Is Brussels Worth Visiting?
This is a question we asked ourselves when we were planning a recent trip to Europe, and, after spending an extended long weekend there, our response to “Is Brussels worth visiting?” is a resounding YES!
Brussels is one of Europe’s most underrated and under-marketed cities, especially considering it is consistently ranked one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world!
Its population is more than 50% foreign born, and it is the national headquarters for NATO (North American Treaty Organization) as well as the administrative hub of the EU (European Union).
That’s all well and good, but why is it worth visiting?
Well, if you’re like us and enjoy great food (chocolate anyone?), fabulous beer, amazing architecture and spell-binding history, then you’ve come to the right place to find out all the amazing reasons this city is worth a visit.
Highlights of Brussels
15 Amazing Reasons to Visit Brussels
1. Take a Walking Tour
The Old City of Brussels is quite compact and we recommend that one of the first things you do is take a walking tour. This allows you to get a great introduction to the food, art, history and charm of Brussels so that you can pick out and focus on the things that interest you during the remainder of your stay.
You can do a 1½ hour guided or self-guided tour and see some of the key highlights that Brussels has to offer. Take note of the places you find most interesting so you can come back to them when you have more time.
If there is a particular restaurant, chocolatier or brewery that interests you, add it to your list of things to do later.
If you are on a guided tour, ask the tour guide for recommendations of their favourite local restaurants and bars.
They tend to be quite passionate about their city and most will steer you away from the over-priced venues that target tourists. We have found them to be a great resource for discovering local cuisine and culture.
✦ You can check out this popular Brussels Walking Tour that includes both sightseeing and food selections unique to Brussels.
2. Brussels is One of the Official Seats of the European Union
This makes it truly an international centre and attracts dignitaries and business delegations from around the world. Part of its significance is its location between Germany and France – the 2 most powerful countries in the European Union.
The European Parliament is a delightful 20-minute walk from Brussel-Centraal station through the magnificent Brussels Park. You can admire the massive glass and steel structure from the outside or join one of the daily guided tours into the parliament and see the governing of Europe in action!
3. Stop By the Royal Palace
The Kingdom of Belgium is a constitutional and parliamentary monarchy that has a King who signs laws approved by parliament. The official Royal Palace is in the centre of Brussels, atop a hill overlooking the Royal Park.
While this is not the residence of the royal family, it is where the King and Queen conduct formal events and welcome heads of state.
Built at the dawn of the 20th century by King Léopold II, the palace sits on the ruins of an ancient palace dating to the 11thcentury. Leopold wanted his new palace to be larger than Buckingham Palace in London, so he made the façade 50% larger than the famous English landmark!
The inside of Buckingham Palace, however, is much, much larger than its Belgian counterpart.
The Palace is usually open in the summer for visitors to tour the interior, but it is currently undergoing a major renovation so guests won’t be able to get a glimpse inside until the summer of 2024.
But, it is a nice piece of architecture that is worth adding to your photo album, and the surrounding area, including the park, is all part of the Royal landscape with wonderful vistas.
4. The Grand Place – A Stunning Place to Visit Day and Night
This was one of our favourite places in Brussels, and we came back here several times during our 3 days in the city.
The Grand Place is the central plaza of Brussels and has been designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its stunning architecture dating back to the 17th century.
The dramatic Baroque and Gothic buildings surrounding the square speak to the rich cultural and economic history from which Brussels sprang.
As beautiful as it is during the day, be sure to come back at night when the square is filled with bedazzling light reflecting off the shimmering gold Baroque Guild Houses.
5. Try the Unique Taste of Belgium Beer in Brussels
If you enjoy a good beer, then Brussels is the place to be. While most people are familiar with the Leffe brand of Belgium beer that is widely exported, there are far better locally-produced beers that are unique to Belgium, and some, are specifically brewed only in Brussels.
It is definitely worth visiting Brussels since there are hundreds of different beers brewed in Belgium, but if you are going to do a beer tasting, be sure to try a Lambic beer. Unique to Brussels, this beer style has been brewed here since the 13th century.
It is fermented from locally grown wild yeasts that give it a distinctively flavourful sour taste. I tried Lambics in a couple of different pubs and I am a fan!
Gueuze, a beer made from both young and old lambics, undergoes a double fermentation process and is usually sold in corked bottles. Like lambics, they tend to taste a little sourish.
Don’t forget to try one of the Trappist beers while you are here! Trappist breweries are very rare – there are only about a dozen in the world – and six of them are in Belgium. A beer is designated as Trappist if it has been brewed by Monks in a Trappist monastery.
Finally, if you want to do all of your beer tasting in one place the Delirium Café owns the Guinness World Record for most available beers to try in one establishment – over 2000!
6. Belgium: The World’s Best Waffles
When anyone thinks of waffles, the first thing that comes to mind is that crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside decadent, deliciously sweet Belgium Waffles. And what better place to try them than in Brussels?
What makes a Belgian waffle different? Instead of using baking soda in the waffle batter, as we do in North America, the batter used in Belgian waffles are leavened with yeast. And, since the yeast here in Brussels is unique and locally grown, you just can’t get a better waffle anywhere else.
You will find waffle houses on pretty much every major street corner in Brussels, and while they are all good, some are better than others. Look around and see where the locals are eating – that’s where the best ones will be had.
7. Belgian Frites – (Don’t Call Them French Fries)
The Belgians are very proud of their frites, and they should be! It is believed that fries were first made in the late 17th century when poor Belgian fisherman fried slices of potato in the wintertime because the rivers were frozen and they couldn’t catch fish.
Fries were introduced to North America during the First World War when Americans stationed in a French-speaking Belgian region returned to America and called them French Fries. Belgians are very sensitive about this and specifically refer to them as Belgian Frites.
What makes them so good? Belgian Frites are fried twice in beef or horse fat. The first frying is done until they are golden brown. They are then removed from the fat and fried again to a specific temperature. This is what makes Belgian Frites crispy on the outside and soft and hot on the inside. Combine that with one of the many sauces available and you have a mouthwatering snack.
We went to Friture Pitta de La Chapelle which was recommended by one of our guides. The owner allowed us to try several of their more than 50 sauces and we eventually settled on one of their most popular – The Dallas.
8. The Best of Belgian Chocolate
World-famous Belgian chocolate is another great reason to visit Brussels. There are dozens of chocolate shops around the city and many have been making decadent chocolate for generations.
You won’t need to spend a lot of energy finding chocolatiers in the city because they are everywhere. Deciding which one you are going to visit is the challenge!
We did some research before coming to Brussels and created our own self-guided chocolate tour. Our criteria were to find original chocolate shops that were generational and maintained traditional values and techniques. We weren’t disappointed!
Check out our blog about our favourite chocolate shops in Brussels and do your own self-guided tour.
9. Enjoy Tasty Carbonnade
One of our favourite meals in Brussels was the savoury, succulent Carbonade Flamande, or Flemish Stew. This beef-based stew is made with a blend of savoury spices, sautéed onions and beer.
It is served with thick fresh bread and is the ultimate comfort food. Paired with a Belgian Lambic or Trappist beer and you have a lunch made for the gods.
We enjoyed our Carbonade Flamande at 9 & Voisins, a near-century-old restaurant in the heart of Brussels, not far from the Grand Place.
10. Eclectic Local bars
If you are into really cool, local establishments where time seems to have stood still, then visit one (or several) of the quaint little pubs that can be found throughout the downtown area.
If you are lucky (or resourceful), you will find a gem of a place that exudes history, flair and character. Four of our favourites were Theatre Toon, à la Becasse, le Cirio and la Morte Subite.
Theatre Toon is a brewery that offers a plethora of Belgian beers, but what is really unique is that it is also a puppet theatre with posters, marionettes and stages scattered around the brewery/bar. It is also a favourite of locals.
Á la Becasse is another great tavern near the centre of town that has a rustic ambiance with wooden tables and chairs. Great place for lunch.
Le Cirio is a historic Belgium brasserie that dates back to the late 1800s. It is steeped in Art-Nouveau style and is also located near the Grand Place. Make sure to try the half and half. Sparkling wine mixed with white wine. Great invention!
La Morte Subite is a century-old traditional Belgian tavern that has been owned by the same family for 4 generations. It specializes in lambic and gueuze beers and simple but delicious food. Large and open with an early 20th-century style this is another fabulous place to unwind with family or friends.
11. Manneken Pis and His Sister (and their dog)!
Strolling through the streets of Brussels you will undoubtedly come across souvenir shops selling tiny statues of a little boy peeing. This is the famous Manneken Pis, a small bronze statue that was made in 1619 and is currently kept at the Brussels City Museum.
A replica of the statue is located at the corner of Rue de Chênes and Rue de l’Etuve not far from the Grand Place. He is one of the most famous landmarks in Brussels.
While there are many legends attached to the peeing fountain, the significance of the Manneken Pis dates back to the early Middle Ages when tanners hired children to urinate on the hides to soften them. The statue was created as a tribute to those children.
Manneken Pis has a sister, Jeannette-Pis, erected in 1987 located just north of the Grand Place. There is also a statue of a dog peeing, Zinneke-Pis, erected in 1998, to complete the happy family.
12. A Shoppers Paradise – Les Galleries Royale St. Hubert
Leveraging its historical roots as a commercial and economic centre of Europe, it is no surprise that Brussels provides an awesome shopping experience, and one of the most famous is Les Galleries Royale St. Hubert.
This complex is comprised of 3 glassed-in arcades which make it an ideal place to go no matter the weather.
The galleries include jewelry shops, clothing stores, gift shops as well as restaurants, cafes and pastry shops. It is also a great place to sample those decadent Belgian Chocolates, as some of the most famous chocolatiers can be found in the gallery.
13. The Famous Brussels Flea Market
Looking for something a little less upscale than the Royal Galleries? Why not check out the world-famous flea market located at Jeu de Balle Square in central Brussels?
No matter what you are looking for you will find it here. The market has been operating at this location for more than 150 years and maintains its tradition of selling just about anything. It is a treasure trove of antiques, glassware, second-hand clothes, vinyl records, jewelry and knick-knacks.
We spent a couple of hours just wandering through the aisles admiring the vast array of paraphernalia, some of it from the 19thcentury. This is truly a treasure hunter’s dream.
14. Brussels Has Some Great Museums
While every major city has museums worth visiting, Brussels has some pretty unique museums that you typically don’t find elsewhere.
If you want a cultural and historic overview of Brussels, covering every period from ancient times to the modern day, then visit the Brussels City Museum. This is also where you will find the original Manneken Pis statue.
The Brussels Comics Museum is a great place for children as it is dedicated to some of the most famous characters from comic books (mostly European) such as Tin Tin and Astérix, among others.
Music lovers will enjoy visiting the Musical Instruments Museum which houses over 8000 musical instruments from around the world. This museum also happens to be part of the Royal Museum of Arts and History.
15. Brussels is Also a Gateway to Bruges and Ghent
While you are in Brussels take a day trip to visit two of Belgian’s other amazing cities – Bruges and Ghent. Both are easily accessible by train. Ghent is a 30-minute train ride from Brussels and Bruges takes about an hour.
Ghent is a much larger city than Bruges with a population of 250,000 compared to Bruges’ population of just over 100,000 and both are great examples of medieval construction.
Bruges is one of the best preserved medieval cities in all of Europe and as such has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The historic city is very easy to walk and there is a great canal system running through the city that offers guided boat tours to give a different perspective on the magical town.
So – Where Exactly is Brussels and How Do I Get There?
Brussels is the capital city of Belgium, and Belgium is a small European country in Western Europe that is bordered by France to the south, the Netherlands to the north, Germany and Luxembourg to the east and a sliver of the English Channel to the north.
That means it’s pretty close to a lot of major, world-renowned cities like London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. And that means it’s pretty easy to get to!
Brussels has 2 airports, 3 major train stations and a great metro system. If you’re flying in from a North American or European hub, you are most likely to fly directly into the Brussels International Airport located in Zaventem (15 minutes from downtown Brussels).
If you are like us, and flying in from a smaller regional hub on a budget airline, you may end up in Charleroi (about 1 hour from downtown). But, not to worry. There is a transfer available with Flibco bus right outside the terminal that goes directly to the Brussels-Zeidman/MIDI train and metro station in Brussels, and from there, Brussels is your oyster!
Getting Around in Brussels. Is it Walkable?
Once you are in Brussels, there are plenty of options to get around the city. The major train stations (Brussel-Noord, Brussel-Centraal, Brussel-Zeidman/Midi) and the supporting 59 metro stations mean that no matter where you are staying in Brussels, you will be able to get around.
Most of the major attractions are readily walkable from one of the 3 major train stations.
We stayed half-way between the Brussel-Zeidman/MIDI station and Brussel-Centraal and we walked to all of the destinations on our list of 15 Amazing Reasons to Visit Brussels from that location in 10 to 20 minutes.
Is Brussels Safe to Visit?
Like in any European city that attracts tourists, if you are visiting Brussels, you need to be vigilant about pickpockets and street scammers. We spent 3 days walking various parts of the city without any issues. Avoid walking on your own at night and stay on the well-lit, well-trafficked streets.
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Brussels?
This depends on what your interests are. If you want to avoid the crowds, then March to June or September to December are good times to visit and the weather tends to be quite mild.
Brussels has festivities and events all year round, including Christmas and Easter so no matter when you go you will find something to do.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Brussels?
We spent 3 days in Brussels and were able to take in most of the key highlights of the city, all of it on foot and by metro.
If you are looking at a shorter stay of 1 to 2 days, then you would probably want to take in the areas around the Grand Place and the Royal Galleries. If you are looking at a longer stay, then be sure to include Bruges or Ghent on your itinerary.
How is the Weather in Brussels?
Brussels has a temperate European climate with four distinct seasons throughout the year.
While it does snow in the winter, the temperatures are not extreme and most snowfalls tend to be light. Summers are also moderate and bearable. The Fall and Winter have pleasant temperatures and with fewer crowds than peak season, makes for an ideal time to visit.
Keep in mind that it does rain quite a bit so a rain jacket should be on your packing list.
The Final Word – Is Brussels Worth Visiting?
We have listed our 15 Amazing Reasons to Visit Brussels and hope that they have inspired you to put Brussels on your bucket list. There are plenty of other reasons to visit this beautiful city and when we are asked “Is Brussels Worth Visting” we always respond with an enthusiastic YES!
Resources – Check out other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Belgium.