Before my first visit to Brussels I mostly associated the city with its role as the de facto capital of the European Union, a long time domicile of the continent’s royal and rich. I imagined a fancy, stuffy place that screamed “Old Europe,” full of haute couture, Baroque statues and grand architecture. But while the architecture in Brussels is indeed gorgeous, and many of the locals well dressed, what shines through the most is that this is the capital city of a country of friendly fun loving goofballs, with a way more down to earth vibe than you might expect, and it’s a heck of a place to wander, eat, drink, ogle and enjoy… and here’s how I would recommend spending a laid-back and somewhat indulgent day in Brussels doing just those things.
This itinerary works best if you like to drink beer, because it includes some of the best beer in the world, but even if you don’t you’ll still learn something and try something new. This is a walking day – and you’ll see that you criss-cross the center of the city a little bit, but this is just a nice order of things, plus you’ll need to work up a good appetite for that hearty Belgian food, not to mention that strolling about Brussels is a delight in itself. Be sure to punctuate all of these stops with plenty of meandering, poking in to shops, or just relaxing and watching the bruxellois go by! Also keep an eye out for the city’s awesome comic book murals!
Visit bit.ly/OnwardBrusselsDay for our interactive map of Brussels!
Read on for my perfect day in Brussels, and if you have found yourself here getting ready for a trip to the Belgian capital, well then, lucky you!
You’ll see that some of these places are listed with two names – in Belgium there are two national languages: French and Flemish. Most people in Brussels speak French, but it is indeed a bilingual city.
9:00am : GRAND PLACE / GROTE MARKT
Just around the corner from Aksum is the jaw dropping Grand Place – one of Europe’s most magnificent city squares. With the Town Hall building dating to the 14th century, and the Guild Hall buildings built in the 18th centuries, today the square attracts tourists galore. Join their ranks and take a selfie or two surrounded by the intermingling and fantastically maintained examples of Gothic, Baroque and Louis XIV architecture. You might want to come back later, as the evening atmosphere here is most convivial and the buildings are dramatically lit come come nightfall.
9:30am : MANNEKIN PIS
Corner of Rue de l’Etuve & Rue du Chêne
Yes, this is a totally iconic statue of a little kid peeing. The joke’s on you once you find it, and this is why I love Belgians. Don’t ask for details, just see for yourself.
9:50am : WAFFLE
As you ascend the stairs from the Place Royale to the complex of museums you’ll smell a delicious aroma wafting through the air… guess what, it’s waffles wafting and these street waffles are as tasty as they come! Enjoy one hot and crispy off the press, sprinkled with sugar or topped with whipped cream and chocolate if you’re really feeling crazy!
10:00am : MAGRITTE MUSEUM
Rue de la Regence 3 | 10-5 Tues to Fri, 11-6 Sat & Sun, Closed Mon
This museum is surrounded by many others dedicated to such interesting movements and topics as Beaux Arts, Fin de Siecle and musical instruments. These are all worth a visit, but my favorite is the Magritte Museum. One of the most famous of the early 20th century Surrealists, Rene Magritte is also a goofball and it seems only fitting that the man is a Belgian. This is a fun and educational museum, sure to delight people from all backgrounds.
12:00pm : AKSUM COFFEE
Rue des Eperonniers 60 | Tues to Sun 10-7
Whenever I get to Brussels I come straight to Place Saint Jean, the tiny square where Aksum occupies an adorable corner shop space that is small but friendly. You’ll enjoy lingering over an impossibly aromatic drip coffee, flavorful pour over or a basic espresso drink made with organic single origin coffee at this Ethiopian coffee house in the heart of the city.
12:30pm : LA MER DU NORD / NOORDZEE
Rue Sainte Catherine 45 | Tues to Sun, 11-6 (11:30 on Sun)
Nosh on oysters, fish and chips, a fantastic chowder or any other number of pescatarian delights at this streetside seafood purveyor. It’s all super fresh and served jovially over a counter to happy, well heeled crowds who stand around high tables sipping beer or wine, chatting and soaking up the sun. It’s hard to think of a better place to spend a little time on a sunny day. The close proximity to St. Catherine’s Cathedral ups the overall charm.
Rue Sainte-Catherine 36 | Tues to Sat, 8-6
After lunch, pop across the street to this gourmet market to pick up a few souvenirs for the epicureans in your life. The Belgians enjoy the simple things done well: stock up on dried sausages, pate, cheese, chocolate and other goodies. It’s also a great place to grab provisions for a picnic.
2:30 pm : CANTILLON
Rue Ghuede 56 | Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri, Sat 10-5
Oh, Cantillon. To the beer geeks out there it requires no introduction. This is one of the world’s most revered houses of beer and they don’t call their premises the Museum of Gueuze for nothin’. Even if you aren’t into beer the ancient copper coolship is definitely worth a gander. Gueuze is a type of blended lambic that takes a second fermentation in the bottle. It’s not for everyone, or shall we say it’s an acquired taste, but once youj’ve got a taste for it there are few things on the planet so delicious. And due to the amount of work required to make a real gueuze, there are few places on the planet it to get it – and most of them are in Belgium! Cantillon is the holy grail of gueuze and lambic production – nothing has changed here since they opened their doors in 1900. Be sure to take a step back in time and linger through the self guided tour, you’ll get a good intro from a staff member and a printed guide and you’re on your way. The little bar area here is a great place to wile away the afternoon and swap travel stories… since this is a beer mecca you’re sure to meet other travelers from all over the place. Of course you’ll want to bring a few bottles back home in your checked bag. If not for yourself, they’ll cultivate an inordinate amount of glee in any beer lovers in your life because this stuff is tough to get and quite pricey in the US.
6:30 pm : RESTOBIERES
Rue des Renards 9 | Tues to Sun 12-3:30 & 6-12
Restobieres is a gem, and it’s in one of my favorite neighborhoods. Chef Alain Fayt has been creating real beer cuisine here for decades and, as long as you aren’t in a hurry, dinner here is a real treat. Enjoy traditional Belgian dishes, many cooked with beer, and a hand picked bottle selection boasting the country’s best. If Alain is there, ask nicely and maybe he’ll take you upstairs to show of his one of a kind collection of beer memorabilia. Reservations recommended.
9:00 pm : LA FLEUR EN PAPIER DORE / HET GOUDBLOMMEKE IN PAPIER
Rue des Alexiens 55 | Tues to Sat 11-midnight, Sun 11-7
Head over here for an after dinner drink. They’ll serve it to you with a piece of chocolate! But the real draw here isn’t the drinks or the chocolate, but that the bar is a piece of living art history. Many decades ago, this is where Magritte and other surrealists, local and visiting, whiled away their evenings and their drawings and scribbles still cover the seemingly ancient walls. There’s truly nowhere else in the world like it.
Two other very special places not to miss:
That may have been enough beer for your for one day (or not!). But a short guide to Brussels would be remiss without noting the following places.
Rue du Chêne 5 | Tues to Sun 11am-1am (until 2 on Fri & Sat), closed Mon
I really love Le Poechenellekelder (aka the Puppet Cellar). Their bottle list is amazing as is the glassware collection – each beer is served with a different corresponding glass. The decor is befitting of a place that calls itself “The Puppet Cellar,” and 100% Belgian. The menu is also 100% Belgian and just supremely well done for the simple food that it is – a croque monsieur, perfect bolognese, or heady pate is just the right accompaniment to the national beverage. Also happens to be located across the street from Mannekin Pis. It gets crowded.
MOEDER LAMBIC FONTAINAS
Place Fontainas 8 | Daily 11-1 (Until 2 on Fri & Sat)
This bar is the other must not miss mecca for beer geeks traveling to Brussels. Many consider this the best beer list in Brussels, especially the number of great pours on draft.