So let me tell you about my favourite spots in Brussels! This blog post has been a long time in the making (mostly in my head) and every time I’ve had a visitor or someone asked me for a recommendation I’d think about it again. So here we are, finally.
As you can imagine my post on Brussels was getting longer and longer, so I decided to split it up. In this blog post I’m covering how to get to Brussels & can get around, what there is to see and then more specifically shine my light on museums, parks, markets & shopping and activities. I will dedicate a separate blog post to eating and drinking in Brussels – so stay tuned!
How to get there
Brussels has 3 main train stations that are conveniently located in the centre:
- Brussels South (Brussel-Zuid/Bruxelles-Midi)
- Brussels Central (Brussel-Centraal/Bruxelles-Central)
- Brussels North (Brussel-Noord/Bruxelles-Nord)
There are also a few smaller stations like Brussels Schuman or Brussels Luxemb(o)urg, but the three main ones are the easiest when visiting. Use the Belgian Rail website or the b-europe website to plan your trip.
There are two main airports:
Brussels Airport is the main one, approximately 20-30 min by train from Brussels (depending on the station). Brussels Charleroi Airport is the smaller one with more low-cost connections. It takes around an hour by bus from Brussels South railway station, or longer if you take the train + local bus.
In addition there are a few smaller airports in Luik/Liège and Oostende/Ostend, but I have no experience travelling through them.
Eurolines, Flixbus and the likes stop right besides the North station and some also by the South station. Connections to Charleroi Airport by bus depart from the South station.
Brussels is easy enough to reach from the neighbouring countries, especially by car. However, if you are only visiting Brussels I would advise against coming by car. The ring road around Brussels and the streets in the city are already quite congested. Getting around in the city is easy enough on foot or by public transport.
How to get around
Brussels is very walkable and the city centre is not that big (in comparison to other capitals). Some areas have also been pedestrianised. Note: Brussels unfortunately isn’t very accessible for wheelchair users, so prepare your trip well you are (travelling with) a wheelchair user.
As Belgium likes to make things complicated you can find three different public transport networks in Brussels:
- the Brussels network MIVB/STIB with metro, trams & buses
- the Flemish network: De Lijn
- the Walloon network: TEC
The latter two mostly connect Flanders and Wallonia respectively with Brussels rather than serving a wide area, but you may see them pass by. Generally speaking you cannot use tickets from one network on the other ones, so watch out for this when planning your travel with Google Maps for example.
What to see
Main square (Grote Markt/Grande-Place)
Make sure to visit this gem in the middle of the city. On the main square you can spot the Town Hall (Stadhuis/Hôtel de Ville), the King’s House (Broodhuis/Maison du Roi) and admire the surrounding guild houses. Every other year for a few days in August a flower carpet covers the cobblestones for you to marvel at.
Manneken Pis/Jeanneke Pis/Het zinneke
Manneken Pis is Dutch for ‘peeing/pissing boy’ and that is exactly what the little bronze fountain sculpture depicts. There are various legends, costume traditions and disputes about who has the oldest statue (yes, there are multiple ones) – but I’m sure Wikipedia can explain that far better than me.
In addition there is also Jeanneke Pis – the peeing girl. The sculpture was commissioned by local restaurant holders to attract more visitors.
Last but not least there is Het Zinneke – the peeing dog.
More on the peeing statues of Brussels.
Kunstberg/Mont des Arts
I always take visitors to the Kunstberg/Mont des Arts as it’s such a lovely spot with a nice view. My suggestion would be to descend from the Royal Palace and Royal Park, via the Royal Square and the Music Instruments Museum (photo on the left) to get to the public garden (photo on the right). On the Kunstberg/Mont des Arts you can find the Royal Library & Square meeting centre, surrounded by several museums (see below).
In winter the Sint-Katelijne/Sainte-Catherine square and the adjacent square are overflowing with Christmas stalls and lights. In other seasons, as soon as the sun is out, these squares turn into some of the city’s favourite beer gardens and restaurant patios.
The Palace of Justice of Brussels
The Justitiepaleis/Palais de Justice is not actually featured in the photos above – it’s been covered with scaffolding & under renovation since I don’t know when BUT you have some lovely views over the city from there. And it’s also next to the Louiza/Louise shopping area.
Comic books & street art
Belgium is also home to many a comic book and that long history and influence materialised into the Comic Book route. You can create your own walk, taking you past the different murals all over the city.
Atomium & Heizel/Heysel
The World expositions in 1935 & 1958 took place in Brussels and some buildings are still here to prove it. During the second edition the Atomium was built and it is the most impressive monument remaining. These days the Heizel/Heysel site is mostly used for big fairs and expositions. You can also find the national football stadium and a cinema complex there.
Other areas worth mentioning/visiting that didnt make it to the list above (yet): Parvis de St. Gilles, Chatelain, Marollen, Zavel and the European quarter.
Brussels houses a collection of splendid museum. These are my picks:
Music Instruments Museum
(Photo on the left). Housed in the Art Nouveau style Old England House, this museum is a treat for music lovers. Also worth a visit because of the restaurant at the top with breathtaking views over the city.
Bozar Centre for Fine Arts and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts
These museums, situated at a stone’s throw from each other in the city centre, offer really interesting expositions, so definitely have a look at what they have on show when you visit: Bozar & Royal Museums of Fine Arts
BIP, the Brussels Info Point
The BIP is not that known I think – I visited it because it was recommended to me by a friend. Or maybe you have heard of the BIP, carelessly walked by its building but you didn’t see its exhibition about Brussels – and that’s well worth a visit!
I visited this one for the first time during Museum Night Fever. ADAM, the Brussels Design Museum, is one for the cool people. We checked out the exhibition on club culture and it was a lot of fun! Right around the corner from the Atomium and the Park in Laeken – which makes for a nice day/afternoon out.
MIMA, or the Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art is a contemporary art museum with som kick ass expositions. And it takes you out of the touristy city centre.
KANAL – Centre Pompidou
Kanal (photo on the right) has taken over the old Citroën garage building and is currently under renovation (until September 2020). It’s a massive venue and I’m glad we managed to see it before it closed. The spaces themselves are quite industrial and raw and the art is modern/contemporary – so definitely worth a visit if you are into this.
Museum of Natural Sciences
I cherish the amazing childhood memories I have from this museum: being astonished by the giant dinosaur skeletons and taking part in children’s workshops. I’m glad I then got to share that experience with my godson when we visited a number of years ago.
House of European History
The House of European History can be found in the same area as the Museum of Natural Sciences and is actually free to visit. They have a remarkable collection of objects linked to European history that can be visited at your own pace: each visitor receives a tablet to walk around with and scan the items to find out more about them.
Jubelpark/Parc du Cinquantenaire
A lovely park in the European quarter (photo on the left) with lots of people running or taking part in yoga or other open air classes. In the buildings on either sides of the Arch you can visit the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, the Art and History Museum and Autoword. And as you can see from the picture the park is also the start and finish of the annual 20km of Brussels race.
Ter Kamerenabdij/Abbaye de la Cambre
This abbey and its surrounding green space is the quaintest of spots and usually very peaceful – great for a picnic or some chill out time with friends.
Park van La(e)ken
A personal fave because it is close to where I live. Therefore you can often find me running here, or just going for a walk with friends or even a picnic.
Markets & Shopping
Of course I had to point out some nice shopping opportunities!
On Sunday mornings next to the Brussels South station you can wander around the biggest market of the city. Fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses, morrocan pancakes, olives and dates, plants and flowers, fabrics… You name it, they have it.
Vosseplein/Place du Jeu de Balle
The famous flea market (photo on the left) takes place every morning on this square where you can rummage around and look for your bargain. If you’ve seen the Tintin film by Steven Spielberg then you now know where to follow in Tintin’s footsteps.
Ardense Jagersplein/Place des Chasseurs Ardennais
This market is a great place for afternoon drinks on a Friday afternoon/evening, especially when the first nice days appear in spring.
Nieuwstraat/Rue Neuve & Gulden-Vlieslaan/Avenue de la Toison d’Or
If you are looking for your typical chains and big shops then either of these two is a good option. The Nieuwstraat/Rue Neuve is very centrally located, whereas the Gulden-Vlieslaan/Avenue de la Toison d’Or can be found more on the south east side of the city centre.
Docks Bruxsel & City 2
Sometimes it’s more convenient to visit a shopping centre: it’s compact and you can find everything in one place (especially when it’s raining – it’s Belgium after all). City 2 (photo in the middle) is a shopping centre at one end of the Nieuwstraat/Rue Neuve and got nicely refurbished recently. Docks Bruxsel (photo on the right) is a bit further out by the canal, but very handy for me as it is on my way into or out from the city.
Obviously a separate category was needed for bookshops. Some of my favourites:
- English: Sterling bookshop (smaller/independent) or Waterstones (bigger, UK chain)
- Dutch/French: Standaard Boekhandel (it’s a Belgian chain but with convenient locations usually)
- Mixed: Passa Porta (hosts some very cool literary events)
- French: Filigranes (it’s a maze, but a maze of books so I’ll happily get lost there)
- French/English: Cook & Book (books meet restaurants – photos above – what are you waiting for?!)
These activities are perfect for a rainy day – but a lot of fun so you might not want to wait for bad weather!
My first escape game was a birthday present from my sister and her boyfriend. We went to Let Me Out and managed to escape from the Alice in Wonderland themed room (photo on the left).
Another first: trying out virtual reality at Virtual Room. We played the same game but in two separate teams. You’re each in your own cubicle and it all looked quite sleek, so a great first experience!
This is a great teambuilding activity by Docks Bruxsel. I’ve done it twice now and would really recommend if you like escape rooms and adventure in general. You do quizzes, clamber over/under/through things, find your way through a maze and complete a course 12 meters high. Ready, set, go!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is it! For now at least. I’m sure I’ll tweak this blog post over time and add more suggestions.
As you might have noticed I didn’t include any food or drinks recommendations! I figured that would turn into a whole list in itself, so I’m working on a separate post on it – stay tuned!
In the meantime you can read about some other Belgian hotspots: