Brussels gets a bad rap. Often, thought of grey and not all that friendly, especially towards tourists, the capital of Belgium and the seat of European Parliament is often overlooked for splashier European capitals, (looking at you Paris and London). But beneath Brussels’ gloomy exterior is an utterly fascinating city. Art lovers will find a trove of treasures, foodies won’t be able to get enough of the chocolate, beer, and fries, and its location makes it an easy place to explore other parts of Belgium. Here’s what to do, see, and eat during a week in Brussels.
Brussels Practical Matters
How and When to Go
Home to Belgium’s only international airport, Brussels is easy to get to whenever you want, but when you want depends on how you feel about rain. The best weather tends to be April through October, although peak tourist season (think highest prices) is in July and August. The rest of the year Brussels is lovely, but wet.
Like most cities, Brussels has an extensive public transportation network. A basic ticket lets you go in and out of any inner-city public transportation for an hour. If you’re planning to explore outside the city, the country’s train network is quite easy to use, although you could also plan to rent a car for a day or two; just remember to get an international driver’s license ahead of time.
Where to Stay
There are options galore from hostels to mid-range to luxury hotels to AirBnBs. Look for a space within the inner city and close to public transportation for easy access to the sights.
Brussels: Days 1 to 3
After arriving and finding your hotel, settle into the city by wandering around La Rue Antoine Dansaert and the surrounding area, Brussels’ most stylish neighborhood. You’ll find hip bars around every turn and plenty of fashion-forward boutiques, all of which will make you wonder why anyone ever thought the city was drab.
Hunt For Treasures
Spend a morning at at The Marolles Flea Market. Dating back to the early 1900s the flea market is open 365 days a year and, with more than 450 vendors selling everything from antiques to jewelry to pottery and sports memorabilia, it’ll be hard to leave without buying at least one souvenir.
After a working up an appetite at the flea market take a picnic lunch (you can pick something up at one of the restaurants near the market and head to Egmont Palace, a large mansion near Petit Sablon Square). The Le Sablon area is a charming historic neighborhood with twin squares. Don’t miss Manneken Pis, the landmark small bronze sculpture and the UNESCO World Heritage site, the La-Grand Place.
Explore Old Port
Head to Old Port – once the commercial hub of the city, the area is still home to a number of seafood restaurants and shops. It’s also where you’ll find St. Catherine’s Church, composed of a variety of architectural styles.
Brussels: Days 4 to 5
Day or Overnight Trip to Ghent
Time to get out of the city. Take in a bit of the countryside by traveling to Ghent. Affectionately known as the cultural hub of Belgium, Ghent is full of pubs and shops surrounded by medieval architecture. Don’t miss the fairy-tale 12th century Gravenstein Castle.
Brussels: Days 6 to 7
One of Brussels’ hidden treasures is actually underground. Coudenberg Palace traces its history back to the 12th Century, but after a fire destroyed the palace in the 1700s, Koningsplein square was built on top. The former palace was all but forgotten until the 1980s when archaeologists found a house and street underneath the square. Today, you can take a tour of the still somewhat forgotten palace.
Experience Brussels Nightlife
On your last night in town head to the quirky Madame Moustache for drinks and dancing.
Say Goodbye With an Incredible View
Take a final look at the city from the top of the upper sphere of Atomium. Originally built for the 1958 World Fair, CNN once named it one of Europe’s most bizarre buildings, but despite that, the building offers impressive views.
*Featured image: Kunstberg, Brussels