Best Things to do in Brussels, Belgium: A One-Day Itinerary for First-Time Travellers
April 26, 2020
Are you planning a day trip to Brussels? I previously visited Brussels from Leiden in the Netherlands and even spent a night in the city to have more time there. Here is a comprehensive and all you need-to-know travel guide to plan a perfect get-away there.
Table of Contents
What is Brussels all about?
Brussels is the capital of Belgium. Brussels started out as a small settlement by the river Senne, sometime in the 10th century. It developed into a market square and overtime developed into the economic, political and social centre of the Flemish capital.
The formation of the European Union came after the second World War. Brussels was seleced to harbour the new European Institutions due to its historical buffer state between France and Germany and its strategically central location between London, Paris, Dutch cities and Germany.
Brussels is a city whereby both the ancient and modern are closely linked. Their world-class museums, people, culture and local delicacies has made it into a well-visited tourist destination in Europe.
When is a good time to plan your trip to Brussels, Belgium?
Same like the rest of Western Europe, the a great time to plan a trip to Brussels is during the months of March to May and September to November. During these periods, the weather is comfortable and the city is not overcrowded due to any holidays season. Avoid July and August, which is their peak summer months and it gets crowded.
Late November to mid-March is when the weather starts to get cold and wet. However, December is a great time to visit Brussels as well if you don’t mind the lower temperatures and lessened daylight hours. The streets will be bustling with joyful Christmas Markets where you can get yourself some hot chocolate and enjoy the spirit of the holiday season.
Getting around Brussels
1. By Walking
This will be used a lot during your time in Brussels as attractions are located close to each other.
2. By Public Transportation
STIB is the main public transportation company in Brussels that manages various trams, metro and buses. SNCB is another company that manages intercity trains in Belgium.
Using the public transportation network in Brussels is relatively simple. All passes can be bought at GO-machines/kiosks located at all metro stations and larger bus and tram stops. Bus tickets can be purchased with the bus drivers directly.
Types of tickets: 1. Single-fare ticket: This will cost you €2.50 and allows you to make a single journey on any bus, tram or metro.
2. Contactless-ticket: This will cost you €2.10 for 1-hour and €7.50 for a 24-hour ticket. It can be bought at any of the places written above in bold. *Travel tip: Their 24 hr ticket is the most convenient and affordable option if you are planning to spend 1 day in Brussels.
3. The Brussels Card: Access into museums and unlimited use of the city’s trams, metros and buses. This is for visitors who plan to visit more than one museum. You can purchase your ticket online here and collect it at any of the stated locations.
If you’re looking to explore many museums in Brussels, consider purchasing a Brussels Card. The card is an all-in-one ticket to more than 41 Brussels museums. Hence, you can visit attractions with ease and convenience.
See map below for places of interest in Brussels.
1. Mont Des Arts
Start off your day in Belgium by visiting the Mont des Arts. Just a short 2-minute walk away from Brussels Centraal Station. Mont des Arts, meaning “hill of the arts”, is one of Brussels’ most iconic places, with a garden filled with flowers and views of the city hall tower. An artistic nucleus in the heat of Belgium, the area is brimming with museums, cultural centers and stunning architectural buildings.
2. Mannekin Pis
After snapping a few pictures at Mont Des Arts, take a 5-minute walk to view the Mannekis Pis statue along Rue Du Chene Street. You will be able to spot the original statue at the cross junction of this narrow alley that is filled with shops. Most likely, it will be hidden by a large crowd of tourists trying to get a glimpse of it. The Manneken Pis is a landmark 61 cm bronze fountain sculpture in the centre of Brussels, showcasing a naked little boy urinating into the fountain’s basin.
The fountain played an essential role in the distribution of drinking water back in the 15th century. From the 15th to 18th century, it came into fashion in the arts and was commonly used as a subject for fountains in Europe. In present day, the Mannekin Pis as 1000 over costumes which changes about 130 times a year.
3. Brussels Boutique Waffle Mania
After viewing the Mannekin Pis, continue walking onto Rue De I’Etuve street. Here, you will find rows of shops selling souvenirs, chocolates and waffles. We stopped by this shop called Brussels Boutique Waffle Mania to have a hearty Belgium waffle brunch.
Alternatively, if you’re not into chocolates, there is also a Brussels Beer Tasting Tour that you can join which will bring you to hidden parts of Brussels in search of some of the best pubs.
4. Grand Place
Next, continue walking for about 2 minutes along Rue De I’Etuve street and you’ll soon be surrounded with a series of impressive intricately detailed buildings. The Grand Place is the central square of Brussels. It has been known to be the most grandeur square in Europe, and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. The guild houses located around The Grand Place include:
Hotel de Ville (Town Hall)
Maison du Roi (Houses the Museum of the City of Brussels)
Maison des Ducs de Brabant
Le Pigeon (the house where Victor Hugo lived during his exile in Belgium in 1852)
Le Renard, Le Cornet and Le Roy d’Espagne
It is possible to take a guided tour of the Town Hallon Wednesdays and Sundays. More information on the timetable and tour bookings can be found here.
5. Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert
Just a 1-minute walk from the Grand Place, you’ll find the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert. At the heart of Brussels, the 200m long shopping district housing a variety of boutiques, flagship stores and restaurants and is well-known for its glass roof and distinct architecture design.
If you’re hungry, get your lunch at Mokafe. The cafe is located inside the Royal Gallery and is famous for their Belgium Meatballs and Sugar Waffles.
6. Royal Museum of Fine Arts
After having lunch, take a bus to reach the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. The museum houses the most important collection of fine arts in the country. There are a total of 20,000 artworks in 6 museums for you to admire pieces from the 15th till 21st century.
Opening hours: – Tuesdays to Fridays, 10am to 5pm – Saturdays and Sundays, 11am to 6pm
Prices: – Above 65 years old: €6 – Between 26-64 years old: €8 – Between 6-25 years old: €2 – Below 6 years old: Free
7. Royal Palace of Brussels
The Royal Palace of Brussels is located just a 5-minute walk from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts.
It is known to be the king’s administrative center. It is where the King carries out his duties as Head of State, welcoming important political representatives, foreign visitors and other guests. However, it is not used as a place for his residence, as the king and his family live in the Royal Palace of Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels.
The entrance into the Palace is Free. So take the opportunity to explore its beautifully decorated interior. Chandeliers fill the palace’s high ceilings with mosaic floors and intricate gold lined walls.
Opening hours: Tuesdays to Sundays, 10.30am to 5pm (21 July to beginning of September only)
8. Parc Du Cinquantenaire
Last but not least, take bus 28 from the Royal Palace to reach Parc Du Cinquantenaire. Parc Du Cinquantenaire is a beautiful urban park that is opened to public. It was built during the reign of Leopold II to commemorate fifty years of Belgian independence.
It is a tranquil place to take a stroll and you can even prepare to have a picnic in front of the arch. There are also 3 museums you can explore beside the arch – the Autoworld Museum, art museum and an army museum.
Trip Recommended Itinerary
1 day is enough time to visit this list of must-do attractions in Brussels. However, if you’re a fan of museums, then it is recommended for you to stay a night in Brussels.
If you’re coming from the Netherlands like I was, plan to reach Brussels Centraal station between 8am to 9am. You can buy a return ticket at 8pm. This will give you some time to enjoy the night lights at the Grand Place before heading back.