Before to my trip to Brussels, I heard some mixed reviews of the city. Some people who visited liked Brussels, and others did not. When I hear something negative about a city I’m travelling to, I always adjust my expectations. So when I travelled to Brussels, I didn’t expect much. I kept my expectations low. But Brussels surprised me in the best way possible! I love the city! Here’s why:
1. Grote Markt (Grand Place)
The Grand Place is the heart of the city, a beautiful square lined with shops, guild houses and the town hall. The largest guild house belongs to the league of Bakers (broodhuis)! You know, because everybody has to eat.
Take a closer look at the town hall. The architect of the building committed suicide after he saw the completed building. Can you tell why? The town hall is not symmetrical!
2. Belgium Beer
Move over Germany, Belgium is the ‘Beer King’ of the world. Now, I’m not much of a beer drinker, but since I was in Brussels, I thought it best to try some local beers. One of the most popular beer brands in Belgium is Leffe – beer with a very high alcohol content (up to 9.0%) produced by monks!
The consumption of alcohol in public places is allowed in Brussels, so drink a cold beer as you explore the city, just because you can!
3. Beautiful vistas
One of the best views in Brussels is from the historic Mont des Arts. From the top of the stairs, you have a view of the gardens and the cityscape in the background.
4. St. Nicholas Church
The oldest church in the city is St. Nicholas Church. The church is like one of those Russian dolls. Every time the church is renovated, it’s expanded. So essentially, St. Nicholas Church is like a church inside a church inside a church. You can enter the church for free.
5. The story behind Mannekin Pis
There’s no doubt that Mannekin Pis is one of the main attractions in Brussels. Thousands of tourists flock to the city each year to see this iconic statue. In all honesty, it isn’t that impressive. What is way more interesting is the story behind the statue.
Dating back to the Middle Ages, it represents a period in Brussels when poor families used to sell their urine to survive. The ammonia in the urine was then used in the leather industry as a curing agent.
6. Crispy Vlaamse frites
Who doesn’t love a crispy fry? Yes, please! And depending on who you ask, Belgium is the birthplace of the potato fry. What better place to eat fries than in Brussels? I highly recommend the fries at Friterie Tabora in the city centre.
A word of caution to vegans and vegetarians. A lot of shops/restaurants cook the fries in animal fat. So make sure you find a shop that uses vegetable oil!
7. The weird Atomium
The Atomium is such a strange and unusual building! It looks like it belongs in a chemistry class, like the atomic structure of some periodic table element. Or a futuristic building straight out of a sci-fi movie. Apart from Mannekin Pis, it’s probably the main attraction in Brussels.
8. €1 Waffles
This is probably one of my favourite things about Brussels. Seriously! I would get on a bus and travel from Amsterdam to Brussels just to eat some of these waffles! This is how the locals eat them, on the go with powdered sugar. The batter itself is quite sweet, so you really don’t need additional toppings. They are best served hot, straight from the waffle iron!
You can buy these €1 waffles everywhere around the city centre, but my favourite is the little shop next to Friterie Tabora (the shop I mentioned above).
9. Shopping galleries
Shopping galleries are something you would typically associate with Paris or Milan rather than Brussels. But interestingly enough, the oldest gallery in Europe can be found in Brussels. Inside the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert you’ll find some of the best boutique shops in Belgium.
10. Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
There’s no shortage of holy buildings in Brussels. My favourite is the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. I love the Gothic architecture, reminiscent of the Notre Dame in Paris. You can enter the church for free.
At the time of my visit, the cathedral had a pretty rad tapestry exhibition! Check out these beautiful pieces of art.
11. Sensational Belgium chocolate
Brussels in heaven for chocoholics! Seriously, every second shop in the city centre sells Belgium chocolate. You can purchase tonnes of lower quality Belgium chocolate for cheap, or you can seek out the exclusive boutiques selling the best chocolate in the city. That’s exactly what I did. Read my article to find out where to find the best chocolate in Brussels
12. The panoramic view from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart
For the best 360° view of Brussels, head to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. An elevator takes you to the top where you can see the city from above in every direction.
In addition to the spectacular view from the roof, the inside of the church is also definitely worth checking out.
13. Comic book culture
Brussels is the birthplace of the famous comic book series Tintin. You’ll find comic book stores and regular bookstores around the city selling Tintin merchandise. There’s even a Belgium Comic Strip Centre, a museum dedicated to Belgium comics.
Another cool feature you’ll definitely see around the city is the comic strip murals! There’s about 50 of them spread throughout the city. I really enjoyed the murals. They bring a pop of colour to Brussels.
14. Peaceful parks
Brussels can get busy! If you’re like me and you want to escape the chaos for a little while, head to one of many parks around the city. Step into these green sanctuaries to find a little peace and quiet.
15. The Muscles from Brussels statue
OK, I’ll admit it. I was a huge Jean-Claude Van Damme fan! My first JCVD movie was Hard Target, way back when I was in primary school. There my obsession started. I watched every JCVD movie I could get my hands on. I must have seen Universal Soldier about a hundred times!
Anyway, fast forward to the present. I am no longer the screaming teenage fan I once was, but when I heard there was a JCVD statue in Brussels, I had to go a check it out! The statue is located at the Westland Shopping Center and can easily be reached via bus.
Pulling off the pose was really difficult, even though I have a martial arts background! Only the man himself can pull off this iconic pose!
Have you been to Brussels and what did you think of the city? Let me know below in the comments. I really enjoyed my time in Brussels! I hope you do too!