Brussels receives a lot of underserved hate, and I truly don’t get it. There’s plenty to do there, all without the crowds you’ll see in other cities throughout Europe. The European capital knows how cool it is, and doesn’t need people constantly comparing it to Paris and Amsterdam (cool, but, well… basic).
So if you want to go somewhere where you won’t see abroad girls taking the same photos for Instagram on every other corner, you’ve come to the right place.
What To See In Brussels
Grand Place/Grote Markt
This is admittedly a tourist trap, but you absolutely have to spend some time in the iconic Grand Place. The over-the-top ornate gold buildings are unlike anything else in the city, or arguably, Europe. Tour city hall and have a drink at one of the overpriced (but worth it for the view, vibes, and let’s be real, pics) terraces that spill into the square. Then, wander the surrounding streets, marvel at the existence of the Manneken Pis (peeing statue, and no, I’m not kidding), and grab a waffle or another drink.
Pro tip: Do not eat all your meals here. While it’s beautiful to look at, there are better quality and ofter cheaper places to eat and drink (aka, keep reading).
We’re all familiar with the British Royal Family, but did you know other countries in Europe have their own Megan and Harry? The Belgian equivalents live in the Royal Palace, situated right in the heart of the capital. The palace is only open to the public from 21 July to September. If you visit outside this period, you’ll have to settle for an outside view. Don’t worry there, the guards in their little boxes will be out to protect the palace entertain you with a changing of the guards.
There is a spooky history behind the Royal Palace and you can experience it all at the Coudenburg archeological site. The current royal actually residence isn’t the original, that one burned down in 1731. When the new palace was built, the road was leveled, covering the old building, which mostly lay forgotten for over 200 years. Then, in 1980 excavation began to develop the present-day site. It’s definitely an off-beat thing to do in the city.
Galeries of Brussels
“Galeries” is just a fancy French word for a covered shopping passage that links two streets. Brussels has two that are worth visiting: the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert and Passage du Nord.
The Royal Galeries of Saint Hubert, located between Rue des Bouchers and Rue de l’Ecuyer, is home to numerous sweet shops, cafes, and a Maison Dandoy. If you’re looking for a bit more entertainment, you can catch a movie at the cinema, a show at the Vaudeville theater, or take a salsa class—all in a breathtaking late-19th-century structure.
Close to the Brussels North train station, this smaller Galerie connects Rue Neuve with Boulevard Adolphe Max and is full of sculptures, which makes it a unique passage. Presently, there are only 20 shops left in the mall, but both sides lead out to busy streets in the lower city shopping area.
Across from the Royale Palace, in what used to essentially be the Royal Family’s front yard (lol, casual) is a small park worth a wander. Watch birds splash in numerous fountains, grab a beer and fries at the Woodpecker kiosk location, and if you visit in spring, enjoy a stunning floral display. There’s also an adorable gazebo reminiscent of another time where live performances are occasionally performed.
Parc du Cinquantenaire
This much larger park on the outskirts of the city center, houses many museums, including the aforementioned Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, where you can grab some of the best views in the city. It’s worth visiting for that alone, but you can also wander the many aisles, rest under the numerous large trees, or yup—grab a beer at one of the park gardens. Gotta love Europe.
Best Cafes In Brussels
This cute cafe located next door to the picturesque “Old England” building is the perfect place to grab one of the best sandwiches and cups of coffee in Brussels. Love Ciabatta is a mix of a Pinterest plant store and a more hipster Starbucks—but with better Wi-Fi. In addition to delicious warm drinks, I had some of the best fresh juice in Europe. You’ll feel like you’re at your bestie’s house for coffee if your bestie was a French-Belgian with an Insta-worthy patio.
Cafe du Sablon
Where those in the know head to for all-day, every-day brunch. Seriously, you need to go here. The pastries, espresso, and breakfast bowls give France, Italy, and California a run for their money respectively (not trying to start an international incident here but it’s true). Kick back in a comfy chair reminiscent of your back college common room, grab it to go and wander the picturesque streets nearby, or sit outside and enjoy a view of the tram passing by the backdrop of the church.
My Little Cup
Okay seriously, My Little Cup has some of the friendliest staff in Europe (which, ahem, due to the lack of tipping culture, can be hard to come by). You have to visit this cozy cafe located near le Parc de Bruxelles. Various Consulates and government offices may surround it, but rest assured no sterile office vibes persist. They even sell ground coffee if you want a souvenir, or are staying for an extended period in Brussels.
Where To Eat And Drink In Brussels
Wolf Food Court
I know what you might be thinking:”A food court?! I didn’t come to Europe to eat off trays and serve myself! I came for cafes with views, cute waiters, and no reason to tip!”
I totally get you, but hear me out. If you’re on a budget and still want a night out, the Wolf Sharing Food Market is the place. Located just on the periphery of the Grand Place and the main shopping area, the prices are friendlier, but the offers are no less tasty. Individual stalls serve a variety of cuisines from some of the best pizzas in Belgium to delicious Bahn Mi and Mediterranean plates. And in the center is a bar where you can grab your favorite beer or cocktail. Wolf is perfect if you and your travel companions are indecisive AF or never agree on where to eat.
Another budget-friendly option (we don’t have Beyoncé budget, okay?) and recommended by numerous young residents. Woodpecker is a series of brunch cafes and kiosks all around the city. Most menu items are standard across all locations, with varying specials. Sample Belgian beers, brunch, snacks, smoothies, and caffeinated warm drinks, in Brussels’ year-round fav for relaxation and refueling. Alternatively, while wandering one of the city’s parks, chill out at a Woodpecker kiosk, and beer gardens that offer drinks, hot dogs, and snacks.
This Ethiopian bar and restaurant is a gem and if you’re lucky you’ll catch Toukoul on a day when there’s live music or a cultural event. In addition to mouthwatering food, you can sample Ethiopian drinks such as le Tej (yeast wine, water, and honey a sweet but chill drink), Ethiopian beer, and Le Katikala a très strong orange liqueur. Of course, if you want a classic Aperol Spritz or blonde beer, they have those, too. Alternatively, if you’re in the mood for caffeine, try out a traditional Buna coffee ceremony.
Okay, this is admittedly a basic rec, but for a good reason. The waffle maker you have at home is nowhere near the experience you’ll have at Maison Dandoy. There are two main locations in the city center. I recommend sitting upstairs in the one right off the Grand Place for some tranquility or outside the one in the Royal Gallery of St Hubert to people-watch. Speculoos will for sure become your new fav sweet topping.
Cafe Mort Subite
This Brussels institution is located just up from the Grand Place in an area full of bars where you can sample all the best Belgium has to offer. Cafe Mort Subite makes for the perfect place to start a night out with its’ long-established cozy vibe, that’s still plenty lively. There’s plenty on tap, as well as tasty snacks and cocktails if you’re not a beer person—or you’ve had your fill since arriving in Brussels.
This one-time record-setter for most beers on tap, you’ll be bound to find something you like.
Down a quintessential cobblestone street from the aforementioned bar, Delirium Cafe is a lovely bar without an ounce of pretension. Sit around an old booze barrel or enjoy the outside patio. And don’t forget to check out the memorabilia and photos covering the walls that tell the story of Belgian beers, a free museum for those of us on a budget—or stop by on a jam session night and enjoy a show gratis.
The Best Museums In Brussels
Comic Book Museum
Random, I know, but so fun. Trust me. I mean, where else in the world do you see this stuff? Belgian cartoons are internationally-renowned, making the Comic Book Museum a must-see. Home to more comic artists per square foot than in any other country, the exhibits tell stories of social realities, with a twist of Belgian humor and imagination. Housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau building, the museum is worth visiting just for that reason alone.
Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History
TBH, I didn’t visit the actual museum. But I paid the much-worth-it 6 Euros to climb an old winding staircase to the building’s terraces where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Brussels. Be ready for 170 steps in cramped quarters, or take the elevator if you’re not feeling it. There are some old wartime relics before you head to the roof if you need a museum fix.
Brussels will shove chocolate (and beer, fries, and waffles) in your face at every corner. I’m not complaining, why not learn more about the local food? And what better place to do that than a chocolate museum? Even if they’re not usually your thing, you won’t regret a visit to Choco-Story Brussels. Learn all about the history of the tasty treat, and how it came to Belgium, marvel at a master chocolate maker demonstration, and taste all the samples. That’s really why we’re here, ya know?
Atomium & Mini-Europe
Leftover from World Expo 58, the Atomium, and the surrounding Mini-Europe park are musts on any Brussels visit. Escalators and elevators in tubes connect the six spheres that make up the Atomium, providing unique views of the city that you can’t get anywhere else. Then, explore the open-air museum of Mini-Europe where replicas of the continent’s most famous sites are on display.
Musical Instruments Museum
Located in the historic and beautiful Art Nouveau, Old England Building, right next door to Love Ciabatta, the Musical Instruments Museum is a quirky little space to spend an afternoon. Four floors are filled with over 1, 000 instruments from various centuries—for a different type of history lesson.