24 Hours in Brussels

Grand Place in Brussels

Brussels may be the capital of Belgium, but in many ways it does not get the same level of attention as other continental capitals like Berlin and Rome. Maybe it's because childhood has forever associated it with the less than popular Brussels sprout - constantly pushed about the plate and never eaten. While others are rushing off to the bright lights of Paris, consider Brussels a more than worthy alternative with its playful demeanour and friendly vibe.

To make life a little easier on your next trip to Brussels, we've put together a simple language guide that should have you gabbing away in no time. If you've ever visited this beautiful city, let us know on Facebook or in the comment box below about any other must-see places.

Cinquantenaire

Parc de Cinquantenaire in Brussels, Belgium

Divorcing the Dutch was a laborious process for the southern provinces of United Netherlands, which eventually became Belgium. To commemorate the event Parc de Cinquantenaire (translation: Fiftieth Anniversary Park) was built on thirty hectares of prime green land. Later on the now familiar horseshoe arches were added.

Grand Place

Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium

The name says it all - a grand place fittingly at the centre of a grand city. The Grand Place is a descendent of a medieval street market that has been at the centre of Brussels, historically and geographically, since its foundation. The marquee event of Grand Place is the biennial Flower Carpet - where the square is blanketed with an arrangement of flowers. The event is happening this year (2012) in August, so catch it before the next showing in 2014.

Budget an entire morning just to explore all of its nooks and crannies. If you're a night-time visitor don't neglect to visit La Brasseurs (see the night time tab).

Atomium

What the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, the Atomium is to Brussels - a feat of engineering that defines the city. The structure is modelled on the atomic structure of iron crystals supersized to over a hundred metres in height. The nine balls dangle precariously in the air and are a unique way of seeing the city from up high.

  • Address: Square de l'Atomium, Laeken, Brussels
  • Tel: +32 2475 4777
  • Website: www.atomium.be

Parlamentarium

The happenings at the EU headquarters in Brussels are a mystery to most of us, but initiatives like Parlamentarium allow the average John, Jean or Juan to understand its inner workings. The European parliament is the highest directly elected body in the EU and serves as the legislative arm. The exhibitions on display include high-tech virtual displays that graph the growth of the union and its institutions, making for a more interesting experience than your average museum visit.

Palais Coudenberg

Palais Coudenberg underneath Brussels, Belgium

Beneath Royal Square lies the ruins of Palais Coudenberg, where the former dukes and counts of Brabant ruled what later became known as Brussels. Today the foundations of the lavish palace have been laid bare and visitors are welcome to go all Indiana Jones on the once grand palace.

  • Address: Mont des Arts, 7 Place des Palais, Brussels
  • Tel: +32 7022 0492
  • Website: www.coudenberg.com

Maison Antoine

What Americans call French Fries may actually come from Belgian cuisine. The fry holds special prominence in Belgian cuisine and is considered a delicacy - not merely a side-order to the Big Mac. One of the best purveyors of frites in Brussels is the house of Antoine, who founded his little kitchen in 1948. Since then this unassuming friterie has become a tourist magnet, with many famous visitors making a stop for a dish too humble for its own good.

Comic Strip Centre

Much like fries above, comics have gone off with a BANG! in global popular culture. Brussels provides for hardcore fans with the Comic Strip Centre. In addition to celebrating Belgium's cream of the comic crop - including well known characters like Tin Tin, Lucky Luke and the Smurfs - the museum also includes English and French comics. "The Museum Of Imagination" - a museum within a museum - is a must see exhibition that takes you through the range of Belgian artists from Hergé to Jijé to Roba.
Watch a video about the museum below.

Unlike other cities, Brussels has embraced graffiti in the form of a comic book strip that winds its way across the walkways. The Comic Book Route is a cheap, fun and entertaining way to pass an afternoon.

Galeries Saint Hubert

Galeries Saint Hubert in Brussels, Belgium

The Gallery of Saint Hubert preceded and inspired the creation of a similar shopping location in Milan - Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The building not only made a fashionable venue for shopping, but announced Brussels as a European capital on the level of Paris and Berlin. Today, the centre contines to be Omnibus Omnia (everything for everybody) as written above the entrance. The broad range of stores that line the covered walkways - especially in fine crafts, foods and high fashion - are a shopaholic's dream.

Cantillon Brewery

Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, Belgium Image courtesy of Cantillon Brewery, CC BY-SA

Since 1900 Cantillon Brewery has brewed all types of lambic beer - namely Kriek, Faro, Framboise and Guezo - in a process that has hardly changed in a century. Authentic lambic is brewed by spontaneous fermentation - a process watched over by a master craftsman, but ultimately designed and driven by nature. Before sitting down for a jug of the sometimes sweet, sometimes sour drink we suggest taking a tour through Gueuze Museum within the brewery. Seeing the brewing process, from grain to frothy beer, will make you even more appreciative of the drink as it stands before you.

La Monnaie/De Munt

La Monnaie in Brussels, Belgium

The most recent winner of the Opernwelt 'Opera House of the Year' award; La Monnaie puts on a steady stream of performances that rival the best houses in the country. Boasting the artistic features of both Italian and French architecture, the auditorium seats 1 152 spectators. Opera training sessions, workshops, courses and guided tours are some of the activities you can get up to while at the opera house. Performances to look forward to this month include Passion the opera, Cesena and En Atendant, the ballets. Tip: Make sure you're there on time as the staff at La Monnaie do not tolerate late-comers - your entry will only be granted during the interval.

  • Address: Place de la Monnaie, Brussels
  • Tel: +32 2210 8505
  • Website: www.lamonnaie.be

Royal Museums of Fine Arts

Scattered across the city are a number of galleries that together make up the Royal Museums of Fine Art. The beauty of this arrangement is that you can dedicate different days to different styles and periods of art. The main building is split between the Museum of Ancient Art, with artworks from the 15th to the 18th century (including the must-see Rubens Room), and the more contemporary Museum of Modern Art. Separate from these are the Wiertz Musuem, dedicated to the works of the Belgian romantic painter Antoine Wiertz, and the Meunier Museum - housing sculptures by Constantin Meunier, who also contributed many of the sculptures seen at the Botanical Gardens.

Toone

Puppeteers and marionettes are not your traditional evening theatre, but in typical Brussels fashion the playful is turned into art (see also Comic Strip Centre and Maison Aintones). The title of Toone, a shortening of the name Aintoine, is passed down from puppet master to puppet master - each bringing a fresh take on the popular theatre.
Watch a brief performance in the video below.

  • Address: 6 Impasse Schuddeveld, Brussels
  • Tel: +32 2511 7137
  • Website: www.toone.be

Les Brasseurs

Grande Place Brussels, Belgium

Chug down your beer complemented by scrumptious Belgian cuisine at Les Brasseurs. Situated in Grand Place and rich with historical significance, Les Brasseurs is one of Belgium’s most popular micro-breweries. The top-rated service coupled with exquisite food and live music from 10pm every evening, will leave you feeling euphoric. Reservations welcome.

  • Address: Grand Place Brussels, rue de la Colline 24, 1000 Brussels
  • Tel: +32 2512 280
  • Website: www.les-brasseurs.com

Poechenellekelder

Sit back, relax and enjoy a couple of beers while watching tourists excitedly snap away photographs of the Manneken Pis. This doll-themed bar offers a variety of quality beer and excellent Belgian food in the surroundings of extraordinary furnishings. After an exhaustive day of sightseeing, Poechenellekelder’s ambiance and calming atmosphere is an ideal way to unwind. The English-speaking staff is a bonus! Watch the video below taken at Poechenellekelder of a waiter demonstrating his beer-pouring skills.

  • Address: 5 Rue du Chêne, Brussels
  • Tel: +32 2511 9262

La Fin De Siecle

Go Italian in Brussels. Literally meaning “The end of the century” with connotations of hope for new beginnings, La fin de Siecle brings you the finest Italian food and a special choice of Belgian dishes at wallet-friendly prices. The elegant decor, and warm colours bring about a sense of intimacy that leave a lasting impression long after you’ve left Brussels.

SteelGate

Unleash the party animal in you and head down to Steel Gate. Known for their buzzing concerts and thrilling discos, permit yourself to experience the rush in Belgian style while you dance the night away.

Last Updated: August 2012

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

A timid traveller, but a traveller none the less; Gugulethu is in his element lost and without a map - preferably with a companion willing to listen to his tall tales. He's our resident expert on the best muffins in town.