7 Top Spots to Visit in Brussels

Belgium was our first new country to visit this summer. We went over the last weekend in July and spent a little over three days exploring Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges. Before we left, I had this picture in my mind of us walking down quiet cobblestone streets, admiring the charming guild houses along the canals, and eating copious amounts of waffles, chocolate, and frites – pretty much the stereotypical tourist version of Belgium – but it still sounds pretty nice, right? And we did all of that, but…something just wasn’t there for me.

It’s not that I disliked Belgium, but it didn’t wow me like some of the other places we’ve been. I suppose if you travel often enough, that’s bound to happen at some point. In all fairness, I think my opinion of the trip was influenced by the fact that the weather was absolutely wretched the whole time we were there – nothing but heavy rain, and even hail the day we were in Ghent – and I can also chalk up some of our disappointments to poor planning on our part. (I’ll get to that on a future date.) That being said, don’t let my opinion, gathered only over one rainy long weekend, deter you from paying Belgium a visit, because there are many beautiful cities in this country to explore, one of which is on the agenda for today’s post!

Brussels, or Bruxelles as we saw it referred to most frequently in Belgium, is the country’s capital and the city we used as our homebase since it’s so well-located for day trips to other parts of the country. Brussels is also where one of my friends from South Africa is currently living, so that may have played a not-so-small part in our decision to stay there, too. The most popular tourist sights in the city are all centered around downtown, so if you stay close by, you should be able to reach all of Brussels’ top spots on foot. However, venturing a little further out isn’t difficult either since the city is well-covered by the metro.

We only had one full day to spend in Brussels, which if you do it right, I think is adequate if the point of your trip is simply to see the city, not necessarily spend time in museums and such. (Brussels is chock-full of museums and historic buildings, so if you’ve got more time, you won’t find yourself lacking in things to do and see.) If you’ve only got one day to explore, the following are 7 top spots you won’t want to miss in Brussels!

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

The Grand Place

The Grand Place – if you’re coming to Brussels, I’m sure you’ve already got this one marked on your to-see list. The Grand Place is the central square in Brussels, and the city’s most popular tourist sight. Surrounding the square are the characteristic Belgian guild houses, the Town Hall, and the Maison du Roi where the Museum of Brussels is now located. By day, the square is bustling with tourists, buskers, and people selling trinkets of all different kinds. But it’s at night, when the lights from the buildings softly illuminate the square, that I think it’s at its prettiest. This is also the site of the bi-annual Flower Carpet where one million begonias carpet the square over Assumption Day weekend. (We missed it by only two weekends!)

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

Galeries Royales St Hubert

The Galeries Royales St Hubert is one of the prettiest, most classy-looking shopping districts I’ve ever seen. The two long galleries that make up the arcade are filled with brightly lit shops, boutiques, and delicious-smelling chocolatiers, but unless you’ve got deep pockets, you probably won’t want to make your purchases here. There are much cheaper places to get your chocolate fix only steps away. However, the galleries are worth a visit even if only to do a little window shopping under that gorgeous glass-topped ceiling!

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

Parc du Cinquantenaire

The Parc du Cinquantenaire is located in the European Quarter of Brussels, near the European Parliament building where members of the EU meet. The park features a giant, U-shaped building with the city’s Triumphal Arch at the center, inside  of which you’ll find the Royal Military Museum, an art gallery, and an automobile museum. Behind the crescent is a lovely little park and fountain where we sat munching on frites for an hour. The Cinquantenaire is the only place on this list that requires use of the metro to reach from downtown. We came out this way because I wanted to buy frites from the same frites stand that the Rolling Stones once queued at (priorities!), but if you’re looking for a park closer to downtown, just keep reading.

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

Royal Palace & Gardens

The Royal Palace is the official palace of the King and Queen of Belgium, but they do not actually live here – instead, this is where the King conducts all of his kingly business. From the end of July to early September, the doors of the Royal Palace are opened to the public and visitors can go inside for free and tour some of its rooms. I, unfortunately, didn’t realize this until we were already home, but we did take a walk through the gardens nearby which are open all the time.

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

Parc de Bruxelles

Brussels Park is the largest public park in the city. You’ll find it right across the street from the Royal Palace. This was my favorite spot in all of Brussels. It was quiet, even though it’s surrounded by major landmarks and popular tourist sites. The large pond and fountain at the end of the main avenue is probably the prettiest part of the park, and that’s where we sat for a good while enjoying our favorite traveling pastime, people-watching. (Who doesn’t love doing that?) If you don’t want to take the metro, but still want to find a green space to escape the city for a bit, this would be the perfect spot.

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels 7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

Brussels’ Quirky Side

You don’t have to go anywhere in particular to see Brussels’ quirky side, you simply have to keep your eyes peeled as you walk from place to place. The juxtaposition of classic European government buildings alongside statues immortalizing children’s comic book characters and off-the-wall street art is beyond unusual. I’ve never seen anything quite like that in any other city we’ve visited. It was this side of Brussels, the adoration of funky art and classic comics, that I found the most endearing. You’re bound to see quite a few of the murals as you head to other sights, but if you’re interested in something a bit more organized, check out the self-guided Belgian Comic Strip Walk.

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels 7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

The Infamous Pis Statues

Speaking of quirky – it definitely speaks volumes about a city when one of its most famous sights is a collection of peeing statues. We made a point to find all three – the Manneken Pis (the little boy), Jeanneke Pis (the little girl), and Zinneke Pis (the dog). Manneken can be found very close to Grand Place – I hear he’s often wearing costumes, but he was quite naked the day we paid him a visit. Jeanneke was semi-hidden down a small side street downtown and protected by an iron grate, so getting a photo without metal bars in the shot was more than a little tricky. Zinneke was the hardest of the three to find, requiring a bit of a hike to a different area of downtown, but totally worth it to complete the collection.

As far as capital cities go, Brussels is a modest one. Unlike some of the other major European cities where the attractions and sights seem endless, Brussels is a city that is perfect for a short break or long weekend getaway. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend equal amounts of time eating as you do sight-seeing, so food will be the topic of discussion next time. I’m craving a Belgian waffle and some hot cocoa already!

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7 Top Spots To Visit In Brussels

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  • EvaS
    September 12, 2014 at 1:47 PM

    I’ve never been to Brussels but I’ve always heard that it isn’t that beautiful. Have you been to Bruges? I’ve heard that that’s the place to go. Anyways, you can’t really go wrong with Europe :-)

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 13, 2014 at 3:02 PM

      Brussels is a pretty city, but I think it sort of pales in comparison to some of the bigger European hot spots like London and Paris. It’s not really fair to compare the two, though, I suppose. We did visit Bruges, but the sky was just pouring buckets the whole time we were there, so I think I need to make a return visit in better weather before I form an absolute opinion! :)

  • S Marks The Spots
    September 11, 2014 at 9:42 PM

    Brussels is a beautiful city despite its reputation of being grey and boring. I won’t lie, the weather is miserable and notoriously unpredictable but it’s full of interesting street art, great foodie spots, antique shops, chocolate and beer! Next time you visit have a look at my blog – it’s full of little gems waiting to be discovered :)

  • Dannielle @ Chicadeedee
    September 11, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    I absolutely loved Brussels, and can’t wait until I get the chance to go back and explore more. It looks like you did a lot of exploring! We went into the MOOF because we were with a cartoon addict, and I really liked it. We also used a day to go to Bruges, which was so pretty, so I think using Brussles as a base was good as there’s lots of good food and quirky bars to go to at night. That picture of you and Lexie is gorgeous!

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 13, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      I saw that museum! Actually, out of all of them in Brussels, that one looked the most interesting, but I was worried that all the information inside would be in French and then we wouldn’t get much out of it. But if you loved it, I’ll add it to my list for next time!

      • nigel cartwright
        September 15, 2014 at 2:05 PM

        Didn’t go into that museum Sarah,because I wasn’t aware of its use until returning home and doing some research.The info. inside is actually in Dutch,but wireless headsets(full-size)are available,which enable one to hear sample sounds of each exhibit on the way round.Also on the top floor there is a restaurant open to the public ,and separate from the museum,with great views over the City.Must give it a visit next time!.

        • Sarah Shumate
          September 19, 2014 at 12:34 PM

          Thanks, Nigel! I’ll be sure to! :)

          • nigel cartwright
            September 19, 2014 at 3:12 PM

            I was confusing your previous reply with the comments by Danielle@Chicadeedee Sarah.It’s what happens when one is getting on in years!.Danielle and I were talking about different museums!.I only had the briefest glimpse of The Old England Building,as I passed on the open-top bus tour,but instantly fell in love with it.I’m so glad you were as impressed as I was.One of my all time favourite places has got to be Dubrovnik.No doubt you being a seasoned traveller,you have been there.I even have it as “wallpaper” on my laptop.Look forward to future comments from your goodself Sarah.

          • Sarah Shumate
            September 20, 2014 at 4:10 PM

            Sorry about the confusion with the comment response! I am quite jealous that you’ve been to Dubrovnik – Croatia has been in my Top 5 countries to see for over a year now, but we still haven’t made it. I’m crossing my fingers for next year, though. What a postcard perfect place it looks to be!

          • nigel cartwright
            September 21, 2014 at 1:57 PM

            No need for apologies Sarah,the confusion was on my part! I was last in Croatia in 1999 staying in a tiny but beautiful village called Mlini.It managed to escape the ravages of the war with Slovenia,apparently some ‘deal’ had been done with the aggressors. Not so the nearby village of Srebreno.Every hotel had been completely trashed.I went into a couple, and came out in tears.In one,the hotel register and registration cards were strewn all over the floor.This was seven years after the end of the war.I brought some of them back home with me.The contrast of the beauty of the area and the devastation was truly heartbreaking.I hope my recollections do not put you off.I would go back tomorrow!.I could go on all day about my love for the country,but enough for now of my ramblings!.

          • Sarah Shumate
            September 21, 2014 at 8:02 PM

            Far from it – hearing your story actually makes me want to visit even more. It sort of reminds me of my experience in Vietnam in the mid-90’s. We were in Ho Chi Minh City 20 years after the war and yet to my teenage eyes, it looked like the city had recently been under siege. The poverty and disease and general disrepair of the city were hard to witness. I haven’t been back, but I hear that things are much better there now.

            I would have taken the registration cards home with me, too. :)

          • nigel cartwright
            September 23, 2014 at 8:08 PM

            Thanks for your recent reply Sarah.Another aspect of Croatia,is the friendliness of the people.I’ll mention just a couple of instances.The first was having arrived late in the evening because of a 2hour flight delay,my partner and I were gasping for a beer.having just passed the local taverna,but had not got any local currency.On going in the next day,we happened to mention this to the owner,and his response was you could have come in and paid me the following day!.The second one happened in a little back street bar in Dubrovnik.We had had gone in for a coffee,when shortly after, six or seven local men came in off the street,formed a circle,and started to sing in harmony.Well it was so magical,the manageress must have noticed my appreciation.She then whispered something to her assistant,then went out.When I went to pay I was told the drinks were on The House!.I notice on your blog-page you’re a bit of a bookworm amongst other things.Next time I will talk about Shakespeare and Co. on the Left Bank in Paris.

  • Emmymom
    September 10, 2014 at 7:51 PM

    Love love your pictures! The buildings really are so awesome and so ornate. The peeing statues are pretty dang funny

  • nigel cartwright
    September 9, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    Loved your pictures of Brussels Sarah.I was there over the weekend of The Carpet of Flowers a few weeks ago.Quite simply beautiful.I must also mention my favourite building in the city,The Old England former department store,now a musical instrument museum.Built in 1899 in the Art Nouveau style,it is a stunning piece of architecture.Google it and see if you agree!.

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 13, 2014 at 2:57 PM

      What a unique place! It’s truly beautiful. I wish we’d seen that. I’m also jealous that you were able to see the carpet of flowers in Grand-Place. I was more than a little disappointed when I discovered that we were only missing it by a matter of days. That’ll teach me to do more planning before we take a trip!

  • Sammy @ Days Like This
    September 8, 2014 at 9:51 PM

    I have heard a lot of opinions similar to yours in regards to Brussels. It is just missing the ‘wow’ factor. I went when I was 17, but we were only there for a night, so all I remember is trying some cherry beer and looking at the peeing boy statue. I want to go back so I can form a proper opinion :)

  • Jo
    September 8, 2014 at 8:32 PM

    Glad you managed to get some great photos despite the dreadful weather

  • Betty J. Ogburn
    September 9, 2014 at 1:03 AM

    …Great photos, as per usual!!…I’ve always heard that selfsame thing about Belgium–that is, it’s beautiful, but there lacks a certain je n’ais se quois…

  • Melanie Fontaine
    September 8, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    I’ve visited Brussels a couple of year back with my parents and just like you I didn’t really fall for it either. I mean, Brussels is nice, but for some reason I just seemed to lack a certain something for me. I’d be interested in visiting Ghent and Bruges one day, though – maybe I would feel different about them. :) And what a beautiful picture of you and Lexie! :)

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 13, 2014 at 2:52 PM

      Bruges especially was quite different than Brussels. It was my favorite of the three cities, so I bet you’d have a different experience if you visited there. It’s pretty touristy, but like someone mentioned in the comments, it’s still very cozy.

  • Camila @ AdventitiousViolet
    September 8, 2014 at 4:51 PM

    Wow! Loving the architecture! Didn’t know it was so beautiful!

  • Katrin
    September 8, 2014 at 12:32 PM

    Oh, I missed Zinneke when I went to Brussels! That’s a shame! :) I have not been there for years but now I need to go back and search for it. I have to say that I loves Bruges a lot. I have been there at least 6 times and I always like to go back. The city feels so cozy to me, I don’t know, I cannot describe it. I think a big part of it is that I went there with my parents a couple of times when I was a kid so it always reminds me of the good old times. :)

  • Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    September 8, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    Looks like a beautiful place! Can’t wait to hear more about your trip!

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 13, 2014 at 2:48 PM

      I don’t have too many posts about Belgium, at least in comparison to our other trips, but maybe that’s a good thing because it means I’m almost done writing about it and can move on to Spain! :)

  • Amanda @ Positively Amanda
    September 8, 2014 at 11:37 AM

    Gorgeous pictures!