Most travelers we met told us not to bother with more than 24 hours in Brussels.
“Sure, go see it. But then get out and explore Belgium’s smaller gems, like Antwerp and Ghent.”
We heeded their advice and scheduled only 24 hours in Belgium’s capital city. At first, 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. (As we quickly found out, Belgium might be small, but the gorgeous country packs a punch. We can’t wait to return with more time to better explore all of Belgium’s highlights.)
While we only had 24 hours in Brussels, we have to say that we were surprisingly taken by this cosmopolitan city. Brussels has a grungy edginess to it but in a sort of young and fun-spirited way. For being the center of EU bureaucracy, there was unexpected raw energy permeating through the streets. It was an energy we loved, where creative souls, foreign residents, and political folk combine to create a unique, forward-thinking community. There’s also the fact that Brussels is the birthplace of the French Fry and Belgian waffles, and there’s no shortage of places to devour these indulgences.
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 Brussels to get the most out of your visit—you won’t be disappointed.
How To Spend 24 Hours In Brussels, Belgium
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 Atomium 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.
Atomium is open from 10am – 6pm, 7 days a week. General admission to Atomium is 16 euros. We definitely think Atomium is worth visiting, so be sure to book your tickets in advance to ensure your spot. You can book online at the Atomium website.
Wander Around Sablon, Brussels
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. For a truly decedent experience, try this Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop.
Lunch In Brussels
Stop at any of the cute bistros in Sablon for a quick bite to eat. Le Wine Bar des Marolles is a favorite for locals and tourists alike. The wine list is phenomenal, and the ingredients fresh and local. Meat eaters should try the house-made charcuterie. For more inspiration on where to eat in Sablon, here’s a solid list of the top ten restaurants in the area.
The Brussels 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.
Brussels’ Iconic Mannekin Piss Statue
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. It’s a touristy spot so expect to wait in line for a photo op; nevertheless, it’s a quirky must-visit on any 24 hours in Brussels itinerary.
Grand Place UNESCO World Heritage Site
Brussels’ most popular tourist destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site, it doesn’t take long to see why the Grand Place Square is considered to be one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. Ornately decorated medieval buildings date back 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.
Dine on Rue des Bouchers
It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s a fun one at that. Rue des Bouchers 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). Insider tip: Don’t fill up on too many frites here; you’ll want to save room for the french fries at Maison Antoine over at Place Jourdan. They’re twice fried in beer fat which should tell you all you need to know!
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, 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. If you don’t want to look like a complete novice (like we did) try a small-group beer tour first.
If you have more than 24 hours in Brussels, try:
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the EU, this free visitor’s center might be worth a stop.
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.
Visit Rooftop Café inside the Musical Instruments Museum for 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.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
This 200-meter long complex was one of the first shopping arcades built in Europe. The luxurious space hasn’t lost any of its original grandeur and today boasts high-end boutiques and decadent chocolate shops. My favorite is Chocolaterie Mary, the first female-owned chocolatier!
Brussels Christmas Market
Time your visit to Brussels over the holidays to revel in the magic of the city’s Christmas market. With over 200 stalls, the Brussels Christmas Market promises an enchanting place to shop for gifts, sip hot chocolate, and generally soak in the Christmas magic.
Where to sleep in Brussels, Belgium
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.
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.
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.
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 add to an itinerary for 24 hours in Brussels?
We were guests of Taptoe during our stay. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, our own.