How to spend an unforgettable weekend in Brussels

 In Belgium, Blog, Go exploring, Uncategorized

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 kilometre around the Grand Place is the highlight of your weekend in Brussels. While the Grand Place in Brussels is most definitely worth visiting, the city has so many more interesting quartiers (neighbourhoods) to discover: Art Nouveau mansions, local restaurants & bars, curious markets and street art galore. Let’s delve into the delights that multicultural Brussels has to offer.

This blogpost will run you through some of the main tourist attractions in Brussels and some lesser known ones that have been compiled with the help of a few local friends.

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 daytrip 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.

Practical details for visiting Brussels

Geography of the city and languages spoken in Brussels

Brussels weekend
French and English are widely spoken. Image credit Guido Hofmann (unsplash)

The Brussels Capital Region is made up of 19 municipalities, each with a different zipcode and name (Ex: Ville de Bruxelles, Anderlecht, Ixelles, Saint-Gilles). To an outsider this can sometimes be slightly confusing “why is Google telling me this is Anderlecht, when I want to be in Brussels?”.  Most of the well-known tourist attractions in Brussels are located in the dead centre of Brussels (Ville de Bruxelles). In fact, most tourists do not venture out from the historical centre at all when visiting Brussels.

The below guide allows you to go where the majority of tourists have not gone before, outside of the historical centre! Venturing out into different municipalities will give you a better feel of the diversity the city of Brussels has to offer.

As for the language spoken in Brussels, well that is a tricky one. Officially the Brussels region is bilingual therefore all official signs are written in both Dutch and French. For example, the centre of Brussels is in the Ville de Bruxelles or Stad Brussel municipality. In an effort to be consistent and to make your weekendtrip to Brussels as easy as possible, this article refers to the official French names.

are known for speaking multiple languages well, so do not worry if your French and Dutch are non-existent because English will get you by perfectly!

Visiting museums in Brussels – The Brussels card

When visiting Brussels you will undoubtedly want to visiting some museums and in case it rains – which let’s face it, there is a strong possibility – make use of the public transport. To make things easy, the city has come up with the Brussels Card which can be purchased for 24h-48h-72h and starts at €29. The card gives you discounts to various tourist attractions in Brussels, tickets to public transportation and a lot more practical stuff that will surely come in handy for your weekend in Brussels. You can purchase it online, or in the main tourist office of the city.

Public Transportation in Brussels

Bring good walking shoes for your Brussels weekend! Weather permitting, the city is very walkable – in fact walking around the city will allow you to revel in their eclectic approach to urban planning (from cobblestone mews to broad boulevards in the span of 50m is not unusual) and the various different architectural styles which characterise the city.

If however it does rain and a rainjacket was not on your packing list then public transport is the best way to go. Brussels is well connected through a metro and expansive bus system. The Brussels inner-city public transport has one single ticket that you can use across the bus, metro & trams. To find out the most up to date times you can download the public transport (STIB) application.

The metro system in Brussels has some pretty cool artwork, worth spending some time to discover the various artworks if you have a bit of extra time.

a weekend in Brussels
Metro Pannenhuisje credit:

What to do during a weekend in Brussels

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 centre of town to make sure you cover the basics.

Start your day of in the Magritte Museum and explore the largest collection of art by the renown 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.

Visiting Brussels

Walk over the museum of musical instruments 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.

A weekend in Brussels - Mont Des Arts
Mont des Arts in the early morning

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 centre and Plein Public (take note, this venue is pretty good for an aperitif in the evening).

There are two options for your next move: In case of rain consider popping into The Bozar – the centre of fine arts in Brussels; or 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.

2 days in Brussels - Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert

The Gallery of Saint Hubert is one of 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 favourite is Neuhaus). Did you spot the Art Nouveau Chocolate store (Corne Port-Royal)?

Brussels Itinerary - Grand Place Brussel
Grand Place Brussels Credit: walkerssk(wikicommons)

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 travellers 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!

Visiting Brussels - Manneken Pis
Manneken Pis - Copyright Frederic Paulussen (unsplash)

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 neighbourhood 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 too, right?). If your feet are up for it walk them over to the Saint Gerry neighbourhood 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

Art Nouveau in Brussels
Art Nouveau flowershop dating back to 1896 (Designed by Paul Hankar)

This second day of your weekend in Brussels will delve deeper into the South of Brussels. Veer away from the historic centre 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 is 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; Hôtel 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!

Visiting Brussels
Hotel Solvay - Credit

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, Hotel Ciamberlani, the Beukman house, the Cauchie house.

A weekend in Brussels - Art Nouveau House Cauchie
Details of the Art Nouveau masterpiece: The Cauchie House

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 neighbourhood 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 neighbourhood. Have a look at where to eat in Brussels in the below section of this article.

Brussels itinerary - The ponds of Ixelles
The ponds of Ixelles - Credit Jopparn (wiki commons)

The second lesser known fact about Brussels is the large amount 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 and take in the exquisite townhouses. Welcome to one of the most exclusive places to live in Brussels.

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.

Weekendtrip to Brussels - Abbaye de la Cambre
Abbaye de la Cambre - Abdij ter Kameren © - Jean-Paul Remy - 2017

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 favourite for the locals. Alternatively, you can grab a waffle or ice cream from the little orange van called “Pascalino” who 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 diner to Les Clans de Belges for good old traditional Belgian food.

Brussels Itinerary: Day Three – A Flea Market and the North of Brussels

A weekend in Brussels - Royal Courthouse of Brussels
The grand staircase of the Royal Courthouse. Copyright Chad Greiter (Unsplash)

This is your 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 neighbourhood 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.

Hidden Gems Brussels
Credit: Clem Onojeghuo

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. The Jeu de Balle Flea market might be small in size but it holds many treasures, all you have to do is go hunting for them. You simply cannot visit Brussels without having haggled over a trinket at the Jeu de Balle flea market. If you do happen to be visting 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 early.

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.

Visiting Brussels - Best sunset spot in Brussels: Place Poelaert
Best sunset spot in Brussels: Place Poelaert

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 than cut this part of the Brussels itinerary short and head over to the Atomium instead.

Weekentrip to Brussels - The Atomium
The Atomium

The Atomium is located 11 km away from the Marolles. You could attempt walking, however in all honesty the walk is not very scenic. Get yourself over to the Central Station and hop on the metro (Line 6) towards the Heysel centre.

The Atomium was built in 1958 as part of the World Expo and is built in the shape of an Iron Molecule (well 165 billion times larger). Pay €16 and take the elevators through 6 of the 9 spheres filled with exhibitions (both permanent and temporary exhibitions). The top sphere offers the most spectacular panoramic views over Brussels.

Where to eat in Brussels

What to eat in Brussels
It goes without saying that Belgian Fries are a must!

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. To make things easier, the below recommendations on where to eat in Brussels have been divided into three sections that coincide with the Brussels Itinerary mentioned in the above article.

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 offer either dine-in options or takeaway.

Where to eat in Brussels: Day One

Food in Brussels - The Brussels Waffle
A delicious waffle - Copyright Blue_jean (unsplash)

Krokketten (Cheese or fish): Noordzee in Saint Katherine
Flemish Carbonnade (not vegetarian): Choux de Bruxelles
Mussels and Fries: Aux armes de Bruxelles
Waffles: Maison Dandoy
Burger: Rachel’s
A local beer:  Zebra Bar; Moeder Lambic
A coffee: Le Cirio (Art Nouveau Café dating back to the 19th century)

Where to eat in Brussels: Day Two

Art Nouveau in Brussels - Le Cirio Brussels
The Art Nouveau Bar Le Cirio in Brussels

Cocktails & Beer: La Belladone  (An Art Nouveau Bar)
Italian Restaurant: Dolce Amaro  Best (non Michelin star) Italian restaurant
Coffee and Pasteis de Nata: Forcado Pasteleria (Best pasteis de Nata in de city)
Mussels & Fries: La Quincaillerie
Frietkot (fries): Place Flagey or Maison Antoine
Typical (lively) bar : Café Maison du Peuple

Where to eat in Brussels: Day Three

Where to eat in Brussels - Atelier en Ville
Atelier en ville Credit: The Brusselsprouts

Healthy lively brunch spot: Atelier en Ville
Healthy brunch: L’Aubette (excellent terrace for people watching)
Typical Belgian dishes: L’Ancien Bruxelles

Where to stay in Brussels

When visiting Brussels you will be walking a lot, so ideally you want to stay somewhere central and not too far away from the Grand Place. That being said, if you are comfortable with taking public

  • Warwick Brussels: A beautiful 5-star hotel with views of the Grand Place from their rooftop terrace. Located 3 minutes walk from the Grand Place.
  • The Hotel Brussels: A sustainable hotel with the highest public views over the city. The hotel produces green energy and only uses locally sourced food. The location is right on the main shopping artery of the City: Boulevard de Waterloo
  • Stanhope Hotel: A luxury 5-star hotel with a full team dedicated to sustainability. With it’s impeccable location, beautiful building and dedication towards sustainability it is hard to say no to this property.

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