The Capital of Europe
One more time planning a weekend in this vibrant and beautiful city full of surprises. Big and very cosmopolitan, yet small enough to enjoy almost in full in two days. Brussels is perhaps the destination I’ve been the most times other than Madrid and Barcelona of course. I might count easily 15 times if not more, but it’s the kind of city you do not get tired nor bored. Once a year is already a great aim why not.
It’s always so nice to be there, walk around the narrow streets in the old town, admiring the impressive architecture specially at the Grand Place or watch the life passing by from any of the hundreds of outdoor terraces enjoying some of the best beers in the world. And even if it’s not beer, then a waffle, crepe or the world famous Belgian chocolates. Only for those, the trip is already well worth it at any time.
Any season is good to come here; either if it is spring when the trees are in bloom, summer with the many shows and activities everywhere in the city, autumn when the colors are turning brown and yellow or winter with the famous and huge Christmas Market being the highlight. Beautiful!
I cannot recall too many cities with so much to see and do, even considering it is a medium size city. But literally everywhere you go there is something beautiful. Even the residential neighbourhoods are of special charm with the traditional brick houses and bay windows, and the large collection of first class art-nouveau and art-deco constructions. Brussels is one of the birthplace of such architectural styles, with some of the finest collections. World renown Brussels architect Victor Horta created after all, the very first true art-nouveau building in the world. Now four of his works are even listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Not everything in the city is about streets and buildings; there is of course an impressive large amount of parks. A cleverly well planned urbanism that retains both the feeling of a great city with the feeling of a village and more relaxed way.
When it comes to food, it will be almost impossible that you have any problems finding anything you want. Absolutely every street around the Grand Place is full with restaurants of every kind, most of them offering one of the most famous dishes, mussels with fries. Prices do vary a lot between one and another, and not because one restaurant is more empty than the other means the quality is poorer, no no, on the contrary! And even if they try to get you to stay at a restaurant since there are plenty of waiters waiting outside trying to get customers in, this is quite traditional in Brussels (and many other cities around). As the usual simple rule, compare prices between few restaurants, and few different streets around, you will be surprised and glad to find out that you will pay half price than in other restaurant nearby for the same.
You cannot leave Brussels without getting first a waffle. Easy to find everywhere, with pretty much the same price between a place and the other; and getting some chocolates. One of the world wide famous brand is Leonidas. There is one large shop near the Grand Place, and even they have expanded across many cities in the world, they are not as cheap as you will get them in Brussels, having also the largest choice of them all.
For more information about Brussels check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Belgium’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Brussels
- Old Town District The area of the original settlement and where the oldest constructions and main sights are.
-Grand Place Referred as Grote Markt in Flemish language is by all means the world renowned architectural landmark in the city. Entirely surrounded by impressive and opulent over 300 years old guildhalls is styles varying from Gothic, Baroque and Louis XIV. It is designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
-Town Hall Built between 1402 and 1420 in Gothic style is the masterpiece in the square, with its 96 meters tall tower in Brabantine Gothic style, where on top sits the patron of the city, the archangel Michael.
-Breadhouse Sited at the opposite side of the Town Hall is the next noteworthy building in the square. Also known as the Maison du Roi (King’s House), is now the Museum of the City
-Burse The former Stock Exchange is located right in the middle of an area with thriving nightlife, 2 streets to the west of the Grand Place.
-Boulevard Anspachalaan Passing by the front of the Burse is one of the main avenues in the city running north to south.
-Sainte Catherine Church Some streets to the west from the Burse. With its origins tracing back to 1200, the current construction dates back from 1854 with a mix of Roman, Gothic and Renaissance styles.
-Beguinage Church Meters away from Sainte Catherine. Built in the 17th century in Italian influenced Flemish Baroque style.
-Theatre Royal Flamand de Bruxelles Not far to the north of the Beguinage Church. Built in 1887 with clear touches of art-nouveau. Pay attention at the multiple balconies at each level at the sides.
-Manneken Pis This small bronze statue is in fact one of the symbols of the city. Represents a child urinating into a pool. The statue gets dressed depending on special occasions. To the south of the Grand Place.
-Parliament of Brussels To the south of the Grand Place. Neoclassical building from the 20th century. Refurbished in the 21st century adding the hemicycle at the rooftop on a glass box.
- West of the city There is not much to see on this side of the city. It’s mostly residential areas.
-Basilique du Sacré Coeur Is the 5th largest basilica in the world. Built in 1935 in art-deco style in Park Elisabeth. From the top of the tower you can get great views of the city and beyond. The nearest metro station is Elisabeth and then a nice walk along the park where you will see the Basilica in its full. Several trams also head towards here.
- North of the city Largely a residential area although not the most elegant, place taken by the east of the city.
-Botanical Gardens Not too big but beautiful place with many species of plants and trees.
-Royal Church of Saint Mary Built in 1885 in eclectic style with Byzantine and Roman architectural touches.
-Gare du Nord Right at the center of the Northern Quarter Business District. Few features remain from the original station. The current dates from 1952. Not too nice place to be but important should you need to commute or take a train to other cities across the country because of being a major transport hub.
-Atomium Farther to the north in the outskirts of the city is one of the major landmark constructions. With 9 spheres built for the 1958 Expo, was as for many other cities that hosted an Expo, intended to be a temporal pavilion, but quickly becoming a landmark. Familiar story? The Eiffel Tower in Paris. It costs 11 Euros to get inside. Located a short walk from the metro station Heysel in Line 6.
- East of the city Although part of it can be included under the Old Town area, I prefer to split everything from the Central Train Station to the east as a separate area. Is the most elegant and up-scale residential neighbourhood in Brussels.
-Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula Completed in 1519 after over 300 years of construction in typical French Gothic style.
-Rue Royale Passing entirely parallel to the Parc de Bruxelles south to the Royal Palace, very elegant with mostly classical building.
-Palais Royale Is the Royal Palace and official residence of the King of Belgium.
-Parc de Bruxelles Are the Royal Palace Gardens. Within its limits is the small yet nice Theatre Royal du Parc. The streets around the park are the main location for many embassies.
-Palais des Academies Located on the south-eastern corner of the Parc de Bruxelles and next building after the Royal Palace.
-Place Royale A major sightseeing point in Brussels, surrounded by buildings of equal design and form creating an impressive square. The Beautiful Rue de la Regence starts here heading towards the south of the city.
-Rue de la Loi and Rue Belliard Both running parallel to each other from parc de Bruxelles to the Parc du Cinquantenaire with incredibly elegant residences of various styles, but strongly marked for the art-nouveu landmark constructions.
-European Quarter Located in between the Parc de Bruxelles and the Parc du Cinquantenaire, south of Rue Nelliard, is where the European Parliament is and majority of the European institutions.
-Espace Leopold This large public square forms part of the European Parliament building. Anyone can access this place and take pictures.
-Parc Leopold Located at the back of the Parliament, this park contains nice buildings as the Lycee Communal or the Solvay Library and a pond.
-Quartier des Squares At the opposite side of the European Quarter, north of Rue de la Loi is this fine neighbourhood with impressive art-nouveau, art-deco and classical style mansions located around squares and gardens. Square Marie-Louise, Avenue Palmerston, Square Ambiorix and Square Marguerite are the highlights.
-Parc du Cinquantenaire The largest urban park and the nicest in the city, especially for the impressive monumental arcaded entrance at the eastern side. The nearest metro stations are Schuman on the west and Merode to the east.
-Arc de Triomphe One of the most beautiful postcard perfect picture you can take of the city, with the impressive arcaded semi-circular buildings and the large museums and exhibition halls buildings at both sides that include the Museum of Art and History, Autoworld and the Museum of the Army. It was planned for the 1880 National Exhibition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Belgian Independence, and enlarged with the time at other exhibitions and fairs.
-Ecole Royal Militar Located right outside of the park in the northern side. A great collection of beautiful buildings and courtyards, but you can only visit outside.
-Great Mosque of Brussels Located on the north-westernmost corner of the park, is the oldest in the city dating to 1880, which was originally a pavilion of the National Exhibition.
- South of the city Between the Place Royale and Porte de Hal, right by the southern edge of the inner ring road motorway.
-Rue de la Regence The most important street in this part of the city, entirely aligned with impressive buildings, most of them governmental, institutions and banks. It starts at Place Royale and terminates at the Law Courts.
-Place du Petit Sablon Small and beautifully landscaped gardens with a nice fountain.
-Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon Church Just at the other side of the road from the Petit Sablon. This large Gothic Catholic church was built in 15th century.
-Royal Conservatory One of the most prestigious not only in the city but in Europe.
-Synagogue Next to the music conservatory is one of the largest in the country.
-Rue aux Laines Running parallel to Rue de la Regence also terminating at the Law Courts Building.
-Palais de Justice The Law Courts was built between 1866 and 1883 in eclectic and neo-classical styles. This immense building is even larger than Saint Paul’s Basilica in Rome. Located at metro station Louise.
- Art-deco and art-nouveau architecture Brussels is one of the most important cities in both architectural movements with many pioneering engineering facts and use of materials. It can be said that Brussels is one of the birthplaces of such styles, especially for art-nouveau.
-Major Town Houses of the Architect Victor Horta That’s the name how is listed in the UNESCO as World Heritage Site the 4 houses by one of the most celebrated European art-nouveau architect, Victor Horta.
-Hotel Tassel Is the landmark house of Horta, considered the first true art-nouveau building in the world. Located at number 6 Paul-Emile Jansonstraat, to the south of the city. Trams 81 and 92 stop there. The nearest metro station is Louise, where the Law Courts Building is and then a short walk along Avenue Louise. Unfortunately it cannot be visited inside as it’s a private property occupied by the European Food Information Council.
-Hotel Solvay At 224 Avenue Louise, a bit more south from the Hotel Tassel. Originally built for Belgian chemist and industrialist Ernest Solvay. Horta designed everything from the building to any decoration and furnishing. It is private property and cannot be visited inside, only by appointment.
-Maison and Atelier Horta Located at 23-25 rue Américaine, also in the south of the city and not far from the previous Tassel and Solvay houses. It is the former house of Horta, now a museum about his life and work. 7 Euros to visit, 3.5 for students and seniors.
-Hotel van Eetvelde Located at 2-4 avenue Palmerston in the east of the city at the Quartier des Squares. The nearest metro station is Maelbeek. It is a private residence and cannot be visited inside.
-Saint Cyr’s House Located at Square Ambiorix on the east of the city at the Quartier des Squares near Hotel van Eetvelde. Designed by Strauven, is the narrowest façade in the city and it a key representative example of Brussels art-nouveau for its circled loggia at the top.
-Music Museum Next door to the King’s Palace at 2 Rue Montagne de la Cour. Designed by Saintenoy in 1899 as the former Old England Department Store. The entire building is an iron work of art.
-Cauchie House Located at 5 Avenue des Francs. Designed by Cauchie in 1905, who mastered the technique of sgraffito art (drawing on cement).
-Stoclet Palace This art-deco impressive mansion, also designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site was completed in 1911 and designed by Austrian architect Josef Hoffman as his masterpiece. Since it’s a private home it is not possible to visit the incredible well maintained and detailed interiors. Located to the east of the city on Avenue de Tervueren which starts at the Cinquantenaire Park and contains many art-nouveau and art-deco constructions. The nearest metro station is Montgomery.
- The Comics Murals Through the city there are currently (December 2016 as of my latest trip here) 50 murals about comics. They started 20 years ago and slowly picking up on new creations to the point of becoming a very well known sight on itself attraction a lot of tourist doing the murals route. The best way is to get a map on your Google Maps app by simply doing a “Google” search and then navigate your way to the points.
The city is served by two international airports, being the largest Nationaal, also known by the name of Zaventem, and the smaller one Charleroi located 60 kilometers to the south of the city.
From/to Nationaal there are frequent trains every 15 minutes taking little over half an hour to reach the central train station Gare Central, stopping also along at the other 2 principal stations in Brussels, Noord and Midi. A single ticket is €8,90 with a weekend return at €14,60, otherwise €17 standard return. A cheaper option are buses. The number 12 from Monday to Friday until 20.00pm, and the 21 from 20.00pm and Saturday and Sundays. A single ticket costs €4 if buying at the vending machine or €6 if bought on-board. Buses connect to Place du Luxembourg via Schuman metro station, and tickets are valid for 60 minutes after validating meaning you can continue your journey either by commuter train, metro, tram or local bus. Buses 272 and 471 also head towards the city center (Gare du Noord) for €3 single ticket but won’t allow you to transfer to any other transport.
As for going to/from Charleroi, mainly served by low cost carriers, there are buses every 30 minutes but the cost will set you at €17 for a single ticket unless you buy those online as this will save you some Euros. The trip duration to Brussels city center is around 1 hour.
Coming by train and buses are another easy and fast option specially for the good location of Brussels being in the middle of the rail/road way to France, Netherlands, UK, Luxemburg, France, Germany and beyond. From London there are frequent Eurostar services during the day taking barely 2.5 hours all together from center to center.
Within the city there is an excellent network of metro (composed of 6 lines), trams, buses and commuter trains. For the size of city Brussels is, it is by far extremely well developed and covers the entire city. You will never be far from any public transport. It’s also very efficient and reliable, clean and secure. The likes that you will be taking at some point during your stay the public transport are high and especially if you hotel is on the outskirts of the city, therefore it might be cheaper option to get a travel card. A single ticket costs €2 and it’s valid for a period of 60 minutes since you validate it so you can transfer to another transport form within this time. The 10 trips card costs €13.50 and a day pass €6.50.
Once in the old town area, there is no need to take any farther transportation since everything is pedestrian friendly and the major landmarks are easily reached on foot.
Since there are already many different hotels I’ve been in this city, I will keep adding to the list down below updating with the dates. Unfortunately I am missing some hotels I cannot remember nor find the booking confirmations for record, but the ones here are already making the most complete travel guide of any in my blog with the most hotels to comment.
Hotels in Brussels tend to be quite expensive compared to many other comparable cities in Europe. Getting a good deal can be more challenging, so either you are prepared to pay the extra if you wish to get a 4* and above, or lower your expectations and needs to the likes of a 2* or 3* properties. Of course, there are plenty of hostels too, so plenty of choice for everyone’s likes and pockets. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
On 2 of the the previous visits before 2015 we stayed at the Renaissance Brussels right by the Espace Leopold. Both times were back in 2008. The first we stayed at a standard room; as for the second was a suite. In both cases the rooms were very large and extremely comfortable, but of course the suite was the size of an apartment with one of the highest comforts of any hotel I’ve ever been back then. As for the location, was meters away from the European Parliament, and also walking distance to the old town. For obvious reasons, on a very secured and well cared area of the city.
On the weekend of May 2015 we stayed at the modest Hotel Villa Royale, in Rue Royale. Really near the old city center by walking, on a rather quieter part of the city. In fact walking the same street all the way down you will be at the Royal Palace. For what our needs were and bearing in mind the really high prices elsewhere, worked very well and the only complaint we could find is the really small room they gave us. In any case this is not the norm, they happened to be fully booked and since we arrived very late, we got one of the last rooms which was also one of the smallest. We could oversee the nearby room in the morning when those were being serviced by housekeeping and are really nice, half the size larger than the one we got. Other than that, the bed was very comfortable, the room entirely brand new refurbished and nice breakfast even there was not a big choice to select from. The stuff was friendly and helpful and so were the waiters during breakfast service.
Back in August 2015 that we returned to Brussels, we did not stay overnight in the city, but near it at the district of Diegem, at the Holiday Inn Brussels Airport. On purpose we selected this hotel because of their large pool and facilities since we were not thinking in doing too much this weekend but resting and enjoying the pool, jacuzzi and sauna the most, and perfectly located near the train station with frequent trains to Leuven, our intended city to visit that time. Furthermore, this hotel was included in one of the great deals British Airways had on their flight+hotel holidays, meaning we saved a lot! The overall facilities were really good, the staff very friendly with good approach, large and nice room and great breakfast. Definitely recommended as you are only 15 minutes away from Brussels North station and 20 from Leuven by frequent trains.
On the most recent trip in July 2016 we stayed at the Thon Hotel Brussels City Centre. This was booked once again as a great deal with British Airways flight+hotel. Located right in the main avenue crossing the city centre, across the road from Rogier metro station and meters away from Botanique, 10 minutes walk to the Grand Place. Yet again another hotel to take in consideration for future visits, highly recommended, with very comfortable beds, quiet room bearing in mind it is by one of the busiest avenues in Brussels, polite, friendly and professional staff.
Album from the city
Album of the murals