20 things to do in Brussels
Have you been to Brussels? If you’re like me, you might have dismissed Brussels as an exciting European city vacation destination, or thought there wasn’t much to do. But I’m here today to change your mind and show you that there is so much to do in Brussels!
Brussels is a beautiful, exciting and affordable city with lots to see and do. Not only that, but it’s also a great base for exploring other cities in Belgium.
Pack your bags and have a fun weekend in Brussels!
I took four or five trips to Brussels before I actually left the station and visited Brussels.
I’ve always thought of Brussels as more of a hub than an actual destination. I have stopped here many times before traveling to other parts of Belgium. I never thought I would stay in the city.
I always thought of Brussels as a business city and home to many European Union institutions, so it wasn’t particularly exciting or appealing as a weekend getaway!
And while it’s probably not the most interesting city in all of Europe, here’s why I think Brussels should be your next weekend getaway destination…
Why you should visit Brussels in 2022
Four cities in one: Base yourself in Brussels and day trip to Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp
The best thing about being based in Brussels is that you can easily reach surrounding cities such as Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp by train. These charming cities are great, but they are quite small, so he can easily see the highlights of each in a day.
If you manage to spend one day in each city, you’ll have a beautiful, varied, and interesting 4-day vacation!
Belgian trains are amazing
Even better, Belgian trains are fast, simple, and reliable, making it easy to travel from Brussels to Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp in one day.
Travel times are also quite short:
- Brussels to Bruges: 1 hour 15
- Brussels to Ghent: under 1 hour
- Brussels to Antwerp: 50 minutes
Every trip is reliable and cheap!
It’s not every day you get to take a long weekend getaway and visit four unique cities!
On my recent trip to Brussels, I stayed from Friday to Monday. We spent Friday afternoon exploring Brussels, Saturday in Bruges, Sunday in Ghent, Monday morning in Antwerp, then headed back to Brussels and home on Monday night. It seems like a lot, but it didn’t feel rushed and was one of my favorite weekend getaways this year!
If you don’t want to negotiate trains and everything else on your own, you can easily join an organized tour to a nearby city.
You can join a one-day small group tour to Ghent and Bruges for just £40, and you’ll even have a professional guide with you on your trip!
Day Trip to Paris, Lille or Cologne from Brussels
If you want to explore further afield or stay longer in Brussels, you can also catch a train to Paris (1 hour 40 minutes), Lille (1 hour 46 minutes) or Cologne (2 hours).
Travelling to Brussels is cheap
Brussels is a major travel hub, with frequent Eurostar trains and plenty of cheap flights from most UK airports. It’s not unusual for a return ticket to Brussels to cost around £50.
In fact, I checked Skyscanner and found weekend flights from Manchester to Brussels in April for just £16 return. That’s fascinating…
If you’re traveling on a budget, we recommend traveling with hand luggage only. Because the cost of checking your luggage is often more expensive than the flight ticket!
Read more: How to travel with only under-seat carry-on baggage
Business hotels in Brussels are great value at the weekend
There are many business hotels in Brussels. Sure, it might not be your dream boutique hotel, but it’s stylish, comfortable, and in a great location. Even better, you can often find great deals on weekends when there are fewer business travelers and hotel rooms are full!
I found Brussels to be a great city to visit as it’s cheap and it’s easy to travel to other places. But what do you actually do while in Brussels?
Here are some of my favorite things to do in Brussels…
20 of the best things to do in Brussels
1. The Grand Place
Brussels’ Grand Place, or Great Market, is undoubtedly the most impressive part of the city and the first port of call for most visitors.
The Grand Place is Brussels’ central square, lined with ornate Baroque guild halls. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the first impression of the city is beautiful, with its grand buildings glittering in gold.
We recommend visiting the Grand Place in the afternoon. There are some nice little restaurants along the side streets of the main square, serving traditional food and a huge selection of Belgian beers!
This is the best photo spot in Brussels, so take your time and take lots of photos.
If you’re visiting in the winter, be sure to keep an eye out for winter and Christmas-themed light shows and festivals.
2. The Grand Place Flowers
The Grand Place is a great reason to visit Brussels, but it turned out to be even better. Every two years, the Grand Place is adorned with approximately one million begonias. Each time the flowers are displayed there is a new theme and different decorations. This is the perfect excuse to visit every two years!
It is the most beautiful carpet of colorful flowers and brings so much fun and vibrancy to this historic square!
3. The Atomium
The Atomium was built in 1958 for Expo 58, a major exhibition of culture and innovation. This is an enlarged version of a basic iron crystal cell, and this beautiful sculpture can be appreciated not only for its impressive scientific scale (magnified 165 billion times), but also from an artistic point of view.
The 58th World Expo was the first to be held after World War II, so it had great significance as it showcased how human progress and scientific innovation can help us develop. The Atomium is said to have been built as a temporary structure for an exhibition, but it remained as a popular symbol.
4. Notre Dame du Sablon
This massive Gothic church dominates Place Sablon and is as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside.
There’s a lot to see inside the church, so be sure to pick up a leaflet along the way to learn more about the statues, decorations, and colorful stained glass windows.
Place Sablon is the bustling hub of central Brussels, and a 30-minute visit to Notre-Dame du Sablon Cathedral offers a moment of tranquility. It’s cool, quiet and quiet, making it a great retreat if you’re visiting on a hot summer day. While you should be respectful to the worshipers inside the church, it is a wonderful place to sit and contemplate the world.
5. Visit the Parlamentarium
The Parliament Visitor Center is an interactive experience to learn more about the European Parliament and how it works.
It may sound as dry as Cheers, but in reality, they made this subject as fascinating and exciting as possible! There’s a 360-degree movie theater, role-playing games, and a huge interactive floor. With free admission, Parliament House is the perfect rainy day activity with kids!
6. Le Botanique
Le Botanique was originally the orangery of the Belgian National Botanical Garden and now hosts cultural events. Past and present mix beautifully as this historic building comes to life with contemporary exhibits, concerts, and activities. Nowadays, it is a haven for both nature lovers and music lovers.
It’s a beautiful building to admire from the outside, even if you weren’t able to see the concert inside. Be sure to visit Café Bota in Le Botanique!
7. Mont des Arts
Mont des Arts is a wonderful garden. The colorful flowers lead the eye to the spire of Brussels City Hall, creating the most beautiful contrast between the bright natural flowers and the historic city architecture.
Walking to the top of the stairs offers some of the best views and photo opportunities in Brussels.
Travel Hack Tip: This is the place to take Instagram photos in Brussels!
8. The Musical Instrument Museum
The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Brussels houses over 8,000 musical instruments. The musical instruments are attractive, but the biggest attraction is actually the building itself.
The exterior of the “Old England” building will amaze you. The decor is great and the rooftop bar and restaurant is awesome. You can enjoy views of the entire city and I heard they serve the best Sunday brunch in town!
As of this update, MIM Rooftop Restaurant is closed for renovations, so be sure to check that it’s open before you visit.
9. Musee Royaux Beaux Arts
The Musée Royaux Beaux Arts, or Royal Museums of Fine Arts, is a collection of six museums. Featuring visual art from the 15th century to the 21st century, more than 20,000 of his works are on display across all six locations.
10. Mini Europe
You can see all of Europe in Brussels.
No, you really can!
As the name suggests, Mini Europe is a miniature version of Europe. Packed with 80 miniature cities from all over Europe, it includes 350 of the most famous buildings such as Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Trevi Fountain. At the very least, it’s a great place to take a few selfies, and it’s one of the best things to do in Brussels with kids.
11. Brussels’ jazz clubs
Belgians love jazz, and Brussels has a famous jazz scene. The city is full of great jazz bars where famous jazz artists take the stage. There are also small, intimate clubs that feature up-and-coming artists, and if you’re a jazz fan, you can’t miss the Brussels Jazz Festival.
12. Palais Royal
The Royal Palace of Brussels is the official residence of the King. Although he doesn’t live here, the stunning palace is a symbol of the monarchy and is truly majestic inside and out.
The palace is open to the public in the summer, and it’s as grand and impressive as you’d expect. Usually it’s open from the end of July until September, but even if you visit during other months, it’s still worth a visit if you’re nearby. The well-kept gardens are very beautiful and a great place to take photos.
13. The Parc Du Cinquantenaire
Brussels’ outdoor spaces and parks are beautiful, but Parc Cinquantenaire is a highlight, often cited as “Belgium’s best park”. This park was planned by King Leopold in his 19th century and has an area of 74 acres. Follow the U-shaped path past the Cinquantenaire arch and the beautiful museum building.
14. Brussels Bread House
The Bread House is one of the most spectacular buildings on the Grand Place and is now home to the Brussels Museum of Fine Arts, which houses an incredible collection of art.
The building is still called the “Bread House” because there was originally a wooden bread hall on this site. It is believed that bakeries existed already in his 12th century, and some names are difficult to overturn. This building is also known as the ‘King’s House’, although no king has ever lived here.
15. Manneken Pis
one of the more unusual and light-hearted things you can see in Brussels, Manneken Pis is a 61cm bronze statue of a small boy urinating in a fountain.
know! When I visited Brussels for the first time and a friend suggested I go see this statue, I was also a little confused. Why is the statue of a little boy peeing so famous!?
The Piss Man is said to be the symbol of this brash and rebellious city. It’s fun to visit if you’re in the area, so please give it a try if you’re in the area. This little boy has over 900 costumes and often wears new clothes!
16. Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
This Roman Catholic cathedral stands proudly in the center of Brussels and is a fine example of Brabantine Gothic architecture.
It’s a popular spot for meeting people, and many tours depart from here, so if you join a planned tour, you might be able to come across it.
17. Eat all the waffles
All of them! You can’t visit Belgium without eating at least one waffle. There are waffle carts and small shops all over Brussels, and there are plenty of tips on where to find the best ones.
I usually recommend staying away from the main tourist hubs and eating local food, but I actually bought my waffles at a busy little shop near the Grand Place and was surrounded by so much history and splendor. It was really fun to enjoy the waffles.
If you really love waffles and want to get serious about making them, you can even take a waffle making class!
18. Explore Brussel’s comic culture
Brussels has a thriving comics culture, and Belgium is home to comic icons like Tintin and the Smurfs. Comic-style street art can be found all over the city, and there are many ways to learn more. Visit the Belgian Cartoon Museum, take the Comic Book Route (Kirsty Will has a great post on his Travels about walking routes!) or take a Comics and Street Art walking tour and have everything covered by a local expert Let me explain!
19. Visit the Bourse
The Brussels Stock Exchange may not seem like the most exciting place to visit at first, but just look at this building. Wow, that’s amazing. This ornately decorated building was built in 1873 and is worth stopping to look at it if you pass by.
Although visitors are not allowed inside, be sure to plot this building on your map so you can view it when you visit the area.
20. Palais de Justice
This impressive building is the most important court building in Belgium. This monumental building has been surrounded by scaffolding for almost 40 years while it was being rebuilt, but it would be nice to see it without the scaffolding as the work is expected to be completed soon. Don’t worry, even though it’s still under construction, you can still see the exterior of this amazing building.
Best tours and activities to do in Brussels
If you don’t have a lot of time in Brussels but want to cram a lot into your day, I highly recommend booking a tour, two, or even three. It’s a quick, easy, and affordable way to get a knowledgeable guide explaining what’s going on in the city.
I usually use Get Your Guide to book my tours. They have a variety of tours at reasonable prices and with great guides who never let me down.
I also like to book and pay for tours in advance. It helps you budget for your trip and takes the stress out of planning activities and endlessly researching things to do!
Start your day with a 2-3 hour walking tour
If you’re feeling more energetic, we recommend a guided bike tour around Brussels!
In the afternoon, why not try something fun like a chocolate workshop? You can also visit the Chocolate Museum, which includes workshop admission.
You can also take part in a 2.5-hour Belgian beer tasting experience or join the Brussels Pub Crawl for a fun experience of the city’s nightlife!
If you’re interested in seeing Art Nouveau architecture around the city, be sure to check out this 3-hour Art Nouveau tour.
How to do all of these things to do in Brussels in one day!
If you follow the advice above and spend one day in Brussels and spend the rest of your trip visiting other cities in Belgium, you’ll have a lot to pack into your day!
My advice is to plot everything you want to see in Brussels on Google Maps. You can keep things simple by creating a new map just for this trip!
Add everything to your map, even if it’s unrealistic.
Make a note of the top 5 things you really want to see and the restaurants you recommend!
You can then focus on visiting these top 5, but if you have 30 minutes to spare, you can check out the map to see what’s nearby.