Brussels serves as both the capital of Belgium, as well as the de facto capital of the European Union. The city is bilingual, as it is part of both the French and the Flemish speaking community. Although there are multilingual signs everywhere, and films are dubbed in both languages, French is mostly spoken. No worries if your Flemish and French aren’t great, you can get by with English!
Mixing cultures, various languages, and local vs. international communities all help shape and define the city.
During my master’s program in European Studies, we went on an almost obligatory class trip to Brussels. Our busy visit included a guided bus tour of the city, a stop to the Atomium, meetings with members of the European Commission, European Council and the Council of the European Union, and networking with alumni.
In short, we pretty much stayed in the European Quarter the entire 3-day trip and meet solely with politicians and employees of various European Union institutions. This time around, I was determined to see more of what Brussels has to offer, other than just the many European institutions. Don’t get me wrong first-timers in Brussels should certainly visit the institutions, and I recommend going to the Parlamentarium to kick things off.
I flew with RyanAir from Berlin directly to Brussels International Airport, which only took an hour and ten minutes. The airport in Brussels is located relatively close to the city center, with both bus and train options available. I recommend taking the bus, because the ticket is only 4 Euros opposed to 8 with the train.
Tips on What to See and Do
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium – Buy a combi ticket for a discounted rate of only 3 Euro for youth up to age 25, and get entrance into 4 different museums! Musée Fin-de-Siècle Museum, Musée Oldmasters Museum, Musée Modern Museum, and Musée Magritte Museum.
If you didn’t notice, I’m a big fan of surrealist art. That being said going to the Magritte museum was really (surreal 🙃) a dream come true! 2017 will be the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Magritte, so expect a crowded museum and special exhibitions.
Mont des Arts– After all that art, get some much needed fresh air at the Mont des Arts. It boasts a great view of the cityscape! Make sure to keep your camera at hand, because on your way from the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium to the Mont des Arts you will pass the Musical Instruments Museum. The museum is housed in a beautiful art nouveau building from the late 1800s.
Grand Place (Grote Markt) – No trip to Brussels is complete without going to the historic center and viewing the city’s town hall. Good luck trying to capture it’s beauty in just one photo! The Grand Place is a true feast for the eyes.
Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert – Not far from the Grand Place awaits a window shoppers paradise! Along the 100 meter arcade you will find an array of luxury boutiques, chocolatiers, cafes, and even a cinema.
Manneken-Pis – Check out the tiny, yet, rebellious emblem of the city. Manneken-Pis is a fountain with a statue of a little boy peeing. The statue can be seen dressed in costume throughout the year. I honestly don’t get what all the hype is about around it. See for yourself! Along the way, get an infamous fresh Belgium waffle for as little as one Euro.
Palais de Justice – If the weather allows, walk to the palace of justice, which is a little south of the city center. The palace was under construction while I was visiting, but observe the massive scale of the building and enjoy the nice view of the city.
Église Notre-Dame du Sablon– Five minutes away from the Palais de Justice is the Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon. Have a look inside and be prepared to be amazed by the breathtaking stained glass windows.
Brussels at Night
You’ve probably heard of infamous Belgian beer! It is really is tasty, and hosts a wide variety of flavored beers including coconut, blackcurrant, and cherry.
- Delirium– Start your night with a few beers at Delirium cafe! They are known for their large selection exceeding 2000 types.
- Mappa Mundo– Located in the St. Gery area of Brussels, this bar has a great atmosphere, lots of space, and –you guessed it– a great selection of drinks. When you’re ready to move on, there is a several bars right next door including an Irish pub.
- Mezzo– Just a few houses over from Mappa Mundo, Mezzo is a great place to end your night out. There is a dj and a pretty big dance floor.
Before you end your stay in Brussels, be sure to try the twice fried french fries! Have a sweet tooth? Say no more! Belgium chocolate is trumped only by Swiss. I recommend picking up some Leonidas pralines.