The Belgian capital of Brussels is sometimes overlooked as one of Europe’s less exciting cities but we here at Europe a la Carte definitely think otherwise and Brussels is featured in our best European cities to visit post. Here are some of the great things to do in Brussels from the blogging team, whether your interests are museums, shopping, Art Nouveau architecture or (in my case) Belgian chocolate!
Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a charming and mesmerizing European city, one of the best places to visit in Europe. I have supporters in the Europe a la Carte blogging team. Karen explains why she loves Brussels and Andy apologies for all the city’s unjustified boring tag. There are a lot of things to do in Brussels. I’ve also even offered some suggestions on what not to do in Brussels; and besides indulging in some Brussels shopping for the mouth watering delicious Belgian chocolates, Brussels is also famous for Belgian lace.
The lace making process started in the Flemish provinces of Belgium roughly around the 15th Century. The Belgian lace usually consists of flowery patterns. Well known for its intricate designs, originality and beauty, these laces are made from the finest linen thread.
Two main styles of lace making exist today in Belgium – The Needle Lace which is usually sold in Brussels and the Bobbin Lace which is the trademark of Bruges.
The original handmade laces tend to be very expensive, you will generally find the machine manufactured laces adorning the shops these days. It pays to be aware of this, or else you may end up buying a machine made lace at exorbitant prices – remember there are not enough people in Belgium to hand make all the laces that are on display in the shops.
Check out the large variety of items with the laces carved upon them – table cloths, place mats, handkerchiefs, bags, pillow covers, wedding veils, gowns, T-shirts etc. Some of these definitely make a great souvenir, just avoid the tourist traps and head to places where the locals shop.
Brussels, the capital of Belgium and of the European Union, is definitely one of the best places to visit in Europe. A mix of both the ancient and the contemporary times, it’s a lively city with a host of things to do. Other members of the Europe a la Carte blogging team agree, Karen wrote “Why I loved Brussels” after her visit in December 2009 and Andy apologised in “I am sorry, Brussels” after it was named the most boring European city in a Trip Advisor poll.
But this post depicts exactly the opposite – the things that should be avoided while exploring Brussels!
Grand Place in Brussels
Give “Mini Europe” a miss –Mini Europe close to Atomium houses replicas of some of the most famous architectural sights in Europe but most of the attractions lose their charm and beauty when viewed in such miniature sizes. Me thinks its better to make a plan to visit the real ones and avoid this one all together!
Avoid the “Manneken Pis” – This tiny statue of a boy is one of the most overrated attractions in Brussels. Trying to find your way to the place takes a lot of time, its located in a small lane near the Grand Place and you have to peddle through the crowds. Its a sore disappointment when you finally reach there because by now you expect to see something grand. Rather check the boy out on some postcard and utilise your time enjoying the other places!
Do not buy Belgium Chocolates – You may be wondering if you read this correctly? Yes, very much. Belgium chocolates are world famous and the name is enough to make one’s mouth water. Brussels has plenty of chocolate shops, and no trip can be considered complete without buying the best of them. But avoid the chocolate shops located right next to the major attractions like the Grand Square, Royal Palace etc. They are priced at exorbitant rates. Its better to check out the market areas for some great deals. Buy the chocolates only after sampling them, most of the shop owners will let you do so happily.
Say no to Hop-on-Hop-off buses – Brussels is a cute little city with most of the Brussels attractions located within walkable distances. Give yourself some exercise and a wonderful chance to see the city on foot. The city boasts of some incredible walkways so use them. The remaining places can be seen using the public transport which is up to the mark.
I visited Brussels from 12 – 15 December 2009 and discovered that it’s an exciting, vibrant city, so I want help put paid to this myth that Brussels is a boring. There are so many interesting things to do in Brussels and some great Brussels museums. Here are four reasons why I loved Brussels:
St Catherine’s Christmas Market had loads of stalls as well as a Big Wheel and an outdoor ice rink.
St Catherine’s Market ice rink and Big Wheel
I loved the alternative Christmas trees on display just up from Grassmarkt.
Alternative Christmas trees in Brussels
Although you may think they’ll be fewer things to do in Brussels in Winter, I found the opposite and would recommend a visit in December.
2 Sense of humour
Whilst almost everyone has heard of the Mannequin-Pis, the statue of the peeing boy, the canine equivalent is the Chien-Pis.
Le Chien-Pis, Brussels
Have you ever heard of the Belgian Irish Indian restaurant in Brussels and not just any old restaurant but a smart one?
The Shamrock Indian Restaurant, Brussels
Everyone knows that Brussels is famous for beer but you can avoid airline hand luggage liquid restrictions by buying a beer candle.
Beer candles for sale at Grassmarkt, Brussels
3 Art Nouveau
Brussels is one of the best cities in the world in which to see Art Nouveau style architecture and design. You can find many of the sites of note on this Art Nouveau map. The interior of the Museum of Musical Instruments has an art nouveau lobby.
The foyer of the Museum of Musical Instruments
There’s some beautiful Art Nouveau stained glass in the foyer leading to the Museum Brasserie at Place Royale 3.
Art Nouveau stained glass in the foyer of the Museum Brasserie, Brussels
4 Great Museums
I spent an afternoon visiting three Brussels’ museums. The first on my list was the City Museum in Grand Place. I didn’t really want to know every detail of the history of Brussels but was more interested in seeing the interior of the grand building. I discovered that the Mannequin-Pis has over 800 costumes from all the world which are stored at the City Museum where his personal wardrobe assistant changes the costumes every month of the replicas. He must have know I was visiting Brussels in December 2009, as the Scottish kilt costume was on display.
The City Museum (at the right of photo), Grand Place, Brussels
Then I moved on to at the Sexties exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts which showcases the work of four leading 1960s comic strip artists. As all the dialogue was written in French I was rather lost but there was one story about a Scot, the Loch Ness Monster and an attractive French girl.
Next it was the Magritte Museum which I really enjoyed despite not being a great fan of surrealist art (or knowing much about any art genre). I judged that I’d get more out of the museum if I just wandered around looking at the paintings which appealed to me, rather than the structured audio guide. So while I probably missed out on a lot of background information I spend my time studying the pieces that appealed to me such as the “Night Sky painted bottle, the “Red Model” depicting feet as boots and “Harvest” a multi coloured nude in a window looking out onto a meadow
If you plan to visit several museums then a Brussels Card is a good investment as it allows free entry to the thirty main museums as well as carriage on public transport and discounts/offers at various stores and restaurants.
I visited Brussels 12 – 15 December 2009 and asked for tips on what to do and see in the Belgian capital in a Europe a la Carte blog post and on Twitter. I’ve collated these tips to help you get the most out of your trip to Brussels. You can also read “Why I loved Brussels“.
Tony Mallett editor of UpFront suggeststhat if you want something a bit whacky – we all know about the Manneken Pis, the little peeing boy, but given the Belgians’ obsession with all things lavatorial, there is also a peeing girl and a peeing dog – the Janneke and Zinneke Pis respectively.
Zinneke or Chien Pis, Brussels
As it turns out, the somewhat vulgar Janneke is right opposite Delirium. There is also a gent’s outdoor latrine – up against a wall of the church in St Catherine. Yes, it seems faintly sacreligious, but there ya go. Bienvenue en belgique! If you want to get onto the relatively new Magritte Museum, you have to book in advance online
Alison Cornford-Matheson author of cheese web says all this talk of beer and no one mentioned CHOCOLATE! Head to the Sablon area and be surrounded by the best chocolate shops in the world. Go to the Wittamer cafe for a to die for cup of hot chocolate.
Once you are warm and toasty, head to Grand Place for the Christmas lights show and continue through one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Christmas Light Show 2009, Grand Place, Brussels
If you get hungry grab some frites and a mug of gluwijn (mulled wine) and an oyster or two.
Brussels is far from boring!
GeekyTraveler recommends that f you like beer, you absolutely must make a beer pilgrimage to Cafe Delirium in Brussels. They have over 2,000 beers available for purchase and hold a Guinness world record. They have decent cheese and sausage for snacking as well, but really, itâ€™s all about the beer. :)
@eurapart The Christmas Market at place St Catherine is good. Ixelles the restaurants around Place St Boniface are good places to eat. The area around Place Flagey is Portuguese.
St Catherines Christmas market icerink and Big Wheel
@eurocheapo Please go to Mere du Nord seafood stand for lunch on St Catherine. Sooo tasty, fresh and – best of all – cheap!
@rachelcotterill Buy the Brussels Card, then you can nip in & out of museums as it takes your fancy. The money museum was surprisingly good. Mokafe in the Galeries St Hubert does fantastic waffles at good prices.
@hackneye – Brussels is one of the best cities in the world to get acquainted with Art Nouveau. either taking a guided tour or getting an Art Noveau map from tourist office. Highlight: Musee Victor Horta. Don’t forget the beer!
Art Nouveau style Museum of Musical Instruments, Brussels
Christmas exterior of the Royal Windsor Hotel Grand Place Brussels
I stayed in an executive suite on the 6th floor. There was a seating/working area which could be separated from the bedroom area by a sliding wooden screen. Each area had a flat screen TV. Internet access was available free of charge by wired connection but I had to grovel around on the floor in order to insert the socket. The internet access was excellent and I was able to quickly upload videos to youtube.
The room had views over the spire at Grand Place from which I could watch some of the Christmas Light Show after dark.
View from my room after dark
The bathroom, off the bedroom. was very luxurious in brown marble with a large shower cubicle, a bath and two sinks. There was a selection of Bulgari shampoo, shower gel, soap and body lotion as well as toweling bath robes and slippers for guests to use. The toilet was located just to the left of the main door.
I was disappointed that in such a standard of room that you had to request and pay extra (5 euro a day) to have in room tea and coffee making facilities. In my opinion this should be offered to every guest as standard with no additional charge.
I wanted to show you a couple of videos of other rooms, as the Royal Windsor has a wide selection of types of room including rooms for business guests. Below is a video of a standard room.
The hotel has twelve fashion rooms individually designed by some of the top names in Belgian fashion designers. Below is the room by Christian Wijnants.
Breakfast at the Royal Windsor is excellent with a wide selection of fresh fruit, cereals, cold meats, cheeses, yoghurts, cooked breakfast, smoked salmon, bread and pastries. I did enjoy the Belgian waffles and crepes.
In summary the Royal Windsor Hotel Grand Place is a well located hotel which offers a high standard of accommodation and service to all guests. If you want to splash out you can have plenty of space in a suite or a boutique type experience in one of the fashion rooms.
When I was in Brussels in mid December 2009 I talked to Tony Mallett, editor of Upfront, a Brussels events based magazine, available free of charge as a print magazine and online as Upfront-Live.com.
Tony has lived in Brussels for nine years so gives us some tips on what to do and see in the Belgian capital. However Upfront is now expanding to cover the cities of Ghent and Antwerp.
I had an all too brief read of the Upfront Magazine at Brussels Charleroi airport before having to ditch it in order to get everything into my one piece of cabin baggage to board my Ryanair flight. There was an article about the phased smoking ban in Belgium, reviews a few “change your life/work balance” books (with the reviewers’ recurring theme of who is going to wash these dirty dishes piling up in my sink) and an interview with Belgian chefs.
Brussels, the Belgian capital, has really pulled out all the stops for the 2009 festive season with the most wonderful Light Show every evening in Grand Place. The Electrabel Nights is part of the Winter Wonders programme of events which runs until 3 January 2010.
The Light Show is on every evening from 16.30 until 22.00 weekdays and 23.00 at weekends. I’ve been at Grand Place every evening of my three night stay in Brussels astounded by the show!
All I can say is that you should try get to Brussels to see this fantastic free Sound and Light Show.
I’ve spent the day wandering around in Brussels. It’s been really enjoyable and interesting and I’ve picked up on some alternative Belgian takes on Christmas gifts and trees.
When I saw the market in Grassmarkt, I thought I spotted a beer stall but on closer inspection it was actually selling candles in beer glasses that even looked as though they had a frothy head.Â It reminded me of my granny’s trick double layered whisky glass.
Just up the road from the Grassmarkt was a collection of somewhat wacky Christmas trees. One had a guy with a chain saw perched on a branch, certainly different from the traditional fairy and tinsel. Another was like a street plan with wooden blocks denoting houses.
Well it was all very entertaining seeing some unusual perspectives on Christmas in Brussels.
Back this spring, TripAdvisor conducted a survey and concluded that Brussels was Europeâ€™s most boring city. Mon dieu! I couldnâ€™t disagree more, and for that, I make a public apology to Brussels. The Belgian capital is one of the most authentic European cities that I know and just because it refuses to not bow down to preconceived notions that tourists have about European capitals does not mean that it is boring. There are plenty of reasons why you should love Brussels; here are only a few.
Happy Kids Sculpture in The Square, Brussels
Some of the best food Iâ€™ve had on the entire continent has been in Brussels. Going far beyond â€˜Mussels in Brusselsâ€™, you can have mouth-watering steaks, rich and creamy pastas, and the best chips (French fries) in the world. Top all that off with a Belgian waffle, topped with fresh strawberries, fresh strawberry confiture, and fluffy whipped cream. What more could one want?
Tip: Try the steaks at Aux Paves des Bruxelles (Rue Marche-au-Fromage 1-3).
Everyone knows that Belgian brews are some of the best ever made â€“ in fact, some modern day brewing methods originated from the work in the medieval Belgian abbeys. Brussels is full of pubs serving the good stuff on draught; the atmosphere is fantastic as you can find high-ranking EU officials mingling in the same space as an â€œin the knowâ€ tourist.
Tip: It might be in most tourists books, but still check out La Mort Subite (7, rue Montagne-aux-Herbes PotagÃ¨res).
The Grand Place or main square in Brussels is my favourite city square in all of Europe. Ok, there I said it. Feel free to agree or disagree with that, but it cannot be denied that on a clear evening the Grand Place is a magical and beautiful setting. Pop into one of the cafes alongside the squareâ€™s perimeter and soak up the ambience.
Who doesnâ€™t love the Manneken Pis? As if the statue wasnâ€™t adorable enough, the little boy appears to have an extensive wardrobe, ranging from military uniforms to sportswear and holiday-themed apparel. I think this great statue reflects the fun, quirky sense of humour that Belgians have and it is this aspect of their society that makes Brussels such a welcoming place to visit.