What to see in Brussels
Brussels is a lovely city and it is such a great place for a weekend away. The Brussels city break is hugely underrated. But being just 2 hours from London by Eurostar it is one of the closest city break destinations from the UK. I first went to Brussels way back in 2002 and a fourteen year gap felt far too long a break from Belgium.
If you have followed this series of posts on my trip to Brussels and Bruges in May 2016, you’ll know I went to Brussels and Bruges with my brother Adam. We decided to take a trip together as Hana was visiting Japan with her family. As Adam hadn’t been abroad or taken a holiday for a good few years I let him take the lead in deciding where we should go. Being a lover of beer, good food and more importantly the movie In Bruges, he really wanted to go to Belgium and Bruges.
With that decided I jumped on the Eurostar website, I like travelling in style, and booked a couple of tickets. Adam and I got on Booking.com, he booked our stay in Brussels and I booked our stay in Bruges.
Here’s what we got up to in Brussels.
We woke up suitable, stupidly early to get to London St Pancras for our 8:55am Eurostar direct to Brussels Zuid. We arrived at around 7.30 and after customs and a coffee boarded our train to Belgium. A little note here, I love travelling on the Eurostar and sing its virtues whenever I can. To some it might seem a little old fashioned to love train travel, why not fly when it could be a bit quicker?
Well, I suppose I love the romanticism of travelling by train. Taking my time to get to a destination and to see where I am going. With a plane you get in a tin can at one end and pop out at the other end without a sense of where you have travelled to. With the train you see London merge into the Kent countryside before popping in northern France and then journeying across Belgium.
We pulled into Brussels Zuid around midday after a bit of breakfast and coffee to wake me up. The youth hostel we were staying at, Hostel Jacques Briel, was on the other side of the city centre, around a 45 minute walk away.
We decided to walk to the hostel, through the Grand Place, down interesting streets and passed lots of great looking bars and restaurants to start to get a feel for Brussels and to introduce Adam to Belgium.
After checking in at the hostel and dropping our bags off, it was time to go out get some food and sample our first Belgian beer.
For our first afternoon in Brussels we decided to wander around and explore what the quirky capital of Europe has to offer.
To escape a shower we stopped of for a drink at the famous Drug Opera restaurant and bar in the city centre. Drug Opera is a fabulous wood-paneled bar with wall lamps, an elegant restaurant plus seating outside & in the banquet room.
Our first dinner in Brussels was at Le Marmiton, a French restaurant which is just off the main city square. Here we tried the best seafood we had for the whole trip. We both wanted to try some of the muscles which Belgium is famous for but couldn’t decide on a sauce to have them in, so asked them to surprise us. They came back with a wonderfully spiced Thai style sauce which wasn’t on the menu, fantastic.
After dinner it was off to find the fabled Delirium Cafe. This is a collection of different bars forming the Delirium Cafe. The bar hit a new world record in 2016 with a whopping, amazing and unbelievable 3000. Different. Beers!
My brother loves everything to do with beers and pubs, memorabilia and the brewing world and this place was a real treasure trove for him. We both loved the way it was decorated with giant beer barrels as tables as well as beer trays and other memorabilia all over the walls and ceiling.
We finished off the night with a final drink sitting outside at a bar in the Grand Place. After having a couple of drinks already I went for a coffee this time. With several days holiday to go and lots of nice bars and beers to try I was keeping myself to just three or four small beers per day, each around half a pint or under.
Late to bed, but early to rise and I made it to the hostel breakfast. I’d brought a copy of Homage to Catalonia with me and started off reading a bit of it. I did manage to finish it in the week. It’s a hugely sad book when you look at the state of Spain during those years, and even the world today.
After breakfast it was time to head out and explore more of Brussels. Brussels Park was not too far from our youth hostel and was a great place to go for an early morning walk and awaken the senses.
At the far end of the park was the Royal Palace. Coming from London seeing the palace with no gates or obvious security and even having open doors close to the street seemed a little strange.
Our first big touristy thing was to visit the Musical Instrument Museum or MIM. Adam is a big lover of music and a great drummer too. The museum’s collection of over 1200 different instruments from all over the world is one of the richest collections of musical instruments open to the public. The collection has instruments of every shape and size from across history and the world.
I loved the wonderful Art Nouveau building it calls home. The building is part of a beautiful curved street which sits at the top of the Mont des Arts.
There are beautiful views across the city from here, or there would have been if it wasn’t a rainy day! Mont des Arts is a very pretty part of Brussels and this whole northern quarter is a very special and gorgeous part of the city. Given an extra day or so I would have liked to explore the area a bit more.
After exploring more of the city centre we came to the Brussels Stock Exchange. Here’s where I talk about what happened to Belgium a few weeks before. On 22nd March 2016 three coordinated nail bombings were detonated in in Brussels. Two devices were detonated at the airport and one at Maalbeek Metro Station.
Whatever you think the causes were or why these people did what they did, we can all agree it was a horrendous act on a beautiful city. The people of Brussels came together to mourn their loss and lay flowers for the victims on the pavement by the stock exchange.
Another of Brussels big sights to see is the European parliament, the seat of government for the European Union. It was interesting to walk around the parliament buildings and see what this place is like in real life.
After a little recharge for both us and our phones back at the hostel, we went out again. A big downpour forced us into a lovely cafe called Arcadi. This was a wonderful old world Belgian cafe with lovely brown wood interiors and tables. We each went for a big slab of cake washed down with a beer.
Thank you rain!
On our travels around the city we passed the Mannekin Piss and some gorgeous chocolate shop windows.
Beer is a big part of life in Belgium and being our last night in Brussels we wanted to explore the bars of Brussels. You can find out more about beer and bars in Belgium in my post ‘Belgium in Beer’.
We started out at the Moeder Lambic bar with their serious selection of beers before heading over to the brown bar area, passed the stock exchange and closer to the canal.
We finished off the evening at Bar Bravo where they mix food, beer and free-flowing Jazz. I might not be the biggest fan of Jazz, or even really know anything about it, but it was a really fun evening and I enjoyed going out of my comfort zone a bit to try something new.
Wednesday was our last day in Brussels. We were off to Bruges in the afternoon but before we got our train down to Bruges, we did have some time in Brussels.
We spent the morning by taking a hop on, hop off bus tour around Brussels to see more of the city we missed.
We passed the Atomium and beautiful gardens as well as seeing other sights such as the canal. After a last lunch, it was time to grab our luggage from the hostel and get on the train to Bruges.
You can read all about what we got up to in Bruges in my next post; ‘What to see in Bruges’