My first time in Brussels was not enough time, actually. I flew from Rome for a meeting, saw a bit and then decided to explore Bruges in a day before I needed to get back to Italy. That is why I was so happy to join Visit Brussels on a trip through the Belgian capital this summer.
What I discovered was just how vibrant and multicultural Brussels can be. From the EU institutions to modern museums, gorgeous architecture, a great food scene, and brilliant outdoor spaces – there is plenty to keep you busy for two days in Brussels.
Here is how to spend your weekend or short city break experiencing the best of Brussels, Belgium.
What to Do
Brussels has art, culture, history, institutions and a trendy scene for dining and drinking. Here is how to make the most of the city by combining local favorites with must-see attractions, starting with the first evening you arrive.
Grab a drink at Place du Luxembourg
First things first- join the party at Place du Luxembourg (Place Lux) in the European Quarter. In the evening, young political types, friends and workers from the area all converge on the square for drinks. Pick one of the buzzing bars for an “after work” or happy hour drink and grab a table. But for the best people-watching, take your cocktail outside to sip before sunset. The best night here is Thursday, but you’ll find the bars open every evening.
Go out to Dinner around Place de Londres
After starting at Place Lux, take a ten-minute walk up to Place de Londres. The central square is surrounded by more bars and restaurants for a fun night out. Try El Turco for the Mediterranean or grab an outdoor table from the surrounding eateries for a casual evening. It is the most fun in nice weather, but the cool pubs (like Public House 12) are good at any time of year.
Morning of Day 1:
Visit the EU Parliament and learn more at the Parlamentarium
Spend the morning learning more about the European Union with a trip to the European Parliament and the Parlamentarium. Both are completely free and offer a glimpse into the workings of the complex political institution that unites diverse countries and cultures. The Parletarium museum is high-tech and interactive, with exhibits that allow you to virtually travel between the countries that make up the EU to see the special collaborations that exist because of the union. There is also a floor entirely dedicated to the formation of the EU if you want to know more about the history.
Eat Frites at Place Jourdan
Don’t you dare call them French fries. Frites, anyone will tell you, are actually Belgian and Maison Antoine, on Place Jourdan is one of the best places to get them in Brussels. All of the bars around the square allow you to bring your fries (and any other food purchased) to sit at the tables. It is a much more comfortable way to enjoy your frites topped with sauce. On Sundays, the charming square also hosts a local market from 7 am to 1 pm.
Afternoon Day 1:
Experience the House of European History
This incredible Art Deco building in the center of the park was first built in the 1930s as a philanthropic dental clinic for poor children. Over the last 10 years, it has been restored and remodeled to create the newest museum in Brussels dedicated to pan-European history.
Picnic in the Park
It is easy to get caught up in the unique architecture you find in Brussels but the city also has some amazing outdoor spaces as well. Bring a picnic to Parc Leopold or wander under the arcades in Parc du Cinquantenaire. There are also plenty of bicycles to rent via the city’s bike-sharing programs so you can hop on two wheels to cover more grand.
Morning Day 2:
Admire the Royal Palace
Set in front of Brussels Park, the Royal Palace is the official palace (and main office) of the King of the Belgians. The royal family actually lives on the edge of the city, but this sprawling palace still feels regal. There are manicured gardens to enjoy from outside but you can actually visit the royal palace for a few weeks each summer. Wondering if the king is in town? Look for the flag! If it’s flying above the palace, the king is in. If there is no fluttering flag, then he must be away.
Be Awed by Grote Markt
Grote Markt, or Grand Place, is the central square in Brussels. Even if you only have two days in Brussels, you will want to spend some time exploring the historic center around the square. The incredible square is home to the Brussels Town Hall – with its instantly recognizable spire – as well as former guild buildings that are now restaurants and museums. Grand Place was first built in the 15th century as a center for trade but most of it was destroyed by a French bombardment in 1695. Grote Markt was quickly rebuilt which resulted in a mix of Gothic, baroque and neogothic styles. The square is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage site because it is “an outstanding example of the eclectic and highly successful blending of architectural and artistic styles that characterizes the culture and society of this region.”
Shop for chocolate in the Galeries Royales
Since you have already had fries, it is time to indulge in Belgium’s other specialty: chocolate. Forget storebought bars, Belgian chocolate is a work of art. There are lots of top tier chocolatiers located inside the gorgeous Royal Galleries near Grote Markt, but Mary has been the go-to choice for sweet loving locals since 1919.
Afternoon Day 2:
Take the kids to the Natural History Museum
If you have little ones with you in Brussels, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences is a must. It has the largest collection of dinosaur bones in Europe as well as a play area to dig for fossils. The special exhibits are usually lots of creative fun for younger kids, too. The museum is located just behind the European Parliament.
See the Atomium
Hop on the bus of call an Uber to head out to the edge of Brussels to visit the Atomium. The striking, futuristic building was constructed for the 1958 Brussels World Expo. It was renovated in the early 2000s and is not a museum dedicated to Belgium and Digital Art. You can actually go into the spheres – or simply stay outside and take some incredible photos.
Where to Eat
Maison Dandoy: For cookies and real Belgian waffles stop into pretty Dandoy. There are bubbles, coffee or tea, depending on your preferred drink and dreamy speculoos. The spiced cookies are still made with the traditional family recipe and formed with wooden molds. The shop in the Galeries Royales is a good stop when you are visiting Grote Markt.
Pistolet: for comforting authentic street food with a gourmet twist. These are the kinds of sandwiches you’ll dream of on a cool afternoon. The Boudin blanc (white sausage) with onions is a local favorite for good reason. This is close to Dandoy in the Galleria.
Harvest: Upscale, trendy organic cuisine with a French twist. Snag a table on the terrace in nice weather or cozy up in the bar section to sample a bottle from their impressive wine list. Call ahead for reservations.
Kitchen 151: Excellent Mediterranean cuisine with a seasonal menu that changes often. Don’t miss the hummus and pita- some of the best I’ve had anywhere in the world. Mains usually have some meat but there are several delicious vegetarian options and great wine pairings too.
Certo: Italian cuisine by a Naples-born chef that uses the freshest ingredients and focuses on simple recipes to let the quality of the products shine through. The menu leans southern Italian and there is a great, mainly natural, wine list to go with it.
Maison Antoine: Because you have to eat frites in Belgium and you should go straight for some of the best. The stall on pretty Place Jourdan has been serving incredible fries from its little hut since 1948. Almost every bar on the square will let you enjoy your fries at their tables located around Jourdan square if you purchase a drink.
Where to Stay for Two Days in Brussels
Radisson RED: This funky, modern hotel is a great option in the European Quarter. Right next door to the EU institutions, it is centrally located for many sites (but about a 20-minute walk to the historic center). There are games to play in the lobby and a great breakfast that includes make-your-own waffles. Rooms are spacious and the location next to the Brussels Luxembourg station makes it a great base if you plan to take the train. This is where we stayed on our long weekend break and it is a great option for families or laidback couples.
Pillows Grand Hotel Place Rouppe: For contemporary elegance, the Pillows Grand Hotel Place Rouppe is one of the loveliest boutique hotels in Brussels. From luxe linens to Nespresso machines in every room, it has the kind of effortlessly chic design that I wish I could recreate at home. It is centrally located and quiet, and you won’t need a metro to get most places if you don’t mind taking short walks.
X2Brussels: For a great B&B experience, try X2Brussels. Located near the historic center in a gorgeous home setting, the fully modernized rooms all have plenty of space and lovely aesthetics. The owner offers a more personalized touch and has lots of tips for seeing the best of the city. Breakfast is included.
Enjoy your trip! Brussels is full of surprises – have you uncovered any more?