I absolutely love travelling around Europe. It’s such a unique and diverse continent with many beautiful cities and capitals. Tucked between its more popular neighbours of Germany, France and the Netherlands, Belgium often gets forgotten. But, the best things to do in Brussels are actually super interesting.
You can do waaaay more here than just eating chocolate and waffles (although that should certainly be on your list)! The country is full of hidden treasures in every shop window, beautiful buildings and fascinating history and architecture packed into every cobbled street.
Absolutely perfect for a long weekend, most of the more popular sights can be seen in just 3 days. However, stay for a week to visit some of the more obscure parts of the city and the country. It also doesn’t matter what time of year you visit as the Christmas Markets will delight, just as much as the floral warmth of summer.
But, if I learned one thing from visiting Brussels, it’s definitely don’t visit Brussels while you’re on a diet because I guarantee you’ll soon be stuffing your face with all the waffles, chocolate, fries, and beer you can find! That, among other things, is certainly one of the top things to do in Brussels!
The Best Things to do in Brussels – Where to stay
As well as being the capital of Belgium, Brussels is also the capital of the European Union. That might seem like it’ll be pricey to find somewhere to stay in Brussels, but don’t worry! It’s not as daunting as you might think.
The best places to stay in Brussels are either the City Centre, Saint Gery or the Sablon or Les Marolles neighbourhood. The City Centre is the obvious choice for a lot of tourists because of its convenient proximity to public transport and Brussels’ attractions. It will, however, be considerably more expensive to stay in the centre of the capital.
Sablon is about a 10-minute walk from the centre, so not too far at all. It’s known for its wonderful gothic church and charming architecture. It’s also the place to be if you’re a chocolate lover as its cobbled streets are lined with some of the best chocolate shops that Brussels has to offer.
Plus, if you’re staying in Brussels during the weekend, the Grand Sablon Plaza becomes a busy, bustling market full of wonderful handmade goods to buy. Much more luxurious, the Hotel le Dixseptieme is a great hotel in Sablon.
Saint Gery is a lively neighbourhood, full of bars and restaurants. It’s also minutes away from the main square, so perfect for people looking for the convenience of being able to walk to a lot of places. It’s about 15 minutes from the main train station too. The Dansaert Hotel is a great place to stay in Saint Gery.
Les Marolles is a diverse neighbourhood full of a mixed culture of locals. It’s probably the best place to stay in Brussels if you want a completely authentic experience. You can find local flea markets as well as cute cafes, bars and restaurants. It’s also one of the cheapest places for accommodation as you can find boutique hostels like Hostel Galia for as little as £25 per night.
There are so many more amazing places to stay in Brussels so be sure to check more hotel prices in Brussels below!
The Best Things to do in Brussels – Getting around
Another great thing about Brussels is that, like a lot of great European cities, it’s super easy to get around. The train systems are excellent. The overground will get you between cities like Ghent and Bruges and the Metro is great for navigating the capital.
Brussels’ train ticket system is a little bit like London’s in that the easiest way to get about is to purchase something called a MOBIB card. This card can be loaded (like an Oyster Card), with journey credit and then topped up as and when you need more.
The actual card costs €5 to buy for the first time. But is then valid for years, so you can use it again if you decide to return to the city. A single ticket will cost €2.10, a return €4.20 and you can also buy 24, 48 and 72-hour tickets for €7,50, €14,00, and €18,00 respectively.
This will also get you in and out of the airport which can be seriously useful as there is a direct train from the airport to the city centre. As well as trains, the city also has a reliable bus and tram network which will also work with the MOBIB card.
The 17 Absolute Best Things to do in Brussels
1. Grand Palace
Brussels’ centrepiece, this magnificent Palace sits in the centre of the main square. Getting to it is almost just as wonderful as you have to navigate the cutest little streets and alleyways. Built over 300 years ago, the Grand Palace is a gorgeous city hall.
Whether you visit at night time or during the day, the striking architecture will leave you speechless and the Grand Palace is definitely one of the best things to do in Brussels. There is often a market in front of the Palace and the Brussels City Museum and the Town Hall are also in the same square.
2. Cathedral of Saint Michael
Located in central Brussels, the Cathedral of Saint Michael is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the country. One of the most important landmarks in Brussels, it was built in the 13th century and is dedicated to St. Michael and St. Gudula, the patron saints of the city.
Seeing the gorgeous interior is one of the best things to do in Brussels and that church remains today as the main Catholic church in the city.
3. Mannekin Pis
This cheeky little boy is often seen in photographs of Brussels and you’ll certainly see him all over the souvenirs and trinkets you can buy from the city. Brussels’ most famous statue, there are many legends surrounding the boy.
The most famous story is that Brussels’ enemies had hidden gunpowder in the city and a boy called Julien saw the lit fuse and put it out by peeing on it! They were so thankful; they made a statue of him and he still stands proud in the city today.
Whatever the story, the boy is famous and definitely one of the best things to do in Brussels. You can find him by taking the right-hand lane past the city hall. Depending on what time of year you travel to Brussels, you might actually see him dressed up! The locals put him in different outfits throughout the year, and he has more than 800 costumes!
This is definitely one of the more touristy spots in Brussels, but where else in the world are you going to see a giant atom? The 100-meter-high model stands in Heysel Park and was made in 1958 for the Brussels World Expo.
Each of the spheres contains something different from a science centre to a space centre. It’s a pretty surreal experience walking through the tubes of the model. For a totally unique thing to do in Brussels, dine at the Atomium restaurant for some delicious food and panoramic views over the city.
5. Parc Du Cinquantenaire
Featuring Brussels’ Arc de Triomphe, the Parc Du Cinquantenaire is a truly beautiful spot in the city. Slightly outside the cobbled streets of the centre, the park is a great place to visit in Brussels.
Whether you just want to have a picnic, eat from one of the waffle stands or explore the incredible artefacts housed in the museum here. It’s a pretty stunning sight regardless of the time of day. The Parc Du Cinquantenaire should definitely be on your list of the best things to do in Brussels.
6. Visit Mini Europe
If you’ve ever wanted to see minuscule versions of every single one of Europe’s major landmarks then you’ll love Mini Europe. It’s basically a miniature village but on a continental scale!
Located at the foot of the Atomium, you’ll find a mini Eiffel Tower, mini Big Ben and a miniature version of Rome’s famous Colosseum! There’s a total of 350 models and some are animated! This is one of the best things to do in Brussels if you’re visiting as a family.
7. Gorge on Waffles!
If you plan on visiting Brussels, arrive with an empty stomach because you will definitely be leaving with it stuffed full of waffles! An absolute must-do whilst in the city, one will never be enough and the range of different flavours will make your mouth water.
From chocolate hazelnut, banana, caramel, golden syrup, or just cinnamon sugar, it’s extremely tempting to buy all of them! Waffles are sold all over the city; in coffee houses, independent cafés and street vendors too! So whichever flavour you don’t try the first time, you’ll have plenty of options to go back for seconds as you explore Brussels!
8. Day Trip to Bruges
One of the best day trips from Brussels is to take the train to Bruges. This picturesque city is about 40 minutes from the capital and super easy to get to. Once you arrive, you’ll literally feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
One step up from Brussels in terms of winding cobblestoned alleyways, ancient, beautiful buildings and pretty canals, Bruges will definitely capture your heart. Climb the Bruges Belfry, visit san Salvator Cathedral and cruise the canals for the perfect day trip from Brussels.
Discover the best things to do in Bruges
9. Stuff Yourself with Chocolate!
You almost can’t go to Belgium and not eat loads of chocolate! This is why I definitely don’t recommend visiting if you’re trying to watch what you eat!
One of the most famous and delicious chocolatiers in the world, the Belgian really know their stuff when it comes to chocolate. Well, if the hundreds of almost antique chocolate shops scattered along Brussels’ narrow alleyways are anything to go by, anyway!
The home of Godiva is in Brussels, and I certainly recommend paying that a visit and also Passion Chocolat, which is one of the prettiest chocolate shops in the world.
If you’re a real sweet tooth, you can even try a food tour, or visit a chocolate museum that, of course, also includes a tasting!
10. Old England Building
This old, 19th centre department store attracts visitors from all over. Not just because of its beautiful exterior but because of its fascinating interior too! It’s now a museum that holds over 2000 musical instruments!
You can literally watch the history of music evolve over the ages. You will also have the chance to listen to many of the older instruments played. The museum also has a delightful rooftop café for when you’re done exploring, which will give you great panoramic views over Brussels.
11. Brussels Notre Dame Cathedral
Also known as the ‘Church of our Lady’ this impressive gothic structure was built in the 15th century. Full of beautiful stained-glass windows, thick stone columns and elaborate paintings, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Brussels.
The name stems from the legend as it used to contain a statue of Our Lady of ‘t Stocxken, which supposedly had healing powers. This statue was then stolen by a band of thieves in a rowing boat; however, a life-size model can be seen in the church today.
12. Palais de Justice
The most important law court in the city, the Palais de Justice is one of the most stunning places you will see in Brussels. It’s actually the largest courthouse in all of Europe and I’m willing to bet that it’s also the grandest. An absolutely amazing building, full of towering stone columns, huge figurines and impressive architecture.
13. Royal Palace of Brussels
Not to be confused with the Grand Palace, the Royal Palace is Brussels’ equivalent of Buckingham Palace. The Royal Family’s official residence, the palace is open for tourists in the summer months except on Mondays when it’s closed to the public. Located next to Brussels Park, the Palace is certainly worth visiting whilst in Brussels.
14. Rue Des Bouches
For foodie fans, Rue Ded Bouches will be right up your street! The busiest food street in the city, you’ll find rows of great eateries. There are restaurants, cafes, ice cream and waffle shops and pubs selling more or less every type of food imaginable.
Whilst some of the prices won’t be as cheap as restaurants outside the very centre of the city, you cannot deny the quality of food here. Some restaurants literally had queues of people lined up outside their doors, waiting for a table!
Once you do get a seat, check the menu for Moules-Frites (Belgian mussels), Belgian Frites (traditional fries), or my personal favourite Flemish stew, a rich stew made from beef simmering in Belgian beer. Utterly delicious the melt-in-the-mouth meal is the perfect end to a day’s exploring.
15. Visit Ghent
Much closer to Brussels than Bruges, Ghent is a 25-minute journey by train. A beautiful city, Ghent is another perfect day trip from the capital. Especially if you’re a fan of elaborate castles, stunning city views and impressive architecture.
Be sure to visit the Gravensteen Castle, climb to the top of the Ghent Belfry and see the wonderful Saint Bavos Cathedral. A day in Ghent wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Korenmarkt to try some scrumptious street food and more of Belgium’s delicious waffles!
16. Go on a Beer Tour!
Another thing that Belgium is famous for is its beer and going on a beer tour is definitely one of the best things to do in Brussels. Stroll through some of the best pubs in the city. Learn all about the history of the beer and how it’s made in one of Brussels’ many breweries. Don’t forget to sample the beers and try a few Belgian specialities like the Duvel or the Belgian Blonde.
17. Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries
A little like the Galleria de Vittoria Emanuel in Milan, the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries is a shopping centre that you won’t want to miss. The impressive architecture is well worth a visit. Even if you don’t buy anything, wandering through the marble strip of shops can be fascinating in itself.
It can also be busy, so watch out for pickpockets if it’s crowded! The two lines of independent stores on either side are full of an array of boutique fashion, jewellery, suits, handbags and, of course, chocolate! So, perhaps even treat yourself to something nice while you’re there.
Bonus – Visit the Christmas Markets
Now, this obviously depends on what time of year you choose to visit Brussels. But I think that Brussels has some of the best Christmas markets in Europe. You can easily spend hours wandering the stalls, trying all the delicious food and purchasing knick-knacks, homemade goods, arts and crafts, jars of sauce or other foodstuffs and even furniture if there’s room in your case!
You could even swap a meal at a sit-down restaurant for a variety of findings in the markets. We did this and had sausage with bacon mash and mustard, a cone of Belgian Frites, a hot dog covered in onions and, of course, a waffle for dessert! Then, wash it all down with a warm glass of mulled wine. Delicious!
Also, discover the best Christmas Markets in Europe
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