I’d always wanted to go to Brussels, I’m not sure why, but it was always somewhere that appealed. On a recent trip back from Amsterdam, we arrived here only for Eurostar to cancel our train. Bad news aside, it was the perfect opportunity to explore Belgium’s capital. Best of all, Eurostar is footing the bill.
With only 2 nights and a day here, these are my picks for the best that Brussels has to offer on a whistle stop tour:
The Grand Place is possibly the most magnificent public square in the world. Oddly hidden, it feels almost like a well-kept secret as it’s reachable only via 6 narrow streets, but arriving in the beating heart of the city is breathtaking. One of my favourite things to do abroad is explore at the blue hour. The gold fronted, gabled houses and the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) are extra special as the light recedes and the lanterns flicker on.
The Quartier de L’Ilot Sacre, home to the Grand Place, is a charming art-nouveau neighbourhood with a strong cafe culture. There’s the Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, Europe’s first shopping arcade, offering high-end shops and eateries under an ornate neo-classical roof and a plethora of independent shops to enjoy in this central quarter too.
Two statues worth seeking out are the Manneken Pis an icon of the city, which like most tourist traps, is a little underwhelming but should really be seen and another of Jacques Brel, the legendary Belgian singer whose likeness has been immortalised in bronze in the Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés, replete with his enormous, iconic teeth, which is much more fun and whimsical.
The Royal Quarter has a regal air, with the Palais Royal and Palais de Justice located here, connected by pretty, manicured gardens. There’s also the art nouveau gem, the Old England Building with a café on the top floor that offers panoramic views of the city.
For a sweet treat, Maison Dandoy on the Rue Charles Buls, a short walk from the Grand Place is another Brussels institution. Serving up tea, cakes, and waffles since 1829, the waffles and home-made speculoos ice cream are glorious but be prepared to queue. It takes us around 20 minutes to be served.
Fritland is a hole-in-the-wall fries place offering a portion of classic frites with a range of toppings for over 40 years. There’s a constant queue but it moves quickly and there’s seating available outside.
Le Cirio is a fin-de-siècle institution opposite Le Bourse and is worth seeking out. First opened in 1886, the interior hasn’t changed much and the service from the aproned waiters is polished, if a little stuffy. The coffees are reasonably priced though, for its history and location.
For Belgian beer, Le Roy D’Espagne is a good option. Located in a 17th-century building overlooking the Grand Place, there’s a large beer menu and it offers a range of meals from fried bitterballen to more substantial moules & frites, all served at reasonable prices.
Brussels is a strange city. In places it’s quite charming and in others, incredibly run-down, usually cheek by jowl. It lacks that extra something that makes a city unmissable. It’s pleasant enough but maybe a little boring. The Grand Place is spectacular but that’s about it.
I enjoy my unexpected trip here but I don’t think I’ll return. There’s more to the city including the Mini Europe theme park, the Atomium & the EU Quarter to discover but they’re not enough to draw me back. There are definitely much worse places to be stuck but I’ve seen it now, my itch has been scratched. Thanks Eurostar.
Thanks for reading,