After spending a few weeks in Ghent, I decided it was time to practice my crappy French and visit the Belgian Capital. I knew it would only be a day trip, so I had to perfectly plan the best things to do in Brussels in less than 24 hours if I wanted to make it back home and save money on accommodation for the night.
Brussels is a big city and there’s plenty to do, so a day is not really enough to see all of what the place has to offer. However, I managed to cover some of the basics (and not so basics) and to pinpoint the spots that, in my opinion, are not worth the visit. So have a look and write Brussels down on your “To Travel list”!
Getting to Brussels
Brussels is only an hour away from Ghent by train and the price is not that expensive (around €18.00 for a return ticket). The Belgian rail website is very friendly. They have an online buying system and everything can be found in English. You can also buy the tickets at the station, but it always makes me nervous to struggle with the language barrier so I always tried to book in advance.
Again, Belgium has multiple languages. Some train announcements may be in Dutch and others in French, so make sure to know in which stop you are going to hop off and familiarise yourself with how it sounds. That way you won’t end up in another city, or in another country (never happened to me, I swear).
Things to do in Brussels
Visit Magritte Museum
I am an art enthusiast, so I never miss the chance to visit a museum if I can. Granted, museums are time-consuming. If you really want to appreciate one, it may take you hours to see it all and, since Brussels has many, I had to make a hard decision and choose only one to visit.
At the end, I went with Magritte Museum because I am a huge fan of surrealism and I didn’t regret it. While some of his most famous pieces are not in this particular art house (Le Fils de l’Homme belongs to a private collection), you still get to see a lot of his outstanding work.
You have to pay a fee to get in (€8.00), but since I am under 26 I received a 75% discount and I only had to pay €2.00. However, they didn’t let me get in with my bag and my coat, so I had to pay an extra euro for a locker. I was quite annoyed by it (I’m a cheap wench), but then I discovered it is only a deposit and you get your euro back at the end of your visit.
You are allowed to take photos inside the museum and the place is curated in a way that makes you go from Magritte’s early pieces and story, to its more controversial work. It mixes paintings, sketches and sculptures with some audio-visual pieces that narrate the artist’s life. Besides, the museum is right in the heart of the city. Just within walking distance from Bruxelles Central Station and very near other iconic city attractions. Definitely a must-see if you are looking for things to do in Brussels!
Don’t miss the Royal Palace of Brussels
After Musée Magritte, I walked to the Royal Palace of Brussels, which is just a 5-minute walk from the museum. I was very disappointed to find out that the place was only open to the public from July to September (and free of charge, as well), so I had to settle with admiring its grand splendour from the outside and snapping some shots across the street. However, the view is beautiful and the palace is right in front of Parc de Bruxelles, which was my next stop, so it turned out pretty convenient at the end.
However, if you happen to be in the city during the summer, I’d say you can’t really miss the Royal Palace. It was one of my top things to do in Brussels and I am definitely going to visit it next time I find myself in the Belgian capital.
Have a stroll at Parc de Bruxelles
The Parc de Bruxelles is pretty. I know, it doesn’t say a lot, but it is true. It has some fountains and statues, and was the perfect place to eat the lunch I had packed (told you, cheap wench), but besides a nice stroll and a mid-day snack, I didn’t do much more there. I am sure they organise activities and shows from time to time, but, like with the Royal Palace, most of the action happens during the summer.
Still, it is right in the centre of Brussels, it connects with plenty of other attractions and offers nice instagrammable pictures. It won’t take you long to visit it, since it is not very big, but still I had to include it on the things to do in Brussels list because it offers a nice break from the city rhythm.
Stop by the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
I am not a very religious person, but I always like to visit cathedrals, whenever I’m in a new place. And St Michael and St Gudula did not disappoint.
First of all, unlike many Bruges’ churches, it was free. You do have to pay a fee if you want to get into the archeological site or the crypt, but I’d say that the cathedral is pretty impressive by itself. The gothic architecture is gorgeous and the stained glass windows are a vision.
The place was hosting a school group when I arrived, so it was quite hard to take shots without running kids on the background, but I did my very best. Also, I took plenty of photos inside and nobody told me anything, so I assume it is permitted.
You may or may not be a believer, but visiting one of the most popular churches of a city always tells you something about its culture. Also, they are usually centrally located and the staff is quite willing to help you find your way in case you are having troubles finding your next spot on the list. Additionally, is one of the cheapest things to do in Brussels and how could you not like that?
Have a quick look at Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
One of my favourite things in the world is window-shopping. It may be vain, pointless and a little silly, but I just love to wander around shops and showcases, watch the prices, laugh at the state of my bank account and move on. Yes, I do find joy in that.
Les Galeries Royales was the perfect place for this particular hobby, because everything was so expensive that my wallet went to negative numbers just by looking at the tags. However, the place is beautiful. The glass ceilings give you the impression of a very luxurious train station and the window displays feature every product possible: from fancy gloves to deluxe chocolate and gourmet cafés. However, I just took some pictures and smile to the polite waiters on my way to my true lunch destination: a street stall. But more about that on the next point.
Eat some snails on the street
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to include this in the “things to do in Brussels” section or in the “things to avoid”. Food is such a huge part of any trip and I always try my best to avoid the tourists traps, so, when a native Belgian I met on the train told me that I couldn’t miss the Caricoles I decided that was going to be my dinner for the day.
Caricoles comme à Bruxelles shouldn’t be confused with escargots. Caricoles are sea snails cooked in a vegetable broth and they sell the in food trucks and street stalls around the city. I found a stand in front of Brussels’ Stock Exchange called “Chez Jef Et Fils “ and a lovely old lady served me half a dozen snails and… I still don’t know what to think about it.
Well, I mean, it wasn’t bad. I had eaten escargots before and liked them, but the snails had a different and chewier texture that didn’t really put my taste buds to dance conga. The broth was tasty and flavourful and I did manage to finish the dish, but I am not sure if I would order it again. I don’t regret eating it, but I think next time I’ll go for the mussels.
Take a selfie at Grand Place
Touristy, yeah, but main squares are always a must for me when I’m in a capital. Granted, it is full of people with selfie sticks and overpriced souvenirs but the surrounding buildings are usually beautiful and it is not very time-consuming.
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It is not one of the most exciting things to do in Brussels, but it is on the way of many other attractions, so you can always go, snap a few shots and keep moving.
Take your inner geek out at the Comic Book shops
There are many things to do in Brussels, but this is one of my favourites. In case you didn’t know, Belgium is the birthplace of many loved comic book characters like Tin-Tin or The Smurfs. So, if you are a bit geek and into the graphic novel world, one of the best things to do in Brussels is to browse around its comic book shops and marvel at the amazing selection it offers.
If you walk all the way down Boulevard Anspach you will find plenty of these kinds of shops, like Multi BD or Brüsel. Sometimes the appeal is not even on the books, but on the geeky, nerdy products they sell. Besides the local heroes, they also have some imported ones and you are able to buy hands of the king, Dumbledore’s wands and middle earth maps.
The artwork is unbelievable and the staff is quite friendly, so even if you can’t buy books because you have limited luggage space, like me, you can always browse around and chat with the locals.
Check out the buildings
When I was looking for things to do in Brussels, this was the first thing that came to mind. Odd, I know, but I am a huge fan of Art Nouveau and I know that many buildings in the city are inspired by it. So I took my camera and I ruined a pair of boots walking around to find some of the coolest buildings in Brussels.
Seriously, some of these made me want to wear a corsette and hop on a carriage. I could almost hear an orchestra playing in the background.
The true Art Nouveau district was on the other side of town and I wouldn’t have been able to walk all the way up there and back in time to get the train, but I managed to take some really cool photos of inspiring buildings I found on the way. What do you think?
What to avoid
Rue des Bouchers
Rue des Bouchers is a long street full of restaurants with incredibly attractive prices. What is not to like, you may ask? Well, the thing is that this street is particularly known for being a complete tourist trap.
As far as I know, the same person owns most of those eateries and although they offer affordable (maybe too affordable) prices, the flavour is not authentic and the quality could be better.
However, I’d say that walking down the rue is an attraction on its own since the surrounding buildings and the colours and the waiters screaming at you in English (if a waiter speak at you in English in a non-English speaking country is always a red alert for tourist traps) are quite a show. Just smile politely and enjoy the flattering phrases while you move on to a less commercial part of town.
I knew the Manneken Pis was just statue of a kid peeing. I did and, somehow, I thought it was a good idea to include it in my trip. Boy did I regret it.
There’s nothing gross or grotesque. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it is just a statue of a kid peeing. Why do people make such a big fuss about it? I still don’t know. It is not even a big statue, the kid doesn’t grant wishes or becomes alive at midnight or anything.
I do know there are many legends surrounding its origins, though. Some say that it is a tribute to an infant who peed on a fire and stopped a castle from being burned. Others say that a two-year-old lord peed on the enemy troops during a battle, bringing victory to its own army. However, there’s no consensus about it.
I don’t know how is it in other countries, but in Mexico we have plenty of fountains of kids peeing, so it wasn’t such a novelty to me. They do argue that the one in Brussels is the first one of its kind. But even if that were the case, I still don’t find it that exciting.
If you still want to go after my explanation, at least make sure to visit when the kid is dressed up. To make it even more random, The Manneken Piss usually appears wearing the national costumes of other countries, however, when I visited Brussels, the statue was naked.
It was a funny social experiment, but I wouldn’t say is one of the best things you can do in Brussels. The place has plenty of options, so I would skip this one even if you are a first timer.
Anyways, I hope you enjoyed all the things to do in Brussels and make sure to comment which one is your favourite.
I guess I’ll see you on the road.