I have to admit what drew me to visiting Brussels wasn’t it’s breathtaking architecture or the fact that eating chips is part of the culture (although that was almost the top reason). No the main reason to go was because it’s cheap to go. For anyone living in the UK, you can get a return flight for as low as £20 and a no thrills but clean hotel could set you back around £50 a night. It’s a cheap little weekend away and you’ll only be up in the air for less than an hour and a half. I treated my boyfriend to this Friday-Sunday trip and the full cost of flights, accommodation (we stayed at the Maxhotel) and the bus ride from the airport to the city centre was £100p.p. If that’s not a steal then I don’t know what is.
Belgium is known for it’s culinary expertise, especially in frites, mussels, waffles and chocolate. For me I couldn’t divulge in any moules frites despite how delicious they smelt! I also didn’t manage to try any Belgian meatballs (yet another delicacy) however I did find a vegetarian alternative at Ballekes, just outside the centre. It’ll definitely be at the top of my list if I return one day.
1. Fanny Thai
Whilst I do prefer to immerse myself in local culture, especially the food, sometimes it isn’t always easy mostly due to being a vegetarian. I’d seen Fanny Thai when researching restaurants I could potentially eat at and whilst we were having a lovely afternoon drink at Mappa Mundo we saw Fanny Thai in the distance and decided to go and dine once we were peckish enough. Great service with friendly staff and the food was incredible, very good Thai with care and quality ingredients put into every dish.
Regarded as one of the best friteries in Brussels (I definitely did google where the best frites were prior to going to Brussels and I am not ashamed), Fritland serve up a bulky and delicious portion of traditional Belgian frites. Most traditional frites are twice cooked which makes them super crispy and delightful. You have a huge selection of sauces/dips to dunk your frites into – my personal favourite being Andalouse, a must try!
5. Pasta Divina
I can’t remember how or why we decided to eat at Pasta Divina but I’m so glad we did. A very busy little restaurant in a bustling area, it was a lovely setting for an evening meal. You get to choose the type of pasta you want and the sauce. I picked spaghetti with an olive and tomato sauce, it was absolutely gorgeous! According to the very friendly and VERY chatty owner, his wife hand makes all the pasta and is in charge of the kitchen which was a lovely thing to hear. I really feel you could taste that it had been made with love by a true Italian. They did turn away some people who hadn’t reserved tables so maybe try and book in advance if you intend to go later in the evening!
Beer is practically the national drink of Belgium, it’s beer production is what it’s famous for so if you drink alcohol, visiting Brussels and not tasting the beer would be a sin. Don’t get me wrong, I very much stuck to the fruitiest beers they offered but it’s still a beer right?
1. Brasserie du Lombard
A lovely little spot which offers several beer tasting “platters”, we chose against these however if you’re not sure what beer you’d fancy or what a variety then definitely go for one of these. It was nice area catching the afternoon sun and have a very laid back atmosphere. We returned at night and it wasn’t nearly as busy as it was in the day, maybe day drinking is the preference here!
An Irish bar in Belgium where my boyfriend and I watched an English football match. Sounds weird and that we weren’t taking in local culture (which we totally weren’t) however we both enjoy doing what we want on these breaks and doing what we wanted including watching the Manchester United match. It’s very laid back, friendly servers and definitely is 100% Irish despite being in Belgium. Would recommend for any sports fans!
3. Mappa Mundo
Mappa Mundo was situated in Place Saint-Gery, a little area with plenty of bars on it’s zig zag corners. Mappa Mundo is opposite Le Roi de Belges, apparently a really popular spot for locals. We didn’t have the chance to experience Le Roi but Mappa Mundo was a lovely place for a quiet afternoon drink on our last day. The area was decorated with cute blue bunting all above which made it very picturesque. There are several bars in this area for you to try without having to walk too far!
1. Grand Place
Absolutely astonishing architecture to be found in Grand Place – some buildings I can only describe as so similar yet so different. I’m not a history buff, I couldn’t tell you what era they were from but they were all stunning and a must see. The square itself is full of cafes, restaurants and stores so there’s a lot more to offer however the visuals that circle you are definitely something to look up at.
2. Mannekin Pis
This is something to see purely for the novelty – we weren’t sure of the actual importance of a statue of a little boy peeing but it was a fun sight to see nonetheless. The time of year we went he was dressed up in a little soldiers uniform and he is dressed in several different outfits per week, he has a total of over several hundred outfits (more than I have in my wardrobe!). It’s definitely something I’d recommend have a little gander at for the amusement factor. There is also Jeanneke Pis (a little girl peeing) and Het Zinnejke (a dog peeing) to see.
3. Parc de Bruxelles
This is most definitely something to enjoy on a summers day, we got awesome weather at the end of September surprisingly. You can take a stroll through winter however I don’t think parks have the same effect in the winter as they do in the summer. It’s pretty huge however we didn’t venture round too far (don’t wear any heel of any kind on a city break!) but what we did see was well kept, pretty and enjoyed by plenty.
I find with most city breaks, what you do is a combination of eating, drinking and seeing. My recommendations to what you do is take or find some good company, try the waffles, try the fries, see some of the sites, grab a beer and relax. I always feel pressure to explore cities thoroughly as you’re only there for a short while however do whatever makes you happy. If that’s exploring every bit of architecture and purveying museums then do that, or if its having some nice food with nice people do that.
Things to take into account:
- Get a shuttle bus from/to the airport – Brussels Charleroi Airport is a fair bit away from the centre of Brussels, around an hour. The cheapest option is to go with an external airport shuttle company. I chose Filibco because of their easy to use, English website and they were fairly priced. We booked a couple of months in advance and managed to get a return for €10 each.
- No shopping on a Sunday – Like most of Western Europe, a lot of stores in Brussels are closed on Sunday so plan accordingly. Most tourist shops and restaurants will remain open however don’t expect to do any last minute shopping at Zara!
- English is fine, but be considerate – Before I went I read mixed accounts on whether or not you could get by on English or basic French. The answer is that you can get by purely using English however I tried to use “bonjour” and “merci” as much as possible. A simple “Parle-vous anglais?” is considerate and more than likely they’ll switch to English off the back of that.
- Take the metro – Get the metro system from Gare du Midi (where the shuttle drops you off) to your respective accommodation. We paid €15 for a taxi (not my choice!) which would have been around €2 and 7 minutes on the metro. It’s really easy to navigate too, you can even plan your journey in advance here.
- If you’re a party animal, this isn’t the place for you – We like to go out drinking in places that have a good atmosphere and at least one night we’d like to go out dancing. We found there wasn’t much to do at night here, the same places that were buzzing in the day were quite empty during the night. Maybe there’s a secret underground party area we don’t know about but we just find the centre to be quite quiet!
- Make day one the day to explore – Straight off the bat spend your first day exploring the area and finding spots you know you want to try etc. We found the area of Place Saint-Gery on the last day but wished we’d found it earlier! Get a feel of the area more then plan the rest of your time as you please, this way you’re not missing out on any hidden gems!