Our step-by-step city guide to 2 perfect days in Brussels, Belgium.
The city of cheesy frites and chewy waffles has a lot more to offer tourists than meets the eye. A plethora of lesser-known experiences await the traveller looking to go off the beaten track in Brussels. All located near the bustling Market Place, these secret spots are convenient to reach, yet just discreet enough to leave a lasting impact.
Lunch and Afternoon
Brussels Stock Exchange:
Architect Léon-Pierre Suys, as part of his proposal for covering of the Senne, designed a building to become the centre of the rapidly expanding business sector. This magnificent 18th-century building is the Brussels Stock Exchange. Unlike its contemporary counterparts, the Bourse retains its rustic features and artwork. The building houses art by brothers Joseph and Jacques Jacquet, Guillaume de Groot, and French sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse.
Try the famous Belgian fries, with everything, of course! A quaint joint at the back of the Market Place, is a must-stop for foodies. What’s different about this place is that the fries can be cooked to your liking. Simply request your waiter to make them extra crunchy, soft or even fried with less oil (for the calorie conscious). Jalapeños, extra cheese, sausage and sun-dried tomatoes add to the final piece de resistance.
Located in a small corner of the Grote Markt is the former home of Karl Marx. Marx lived in what is now a restaurant (La maison du Cygne) from 1845-1848. This is also the building where he celebrated his first New Year’s eve away from home.
This famous statue attracts thousands of tourists and is often depicted as the symbol of the city. It is a small bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. To find it, take the left lane next to the Brussels Town Hall from the famous Grand Place and walk a few hundred metres to arrive at the spot. The statue will be on the left corner.
Check out rustic advertisements for chocolate brands, a naked belly dancer made of chocolate, pastel sugar clothes and the story behind Belgian chocolate itself. If you’re lucky and there’s an ongoing tasting session, you might get the chance to sample a delicious range of chocolate. Unlike the branded boutiques around the museum, you’ll gain a more personalised and wider perspective of what Belgian chocolate is really all about.
Located at the gigantic Brussels Cathedral is one of the most unique figures of Mother Mary. This golden statue holding the cathedral in her hand is a delight for those who are sharp enough to spot it. If visiting on a Sunday, the south tower contains a 49-bell carillon by the Royal Eijsbouts bell foundry on which concerts are often given.
No trip to Brussels is complete without digging your spoon into a bowl of steaming Moules Marinières. This is a dish of cooked mussels and onions in a white wine marinade. One of the best places to try this in Brussels is the local-favourite restaurant, Le Volle Gas. This brasserie also offers a range of Belgium beers to wash your meal down with. Choose from white beers, abbey beers, strong blonde beers, lambic brews and fruity beers. You can also opt to have your mussels cooked in a beer of your choice instead of wine.
Porte de Namur
Lambic Beer Tasting
: Brasserie Cantillon is the oldest and last remaining Lambic Brewery in Brussels. Visitors can learn how beer is brewed on a special tour. See how yeast and water are mixed, visit the heating room, learn about grain and barrel storage and finally watch the glistening beer being poured. The tour includes tastings of two glasses of beer per person.
Lunch and Afternoon
Coffee & Waffles:
The Aroma Cafe Shop is a fantastic place to stop and fuel up on Brussels’ favourite snack: waffles. The cafe is known for producing some of the richest and chewiest waffles in town. You can choose to have your waffle any way you desire. Popular toppings include powdered sugar, cinnamon, banana, chocolate, whipped cream, Nutella, strawberries and mango. There is also a variety of hot bagels and fresh baguettes on offer. Fillings include cream cheese, chicken curry, smoked cheese, vegetables, ham, tuna and oven-baked chicken.
Whilst Hergé and Tintin are known all over the world, we should not lose sight of the fact that Brussels occupied a key place in the life and work of this master of the Ninth Art. Take a ‘Tintin’ walk while you’re in the city. If, like Captain Haddock, you’d like a slug of Loch Lomond whisky, make a beeline for La Fleur en Papier Doré (53 Rue des Alexiens) – the city’s oldest bar, which was the favourite watering hole of Hergé himself. Be sure to visit the Herge Museum, the lifesize mural of Tintin at Market Place and Stockel underground station, where the huge 135-metre mural featuring all 140 characters from the books was drawn by Hergé shortly before his death in 1983.
Brussels’ shopping is not limited to chocolates, beer and lace, although they are definitely worth loading up on. The city boasts of some of the oldest European shopping malls and arcades. Built in 1847, Galeries St Hubert is one of Europe’s first shopping arcades. The building is beautifully decorated with bas-relief and chandeliers, and the roof is a glass skylight. Here you will find boutique shops selling Belgian truffles, fine lace, wine, old film reels, designer clothes and shoes.
Although not traditionally known as a ‘romantic city’, Brussels does afford some rather picturesque views for couples. The most spectacular view of the city can be obtained from Mont des Arts. Be sure to pay close attention to the spire of City Hall from here.
For a memorable last stop, visit Le Châlet de la Forêt. Boasting two Michelin-stars, Chef Pascal Devalkeneer achieves the perfect balance between traditional and avant-garde cuisine. The menu is modern European and features a diverse range of seafood, from scallops to lobster. Game dishes are also popular. Be sure to try the squid cooked on wood with Basque ham, chorizo oil and romesco.