Spending a weekend in Brussels can be awesome – if you have a little help. Without guidance, Brussels can seem like a boring city where tourist traps reign and trudging around the one square kilometer around the Grand Place is the highlight of your Brussels Itinerary. Let’s delve into the delights that multicultural Brussels has to offer
While the Grand Place in Brussels Belgium is most definitely worth visiting, the city has so many more interesting quartiers (neighborhoods) to discover: Art Nouveau mansions, local restaurants & bars, curious markets and street art galore. This guide will take you to the local & tourist highlights.
Perhaps this is not your first weekend trip to Brussels and you are looking to get a more intimate knowledge of the city, try checking out the hidden gems of Brussels, or get adventurous and embark on a day trip from Brussels.
If you really want to try something else and get a completely different feel of both the city and the country of Belgium, I can highly recommend going castle hunting around Brussels.
Plan your 2-days in Brussels in advance
While Brussels is a relatively small capital city, there is still a lot of ground to cover. Those who come prepared will have the highest chance of experiencing the true Brussels i.e. away from precarious selfie sticks and long cues to visit monuments more cool bars, exhibitions, and great food!
- Getting from Brussels Airport to Brussel city center: Easy! After coming out at the arrivals area, look for signs indicating the train. A direct train runs from Brussels Airport to Brussels city center multiple times a day. Book your tickets in advance online.
- Public Transportation: Walking around the city is the best way to see Brussels. That being said, the weather might not be on your side. The Brussels inner-city public transport uses one single ticket across the various bus, metro & trams systems and gets you all across Brussels and the suburbs. Book any tickets for public transportation online.
- Brussels Card: Save money and time! Includes free access to 41 museums, discounts on a ton of tourist attractions as well as tickets to all public transport in Brussels for a timeframe of 24-48-72 hours with the Brussels Card.
- Hop-on Hop-off Bus: Brussels has its very own 100% electrical hop-on hop-off bus. The bus takes you through the must-see attractions in Brussels and gives your feet a welcome break! Tickets are valid for 24 or 48 hours, dedicated audio guides for the kids are available.
Brussels is a big city, do you know which part of the city is best suited for you during your stay? Coming from a local, there are 10 areas I would recommend for different types of travelers.
Tours and activities for 48 hours in Brussels – Worth it?
Is it worth taking a tour is Brussels? Well, I guess that depends on what you are looking to get out of your trip. The city is very easy to navigate around without a guide, and for the curious ample information is available on what to see and do for a weekend in Brussels (including this guide).
I would still say: Yes, but be selective
There are a few cool tours out there that offer a deeper insight into the somewhat misunderstood Capital of Europe. Local’s are very passionate about their city and tend to love nothing better than to share their intimate knowledge of the city (and all the best watering holes).
Top Tours for Foodies
Which neighborhoods to visit during your Brussels weekend?
The Brussels Capital Region is made up of 19 municipalities, each with a different zip code and name. To make things a bit more confusing the names exist in both Dutch and French. To an outsider, this can sometimes be a bit baffling “why is Google telling me this is Anderlecht, when I want to be in Brussels?”.
The main tourist attractions are in the Historical Centre (1000 Bruxelles), the best restaurants and bars are around the Ixelles (1050) area and Art Nouveau lovers will want to check out Uccle (1180).
Brussels is however more than merely Art Nouveau and the Grand Place, this 2-day Brussels itinerary takes you from North to South and explores the different municipalities to give you a better feel of the diversity Brussels has to offer.
Neighborhoods to avoid when spending 2 days in Brussels
Brussels in general is a very safe city to walk around, both during the day and at night. Unlike other large cities such as Palermo or Rome, Brussels has a fairly low crime rate. Do keep in mind the Historical Center has its share of pickpockets, keep your valuables close.
MIDI/CENTRAAL/NORTH STATION: The neighborhoods around the stations are a little dodgy. The majority of the crimes in this area are petty crimes (theft, drug deals, …) and will most likely not impact you as a tourist.
SINT JANS MOLENBEEK/ MOLENBEEK SAINT JEAN: Across the canal of Brussels lies a neighborhood that is up and coming. The first half of the neighborhood has plenty of museums and trendy bars which are great to visit. The inner folds of this neighborhood are a bit trickier to navigate, especially as a tourist. Stick to the streets surrounding the canal
16 Things to do in a Brussels Weekend
Time to get to the nitty-gritty of planning out the perfect 48 hours in Brussels. Curious to see where all the mentioned places are located? Scroll down to the bottom of this article and check out the interactive Google Map.
Brussels Itinerary Day One – The Historical Centre
If you only have a very short weekend in Brussels, or perhaps only one day in Brussels you might want to stick to the center of town to make sure you cover the basics.
Start your day off in the Magritte Museum and explore the largest collection of art by the renowned Belgian painter of Surrealism, René Magritte. Tickets will set you back around €10 and can be purchased online.
After all that beautiful art, chances are you are in the mood for your first coffee/beverage of the day. Walk over to the Museum of Musical Instruments (MIM) and make your way to the café on the top floor.
The building is a veritable Art Nouveau masterpiece and offers one of the best views over the Brussels skyline from their rooftop bar/restaurant. If you have not eaten yet, consider indulging in a spot of brunch. Should lunch be the last thing on your mind, simply sit down and grab a drink.
Feeling refreshed, it is time to explore Mont des Arts. Chances are high that you were browsing the internet to prepare for your weekend in Brussels (Bet you are smiling and nodding right now). Aside from the Grand Place, one of the first pictures to pop up is undoubtedly Mont des Arts.
The square contains the Royal Library of Belgium, the national archives, a meeting center, and Plein Public (take note, this venue is pretty good for an aperitif in the evening).
There are two options available for you from here:
- Bozar: In case of rain consider popping into The Bozar – the center of fine arts in Brussels
- Walk around the city center: If you are graced with sunshine you can continue visiting Brussels on foot! Make your way down the hill, have a peek inside the iconic bookstore Galerie Bortier before leisurely strolling down to the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert.
The Gallery of Saint Hubert is one of the most beautiful galleries in Brussels, dating back to the 19th century when the architecture was just a little grander than today. Take your time to mosey through the gallery and perhaps indulge in one of the many traditional Belgian chocolate stores on offer (my personal favorite is Neuhaus). Did you spot the Art Nouveau Chocolate store (Corne Port-Royal)?
Next up is the most incredible square in all of Europe – The Grand Place of Brussels. Even if you only have one day in Brussels, this square has to be on your list regardless of how touristy it may seem. Feast your eyes upon the many tons of gold that adorn the guild houses built around the square.
The Grand Place of Brussels has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1998 and continues to inspire travelers and locals to this day. The architecture dates back to the 18th century; the time when the city’s guilds rebuilt the square after it was flattened by the French.
Thanks to strong city regulations back in the day, the buildings in the square are more or less harmonious. A strong feat considering the rather eclectic nature of the rest of the city (not to mention the country).
Make sure to have a look at the Town Hall and see if you can spot the asymmetric architecture of the tower, next turn around and take a closer look at the King’s building which houses the Brussels City museum today. And finally, make your way around the beautiful guild houses in opulent Italian Baroque with lavish splashes of gold.
Fun fact: All the streets surrounding the Grand Place carry the name of food items!
Next on your Brussels weekend Itinerary is visiting the famous Manneken Pis (Little Julien) who is tiny in size but mighty in his power to attract enormous crowds of tourists. Plenty of stories exist about the origin of this little man, the most likely one being that Little Julien is a homage to the tanneries that were in the vicinity during the Middle Ages; urine of small children was used to process leather in the Middle Ages (who knew!)
Continue walking around the streets of the Fontainas neighborhood which are filled with cute little shops and local bars – why not stop for one of those famous Belgian Beers? Or perhaps indulge in your first Belgian waffle at Maison Dandoy (It would almost be rude not to, right?).
If your feet are up for it walk them over to the Saint Gerry neighborhood with its traditional cobblestone roads. Hunt down the peeing dog (Zinneke Pis) and end up at La Bourse, the former Brussels stock exchange. The building dates back to the 19th century and was commissioned by Napoleon himself.
End the first day of your weekend trip to Brussels in the Sainte Catherine neighborhood. The square Sainte Catherine is a popular location for locals to spend a free evening. During the summer it is lined with outdoor terraces and lounging youngsters catching up. If you are in the market for a good night on the town, consider staying close here and bar hopping or alternatively stretch those dancing legs in the bar/club Madame Moustache.
Brussels Itinerary Day Two – South Brussels
This second day of your weekend in Brussels will delve deeper into the South of Brussels. Veer away from the historic center of Brussels (beautiful, yet admittedly very touristy) and venture out into the commune of Saint Gilles and Ixelles.
A lesser-known fact about Brussels is that it was the birthplace of the Art Nouveau architectural movement, in fact, you could say it is the capital of Art Nouveau. Think elaborate architecture which weaves in natural elements & uses organic lines – the antithesis to the current day Scandinavian design trends.
Art Nouveau in Brussels is intimately linked to the famous architects Victor Horta, Paul Hanka, and Paul Saintenoy. The four main Art Nouveau UNESCO classified buildings are: Hotel Solvay; Hotel Tassel; Hotel van Eetvelde and the Victor Horta Museum.
No weekend trip to Brussels is complete without having gazed up in amazement at these four buildings. Sadly, most of them cannot be visited, except on special occasions (National Open Monument Day). The Victor Horta museum however is open all year long!
If you are a fan of architecture look into the free Art Nouveau walking tour which starts every Saturday at 10.00 from the Grand Place and takes around 3 hours. You can visit the main Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels on a self-guided walking tour too as most of them are located very close to each other.
Be sure to check out Van Rysselberghe House, Hotel Otlet, Hotel Goblet d’Alviella, the Beukman house and the Cauchie house.
Tip: If you are interested in Art Nouveau tours you can take a tour for around $35. Run by knowledgeable locals who can show you plenty of spots that might otherwise be a bit more tricky to find. Check prices.
All this walking around has bound to make you hungry. No Brussels Itinerary would be complete without at least one mention of an authentic place to get Belgian fries. This neighborhood has two of the best places to eat fries in Brussels.
In fact, there is a feud amongst the locals for the best fries in town; the feud is between The frietkot (fry shack) on Place Flagey and Maison Antoine on Place Jourdan. The only way to make an informed decision is to try the fries at both (consider it a tourist imperative).
There are plenty of other good restaurants in Brussels that cater to vegetarians (and non-vegetarians for that matter), especially in this hip neighborhood. Have a look at where to eat in Brussels in the below section of this article.
The second lesser-known fact about Brussels is the large amounts of green areas in the city. Bet you did not know that Brussels has an entire forest, in the middle of the city!
After a morning packed with architecture and the hustle and bustle of the city, time to add in some of that famous greenery to your Brussels weekend. Walk around the tranquil ponds in Ixelles
Follow the lakes until you come to Abbaye de la Cambre, a 12th-century former abbey surrounded by an idyllic little park. Keep walking until you eventually end up in Bois de la Cambre. You have made it to the green lung of the city! There are plenty of walking paths that will lead you in and around this forest and the main lake.
Behind the lake there is a little kiosk called “The Kiosk” which serves sandwiches, beer, coffee, and cocktails. The perfect spot in summer to lounge around and a favorite for the locals. Alternatively, you can grab a waffle or ice cream from the little orange van called “Pascalino” which is parked by the side of the lake 365 days a year.
The restaurant on the island is good for a drink (pay 1 euro to take the little boat across) but the food is overpriced. It might be tempting to order something, but this really is not the best place in Brussels to eat so sit tight until you get back into town for a bite to eat.
Make your way back into town and stop at Saint Boniface which is one of the liveliest squares in town and the perfect spot to grab an aperitive. If you want to get a feel for what a weekend in Brussels looks like for the locals, there is no better place than Saint Boniface on a Friday or Saturday night Head over the Ultime Atome for just that purpose! If aperitive is not your thing, head over to dinner to Les Clans de Belges for good old traditional Belgian food.
Extend your weekend in Brussels: Flea Market and North Brussels
This is the last day of your Brussels weekend, but fret not for you will be going out with a bang!
We start the day with a local market, deep in the heart of real Brussels; Welcome to the Marolles. The lively Marolles district was traditionally a working-class neighborhood of the city and is steeped in history.
Expect to find the Law Courts of Brussels (The one that has been in scaffolding for the last 40 years, no really it is a sad fact), narrow cobblestone streets filled, plenty of local bars, and a myriad of art galleries. Keep your ears open and see if you can hear the nearly extinct local dialect (Brusseleer) spoken in the streets.
The Marolles also is home to some of the city’s best second-hand stores and antique stores. But perhaps most well known of all is the Jeu de Balle Flea Market – the only market in the country to run 365 days a week. You simply cannot visit Brussels without having haggled over a trinket at the Jeu de Balle flea market.
If you do happen to be visiting Brussels during a weekend, try and come to the Marolles on a Sunday (the liveliest day on the market). The market gets pretty busy with both locals and tourists so if you are looking for some serious shopping consider getting there earl
There are plenty of hip eateries dotted around the Jeu the Balle square. You might like to try Atelier en Ville; L’Aubette for vegetarian places to eat in Brussels or L’Ancien Bruxelles for more traditional Belgian food.
It is easy to spend a full day walking around the Marolles, darting in and out of the various little stores lining Rue Haute, drinking a beer on the cobblestone terraces, and taking in the sunset at Place Poelaert (one of the best sunset spots in Brussels).
There is one large tourist attraction in Brussels that has not been covered yet – The Atomium. If vintage shopping and strolling around the cobblestoned streets and mews is not how you envisioned spending your weekend in Brussels then cut this part of the Brussels itinerary short and head over to the Atomium instead.
Tickets Atomium: Purchase your tickets online and skip the line
Where to eat during your 2-days in Brussels
There are plenty of really good restaurants and bars in Brussels. The culinary scene is so good that one could come for a weekend in Brussels and do nothing but eat and drink.
In case you are too tired to go out to eat in Brussels, you might be delighted to read that Brussels is home to the best pizzerias in the country. There are plenty that offers either dine-in options or takeaway.
- Noordzee, Saint Catherine: Authentic Schrimp Krokettes: Noordzee, Saint Catherine
- Choux de Bruxelles: Flemish Carbonade
- Mussels and Fries: Aux Armes de Bruxelles, La Quincaillerie
- Cocktails in an Art Nouveau Bar: La Belladone
- Lively bars with great beer selection: Zebra, Moeder Lambic, Café Belga
- Best Frietkot (for fries): Maison Antoine or Flagey frietkot
Map of all things to do during your weekend break in Brussels
To help you navigate the various different things to do during your weekend in Brussels, I plotted them on a map for you. Check out the interactive Google Maps if you want a closer look, or alternatively sneak a peek at the below image. Green pins indicate day one, red pins indicate day two and yellow pins are the option activities of day three.
2 days in Brussels itinerary
DAY ONE: Magritte Museum, Musical Instruments Museum, Mont des Arts, Bozar, Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, Grand Place, Manneken Pis, Sainte Catherine neighborhood
DAY TWO: Victor Horta Museum, Hotel Solvay (potential to join a free Art Nouveau walking tour, Belgian fries at a typical frietkot, Bois de la Cambre, Saint-Boniface
ALTERNATIVE DAY TWO: Flea market in the Marolles (Sunday morning), Atomium
48 hours in Brussels: Where to stay?
All hotels recommended have a focus on sustainability and minimizing their ecological impact by using locally sourced ingredients and supporting the local economy.
Best Views & Location – ($$) Cocoon Boutique Hotel
Situated in the heart of it all, Cocoon is a boutique hotel right on the Grand Place in Brussels. Watch the sunrise from the comfort of your bed as the city begins to awaken. Later, meet friendly locals who love sharing their knowledge of Brussels with you.
Location: On the main square
Most unique design – ($) Art Deco: Le Berger Hotel
The Art Deco: Le Berger Hotel is an experience if you appreciate Art Deco and design. Treat your eyes to the vintage and original Art Deco pieces throughout. Relax in the heated outside pool before you shop until you drop in one of Brussels’ most high-end neighborhoods, Le Sablon.
Location: 10 min walk from the Magritte Museum
A cosmopolitan hotel – ($/$$) Moxy Brussels City Centre
This trendy and modern chain, Moxy, is serving up some of the best breakfasts in town. You can find their hotels all around the world. Brussels’ Moxy is conveniently surrounded by bars & restaurants so if you are looking to go out for the night this is the spot for you!
Location: In the safest neighborhood of Brussels – Ixelles/Elsene
How to get to Brussels
Fly into Brussels
Brussels has only one main airport Brussels International Airport. You might have noticed Brussels South Charleroi Airport pop up in your search and be a bit confused.
Brussels South Charleroi Airport is not Brussels, it is in fact an airport located 46 kilometers south of Brussels in a city called Charleroi.
Flights to Brussels South Charleroi airport are usually cheaper as this airport is the hub for low-cost airlines to and from Belgium.
Getting from Brussels International Airport to Brussels Centre
Option One: Take the Train
The easiest and fastest way to get from the airport to downtown Brussels is by taking the direct train. Head out of the arrivals area, and follow the panels with a train depicted on them. Trains run multiple times an hour (the last train runs until midnight).
Brussels has three main stops: Brussels North, Brussels Central, Brussels Midi (South). The closest to the Grand Place is Brussels Central. Book tickets for the train to Brussels online
Option Two: Taxi or Transfer
Alternatively, grab a taxi at the arrival gate. Only take a taxi from the official taxi stand and always ask for them to put the meter on. The price should be around €45 ($49).
A private airport transfer costs between $34 and $51 and is cheaper than the average Taxi price.
Getting from Brussels South Charleroi Airport to Brussels Centre
The Brussels South Charleroi Airport is located 46 kilometers from Brussels. Getting into Brussels will require you to take a bus that runs directly from Brussels South Charleroi Airport and drops you off at Brussels Midi (South) train station. A one-way ticket will set you back €15 ($18).
While private transfers are possible, they quickly cost ($100) therefore I would recommend sticking with the busses.
Get Tickets: Check timetables and book tickets for the train to Brussels online
As a European capital, Brussels is well connected to other European cities via a network of (high) speed trains. In fact, a weekend trip to Brussels from London, Amsterdam or Paris is not at all uncommon.
International trains pull into the Brussels Midi (south) Station. The Historical Center is closest to Brussels Central, therefore pop on a connecting train from Brussels Midi to Brussels Central (5 min train ride) to start your 48 hours in Brussels.
- London to Brussels for a weekend: Travel time approx 2h two-way ticket prices range from €87 ($95) to €250 ($273) depending on how far in advance you book.
- Paris to Brussels weekend: Travel time approx 1h30, two-way ticket prices range from €60 ($65) to €300 ($330). Booking in advance is essential for this route.
- Amsterdam to Brussels for 2-days: Travel time approx 2h. Two-way ticket prices can cost as little as €40 ($43).
Get your tickets: Check timetables and book tickets online
Final thoughts on spending a weekend in Brussels
Truth be told, Brussels tends to hold her cards very close to her heart awarding only the curious traveler with a glimpse of her beauty. Two days in Brussels is enough to get a feeling for what the city has on offer. From majestic guild houses to chaotic flea markets, this is unapologetically Brussels.
Spend at least one day in the Historical Center exploring the magnificent architecture and eating all the Belgian fries you can master. Try and venture out of the more touristy center on day two to explore world-class Art Nouveau architecture, street art and the very random monument containing 9 stainless steel spheres called The Atomium.
MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING BRUSSELS & SURROUNDINGS
Accommodation Guide: Comprehensive overview of the various areas of Brussels and where to stay
Travel Guide: One day in Brussels
Travel Guide: 31 Fun day trips from Brussels
Travel Guide: Hidden gems in Brussels
Travel Guide: 10 Must-see castles around Brussels
Food Guide: Best brunch places in Brussels
Belgium Guide: 16 Castle hotels in Belgium you can stay in
Belgium Guide: 24 Beautiful places in Belgium for your bucketlist