16 Things To See And Do In Brussels | Budget City Guide
In 2018 I took myself off on my first ever international solo trip to Belgium. I spent most of my time in the gorgeous town of Bruges near the west coast, but I also spent some time in the vibrant capital city of Brussels. The city really surprised me, it was nothing like how I had imagined, and there are plenty of things to see and do throughout a visit there, so let me tell you all about my top recommendations...
Free. The central square of Brussels, surrounded by incredible gothic architecture. This square is always bustling with locals and tourists alike, weaving in and out of the surrounding alleys filled with beer-bars and restaurants. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was famously burnt down in the 1695 'Bombardment of Brussels', and was then rebuilt and used for various reasons over the years, such as a base for makeshift hospitals during war and more recently: a market square. This opulent square is a sight to behold and should be top of your list of places to see while in Brussels.
Parc Du Cinquantenaire
Free. If you search for images of Brussels, the Triumphal Arch in Parc Du Cinquantenaire is probably the photo that pops up most often. This beautiful park is completely free to enter and is also home to many of the best museums and art galleries in the city such as the Art & History Museum, Autoworld and the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History.
16.5 EUR. This bizarre attraction is so unique and niche that you just have to see it. It is what it says in the title, a miniature version of Europe with over 350 European buildings and monuments built at 1/25 of their actual scale. Think of it like Legoland except without the rides and well, no lego? You know what I mean. Find out more or buy tickets here.
16 EUR. This incredible structure opened in 1958 and has been an icon of Belgian tourism ever since. You can go up inside the atomium for 360 degree views of the city, have lunch in their gastronomic restaurant, visit their permanent or temporary exhibitions and visit the gift shop. Find out more or buy your tickets here.
Mont des Arts
Free. This picturesque, historical sight connects downtown and uptown Brussels. Mont des Arts literally translates to 'hill of the arts', and that's exactly what it is. Here you'll find a huge stretch of gardens, the royal library, the archives of Brussels and lots more. You'll recognise the area from postcards and blogs as it has become somewhat iconic over the years, so definitely make sure you make time to go and see it yourself.
Free. Now converted into a public park, this beautiful area of nature is nestled between the busy streets of Brussels' Northern quarter. The domed rotunda, orangery and 2 lateral greenhouses can still be found here as well as rose and iris gardens (where during April-June months you can see over 40 varieties of the Capital Region's national flower in bloom).
From £9 pre-booked. Belgium is famous for a few things, but especially their beer selection. You'll find many different beer tours around the city, (and throughout most Belgian cities) all catering to different tastes, paces and price points. Some of the best rated tours I've seen around are Brussels Beer Tour (around £9 pp), Brussels Belgian Beer Tasting Tour (around £33 pp) and Brussels Beer Tasting Tour (around £66 pp). There are plenty to choose from, no matter what your budget may be!
Brussels City Museum
8 EUR. This beautiful gothic museum stands in centre stage on Grand-Place and tells the story of Brussels over the years. From medieval Belgium and the Bombardment of Brussels in 1695 to the various transformations of Manneken Pis, the museum shows you everything. There are also large galleries of photographs and paintings by Belgian artists housed inside too. The museum is free on the first Sunday of every month.
Free. The most famous sight in the city, this bronze water sculpture dates back to 1618 and is a definite must see. An interesting idea for a water fountain, the sculpture depicts a naked little boy urinating into the water, and often gets dressed up in costume for various holiday celebrations.
St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral
Free. This 13th Century Roman Catholic Church stands tall in the centre of Brussels and is dedicated to the patron-saints of the city. It's said to be one of the greatest examples of Brabantine Gothic architecture in the world and also houses an archaeological excavation area (1 EUR entry) a Roman Crypt (3 EUR entry) and the cathedral's "treasure" (2 EUR entry). You can also take guided tours of the whole church lasting 2.5 hours, at a cost of 10 EUR.
9.50 EUR. When you think of Belgium, you think of chocolate, right? Belgian chocolate is some of the best in the world, so why not see how it gets made? From the Mayan and Aztec history of the cocoa tree, how chocolate conquered Europe and how it's made today, Choco-story can tell you everything you need to know. During the tour you'll see chocolate-making demonstrations from the master-chocolatier and taste the fresh made treats, and you can visit the shop at the end to take some home for later. Find out more or purchase tickets via their website here.
Free. Every summer the Royal Palace opens it's doors to the public for free, allowing you to browse it's many apartments and galleries on a self-guided tour. There are exhibits throughout the palace on topics such as it's history and the royal seal, and plenty of interactive activities of children. Be aware that opening dates vary, visiting hours close at 15:30 and it is closed on Mondays. You can see this years opening dates on the Visit Brussels website here.
Free. If you want a little peace and quiet without having to leave the bustle of the city completely, head here. This tranquil park sits next to the Royal Palace and houses multiple memorial bandstands and fountains, as well has huge sprawls of grassy areas- perfect for picnics or relaxing in the sun.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Free. This beautiful piece of architecture opened up back in 1847, instantly attracting the most fashionable Belgian people with its cafes, theatres and luxury brands. Today it does the same thing. Stroll through the gallery and marvel at the boutique stores, or sit in one the many cafes to watch the world go by. Whatever you decide, this place is a must see!
Notre Dame du Sablon
Free. Formally named the Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon, this Roman Catholic church is one of the most beautiful in the city. Built in the same Brabantine Gothic style as the St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral in the fifteenth century, the church is famed for it's incredible stained-glass windows and has now become a place of pilgrimage. The church is open to visit daily and at no cost.
Take A Day Trip
From around £25. Belgium is small but mighty, and it's size works in our favour as travellers! You can visit other cities very easily, either using their efficient train routes or by booking day trips through sites such as GetYourGuide. Prices will vary depending on when and how you visit, but why not visit Bruges, Antwerp or Ghent to see more of what Belgium has to offer? You can even nip over to Luxembourg quite easily from Brussel-Centraal station or jump on the Eurostar at Brussels-Midi to be in Amsterdam in under 2 hours.
And that's all from me for now folks. No matter what it is you're looking for, I'm certain that Brussels will have something for you. If we do get the chance to visit Europe at all this Summer, make sure you add Belgium to your list! Until then, make sure you're following me over on Instagram to watch my adventures in real time.
Have you ever been to Brussels? What would your must-see recommendation be? Let me know!
Until next time, Meg x