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Brussels is one of my favorite European cities. Laid-back and comfortable, it doesn’t take long to feel at home in Brussels.When I was researching things to do in Brussels, I found many, MANY posts about how to spend one day in Brussels. Only spend one day in Brussels? Who would do such a thing?
There is a perception that Brussels is a stopover city – a place you pop into for a night while traveling between more glamorous destinations like Paris or Amsterdam or London.
There is a perception that there’s not much to do in Brussels – you could knock out all the attractions in an afternoon and check Brussels off your bucket list.
But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. A traveler could spend weeks here and not run out of things to do! Brussels is big enough to make you feel that intoxicating city energy, but small enough to not feel overwhelming. Frites and chocolate are abundant. Most people speak English and it is easy to make friends. What’s not to love? There is a reason Brussels has such a large population of foreigners – over 60% – and it’s not just because the EU is based there. This city feels welcoming, fun, and homey. It’s worth taking more than a day to see.
My 10 favorite things to do in Brussels
1. Start with a free walking tour
Many companies do free walking tours and most start in Grand Place. Knowledgeable guides take you to the highlights like Manneken Pis (the statue of the peeing boy) and the Royal Palace while providing historical information and entertaining stories. I tried to do a “self-guided walking tour” using screenshots from my phone, and trust me, the free walking tour was much better. Most walking tours take 2-3 hours and it is a great chance to meet friends if you are traveling solo.
2. Drink too much hot chocolate at the Belgian Chocolate Village
The Belgian Chocolate Village is a little outside the city center but it is worth taking the metro over for a visit. On the lower two levels, the Belgian Chocolate Village is a museum about the history of chocolate and its production. They even have a greenhouse where cocoa plants grow. Visitors can walk through a room where chocolatiers create treats and if you catch them at the right time, you will get a sample. Pro tip: If you go in the evening on a weeknight when it is really slow, the chocolatier will just leave a bowl of chocolates out on the counter! On the top floor of the Belgian Chocolate Village, a cute cafe serves three types of hot chocolate and many more varieties of pralines. This is the cafe where I got judged hardcore for trying all three flavors in one sitting. It was delicious. Sorry, I’m not sorry.
3. Eat Frites at Friteland
If you want to make the locals argue, ask where to get the best frites. There are many amazing frites places in Brussels, but I had a particularly good experience at Friteland because of all the sauces! That’s right, I finally tried frites with sauces. You might remember when I first arrived in Brussels, I was too overwhelmed by the sauce selection and I froze. Now, I can confidently recommend Brazil, Curry Ketchup, and Andalouse sauce from Friteland.
4. Explore the War Heritage Institute Museum – or one of the many other awesome museums that are often free
Not only does this museum have tons of awesome war memorabilia, including an entire hangar of planes and tanks, but it is also free the first Wednesday of the month! About a dozen other museums around Brussels are free the first Wednesday of the month and even more are free the first Sunday of the month. Check out the Brussels museum website for a comprehensive list of when different museums are free.
5. Take a chocolate making class, you are in Belgium after all!
The Chocolate making course was a fun and tasty break from the cold. I learned how to make mendiants, pralines, and hot chocolate. The class was small and our teacher knew so much about the chocolate making process. After, we got to keep all the chocolate we made! I’d like to hope that I could recreate some Belgian chocolates for my family when I get home!
6. Grab a beer at Delirium
The Delirium Cafe is one of the coolest bars I’ve been to. It’s off the beaten path, tucked away in an alley in what was formerly the meatpacking district. Inside, Delirium is a maze of bars, booths, tables, nooks, and staircases that lead to nowhere. Aside from just having a good vibe, Delirium’s claim to fame is their beer list. They have 3162 beers – more than any bar in the world. The menu is the size of an Italian Vogue.
7. Better yet, take a beer tasting tour
Confession time: I’ve done the Sandemans beer tour twice. Why? Because it is just that fun! The first time I went solo and it was a small group, just five of us. We hit it off immediately and our host was very informative. He even showed us his favorite chocolate shop as we walked between bars. After having a great experience, I knew this was something Sister and I would do on her Christmas trip. The second time, the group was much larger and much more lively. Again, our host put on a great show while teaching us about Trappist beers! We walked away with friends from all over the world.
8. Visit The Cantillon Brewery
This brewery is in Brussels and easy to get to from the city center. For seven euros, you can tour the brewery and taste two beers. Make sure to try the classic Belgian sour beer – the Lambic (and if the original is too sour, the cherry version takes the edge off!)
9. Remember those museums? Even more of them are free during Nocturnes.
Nocturnes runs from September to December. Every Thursday evening during Nocturnes, five museums are free or discounted from 5pm-10pm at night. The museums alternate each week, so there is a chance to see a ton of different attractions.
10. Take a day trip!
Bruges, Gent, and Antwerp are all a short train ride away and make excellent day trips. A roundtrip train ticket costs anywhere from 10-20 euros and trains run frequently from city center to city center. Sandemans (the company that did my favorite beer tour) does a day trip to Bruges with a guide. It was a really fun and hassle-free way to take a day trip since we were accompanied by a guide who actually knew where she was going. She got us on the right train and made sure we didn’t miss out on little details around the city. If you are interested in seeing more of Bruges, check out photos from my tour with Sister.
Brussels is a great place to spend some time if you’re looking for good people, delicious food, strong beer, and smooth chocolate. Sure, you could spend one day here. But when it’s time to leave, you’ll be sad you aren’t staying longer.