Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is such a pretty city. I loved walking along its cobbled-stoned streets with a contrast of centuries-old buildings and huge impressive structures. The city just surprises at every corner– it’s so historical, yet modern at the same time.
Most of the popular sights are in the city center within walking distance from each other– but for those further away, the metro is a convenient mode of transport to get there. I had a wonderful time exploring Brussels in winter, and here are the top 10 favorite things I did on my visit. Make sure you do them too!
1) Marvel at the Grand Place
Brussels’ Grand Place is a gorgeous public square and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the most important tourist destination and landmark in Brussels; and is surrounded by the city’s Town Hall and guildhalls. The buildings are absolutely majestic with its Gothic architecture and shiny gold trimmings. During the day, the square is filled with art stalls and at night, the buildings come to life with bright lights. I was there during Christmas– so the crowd was treated to a sound and light display. It really brought out the magic of the season.
2) Admire the Atomium
The Atomium is one of the most bizarre structures in the world! It is 102m tall and looks exactly like an atom (well, it’s 165 billion times bigger)– with 9 huge stainless steel spheres. The highest sphere offers panoramic views; it was a clear day when I visited, so I could actually spot the Grand Place. From the top; going down the ‘warp-ish’ escalators and stairs lead to permanent and temporary exhibitions– mostly on architecture and the Expo 1958, which was when the structure was built.
The exhibitions didn’t really catch my attention; but I think the Atomium is worth a visit for its sheer uniqueness, its history, the fact that you’ll never find another atom-shaped building this size anywhere in the world (there are smaller duplicate versions around), and of course, it makes a good photo op.
3) Snap a Photo with the Manneken Pis
This is another popular landmark in Brussels, the little peeing boy, also known as the Manneken Pis. It is exactly as the name implies, a small bronze statue of a little boy peeing into the fountain. There are many legends surrounding it– from stories of courage, battles and fires; to a missing little boy. The statue was placed here in 1618, but after being stolen many times, it was replaced with a replica. The cutest thing is that the little boy statue has his very own wardrobe– he is usually naked, but when an occasion comes along, he gets a new outfit . While I was there, he was decked out in hip-hop green. Probably for Christmas.
4) Explore the Many Museums
There are so many museums around Brussels to suit every interest. With the intention of only visiting one, I picked the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History; and enjoyed it immensely. If you ever want a military rundown of Belgium, this is the place to visit– it is packed with history and memorabilia; ranging from uniforms, weaponry, vehicles and military equipment. It also has an impressive aviation hall with a variety of airplanes and flight machinery. The museum is located within the grounds of the Cinquantenaire Park, which is a great place for a stroll.
Other museums of note in Brussels are– the City Museum, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Autoworld Car Museum, Natural Sciences Museum and Musical Instruments Museum.
5) Get to Know the World of Comic Strips
Belgium is pretty famous for several of its comic characters, like Tin Tin and the Smurfs, just to name a few. It is said that there are more comic strip artists per square kilometer here than any other country. Therefore, Brussels has a museum dedicated to comic strips; the Belgian Comic Strip Center. This is the best place to find out more and immerse yourself in drawings, comics and cartoons.
There is also a Comic Cafe in the city, with a comic shop next to it. It’s got a pretty cool collection of comic strips and comic miniatures– and you can dine amongst drawings of your favorite Belgian comic characters.
6) Visit the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace, or Palais Royale, is the official palace of the Belgian King. Certain parts of the palace are opened to the public during the summer months; but unfortunately I was visiting in winter, so I could only admire the beautiful architecture from the outside. The palace overlooks the Brussels Park, which was pretty quiet when I visited in the late evening. There were only a few couples sitting on the benches spending some quality time together– and it looked really romantic with the bare silver trees back-dropped by the colorful hues of the dusk sky.
7) Walk Around Sablon
Sablon is located on the upper half of the old city of Brussels. It is divided into two parts– the Place du Grand Sablon, which is a beautiful public square surrounded by refurbished centuries-old shophouses; and the smaller Petit Sablon, which is a lovely flower garden with fountains and stone statuettes.
I enjoyed walking along the shops surrounding the Grand Sablon; it was an interesting mix of antique stores, fashion boutiques, hotels, restaurants, and mouth-watering chocolate and pastry shops. I also visited the Petit Sablon garden. It is a good place to relax, and provides a lovely view of the Church of our Blessed Lady Sablon that stands between the two squares.
8) Shop at the Galleries and Markets
Just like any other big European city, Brussels has its own fair share of shops and luxury stores. There are a couple of famous galleries about town with gorgeous glass roofs; like the Galeries Saint Hubert and the Royal Galleries. Stroll along the arcades, have a drink at the cafes, or pop into the many luxury boutique stores to look around. If it suits your budget, go crazy shopping!
There’s a flea market and an antique market (located in Sablon) in the city too. And during Christmas, make sure you spend some time at the wonderfully magical Christmas markets.
9) Dine at the Rue de Bouchers
When it is time for dinner, the best place to go to is the Rue de Boucher. It is a walking street that is filled with cafes and restaurants– all displaying their wide array of seafood selections on piles of ice, and delicious fare through their shop windows. Waiters stand by their restaurants, calling out and inviting passers-by into their place, promising the best seafood in town. The area has a delightful charm, and I enjoyed the hustle and bustle… but it often got me confused and indecisive when trying to pick a restaurant to dine in.
10) Taste All the Belgian Delights
The first two things that springs to mind when I think of Belgium are chocolates and waffles. After visiting Brussels and having these two sweet desserts there, anywhere else will probably never come close… especially those sugar snow topped waffles– to die for! Another two classic Belgian foods that are must-tries are mussels and fries.
I was glad I visited in winter, the Christmas Markets gave me the opportunity to go on a food tour. It is the best place to savor all the local flavors. I had pasta, stew, hand-rolls, shellfish, mash potatoes, cheesy delights, and everything with mushrooms. Also, chocolate dipped apples, liquorice and macaroons!