24 Hours in Brussels, Belgium

24 Hours in Brussels

 

Most Belgians we met told us not to bother with Brussels.

“Sure, go see it. But then get out and explore our smaller gems, like Antwerp and Ghent.”

We heeded their advice and scheduled only 24 hours in Belgium’s capital city. We were happy with this plan; we had a starry-eyed weekend getaway awaiting us in Bruges—and only five days to discover all of Belgium’s other attractions.

But that’s not to say that we weren’t pleasantly surprised by our brief encounter with Brussels. The city has a grungy edginess to it, in a sort of young and fun-spirited way. For being the center of EU bureaucracy, there was an unexpected raw energy pervading through the streets. It was an energy we loved.

 

So I guess what we’re trying to say is that if you have the vacation time, give Brussels more of your Belgian itinerary than just one day. But if you’re working with a limited timeframe, utilize this 24-hour guide to get the most out of your Brussels visit—you won’t be disappointed.

 

Atomium

Atomium is to Brussels what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World Expo, the unique cell-like building was never supposed to remain standing into the 21st century. Some Belgians love it, others find it hideous, but most admire the bizarre architectural feat. A visit to Atomum is a must if only to ride the escalators through the tubes to arrive at the panoramic view of Brussels from the top sphere. Along the way visitors also learn about the construction of Atomium and the sensitive political air during Expo ’58.

 

24 Hours in Brussels Atomium

View from Atomium Brussels

 

Wander Around Sablon

Place du Grand Sablon is a lovely square in historic upper town. The neighborhood is full of chic boutique shops, trendy restaurants and beautiful architecture; wandering around its cobblestone roads is an attraction in itself. But perhaps the best reason to stop at Place du Grand Sablon is for easy access to some of Belgium’s most famous chocolatiers, including Wittamer, Neuhaus, and our favorite, Pierre Marcolini.

 

24 Hours in Brussels Streets

Belgian Chocolates

 

Lunch

Stop at any of the cute bistros in Sablon for a quick bite to eat. If you time your visit to Brussels on a Saturday or Sunday, be sure to try out The Wine Bar, a favorite with locals and tourists alike.

 

Comic Book Route

Comics are considered to be an integral part of Belgian culture, so it only makes sense that one of the city’s more whimsical attractions would include the Comic Book Route. The path takes visitors past more than 50 oversized comic strip murals, featuring famous Tintin and Broussaille. Following the route is a good way to explore Brussels, both its historic center and some of its less-frequented neighborhoods. Even if you don’t follow the trail purposefully, keep your eyes out for a mural or two—you’re bound to stumble upon one.

 

24 Hours in Brussels Street Art

 

Mannekin Piss

It’s hard not to smile when you stumble upon this cheeky small bronze sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain base. The statue is said to symbolize the rebellious nature of the city. Mannekin Piss is dressed in costumes periodically throughout the year; the little boy actually has more clothes than I do, his wardrobe consisting of several hundreds of outfits.

 

Manneken Pis Brussels

 

Grand Place

Brussels most popular tourist destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site, it doesn’t take long to see why this square is considered to be one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. Ornately decorated medieval buildings date back primarily to the late 17th century; famous buildings include the city’s Town Hall and the Breadhouse. Time your visit just before dusk so you can take in the beauty as the square begins to twinkle.

 

24 Hours in Brussels Grand Place

Grand Place Belgium

To purchase one of these photos visit the photo shop.

Rue des Bouchers

It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s a fun one at that. Rue des Buchers is known for its back-to-back seafood restaurants and lively atmosphere. Take a seat outside at any of the bistros (Chez Vincent and Aux Armes Bruxelles are arguably two of the better restaurants) for prime people-watching opportunities while you feast on three of Brussels’ most famous specialties: beer, mussels and frites (French fries).

 

Beer Tasting in Brussels

Mussels and Fries in Belgium

 

Delirium Café

It’s crowded and rowdy and attracts a certain college clientele. But what it lacks in charm it makes up for with over 3,000 beer selections—giving it the Guinness Book of World Records for longest beer list commercially available. You’ll find beers from around the world, of course including a hefty number of local brews. Delirium stays incredibly crowded during prime bar-going hours, so don’t expect anyone to hold your hand through the beer-choosing process. Choose one at random and let the long night begin.

 

Brussels Night Life

 

If you have extra time, try:

 

Parlamentarium:

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the EU, this free visitor’s center might be worth a stop.

Cinquantenaire:

The large public park is an enjoyable place to walk or cycle while taking in the museums galore on either side of the main road, many good examples of the art nouveau movement.

Rooftop Café:

Visit Rooftop Café inside the Musical Instruments Museum for reportedly great panoramic views of Brussels. After visiting Atomium we didn’t feel the need to also stop by the café, but we’ve only heard good things.

 

Where to sleep:

Whether you have one night or ten, we recommend laying your head at Taptoe Bed and Breakfast. Its prime location in the center of the historic zone (just a couple hundred meters from Mannekin Pis) makes it an ideal place to base yourself for exploring the city via foot. The seven rooms are spread across three nearly adjoining properties, each incredibly spacious and modern. All rooms have TV (flat screen, cable), free wifi connection, a radio-alarm-iPhone dock and a large private bathroom. There is also a common living area and kitchen for guests to use, with a complimentary spread of breads, jams and cold cuts each morning.

 

Bed and Breakfast Taptoe Room

Bed and Breakfast Taptoe Common Area

Bed and Breakfast Taptoe Kitchen

 

But while the guesthouse boasted all the necessary amenities, perhaps what we loved most about this B&B was the unique travel inspiration behind it. Before opening up the B&B, owners Daniel and Catherine took the trip of a lifetime—one I know many fellow travelers would be envious of. They sold their belongings, packed up their lives and headed out on a three-year sailing trip from France to Australia.

 

Owners of Bed and Breakfast Taptoe

 

It’s this trip that has inspired the design of the second floor of their intimate guesthouse. Guests will find nautical colors, boating photos, and snippets from the couple’s epic journey around the world, along with a smattering of travel books and inspiration if you feel the itch to plan further adventures of your own.

 

24 Hours in Brussels taptoe

 

Taptoe is a fantastic value option, with rooms starting at $110 a night. Considering its amenities, lovely owners, and prime location, it seems almost like a steal.

Extra Tip: Don’t miss owner Catherine’s art gallery adjacent to the B&B for a preview of her brilliantly whimsical sculptures.

 

Have you been to Brussels? What would you put on a 24 hour itinerary?

 

We were guests of Taptoe during our stay. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, our own.

Meet: Casey Siemasko


Casey Siemasko is a blogger, content marketer, and co-founder of A Cruising Couple. She has been living and traveling outside of the US full-time since 2011. She finds her life inspiration in exploring the world and seeks to find the magic in the most ordinary of places.

30 Comments

    • That’s great! How did you guys feel about it? Would 24 hours be enough for you?

      Reply
  1. The Comic Book Rouse seems like it’s right up my alley! (eh, see what I did there?? alley :-) ) I think my favorite stop would be the Delirium Café. I would just have to make sure to visit there at the end of the day to make sure I don’t miss the rest of the city.
    Kenin Bassart recently posted…Committed – You Know I’m Crazy (about my dog).My Profile

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    • The delirium Cafe is certainly a trip. The place is electric a night! And with so many beers on tap you can’t start too early, you’ve really gotta pace yourself :-p

      Reply
  2. We did something similar last year, driving around Belgium and up to Amsterdam for the last few days. We went to Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges, which were all lovely, but we weren’t sure about Brussels.

    That morning we’d stopped by the beach near Bruges, and were pretty tired out from a bad night’s sleep at a disappointing hostel there, so we had less than 24 hours in Brussels. We mostly stayed around the Center City, and actually ran into a couple from NJ we’d met in Antwerp a few days before! Since I was traveling with beer nerds, we went to Delirium Cafe (too noisy and hot for me) and Chez Moeder Lambic. I tried to see the Tintin murals but couldn’t seem to find any!

    After reading your post, I may have to go back one day and follow the comic book route through the city.

    PS. I found your blog through g+

    Reply
    • That’s so cool you ran into your friends again! It’s amazing all there is to see and do in such a small country. For beer nerds Delirium is a must. We were pretty overwhelmed by the selection so we just closed our eyes and pointed toward the tap :-p Bummer you couldn’t find the murals. Just a good excuse to go back ;-)
      A Cruising Couple recently posted…Sunday Snapshot | The Statue of Lord Murugan | MalaysiaMy Profile

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  3. Casey, I’ve been to Brussels many times. I agree that there are prettier places in Belgium to visit, but there is a lot to see and do in the capital city. I would suggest making sure to try some of their famous chocolate, go to the Christmas market if it’s winter, and watching the many buskers that flock to the city for that tourist dollar. They are so fun!
    Corinne recently posted…Weekend Travel Inspiration – Enjoy Life!My Profile

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    • We would looove to travel Europe during Christmas time! We’ve heard the Belgian and German Christmas markets are particularly fun.

      Reply
  4. The beer and the chocolate…. you guys have me a believer.

    honestly I’ve never made it to western Europe other then a 10 hour layover in London where we ran out and saw a few sights. I really need to rectify this.

    I can’t wait to read about other places in Belgium you go to.
    Rebekah recently posted…Suining: A little town with a lotMy Profile

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    • Any country who does beer and chocolate well is good in my book :-)

      Reply
  5. Great post! Love Brussels, have been hmmmm 5 times (though a couple of those were for my job) and we’ll be back there in September. Christmas time there is our favourite, the Christmas market is lovely, escargot and gluhwein, YUM!

    Reply
    • The Grand Place at twilight was beautiful when we were there. I can’t imagine how it must feel during Christmas time! :-)

      Reply
    • The french fries are delicious! Sooo much good food in Belgium there just aren’t enough meals in 24 hours :-p

      Reply
  6. I’ve always been intrigued with Belgium because my grandfather spent time teaching English in a university there when I was little. Still haven’t had the opportunity to go, so I’m glad to get the insights on Brussels.
    Laura recently posted…The Birthplace of American Wine: The Monticello Wine TrailMy Profile

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  7. I LOVED Brussels. There was something about the city that I just clicked with! If people are on a really tight time constraint, I would suggest they skip the “big sights”: the Mannekin Piss (underwhelming) & Atomium, and instead focus on the beer/food/art culture of the city. I spent my time there eating mussels, drinking (a lot) of incredibly good beer and wandering down streets in search of the beautiful murals. You captured the essence of Brussels pretty well in this post! Now you’ve got me missing it..
    Tiana recently posted…The Great Southern Oregon Give-a-WayMy Profile

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    • The food culture was definitely one of our favorite things about Brussels. Mannekin Piss is a bit smaller than we anticipated but it’s still worth walking past just to see if he’s got a new outfit, especially if you’re already on the Comic Book Route :-)

      Reply
    • It is quite compact and if you plan it right 24 hours may be all you need to see everything :-)

      Reply
  8. I wish I had had Belgian friends who had warned me about Brussels when I visited Europe back in 2005… my backpacking buddy and I had slotted 3 days to spend there and by the third day we were bored out of our skulls. We felt like we saw and did everything we wanted (and more!) during our first day and just didn’t find the city very appealing. I do remember enjoying a massive waffle and some awesome mussels. But I also remember being eaten by bedbugs on our last evening in town as well… Although I would visit other parts of Belgium (though, I admit, I’m in no hurry to do so), I have no desire to ever return to Brussels!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Living the Local Life in AmbalangodaMy Profile

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    • Yikes, bedbugs are bad enough to ruin any trip! Sorry to hear about that. If you use your time wisely, you can pretty much see it all in 24 hours. We were lucky to catch it during the Jazz Festival so there was plenty going on all around the city.

      Reply
  9. So did you not have a waffle?? I spent three days in Brussels and probably had five waffles! I really liked Brussels and it’s edgy energy, as you say. Mostly I just walked around admiring the architecture and many parks – Cinquantenaire and the Grand Place were my favorite spots. I also enjoyed visiting St. Hubert Gallery and the Cathedral of St. Michael. I think the best views of the city were at the Palace of Justice.
    Heather recently posted…Riga by Water: A Sunset Cruise Down the DaugavaMy Profile

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    • Haha, we did have a couple of waffles in Bruges and Antwerp and they are sooooo good! We thought the Grand Place at sunset was absolutely magical :-) Thanks for mentioning the other spots as well!

      Reply
    • We loved that it’s so walkable. You could just spend the day wandering around the city :-)

      Reply

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