Edited by Sabrina Evans
Famous for its beer, waffles and fries and renowned for its laid-back attitude, Brussels is truly an underestimated travel destination. The breezy attitude and slow pace of the city is what makes it the perfect pick for a short city break. It may not have climbed to the top of your holiday destination list before now, but you will be surprised by the choice of interesting things to do here, even in just one day. From historic sites, hidden gems and cafes to local restaurants and recommendations for where to find the best beer, this article is the perfect one-day guide to make the most of your visit to Brussels. Don't be surprised if you start wondering whether one day in Brussels is even enough.
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Coffee first! Everything else comes after, right? If you fancy something atypical, start your morning with a cup of pungent Ethiopian Kaffa at Aksum Coffee House. Apart from the tempting aroma of coffee brewed in traditional Ethiopian Jebena and served in ceramic pots, this café also boasts a beautiful painted ceiling and simplistic but bold interior. Kickstart your day by having breakfast at the Charli bakery - which opens as early as 7:30 am. It's famous for its 100% organic and natural ingredients and hand-crafted sourdough loaves; in particular its stone-milled pistolets and baguettes. There may be a queue in the morning but it's worth the wait. Location wise, Aksum is right behind Grand Place and Charli is a seven-minute walk from Bruxelles Central train station.
The first stop on your one-day itinerary should be Grand Place, best visited in the morning to avoid crowds and give yourself ample time to admire the opulent elegance of the square and its ornate structures. During the festive season, the square transforms into a winter wonderland complete with Christmas market, an ice rink and more. Once you have had your fill of the architecture in this magnificent plaza head for the famous statue of Manneken Pis, but don’t hold your breath. The statue itself is no marvel, but it is a shining example of the rebellious spirit of the city. You’ve got to give it to the Brusseleers for their bizarre sense of humour.
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One of the most unique and fun things to do in this city is to explore Brussels’ cartoon heritage. The Belgian Comic Strip Centre was established in 1989, and since then the organization has persevered in bringing Brussels’ streets to life. Brussels is the birthplace of some of history’s most iconic comic characters like Tintin, the Smurfs, and Lucky Luke and so far, more than fifty lively murals paying homage to these have sprung up around the city. It is best to begin your excursion from the Visit Brussels Information Centre. Here, you can buy a mini-map of the route, or alternatively, you can follow the quirky comic strip style guide available online. In my opinion, the must-see murals around Grand Place are Broussaille Wall, Ric Hochet wall, and The Adventures of Tintin.
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For lunch head to L’architecte, which is located in one of Brussels’ most peppy neighborhoods: Flagey. It's a Belgian inspired canteen bistro serving salads and soups inspired by the season. The minimal interior is nothing fancy but is always packed with teachers, students, and young professionals. I advise sticking to a light lunch here to save a spot for the epic fries at Frit Flagey. The title of the Brussels’ best fries is a highly debated subject among locals, but this place is a solid contender. This tiny hut’s basic white walls, shamrock green roof, and theatrical graphics give the impression it’s popped straight off the page of a comic book. They offer a mix of traditional Belgian fast foods such as frites, croquettes, and frikadelle and the promise of a queue is as certain as the delicious simplicity of the menu.
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Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Mont des Arts (Mountain of Art) should be on everyone’s Brussels bucket list. The esplanade offers film screenings, concerts (at Bozar), an impressive art museum and a beautiful symmetrical garden. This place also boasts the best view of the city and from it you can capture a perfect postcard shot of Brussels’s densely packed architecture. There is also a musical instrument museum just a short walk from the esplanade, housed in an impeccably restored complex; one part designed in neo-classical style and the other in Art Nouveau. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday until 5pm - so best for an early evening meander - and is closed on Mondays. Do check their website as their opening times change during the holiday season.
Photo credit: www.restaurant-het-kelderke
After a jam-packed day, you’ll no doubt be ready to slow down and enjoy a relaxed dinner. For this, I recommend visiting Les Filles; a restaurant founded by three friends who simply share a passion for cooking good food. The menu changes daily depending on the season’s offerings and the chef’s inspiration. Typically, they serve two starters on the table followed by a buffet and dessert. There are also plenty of alternatives at Grand Place to choose from. For a fusion of French-Flemish cuisine, I recommend trying out ‘T Kelderke. While the outdoor seating area gazes over Grand Place, the indoor dining room is nestled in a dimly lit seventeenth-century cellar. Don't forget to book a table in advance for both.
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They say to leave the best until last and indulging in some real Belgian beer is the quintessential way to end your one-day itinerary in Brussels. Head to the Delirium Cafe near Grand Place to recharge yourself with a few drinks. The place serves more than two thousand varieties of beer and you might struggle to settle on just one. The cafe lives in a quirky cul-de-sac which transforms into the perfect off-beat venue for a local street party every night. So, I say grab a beer, skip settling down inside, and roll out to enjoy the impromptu Belgian celebrations like a local.
Before you go
The best way to travel around the city is by public transport. I recommend getting your hands on the Brussels One Day Pass. You will need to buy a MOBIB card (5 euros) from the Kiosk at the train station and then purchase a 24-hour JUMP (7.50 euros) per ticket. It is valid for use on the entire STIB network (including the Bourget-Brussels Airport section) with the possibility to change lines, the TEC and De Lijn urban networks in the Brussels-Capital Region and in 2nd class the SNCB rail network in the Brussels-Capital Region.
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