms De Bruxelles, one the city’s most iconic restaurants serving traditional food with a classic style. The cobbled walls, crisp white tablecloths, servers dressed in classy attire, shining Victorian chandeliers and the flair of service make this one of Brussels’ best dining experiences.
6. Try Farm to Table dining at TERO, Brussels:
Enjoy a delicious meal made with fresh, organic, local ingredients at TERO a beautiful casual dining restaurant with spectacular interiors and a lovely Al Fresco section too. I loved their gnocchi, fresh pesto with spaghetti and chocolate mousse.
Apart from the above, Brussels has a LOT to offer in terms of gastronomy. Just walking along its streets you can discover something new every time you visit. Read more about Brussels eats here.
From weekend street markets to high-end fashion stores to local food markets, Brussels is one of the world’s most fashionable cities.
From chic woollens to handcrafted coats, summer dresses to elegant accessories to the biggest of designer labels, you can find it all in this bustling capital.
Here are some of my favourite shopping destinations in Brussels:
1. The Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert:
Located in the heart of Brussels the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is a beautiful 19th-century shopping arcade with a line of high-end fashion labels and brands ornamenting it. Marvel at the chic displays or just stroll about window shopping at this gorgeous street near Grand Place. Built by architect Jean Piere Cluysenaer between 1846 and 1847 this is one of Europe’s oldest luxury shopping destinations. Find the best of European fashion, beauty, lifestyle, furniture and food labels here.
2. Brussels Street Markets:
From antiques to affordable clothes to street food to furniture to souvenirs to jewellery find it all at one of the many street markets in Brussels that are always a flurry of activity, This is one of the best ways to explore the local culture and life. I loved visiting the Place Du Grand Sablon on a Saturday to get some quirky antiques and the Place De Jeu De Balle, a fun flea market that was full of happy shoppers.
3. Chaussée d’Ixelles :
One of Brussels most popular shopping streets, the Chaussée d’Ixelles is lined with a host of brands, boutiques and department stores.
From budget-friendly hostels to cosy Airbnb’s to luxury hotels to apartments, Brussels has a lot of accommodation options across budgets.
Since it’s a compact city you can easily find good accommodation from the centre and the public transport (trams/metro/bus) make it very easy to explore the city. You can find hostels for as low as 15 Euros a night and 5-star hotels at 200 euros a night.
I’d recommend checking out some Brussels hostels here. If you have a good budget the Brussels Marriott Grand Place is a great option. It’s comfortable, well located and has a host of modern luxurious amenities.
Being a major city in Europe, Brussels is easily accessible by air, road, trains and busses. I took a Eurostar superfast 2.5-hour train here from London.
From Mumbai, there are daily flights to Brussels offered by multiple airlines like Emirates, Turkish Airlines, British Airways, etc.
Brussels is also in close proximity to France and The Netherlands and can easily be reached via train within 2 hours from Paris and Amsterdam, perfect for a day trip or a weekend.
Overall, Brussels is a beautiful city with a lot to see, eat, explore and do. This was my third trip here and I can’t wait to go back again soon.
For more info on Brussels check out the Visit Brussels website here.
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