Edited by Holly Jenson
If I had to describe Brussels in three words, I’d say it’s a crazy, cosmopolitan village. Our city is a huge mix of so many cultures, and there are over 170 languages spoken, but it’s small enough to feel like a village of sorts too! I have lived in this beautiful place for 11 years now, and I love people watching as I walk around. The city center is small like a village, but there are lots of suburban sub-cultures you can reach in minutes, which makes Brussels a unique place. I’ve combined all of my favorite parts of the city to round up the top 10 things to see in Brussels so you can get a local experience of the place I call home.
One of the best free things to do in Brussels is to visit our Grand Place. The architecture here is so beautiful you can spend a while exploring our City Hall and Brussels City Museum, both of these buildings are within the square. There is a lot of mystery that surrounds the square as built by alchemists. This is somewhere you can delve into Belgian history in learning about the Freemasons and the part they played in making Brussels what it is today. There are lots of shops lining the square where you can collect souvenirs, but be sure to venture away from here to truly experience our chocolate and beer.
One of the top things to do in Belgium is to experience our chocolate. Le Sablon houses artisan chocolatiers and their workshops so be sure to visit Wittamer and Artisan Chocolatier Mary. Traditional Belgian praline is also a must-try treat, and for a twist on tradition, head over to Laurent Gerbaud or Frederic Blondeel for rarer sensations such as curry, matcha tea, or olive oil flavor chocolate. Le Sablon and its endless amounts of chocolate offer some tasty sightseeing in Brussels!
Another great free thing to do in Brussels is to visit the neighborhood of Les Marolles. This is one of the most historic areas of the city and is famed for its huge flea market. Held every day from 8 am to 2 pm. There are over 500 stalls where you can browse antiques, vintage clothes, furniture, elaborate rugs, books and so much more! This is one of my favorite places to people watch; it is always bustling and full of life here! Visiting this area is also one of the best things to do in Brussels in one day. There is so much street art and history waiting to be explored in the surrounding streets, you will get a taste of the real city, by strolling around here.
A la Mort Subite
A La Mort Subite is one of my favorite brasseries in Brussels. An authentic Belgian bar, this is a great place to try our world-famous gueuze beer. Originally opened in 1928, the owners have retained all the original décor, so when you enter the room you are transported to another era. They serve the best frites in here as a perfect companion to your beer; this place just oozes everything that Belgium is about. The brasserie is loved by locals and visitors alike and is just a short walk away from Grand Place. A beer here is a must if you are looking to enjoy one of the most adored breweries in Belgium.
While you’re sightseeing in Brussels, you may notice that the city is almost completely made up of art nouveau and surrealist architecture. Daniel Ost is one of these masterpieces. Housed in a beautiful art nouveau building, this flower shop provides the richest families in Belgium with centerpieces and other floral art. As well as flower arranging, Daniel and Nele Ost specialize in landscape design and are famed worldwide for their creative works. The bright archway will invite you in and you will soon be surrounded by a stunning sea of the season’s freshest flowers. This shop is a true hidden gem of Brussels and a great place to experience some of the beauty Belgium holds.
Abbaye de la Cambre
Abbaye de la Cambre is another hidden gem that many visitors often miss when sightseeing in Brussels. Just south of the city center, this Abbey is home to a group of monks and some beautiful gardens. While you’re here tour the historic architecture, rock pools and hedges sculpted to perfection; where you’ll only hear the sounds of birds chirping in the background. This is one of the more unusual things to do in Brussels, as it allows you to step away from the bustle of the center to unwind. I love to take peaceful walks here on the weekend and would say this is a must-visit suburb when staying in our wonderful city.
Belgian Comic Books Museum
One place that is worth a visit while you’re here is the Belgian Comic Books Museum. Explore the history of your favorite comic books such as The Adventures of Tin Tin, The Smurfs, and Lucky Luke. I am proud that these well-loved works are Belgian, but the reason I always recommend this place is for the architecture itself. The building the museum is housed in was designed by Victor Horta in 1905; Belgium’s most famous art nouveau artist, and was originally a textile department store. Today the museum still has all of the original features and acts as a kind of time machine to the early 20th century. I would recommend this place to anyone looking to experience Belgium’s rich art history.
Brussels Park is a landmark that’s easy to miss when sightseeing in Brussels. A big part of Belgium’s religious history is the Freemasons’ rise in popularity in the 1800s. As you tour the statues, fountains, and well-kept grounds, you may notice that this park has been designed in the shape of the Freemasons symbol. This is a great place to unwind after all the excitement of touring the city while still being able to soak up some more cultural history and beautiful architecture. For somewhere to relax and discover, spend an afternoon exploring all 32 acres of Brussels’ biggest park.
Another favorite hidden gem of mine is Galerie Bortier. Right next to Grand Place, I am always surprised at how many people miss this place. This antique bookshop is a paradise for any history-lover. The whole tunnel is Art Nouveau; featuring curved lamps, natural wooden book shelves and a beautiful glass ceiling which leaves you basking in the natural light. The fact that this place is almost totally undiscovered adds to the appeal as you can browse the never-ending shelves in peace. This is one of the best things to do in Brussels when you’re searching for an escape from the busy center but still want to soak up the culture.
A brewery and museum in one, Cantillon is one of the best places to experience Belgian beer. Pay a visit to the traditional beer factory to be transported back to 1800; filled with timber, kegs and authentic beers, Cantillon is a true treasure trove of Belgian history. This is the most authentic you can get; you can drink beer straight from the keg in here! They serve a lot of sweeter, fruity beers that stand out against our traditional gueuze. One popular favorite is the mango-flavored beer; a strong, bitter taste with a mango tang, I order this one every time I go. While you’re here make sure to also try the cherry-flavored beer, you will rarely find so many traditional yet creative flavors in one place.
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