Travel Guide to Brussels, Belgium

By Briana Seftel


Belgium’s capital is where avant-garde meets old world. Stand in the center of the astonishing Grand Place, then get to know the history of comic books at the Belgian Comic Strip Center. Within its walkable city center, you’ll find so much to love in Brussels.

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What to Know

Founded in the 10th century, Brussels was an historically Flemish-speaking city until the Belgian Revolution in 1830. Now a majority French-speaking city, Brussels retains an international flavor as it is the headquarters of the European Union. A busy city during the week with business people and diplomats, the city has long been overshadowed by the nearby capitals of Paris and London. Today, it is a thriving cultural tour-de-force with some of Europe’s best museums, architecture and dining.


When to Go

The best time to visit Brussels is in the spring and summer, when weather is mild and the city is overflowing with festivals. Winter, while cold, is also a popular time to visit with outdoor Christmas markets and ice rinks. Brussels’ weather is unpredictable, so it’s always wise to pack an umbrella no matter when you visit.


How to Get Around

Composed of 19 municipalities, Brussels is larger than people think. However, most of your sightseeing will likely be in the city center, so walking is your best bet. Brussels also has its own metro connecting the eastern and western districts of the city. Several metro lines also have above ground bus and tram connections. For a two-wheel adventure, rent a bike from the Pro Velo or Villo stations.


Where to Eat

Eating in Brussels is reason enough to visit. Famous for beer, waffles, chocolate and fries, Belgium is a foodie’s paradise. While in recent years the city’s dining scene has grown to include global and healthy options, indulging in calorie-heavy Belgian specialties is still a must.


What to See

Grand Place

One of the world’s most beautiful squares, the Grand Place will likely be your first stop on a vacation to Brussels. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the square is flanked by 17th-century guildhouses, the City Hall and the Maison du Roi. All year long the square bustles with activity, from the daily flower market to outdoor cafes.

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

This museum (divided into six smaller museums) traces the history of visual art, from the 15th to the 21st centuries. Walking through its halls, you’ll find masterpieces from Rubens, Brueghel, Van Dyck, Magritte and many, many more.

Atomium

One of Brussels’ most iconic landmarks is this surprising 300-foot-tall structure of an atom. Constructed for the 1958 World’s Fair, it is now a museum with rotating exhibits in each of the atom’s spheres. While you're there, don't miss the panoramic views from the top level restaurant.

Cinquantenaire Park

Built in 1880 for the 50th anniversary of the independence of Belgium, Cinquantenaire Park is one of the most photographed places in Brussels. The main feature of the park is a triumphal arch dominated by a bronze chariot. From the arch, you’ll find three museums as well as several historic monuments, fountains and picnic areas.


Tips and Tricks

  • Manneken Pis, a 17th-century statue of a little boy peeing, is Brussels’ cheeky mascot. You can find the statue located southwest of the town hall.

  • Consider purchasing a Brussels Card, which includes free entry to 40 museums, as well as discounts to tourist attractions, guided tours, shops, restaurants, bars and clubs.

  • Most of the waffle trucks in Brussels serve Liege waffles, which are rounder and more moist than Brussels waffles.

  • Every two years in mid-August, the Grand Place is covered with a carpet of nearly one million begonias, with a different theme chosen each year.


Day Trips

Bruges

Perhaps no city captures the essence of Belgium better than Bruges. From canals and cobbled streets to market squares and medieval buildings, walking through Bruges is like stepping into a fairy tale. While crowded with tourists in the summer months, Bruges doesn’t lose its charm.

Antwerp

Just a 40-minute train ride away, Antwerp is a port city in Flemish Belgium boasting exciting cultural centers and world-class dining. A fashionable city in the 1500s and still today, don’t miss modern masterpieces like The Port House by Zaha Hadid and the glorious iron and glass dome of Centraal Station.

Ostend

A coastal city in West Flanders, Ostend is a popular weekend getaway and laidback counterpoint to business-minded Brussels. Boasting over five and a half miles of sandy beaches, you’ll often find brave souls taking a dip in the cold waters of the North Sea. Ostend is also a gourmet paradise where you can find specialties like Dover Sole and shrimp croquettes.

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