Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
I couldn’t figure out the vibe of Brussels, but I liked it. It felt like a low-key version of Paris in some ways: MUCH smaller, not as many sights, but good food and fun cafes. In fact, it kind of had that “Second City” vibe like a Chicago or Brooklyn, a smaller (and more relaxed) version of a city like New York.
The first thing I noticed in Brussels, just walking from Brussels Central to my hotel, is that there are a lot of homeless people in this city. This was particularly noticeable because 1) I hadn’t seen a lot of that on my trip to date and 2) the beggars were a bit more aggressive here (a trend that would continue as I passed into France and Spain).
Getting There: I took the train from Ghent (easy 30 min ride), and the city is easily accessed via train/plane from major cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne. There are 3 main train stations in Brussels so you are pretty well connected!
I took public transit (subway and trams) a few times in Brussels. The subway can be a little gross (like New York) depending on the stop. It’s useful if you are going somewhere further away or have luggage, but otherwise, Brussels is a pretty walkable city. You can buy a 24-hour pass for 7.5 euro.
Where to Stay: I stayed at the Bedford Hotel which was a decent budget option. Nothing fancy, but it was a good price and located just south of the central square and near sights/easy to get to from train station (Central is walkable, Nord is a short subway ride). Lots of restaurants nearby. I would suggest staying in proximity to the center so that you can be close to sights as well as restaurants/bars. Everything seemed to be clustered around the same area which makes it easy to see a lot in a short amount of time.
What to Do:
- Beaux-Art Museums – There are 3 museums in this complex: Magritte, Fin de Siecle, and Old Masters. You can buy a pass to visit all three for 15 euro. I was able to visit all of them in about 3 hours. The Magritte and Fin de Siecle were my favorites (the former was very crowded, the latter was not at all).
- Comic Book Museum – If you are into comics, check it out. I walked inside and wandered the shop, but didn’t go to the museum (10 euro).
- Grand Place – Very beautiful and impressive, more so than the other market squares in Belgium (and elsewhere)! Don’t eat around here as it looks very touristy!
- Parliamentarium – You can visit this free museum to learn more about the European Parliament. I got there an hour before closing so my visit was a bit rushed, but I thought this was pretty interesting (esp for an American!)
- Autoworld – I spent a few fun hours checking out this car museum with cars from the past century. I took a million photos here (11 euro)
- Parc de Cinquintenaire – I really loved this park, this is just next to Autoworld. Very nice to hang out on a beautiful day!
- Place de Petit Sablon – Beautiful little park/garden, there is nice square nearby that was hosting an outdoor festival while I was there.
- Mannekin Pis – The famous statue in Brussels – I thought this was very lame but it’s close to some tasty waffle spots!
Eating & Drinking: I found Brussels to be a bit expensive for eating, but you can find some good spots that offer good food at more reasonable prices (like Fin de Siecle).
- Get the moules frites at Chez Leon, just off the main square. You are going to have to have mussels in Brussels – do it here!
- Eat a waffle. Get it plain (nature) rather than with loads of toppings. Reco: Waffle Factory, Madame Dandoy (both near the square)
- Frites of course – I got them at Frit Flagey, located outside of the center (take the tram there). These were the best I tried in Belgium and there was no wait! Other recos: Madame D’antoine, Fritland
- Chez Richard – Cafe with small plates, lots of people hanging out. In the Sablon neighborhood which has a ton of little cafes like this. Fun for a drink/light meal.
- OR Coffee – Nice coffee shop, has breakfast.
- Tich – Healthy spot for breakfast/lunch/snack/juice
- Fin de Siecle – Great spot for dinner, Belgian food. Very busy, not very expensive. Look for the menu on the chalkboard (take a photo and bring it back to your table). I had a delicious meal here (try the sausage with mashed potatoes!)