Brussels is truly a stunning city, but one that is often forgotten. It is often dubbed “the capital of Europe”, since all the main institutions of the European Union are located there. However, its importance is not only political – the city has such a rich cultural history that it will take so much more than just a couple of days to fully appreciate it.
Back in 1912, Jean Neuhaus invented those incredibly addictive chocolate pralines in this city and changed the food industry (and my future life) forever. And this fact plays just a small part in the impact Belgian chocolatiers had on the rest of the Europe. Chocolate is a huge part of this country’s history, and you can be sure that your visit to Brussels will be not only culturally fulfilling, but also extremely delicious!
I’ve put together a short, two or three-day itinerary that will cover all the bases – the most famous things like: important buildings, monuments, museums, palaces and plenty of time for chocolate and beer tastings. If that sounds like your kind of trip, then you are going to love what I planned for you!
I generally believe that the best way to explore any city is to walk everywhere. When you are on foot you can always take a detour, and even get a little bit lost and discover a place that you didn’t even know existed. And that is my favorite part of any trip – just discovering places and hidden corners that are stunning, but aren’t really talked about that much online.
And Brussels isn’t really a large city, so it is possible to walk pretty much anywhere. Sure, it is a little larger than other popular cities in Belgium like Ghent or Bruges, but it’s still doable.
But I know some of you don’t like to be on foot and prefer the speed and efficiency of wheeled vehicles. So, here’s a breakdown of the best transport methods that will help you get around Brussels.
Rent a Car: Not worth it if you are only in Brussels for a couple of days. You won’t find anything for less than 50 euros a day, and you won’t even be behind the steering wheel long enough to get your money’s worth.
Taxis: Avoid them. They are very expensive to begin with, and the drivers do not shy away from ripping off tourists and charging dozens of euros for a 10 minute ride.
Metro: The fastest way to get from one part of the city to another is riding the metro. And you can get 48 and 72-hour metro cards, which is just perfect if you are in town only for a few days.
Busses And Trams: Another great way to get around the city efficiently and without spending a lot of money. These are not as fast as the metro, but they are slightly more frequent and will get you from point A to point B safely.
If you want to save money, then I would suggest you get the Brussels Card. It’s a card for tourists that gives you free access to some places, as well as discounts and skip-the-line tickets to plenty of stores, museums and popular landmarks.
To be a little more precise, you’ll get free access to some 40 museums and you could save a bunch – especially on day two. But also on days one and three, since the card includes free access to some of the most popular tourist attractions and landmarks that I’ve included in this itinerary. And you also get discounts on the most popular Brussels tours, a few of which I planned for day 3!
You can buy the card online, and you can choose between several different options. I would get the 72-hour card with free public transport because it is the best value for money.
The only downside of the card is that it offers discounts at only two restaurants, which are pretty expensive on their own. But it does also offer discounts at plenty of chocolate shops, and you can always sustain yourself on truffles and pralines for a few days! It might ruin your plans to stay fit during the trip, but it will certainly be delicious.
A street tour is exactly what it sounds like – checking out all the monuments, parks and significant buildings in the city. Before you do anything else, check the weather and make sure that it’s not going to rain – it would ruin the entire day. Load up on carbs in the morning, and fill your daypack with snacks and water – it’s going to be a long day. This tour is great for all of you who feel at home with a camera in your hands, so bring an extra battery and make sure you clear your SD card!
Brussels is swarming with street artists, and so there are plenty of murals and graffiti on the street that are just waiting to be photographed. And there is even a detailed map that will help you easily find the street art that interests you. There is a lot of it in the city centre, and you will easily be able to check out some of the most popular murals on foot. Oh and remember, these always make a great backdrop for photos, so if you are just looking for a hot spot to take a selfie or want an awesome photo to commemorate you and your best friend’s trip, you will love the pop of color they provide.
But you don’t have to plan your entire day around the murals and graffiti. My suggestion is that you check out which ones you like the best, and mark their spots on the map. Then, when you are going from one landmark to another you can just stop by the closest one.
I say we begin the day at Grand Place. It is a huge square in the city centre and it’s surrounded by stunning, historic buildings. Plus all the major attractions are very close to it, so it is the perfect spot to begin the tour. You will definitely want to check out the Manneken Pis, an iconic fountain from the 17th century. And right down the street from the fountain is the Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon, a 15th century Gothic church. With its tall towers and baroque chapels, it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, and you definitely don’t want to miss it.
From there, I would make my way to Gare de Bruxelles Centrale – the metro station. On your way there you should pass by Mont des Arcs, a city area that is exclusively made up of museums and parks. But don’t stop there – you can check it out on day two, as a part of the art tour! Grab a train to Heysel (line 6) at the station, because that’s where we are going next.
You might be wondering what’s in Heysel, and you might have already googled it. It’s the Atomium, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire city. Oh and if you got the Brussels Card, you’ll get a 25% discount for the ticket. This bizarre example of modernist architecture consists of nine spheres, six of which are open to public. And out of those six, each one offers stunning views of the city below it. Don’t forget your camera for this one!
And when you are done at the Atomium, head over to the Laeken Park. There are so many stunning sights there – Leopold I Monument, Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, Castle of Laeken, Japanese Tower, Monument à la Reine Astrid and even more! I would spend the rest of the day there, walking around the palace, taking in the beauty of the flowers and just enjoying the day. But of course, only if it’s a sunny day – the rain would make it pretty much obnoxious to be outside and walk around the park. When you can’t feel your feet anymore, head back home and rest because the best is yet to come!
I know the street tour included a lot of artsy sights, but it’s nothing compared to what I have in mind for day two. We are going to check out all the best galleries and museums, and I’ll do my best to pick out the ones that you can visit for free with the Brussels Card. Again, I think it’s best to begin the day at Grand Place and then make your way through Brussels from there.
The first stop in the art tour is going to be Belgian Brewers Museum. It is one of the buildings that surround the main square and you can get in for free with the card. This museum displays beer brewing equipment used in the 18th century and its complete opposite – you can also check out a modern, hi-tech beer brewing center inside the museum. Oh and you get to taste a beer at the end of the visit, so be sure to have some breakfast before the tour. Drinking anything alcoholic on an empty stomach is never a good idea!
Right behind this museum is the Costume and Lace Museum, another awesome place to visit (for free with the card). You can see all the clothing that is historically and culturally important, and you get a glimpse of how fashion developed in Brussels, from centuries ago to today. But if you don’t really care about fashion and clothing, then how does the Autoworld sound? With over 250 vehicles, you can feast your eyes on some of the most iconic old timers, race cars and even learn something about the automobile industry in Belgium!
But the Autoworld is a bit further away than the Museum of Costume and Lace. It is located in Parc du Cinquantenaire, one of the most popular parks in the entire city. The Art & History Museum is also there, as well as the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History. And you can’t miss the Triumphal Arch – it’s right between the two museums. Oh and you can visit all of these museums for free with the Brussels Card – how’s that for value for money.
If you remember, on day one you probably passed by the Mont des Arcs. This historic place is going to be on your way from the Brewers Museum to the Autoworld, and you should definitely stop by and check it out. For one thing, there about a 100 different museums there, all of which feature unique exhibitions and collections. The Musical Instruments Museum, Musée Oldmasters Museum, BELvue Museum, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and others are all located here, along with plenty of statues, landmarks, a stunning garden and a huge palace. So, I would suggest that you plan to spend at least 3-4 hours here, if you really want to try and see it all.
One other thing you should check out before getting to Parc du Cinquantenaire is the Royal Palace of Brussels. You can go on a tour of the rooms inside it, including the throne room, which sounds incredibly exciting! And you can also see the mirror room, the marble room, the room of Louis XVI and so much more, and if you visited the royal estate in Laeken, a tour of this palace will really help complete the picture of how the royals in Brussels lived.
If you are only in Brussels for a couple of days, this is how I think you should spend them. You will see all the important tourist attractions, the stunning street art and visit some of their most popular museums, which really should give you a good understanding of the Brussels culture. However, there is one other important aspect of Brussels (and Belgium in general), but it’s not for everyone. So, if you have a few more days to kill there or if you are a true foodie, then get ready for day three because you are going to love it!
This one is for all the foodies out there, who know that you can’t simply leave Belgium without getting a good taste of its delicious chocolate! But where do you even begin in a city where chocolate shops are as posh as jewellery shops?
Probably the easiest way would be to just walk into one of the dozens different chocolate shops in the center of Brussels and buy whatever looks good. But I would like to remind that Brussels is a very expensive city, and its chocolate shops are no different. A Godiva truffle box could set you back anywhere from 10 euros (for a measly six pieces) to over a hundred euros for about a pound of chocolaty goodness. So I have a much better idea that will allow you to not only bring back tons of Belgium chocolate to your friends, but also to keep most of your money.
How does a chocolate making workshop sound? You would spend about 3 hours on the Grand Place in Brussels, and in that time you could learn to make over 30 different authentic Belgium chocolates. You get to take home what you make, and you will also get to go to a chocolate tasting, where you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. Oh, and you get a hot chocolate to keep you warm and focused during the workshop.
And if you feel like a chocolate workshop is not for you, then you might want to go on a chocolate tasting tour. This has numerous benefits; for one thing, you get to visit the six best chocolate shops in Brussels and sample some of their delicious truffles and pralines. That will also help you figure out exactly which types of chocolates you like and you want to bring home, which will make shopping for them later much easier. And the best part is that you will get a 10% discount at the stores and you get to save some money and buy exactly what you like.
But, Belgium is not just about chocolate. Beer is also very important throughout the country, and not just as an export product. It also plays a large part in Belgian cuisine and there are plenty of authentic Belgian dishes that incorporate it as an ingredient. And not to mention all the different beer festivals that you can find in the country at any time of the year.
With that in mind, why not combine the best of both worlds? I’m talking about a beer and chocolate tour, aptly named The Brussels Journey. The four and a half hour tour will take you to some of the best chocolate shops in Brussels, as well as a few of the local taverns where you get to taste all the IPAs and Triple Blondes that are authentic to Belgium. Overall, you will get to taste and sample about 20 different items, so I wouldn’t suggest going with a really full stomach. But I would definitely suggest you going on this tour, since the guides will also take you through some hidden corners of Brussels, as well as some of the most popular tourist spots.
And that marks the end of our entire journey through Brussels. If you visit all the places I suggested, then you should have a pretty good feel for the culture of the city, and plenty of chocolates to bring home to your friends and family. I hope this itinerary will work for you, and that you will have an amazing time in the capital of Europe!
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.