Other European cities garner tons of attention, but Brussels seems to remain in the background. After I spent a few days in this beautiful city, I can honestly say that the Belgian capital deserves some time in the spotlight. Why? I was bowled over by all that the city has to offer. Let’s start with these highlights from my recent trip. Here’s an overview of great things to do in Brussels.
See amazing architecture and gardens.
Regarding architecture, Brussels is known for Grand Place or its central square, which is probably the most visited landmark in the city. Grand Place is truly spectacular and worth a visit, but the cityscape is phenomenal no matter where you turn.
Unexpectedly, I stumbled upon the Royal Palace and Brussels Park while I was wandering near my hotel, and while taking a city tour, I strolled through Petit Sablon Square. Wow! I didn’t expect to discover so much beauty in Brussels.
The city boasts an extensive collection of Art Nouveau-style buildings too, so combined with the Gothic and Neo-Classic, Brussels is a treasure trove of significant architecture. And the best part? You can cover a lot of this town in a day by either walking or hopping the tram.
Mingle with the people.
I think Belgian people, in general, were the warmest of all the people I met during my travels. This area of the country is French-speaking, but a lot of the locals speak some English too. My travel buddy Danielle and I got a little confused on our way to the MIMA (up next on this list), and we stopped a family on the street to ask if we were headed in the right direction. As we stood on a busy corner with an open map in hand, in minutes another gentleman came over to help. He assured us that we were a short walk to our destination, and he was correct.
People in Brussels were so friendly, in fact, that they happily posed for a random camera-happy New Yorker. 🙂
Aiming to bring people together through modern art, the MIMA (Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art) was founded in April of this year. Located in the old Belle-Vue Brewery adjacent to the Brussels-Charleroi Canal, this unique four-level museum focuses on street art and offers stunning views of the canal and the city, not to mention a casual restaurant on the ground floor. Visiting the canal to take photos is a must, but while you’re there, be sure to take some time to walk through the MIMA, particularly if you’re a fan of modern art.
Just like I had no idea that I’d be overwhelmed by the beauty of Brussels, I had no idea that the city is so cosmopolitan, either. From high fashion boutiques to Avec Plaizier (a charming shop filled with postcards and posters) Kroonan & Brown (a lovely cosmetics and fragrance shop), not to mention the patisseries and specialty food shops (more below), exploring the city’s many boutiques is another reason to return. I wish I’d had a extra day or two to shop, or at the very least, browse.
Now let’s move on to the really good stuff… food and drink.
You haven’t eaten mussels and fries until you’ve had them in Belgium. Succulent and perfectly cooked shellfish paired with piping hot frites is an absolute must when you’re in Brussels. We ate a local restaurant called Le Chou de Bruxelles, located in the Ixelles neighborhood where my cousin Sydney and her husband live. I have only one regret: not being able to eat every last bite of my moules-frites. The portion was huge!
Okay, so two words: Pierre. Marcolini. We do have fantastic chocolate in NYC, so I’d be lying if I said we didn’t, but we do not have Pierre Marcolini! Founded in 1995 in Brussels, this world-renowned chocolatier produces decadent truffles, candies, macarons, ice cream, chocolate-infused drinks, and even condiments made with fine ingredients from around the globe. These little pieces of heaven are completely worth the splurge. I promise. Since there aren’t any PM boutiques in the US, it looks like I need to travel abroad again, or at least to Hawaii (on my agenda anyhow), to savor fine chocolate from Pierre Marcolini.
As a wine drinker, I rarely have a beer. But when in Belgium….
And oh, my –– after sampling three local beers one afternoon at an adorable farm-to-table restaurant called Pre De Chez Nous (a tasty small plate accompanied our bottles), I can honestly say that I could easily start drinking beer more often. If only my waistline approved. My friend and travel mate Danielle doesn’t drink beer at all, and even she was drinking it. Yes, you don’t need to be a beer lover to love the brews here –– the Belgian beer is that good.
You can’t go to Belgium and not eat a waffle, or so I told myself. (There’s that waistline guilt again.) I tasted the waffles in Brussels and Liege, and both were delish, but if could eat only one, I’d choose the Brussels waffle. It’s ultra light with deep holes, and a dusting of powdered sugar adds a touch of sweetness. So, I’ll say it again –– you don’t go to Belgium and not eat a waffle. And if you spend any time in Brussels, get one that is freshly made before your eyes. You won’t regret it.
As many of you read this post –– even as you look at all the pretty pictures and learn about the fun I experienced during my time in this city –– you might be apprehensive about visiting Brussels. You’re not alone. If I’m honest, I too, was nervous about traveling to Brussels. I’m glad that I didn’t listen to my doubts, but rather, pushed through my insecurities, because I loved my time there, and would definitely return.
We can’t stop living our lives or seeing other parts of the world because of threats or what might happen. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be smart, cautious, and alert at all times. This is our new normal, and the world we live in, whether we’re talking about Brussels, New York City, or elsewhere. We can’t change past events or automatically remove a stigma that’s been associated with any place. It’s no surprise that negative thoughts often hang over our heads as we enter a crowded area, board a plane or train, or venture miles from home. Our new reality is that no place is safe. We aren’t completely immune to crime or terrorism in small town USA, and we aren’t immune when we travel.
Meanwhile, I believe that travel remains the greatest unifier –– bringing people of different cultures and beliefs together and proving that at our very core, we are all more alike than we’d imagined. I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to visit Brussels.