As the administrative center of the European Union and the capital of Belgium, Brussels has been an important city in Europe for a very long time – and its architecture shows this. From a renowned beer culture to some of the most recognizable foods in the world, Belgium has a pretty important gastronomical footprint, too. We have visited Brussels several times, and I am anxiously awaiting the day that we return. Brussels’ proximity to other major European cities makes it an easy place to add to many European trip itineraries, and I highly recommend that you do so if given the chance.
Best Things to Do in Brussels
1. Admire the Grand Place at Night
The Grand Place is the central square area of the city, and it is surrounded on all sides by stunning buildings, including the town hall, the Broodhuis, and the city’s old baroque guildhalls. The architecture here is just jaw-dropping – especially at night – and it is so much grander than anything I expected to see in Brussels. While the area is sure to be filled with tourists, visiting during the hours after dinner is simply a must while in Brussels.
2. Take a Selfie with Manneken Pis
Manneken Pis is one of the most famous landmarks in all of Brussels, which is pretty comical. As you might guess from the name, Manneken Pis is a statue of a peeing little boy, and due to some clever piping, it actually does pee…perpetually. Manneken Pis is iconic, and has inspired gaffes all around Western Europe, including a famous French Fries restaurant in Amsterdam. The statue is not very big, but visiting it is indisputably one of the best things to do in Brussels.
3. Spend an Evening in the Brussels Beer Halls
I love enjoying local food and drink when I travel, but beer and wine cultures around the world are some of my favorite things to explore. While the Czech Republic is the home of the pilsner and Germany is the home of the lager, Belgium is renowned for its own creative brewing techniques, which yield heavier, darker, and stronger beers. They’ve been doing it for centuries. While the beers themselves are outstanding, the culture within the beer halls is even better and cannot be missed, which is what makes knocking one back in a beer hall one of the best things to do in Brussels.
4. Learn About Brussels in the Broodhuis
Brussels is quite the unique city, and there is a lot of history that has caused the city to be what it is today. The Brussels City Museum, which is located in the Broodhuis in the Grand Place, is dedicated to preserving and educating about the unique history of Brussels and its role within Europe. This is easily the best museum to visit in Brussels, and tickets are just €10.
5. Attend Mass in the Notre Dame du Sablon Cathedral
The Notre Dame du Sablon Cathedral is the most beautiful church in Brussels. It is incredibly ornate on the inside, and absolutely striking from the outside. While visiting a church is nice, I always recommend attending a mass when possible. The experience of attending mass in a European cathedral is nothing short of magical. Hearing the mass music reverberate off of the walls while you admire the art all around you is truly a special experience, and I think anyone can appreciate the beauty of the mass in this context, Catholic or not.
6. Visit the Musical Instruments Museum in the Old England Building
The Musical Instruments Museum, or MIM, is one of the most unique museums you will find in Brussels, and it is located in one of the most famous buildings in the city. This museum is dedicated to preserving and educating about some of the most unique instruments in the world. Housing over 1,200 instruments, this museum gives visitors the opportunity to learn about each one, listen to many of them being played, and more. Entrance is only €15 for adults and free for children.
7. Eat French Fries with Mayonnaise
If you didn’t already know, French Fries aren’t actually French, but Belgian. Surprise! When visiting Belgium, you simply need to order French Fries to celebrate them in their own home. Belgians eat their French Fries with a slew of different condiments than Americans do, most notably mayonnaise. So, when visiting Brussels, make sure you make a point of grabbing an order of French Fries with Mayonnaise!
How to Get to Brussels
If you are flying to Brussels, there are two main options to look at: Brussels Airport (BRU) and Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL). Brussels Airport is located on the edge of the city, and is usually the better option for passengers arriving from outside of Europe. This is because it serves more major international airlines, leading to more direct flights and a higher chance of finding affordable airfare.
Brussels South Charleroi Airport is located about 35 miles south of Brussels, and is utilized mostly by European budget airlines. As a result, this airport is often a better option for passengers that are arriving from another European country, as airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet tend to use this airport instead of Brussels Airport on the edge of the city.
If you are unable to find a great flight option into either of these cities, you’re not out of luck. Brussels is less than two and a half hours away from two of the biggest, busiest airports in all of Europe: Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) and Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS). In my post on finding cheap airfare, I mentioned that one of the best ways to find cheap flights is by using a hub airport, and these airports are two of the biggest hubs in all of Europe. Both of these airports are easily connected by train or bus to their respective cities, and Brussels is only a 90-minute train away from Paris and a two hour train away from Amsterdam.
If you find a flight into Brussels and have luggage with you, the best way to get from the Brussels airports to your hotel is by booking a private transfer with our partners at Welcome Pickups. Welcome Pickups offers personalized, private, comfortable rides from the airport into the city for about the same price as a standard taxi. They monitor your flight status while you are in the air, and a driver will be waiting for you holding a sign with your name on it as soon as you arrive.
How to Get Around Brussels
TRAIN | METRO | BUS | WATERBUS | TRAM
Brussels is a large city, and expecting to walk everywhere is not realistic. However, the public transportation system in Brussels is very robust, and you can expect it to get you just about anywhere in the city that you want to go. The full system consists of a metro, buses, trains, waterbuses, and trams. At the time of publication, a ride on Brussels’ public transportation costs €2,10 and full day unlimited passes cost €7,80.
If you have a smartphone or tap-enabled credit cards, there is no need to buy public transportation tickets anywhere in Belgium, as you can simply pay with any contactless device or card in your wallet. If you opt to use contactless payment, you will stop being charged after €7,50 in fares in a given day, mimicking the effects of a day pass without the need to purchase one.
The Best Time to Visit Genoa
Brussels is pretty brisk in the fall and spring, as it is located in northwestern Europe just south of the Netherlands. Visiting in a colder season is quite cold, and you would certainly need to being a warm jacket in the early spring and late fall, and a heavy jacket in the winter. If you visit in the summer, there is no need for a jacket most of the time.
This weather deters many shoulder-season travelers, making the summer months the most popular time to visit, by far. While the summer months are easily the most beautiful months in Brussels, you will likely have to wait in a lot of lines and pay a premium for accommodation and flights.
To get the best of both worlds, I recommend visiting Brussels in the mid to late spring or early fall, either from April to May or early September to early October. This time is when the hotel prices come back down, the crowds start to dwindle, and the weather is still manageably warm.
Is Brussels Worth Visiting?
Many travelers, especially those planning their first trip to Europe, ask us the question “is Brussels worth visiting?” With all of the other places that you could go in Europe, why should you go to Brussels? I think these are valid questions, and I will seek to unpack them a little.
Brussels is an incredible city, and it is loaded with great things to do. From awesome museums to stunning architecture and a great food scene, there is a lot of draw to Belgium’s capital. As someone who has visited most of the biggest cities in Europe, I will say this: Brussels is a good place to visit for everyone, but it is an even better place to visit for a select group of people. What do I mean by that?
The architecture in Brussels is beautiful…but this is the case in most big European cities. The museums in Brussels are unique…but this is the case in most big European cities. To me, the people who would enjoy Brussels the most are those interested in learning about the EU system, beer enthusiasts, and foodies. These are the three biggest and most unique draws in Brussels, and these three groups of people would enjoy this city the most.
If you are looking for pretty buildings and great museums, you can find them anywhere in Europe. While Brussels certainly has these things, I don’t think they are enough of a draw on their own to make Brussels the city that you choose to visit in Europe. If you are just looking for these things, head 90 minutes south to Paris instead.
That’s all we have for you about visiting Brussels! Hopefully this post is helpful as you start planning your journey to one of the most popular cities in Europe.
If you’re planning a trip to Brussels, comment to let us know! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have. Otherwise, have a wonderful day and stay present!