Brussels has a lot to offer; one could easily spend a week discovering the many touristic attractions, hidden gems, and diverse cuisine. If you only have one day in Brussels, better make the best out of it! Lace up your bootstraps, it’s time for an adventure into the heart of this European metropolis.
The city of Brussels is the deliciously multicultural and vibrant capital of both Belgium and Europe and as such attracts flocks of tourists each year. With good reason! Aside from a very lavish Grand Place (main square) dripping in gold, the streets are lined with Art Nouveau masterpieces and every second establishment is a bar serving…Belgian beer!
As time is of the essence, it will not be possible to visit all the attractions in the city – there are simply not enough hours in a day to pack everything into your Brussels Itinerary.
As a local, giving you the very best experience in my own city is very close to my heart.
Therefore, I have tried to mix in known and lesser-known locations for your blitz visit. This one-day Brussels itinerary serves up the very best the city has to offer, for every type of budget.
Good to know: In case you are a little curious and debating whether to extend your time, check out this full weekend itinerary to Brussels or 31 fun day trips from Brussels to explore more of Belgium.
Plan your 1-day in Brussels at a glance
For a capital city, Brussels is relatively small making it super easy to navigate around. Most tourists stick to the few kilometers around the Grand Place) if they only have one day to visit Brussels. With some careful planning, and a grasp of the public transport system there is no reason not to venture out further into the city and away from the tourist traps.
- Public Transportation: 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: Now this is worth it, even if you are only spending one day in Brussels! Allows you to skip lines, get entrance to 41 museums and also includes tickets to all the public transport in Brussels. The Brussels Card is a great time and money saver.
- Hop-on Hop-off Bus: Wizz around the city in a 100% electrical hop-on hop-off bus. Simply purchase your ticket in advance and find a bus stop nearest to you. The bus takes you through the must-see attractions during your 24 hours in Brussels and gives your feet a welcome break!
- Luggage Storage: Only spending a few hours in Brussels on a layover and don’t want to lug your luggage around. Store it at any of the three main stations (Brussels North, Brussels Central, Brussels Midi). Prices start at €1/hour. Reserve your storage online.
It doesn’t matter what type of traveler you are Brussels has 10 areas that I would recommend choosing to stay in. As a local, I’ve got the inside scoop to help you make a decision!
Brussels sightseeing in one day: Should I invest in a tour?
That honestly depends on what you are looking to get out of your 24-hour visit to Brussels. The city is perfectly safe and easy to navigate on your own, and with a bit of research in advance, you will be able to tick off the major must-see attractions in Brussels.
Reasons to invest in a tour when visiting Brussels
- Navigate around the city hassle-free: Move from spot to spot and get the most out of your Brussels itinerary without feeling rushed or stressed. Having a local there to guide you around will allow you to sit back and enjoy
- Save money & avoid tourist traps: Most tours include food & drink in a local establishment (far removed from tourist traps). You will not only be getting better local food, but it will also cost less too.
- Get passionate about Brussels: Locals have one thing in common: They absolutely love their city and enjoy nothing more than sharing that with visitors. Taking a local tour will allow you to feel that passion, and who knows start a love affair with the city.
Top Tours for Foodies
10 things to do in Brussels in a day
In order to cover the basics for your Brussels day trip, this guide will mainly stick to the historical center of town. Granted, this part of town is considered the most “touristy” for locals but rest assured, it is worth exploring, with a little help from a local (yours truly) you will be avoiding the tourist traps.
Brussels one day itinerary for first-time visitors
1. Visit the Magritte Museum
Your day starts off with a splash of color at the Magritte Museum. The museum contains – not surprisingly – the largest collection of paintings by the Belgian master of Surrealism René Magritte. If you are a fan of Surrealism then this museum is not to be skipped. Aside from paintings, the museum holds music scores, drawings, and even pictures of the master himself.
2. Grab a coffee at the MIM and enjoy the best views over Brussels
Next up on the Brussels itinerary is a coffee (or other beverage) at a bar not many people know about. From the Magritte Museum walk 5 minutes towards the museum of Musical Instruments (MIM). This Art Nouveau building has a little secret, a wonderful rooftop restaurant with one of the best views over Brussels.
In case you have not had breakfast yet, try out the delicious brunch offer or settle for a beverage. To access the rooftop restaurant, you will need to walk into the museum and take the elevator all the way to the top floor, the entrance is free! Although the museum itself is worth a visit, as you only have 24 hours in Brussels you might want to hold off on visiting for another trip.
Address: Rue Montagne de la Cour 2, 1000 Bruxelles
Tickets: Free entrance to the café
Duration of visit: 30 minutes
3. Stroll down to the Historical Centre via Mont des Arts (Kunstberg)
Time to stretch those legs again, your Brussels day trip continues with a walk through Mont des Arts. One of the most photographed squares in all of Brussel. Mont des Arts are surrounded by the Royal Library of Belgium, the national archives, a meeting center, and Plein Public (This venue is great for an aperitif in the evening while catching the sunset).
Depending on how you would like to spend your one day in Brussels, there are two options for your next location.
- Option one is to take in some more culture at the Centre of Fine Arts in Brussels (Bozart). Check the exhibitions and purchase tickets.
- Option two is to continue walking toward the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert. One the way, stop to have a little browse in the Galerie Bortier bookstore. Walking into the Gallery of Saint Hubert, look up at the grand 19th-century architecture. The gallery contains some of the best Belgian chocolate shops in Brussels and also houses a cinema and theatre. Make sure to look for the Art Nouveau chocolate store (Corne Port-Royal), all be it just for the architecture as the chocolate itself is overpriced.
Address: Galerie du Roi 5, 1000 Brussel
Check out the cinema and theatre schedule: Official website
4. Marvel at the Grand Place
I might be biased, but the Grand Place in Brussels is simply put the prettiest main square in Europe. As a local, I have passed by this square plenty of times and it still manages to put a smile on my face.
The Grand Place of Brussels has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1998. Most of the buildings around the square date back to the 18th century when the Grand Place was rebuilt with money from the guilds. Note how harmonious the building style is, this is in part thanks to strong city regulations back in the day!
Aside from the opulent guild houses, have a look at the Brussels City Town Hall (guided tours are available on specific days of the week). Now swirl around and gaze upon the impressive King’s building. These days the King’s building is home to the Brussels city museum.
Walk around the square and the little streets leading onto the square. Have you noticed they all carry the name of a food item (butter, cheese,…)? This is a remnant of the olden days when the Grand Place was used to trade between vendors and locals.
Experience the Grand Place from the comfort of your bed.
If you are in the market for a truly unique hotel, try staying at Cocoon Boutique hotel right on the grand place. At $200 it is not cheap, but the views might just be worth it for a unique one night in Brussels. Check Rates & Availability
5. See the trio of peeing statues – a must during your 1-day in Brussels itinerary
It is time to go and see one of the city’s most popular – yet deceptively small – tourist attractions. Walk 5 minutes from the Grand Place to see the famous Manneken Pis (Little Julien). He is impossible to miss as there is permanently a line of tourists taking selfies, much to the chagrin of locals trying to pass by on their commute to work.
There are a lot of stories concerning the origin of Little Julien, but the most likely one is that he is a homage to the city tanneries that were here during the Middle Ages. Back in the day, the urine of kids was used to process the leather (a fun fact you can now share with friends).
Tip: Aside from the Little Julien, there are two other so-called “peeing-statues”. The statue of a little girl peeing (Jeanneke-Pis) and a little dog peeing (Het Zinneke) are all within walking distance from each other.
5. Discover the Fontainass neighborhood and grab a delicious Belgian beer
The Fontainass neighborhood is not usually ranked high as one of the places to visit in one day in Brussels which slightly surprises me. Although very close to the touristy Grand Place, the neighborhood has managed to stay very local (and prices reflect this). Great places to grab a beer include Moeder Lambic or the Les Cercles des voyageurs bar.
If you are looking for a true hidden gem head over to the Art Nouveau bar Au Vieux Saint Antoine on the Marché au Charbon (the most gay-friendly area in town).
6. Hunt down the comic strips and street art in town
Touring Brussels in one day involves a fair amount of walking. While navigating through the city, it would be hard not to see the large murals that adorn many of the city walls. In fact, these larger-than-life murals were commissioned by the city. Tintin features heavily as the iconic character is an important cultural heritage of Belgium.
How to explore the street art on your Brussels day trip
Free: Simply walk around town and look up. Works wonderfully, though you might not get to see all the artwork that is available.
$: Comic Strip Walk- Pick up the €2.5 brochure from the local tourism office. Use it as a guide to walk around the city and hunt down all the comic strip murals.
$$: Comic Strip & Street Art private walking tour with a local: Skip the brochure at the tourist office and get a local guide to show you the coolest comic strip murals as well as some much lesser-known street art. Tours usually last around 2 hours. Check rates and availabilities
7. Chill-out with the locals
End your one day in Brussels at Place Sainte Catherine, a popular hangout for the locals. During the summer the square is lined with terraces and the sidewalks around the little stream are filled with locals hanging out and catching up over a drink.
Try grabbing a beer at Bar des Amis or get a glass of wine with a little something to nibble at the Noordzee. Choux des Bruxelles on the square offers one of the best Flemish Carbonnades of the city and is a 2-minute walk away.
If you are planning on staying in Brussels, and looking for the perfect spot to spend a night on the town consider bar hopping at Place Sainte Catherine or shake out your dancing legs at the Madame Moustache club.
Expand your 1-day Brussels itinerary
Visited the Brussels highlights already and looking for a few more authentic things to do in Brussels in a day? Below you will find an additional 3 activities to add on to your Brussels itinerary.
Use the metro on your 24 hours in Brussels and spot the cool metro art
The metro in Brussels is efficient and will take you around the city in no time. But, did you know that plenty of the metro stations in Brussels contain artwork by local artists? In truth, the Brussels Underground is a free museum.
Here are a few of my favorites metro stations:
- Het Pannenhuis (line 6): Welcome to the 60-ies. No really, stepping onto the platform of Het Pannenhuis metro station you are greeted with bright orange chairs, futuristic lighting and very oddly shaped ceiling ornaments.
- Stockel (end station of line 1): The station is home to a 135-meter-long wall depicting 140 life-size Tintin drawings. It was drawn up by Hergé (the creator of Tintin) right before his death.
- Porte de Namur (lines 2 and 6): Find the four large reliefs by local artis Octave Landuyt. These reliefs go by the name Le Stade de la Vie, as the name reveals they represent the four stages of life: birth, adulthood, love and death
Hunt down the coolest Art Nouveau Buildings in Brussels
Aside from the very obvious Comic Mural Art, your eyes might have noticed the mixture of different architectural styles that make up the Brussels skyline. Pretty much every city in Belgium looks like an expressionist took a brush to it and tried to include as many different brush strokes as possible. Urban planning is not our strong suit.
But then there is beauty in the chaos, especially when it comes to the Art Nouveau houses dotted around the city. The Art Nouveau movement originated right here in Brussels before it expanded into the rest of Europe. Although very short-lived, it still managed to leave a legacy of over 500 Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels, many of them in the Ixelles and Uccle neighborhood.
If your 1 day itinerary in Brussels allows for it, go on a scavenger hunt and find some of the city’s most prized Art Nouveau possessions. Short on time? Skip the hunt and head straight for the Victor Horta Museum open Tuesday to Sunday in the afternoon (from 14.00 PM), tickets can be purchased online.
For those looking to delve a little deeper into the Art Nouveau scene of Brussels, there are various options available.
Free: Every Saturday of the year, the free 2-hour Art Nouveau Walking Tour takes you to the main Art Nouveau buildings in the city.
$: A locally guided walking tour lasting 3 hours. Walk around the Bailli area spotting Art Nouveau details in the various buildings (doorknobs, façades of buildings, letterboxes). Ends at the Hort Museum. Check prices and availability.
$$: For the real Art Nouveau Lovers: Get a fully personalized tour taking you through several areas in the city to hunt down the prettiest Art Nouveau buildings. This package includes a guided tour of the Victor Horta Museum. Check prices and availability.
Take a little ferry and go for a drink on an island in the middle of the city
In the heart of Brussels lies the enormous Bois de la Cambre park which bleeds into the Sonian Forest. The vast green lung of the city is a popular spot for locals to walk, mountain bike, and even picnic. If you happen to be visiting Brussels for a day where the sun is out, chances are high you will find most locals chilling in this very park.
Chalet Robinson is located on an island in the middle of the largest pond of Bois de la Cambre. The wooden chalet is only reachable by a little boat, a fee of €1 roundtrip is to be paid upon entering the boat (cash only). When dusk starts to settle in, the fairy lights around the chalet light up giving off true fairytale vibes.
Truth be told, the food is passable but there are better places to grab a bite in the area. Go for the experience, have a drink (or two), and partake in some prime people-watching.
Address: Sent. de l’Embarcadère 1, 1000 Bruxelles
Opening Hours & Menu: Official Website
Where to stay during your Brussels one-day trip
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 – ($$) Cocoon Boutique Hotel
Cocoon is a boutique hotel situated in the heart of it all, right on the Grand Place in Brussels. As the city begins to awaken grab your coffee and watch the sunrise from the comfort of your bed. Later, meet friendly locals who share their secrets of Brussels with you.
Location: On the main square
Most unique design – ($) Art Deco: Le Berger Hotel
Fixate your eyes upon the vintage and original Art Deco pieces throughout The Art Deco: Le Berger Hotel. An immersive experience if you have an appreciation for Art Deco. Relax in the heated outside pool before you shop until you drop in one of Brussels’ most high-end neighborhoods, Le Sablon.
Location: 10 min walk from the Magritte Museum
A cosmopolitan hotel – ($/$$) Moxy Brussels City Centre
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! This trendy and modern worldwide chain also serves an excellent breakfast. Fuel up for the busy day ahead.
Location: In the safest neighborhood of Brussels – Ixelles/Elsene
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.
How to get to Brussels
Fly into Brussels
Despite what the internet may say, Brussels has only one main airport Brussels International Airport. You might be confused as when searching for flights to Brussels you will most likely have come across Brussels South Airport.
Although Brussels South Charleroi Airport is indicated as Brussels, it is in fact located in Charleroi a 45-minute bus ride away from Brussels. Flights to Brussels South Charleroi airport will most likely be cheaper (as this airport is the hub for low-cost airlines to and from Belgium) you do need to factor in the additional cost of the bus (€15 one way).
Getting from Brussels International Airport to Brussels Centre
The easiest (& cheapest) way to get from the airport to downtown Brussels is by taking the direct train. Head out of the arrivals area, and follow the signs for the train. Multiple direct trains run hourly into town. Brussels has three main stops: Brussels North, Brussels Central, Brussels Midi (South). The closest to the Grand Place is Brussels Central.
Get tickets: Book tickets for the train to Brussels
There are plenty of taxis ready to take you to the center of town too. At the arrival gate, follow the sign for taxis. 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 town is fairly easy, though it will require you to take a 45-minute bus ride into town. Busses are stationed at the arrivals area of the airport and drive directly to the drop-off point 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 online: Check tickets and timetable
As a European capital, Brussels is well connected to other European cities via a network of (high) speed trains. In fact, a day trip to Brussels from London, Amsterdam, or Paris is a very common occurrence.
International trains will come into Brussels Midi (south station). From there you can simply take a connecting train to Brussel Central (the closest station to the Historical Centre of Brussels) to start your Brussels Itinerary.
- 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).
Purchase tickets: Check timetables and compare costs on Omio
MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING BELGIUM
Brussels: A local guide to 2-days in Brussels
Brussels: 10 Most beautiful castles around Brussels
Brussels: Best brunch places in Brussels
Belgium: 16 Castle hotels in Belgium to spend a romantic weekend
Belgium: 24 Beautiful places in Belgium to add to your bucket list
Mechelen: Discover lesser-known Mechelen in Northern Belgium
Antwerpen: The perfect weekend guide to Antwerpen