Brussels is the capital city of Belgium and is the most richest and populated city in the country, and its centrally located. The city is home to the EU headquarters, and lots of other larger businesses. The capital isn’t just a hub for business but is steeped in history, culture and gastronomy. The city is a real melting pot of mixed cultures, it has its French speaking nationals known as Walloons and its Dutch speaking Flemish nationals, as well as having many other cultural influences from the many migrants that live and work in the city.
I had always fancied visiting Belgium and especially wanted to travel during the festive period. So decided to search for some flights for a quick weekend break, as I only had 2 days annual leave left I decided my husband I could do a night stop in Brussels and tie in visiting the Christmas markets. We got some pretty cheap flights from London, we paid about £50 each return, and booked 1 night in a hotel, so the trip itself is very inexpensive. However when your in the city it can be expensive for eating and drinking etc so bare that in mind when booking.
We flew out first thing on a Saturday morning and flew home Sunday night, and visited the first weekend of December. I’ll be honest I’m glad we visited Brussels but I wasn’t completed blown away by the city, and in comparison to other European cities I didn’t feel like this was the best city I’d ever visited. However don’t let me put you off as I’m great believer in visiting places for yourself to decide. I have travelled all around the world and found places that I absolutely love and when speaking about it with other people they said how they hated that particular place. So always go with an open mind, I just like to give my honest opinion on my blogs.
I think timing had a lot to do with our visit as we visited during one of the busiest times of year, so found the city extremely busy and you could barely move around the Christmas markets at night, and then when we revisited the markets during the day just found it all to be a bit tacky and unauthentic. Even though we thought the markets in all honesty were a bit naff there was still plenty of great places to visit in the city, and if your looking for a cheap getaway and somewhere not too far you can easily do this.
Sights & Activities
Agora Square is a small square which has the Charles Buls fountain (Belgian politician and mayor of Brussels back in the late 1800s) set in the centre of it. In the 1980s a few crafters and artists started a small artisan market in the square, and today still has several stalls dotted around it. The square is overlooked by the most beautiful traditional Belgian buildings too. When we visited there were some buskers and street performers, this little square has a really good buzz on a weekend and a great place to stroll around.
Brussels Christmas Markets
Brussels is famous for its Christmas Markets and during the month of December there are pop up markets sprawled out all over the city with a variety of stalls selling gifts, food and drinks aswell as having fair rides. The main and largest market is Winter Wonder which is located at Plaisirs d’Hiver. There are also several other smaller markets throughout the city located by and around De Brouckere, The Bourse, Eglise Sainte Catherine Church, Tour Noire and Marché aux Poissons.
I would recommend to visit during the week or during the day as the crowds that are drawn by the Christmas Markets are excessive. I have to admit the Brussels Christmas markets were not my cup of tea, I prefer smaller and less busy and commercial Christmas markets, which offer more crafts and home made goods. I did find the Brussels Christmas markets were very touristy, busy and a lot of the stuff being sold was mass produced, however this is just my opinion and my taste, and I have been to other Christmas markets in the Baltic’s and Scandinavia which I much preferred!
Comic Strip Art
Comic Strip Art is all around the city from streets, alleyways, gables and everywhere in between. You can purchase a brochure at the visit Brussels desks for only €2.50 which provides a map of a walking tour. We just decided to stumble across the various artworks while walking around the city, however if your really into comics and street art then I would recommend purchasing the brochure.
Some of the wall murals include some famous characters from comic books such as Tin Tin and Astérix aswell as many others. I think the street art had to be one of my favourite things about the capital, I loved strolling around the streets and coming across the various artwork.
Eglise Notre Dame Au Sablon & Parc Du Petit Sablon
Eglise Notre Dame Au Sablon is a huge gothic church and one of the most beautiful in the city, and is built in similar style to that of St Michael & St Gudula Cathedral. It has intricate and brightly coloured glass windows and just across the road is Parc Du Petit Sablon which is a small garden surrounded by statues of the country’s famous scholars from the 16th century, and has a fountain in the middle, it’s a nice quiet park which is good if you want to sit down and escape the busy streets.
Eglise Sainte Catherine Church
Eglise Sainte Catherine Church is a grand church and the original tower has stood there since the 14th century, and other elements of the church have been added and restored over the many years its been there. The square in front of the church and the area around it also plays host to many of Brussels Christmas markets during the festive period.
Egmont Park is a lovely leafy little park that is quite hidden away, and has several statues – the most famous one being one of Peter Pan. There is also a former orangery which has been converted into a restaurant. This green space in the city is a great place to take a break from sightseeing it’s a really peaceful space.
Grand Place is in the heart of the city and is a UNESCO world heritage site as soon as you walk into the square you can see why. Its stunning and intricate detailed buildings are some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen in Europe. Originally it was constructed in the 15th century housing market halls, trade guild houses and the town hall. The Grand Place was almost completely destroyed by the french back in 1695, but was fully restored in less than 5 years, that’s why there is a variety of different architectural styles.
During the festive season the Grand Place has a huge Christmas tree and a light and sound show which runs every hour on the hour and every half an hour on Fridays and Saturdays. The light and sound show is truly dazzling and not to be missed!
Jeanneke Pis was created in 1987 and is found down a dead end alleyway, this small statue is of a small girl peeing. To join the theme of peeing statues in the city a dog peeing against a post was also created in 1998 called Zinneke Pis, which I only found out about the dog statue after our trip, so if you can and have time I would recommend trying to visit all 3 of the peeing statues.
Mannekin Pis is a public mascot for the city of Brussels and is a fountain of a small boy peeing into it. Very little is known about the history of the fountain, and there are many myths and stories surrounding this tiny statue and how the small boy came about?! The statue was first mentioned back in archives back in 1452 and was known then as ‘Petit Julien’. The statue has also been stolen several times over the years and the current statue dates back to 1965 after the mannekin had been stolen again.
The small statue has over 800 outfits and costumes as its tradition to dress up the statue for special occasions and events. This small statue is a must see when in Brussels as it is the symbol of the city and you will see lots of souvenirs with this little guy on, visit early morning to try and beat the crowds of tourists surrounding the small statue.
Mont Des Arts
Mont Des Arts means ‘hill of the arts’ it’s a walk way and garden which provide great views over the city, and is home to many of the cities art galleries and museums. While we were there they had a art light installation called Submergence which was thousands of hanging lights which lit up to the rhythm of music, which was just at the top of of Mont Des Arts steps.
Place Royale is set in the royal quarter of Brussels and is a neoclassical square which was created back in 1775 through to 1782. It is surrounded by many of the cities most popular museums. If your into history and museums then this is the area to come!
Royal Gallery of St Hubert
Royal Gallery of St Hubert is the most beautiful Victorian shopping arcade located near to the Grand Place, it’s a great place to wander through. There is also a Neuhaus chocolate shop too if you wanted to stop for a quick sugar hit, as well as lots of other shops and cafes to explore. We visited the arcade both during the day and night and in the evening when it’s lit up is when it’s at it’s best.
Royal Palace & Brussels Park
Royal Palace and Brussels Park are some of the most famous landmarks in Brussels. The Royal Palace hasn’t been occupied by the Belgian royal family for over a decade, but today it is the headquarters for the Belgian constitutional monarchy. Brussels Park is next to the Royal Palace. You don’t need to spend lots of time visiting we walked over to the Palace had a look around the outside and then went and had wander around Brussels Park, I have to admit I wasn’t mesmerised by the Brussels top sights and attractions, but as this is such a famous building in Brussels we decided to pay it a visit.
St Michael & St Gudula Cathedral
St Michael & St Gudula Cathedral is one of the most famous buildings in Brussels and was originally built back in the 9th century, but was replaced by a Romanesque church is 1047. Throughout the centuries the church has had many remnants added to it, and underwent several renovations back in the 1980s and 1990s. The cathedral has the most detailed stained glass windows which date back to the mid 1500s! This is a really lovely cathedral to visit and really calm inside.
Thetre Royal De Toone
Thetre Royal De Toone is one of the major attractions in Brussels and is loved by both tourists and locals. This puppet theatre was opened in about 1830 by Toone Genty, when the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands was in place and all theaters were closed to prevent the actors from raising political pieces against the Spanish rulers. As a result, doll shows started to pop up as it was easier to tolerate the fierce dialogues when pronounced by lifeless dolls. More than 180 years later, this popular entertainment has grown into a Royal Puppet Theater.
There are only shows on certain days and times, however you can visit and have a look around which is free to enter, we had a little look around, although have to admit I’m not a massive fan as I find puppets spooky! I have a slight fear of creepy dolls and puppets so if you do to this place might not be for you either!
Food & Drink
Balls & Glory
Balls and Glory is situated in the heart of Brussels and creates a variety of giant meat balls and vegetarian balls which have a liquid filling, and served with Stoemp which is a traditional Belgian dish consisting of pureed mash potatoes and root vegetables.
We ordered the vegetarian dish, it was definetly a unique take on home comfort food. The sauce that it came with was kind of like a Thai sauce, it was a strange combination but was really tasty. If your on a tight budget then I wouldn’t recommend this place as it was quite expensive for what you actually got. We paid almost £40 for 1 drink each and a vegetable ball dish each.
We did enjoy our meal here and if your rushed for time the service here is really quick you order at the desk and they bring it to your table within a few minutes. It’s kind of like a hipster fast food restaurant. It’s a great place to come and visit if you want to sample traditional Belgian food with a twist!
Cheese Kot honestly was one of the best places we visited in Brussels for food, something so simple but tasted delicious. This small cheese shop with a few stalls to sit at offered raclette baguettes, which were a bargain at only €6 each, and made a fantastic brunch bite, it’s also a great place to visit for lunch too, or if your just a cheese fan.
The sandwiches are made fresh to order and you choose your cheese which is then melted straight from the cheese wheel and scraped into your baguette, and you can choose 2 additional fillings. I ordered the mushroom cheese and added fig jam and gherkins, and my husband ordered the garlic cheese with fig jam and friend onions. They were both so tasty that we kept craving them for the rest of the day!This place is a must visit when in Brussels for cheap, delicious and authentic Belgian food this is the place to go!
Gaufres Waffles is located in the beautiful Royal Gallery of St Hubert. It serves up traditional sweet and savoury Belgian waffles. We decided to stop in here and ordered the original waffle which is just dusted in icing sugar. To be honest I’m not a massive fan of Belgian waffles I find them a little dry and bland compared to American waffles. If you do have a sweet tooth maybe opt for one that’s covered in chocolate sauce and ice cream as the traditional ones are a bit tasteless.
Neuhaus chocolatiers are famous all around Belgium and date back 1857 by Jean Neuhaus, a Swiss immigrant. The first shop was opened in the Royal Gallery of St Hubert. Neuhaus grandson was also the inventor of the praline, which you can purchase in store. There are lots of Neuhaus shops located all over the city and it’s great to pop in and purchase some traditional Belgian chocolates. They sell a variety of ready to go boxes and gifts, as well as ones from the counter.
The Judgy Vegan
The Judgy Vegan was a great find in the city and cooks up comfort food. We visited the cafe just before we headed to the airport for our dinner. The cafe has a cosy feel to it and the food was amazing I ordered the autumn tofu and vegetables which were delicious, and my husband ordered a hot dog. The tofu they used was incredible and had a really nice texture. If your looking for an affordable and filling meal this is a great place to visit!
The Vintage Hotel is a retro chic boutique hotel situated in the neighbourhood of Saint-Gilles. We really enjoyed our stay at the Vintage Hotel the public spaces were really well decorated and had a really nice feel to them. The rooms are decorated in funky retro prints but are very basic, but as we were mostly out exploring what the city had to offer and only spending 1 night it didn’t really matter. There is also an air streamer located in the entrance courtyard of the hotel for anyone wishing to do a spot of glamping in the city.
We booked the hotel in advance and got a really good deal of £100 for the night which is cheap for Brussels especially around Christmas time, however rates always vary. The rooms were really clean and quiet and included WiFi. They also offer a reasonably priced breakfast at €10 per person for a continental breakfast buffet, we had a sleep in on our second day so missed it, and opted for brunch in the city, but the breakfast sounded reasonable for a Western European city where normally hotels charge double that for breakfast!
I would recommend the Vintage Hotel to anyone visiting Brussels especially if you want something a little quirky and unique rather than your box standard chain hotel, and the location is great in a quieter end of the city but with lots of cafes, restaurants and shops near by. The city centre can be reached by foot of by a nearby underground.
Transport & Getting Around
The best way to get around the Brussels is by foot it’s quite an easy city to walk around and by doing so you can take in the cities beautiful architecture and come across the many parks and green spaces. We did use the underground metro a few times which cost approx €2 each per trip, which we took from nearby our hotel into the city centre.
There is also a train which runs from Brussels Zaventem airport to Brussels Central Station every 10 minutes between 5am and midnight everyday of the week. The train takes 18 minutes and costs just over €12 per person, which is quite expensive for public transport but was still cheaper than a taxi transfer which we did take on the way back as we cut it quite fine on time, and it did cost us €50 for a 20 minute car journey so it just depends on your budget.
There are also frequent trains to other major cities all around Belgium such as Bruges and Antwerp, which can easily be reached in very little time.
My biggest tip to visiting Brussels over the festive period would be to try and visit during the week as it should be a bit quieter, if your visiting over a weekend like we did then go prepared and don’t be shocked by the crowds of people. Try and visit the Christmas markets during the day as they are much quieter compared to the swarms of people during the evening.
If you love mulled wine like we do then go prepared and take a reusable coffee cup with a lid for it to be put in, as it was so busy we found we almost spilt our drinks with people knocking into us, it was just too busy not to have a lid on as we almost ended up wearing the wine. The stall holders do provide reusable cups for a small deposit and when you return them you get your deposit back, but we used our own instead and meant you didn’t have the worry of having a spillage down yourself.
I would recommend that if you have 3 days in Brussels then try and get the train over to Bruges to spend a day, I really wish we had booked an extra day as I have now been recommended Bruges and told how much nicer it is compared to Brussels.