When I was told I had to go to Brussels for work, I immediately booked a day off after the event finished so I could spend 24 hours in Brussels. I had never been to Belgium before, and it was to become my 40th country. So there was no way I could go and not get to see any of the city.
However, I am not sure exactly what it was but I didn’t get the greatest first vibes. Perhaps it was the fact I was working 15 hours days, or getting the Uber to and from the venue so early, that it was in an area outside of the city or that I had managed to severely sprain my ankle the day before I arrived making walking tricky. Whatever it was, I didn’t ‘get’ Brussels from when I arrived.
However, worked finished and I had 24 hours in Brussels to explore. And here is my guide on what to do!
24 hours in Brussels
What to see
Knowing I had 24 hours in Brussels, I made a list! I think there are a few things which should be a ‘must see’ in Brussels, and you can easily do them in a few hours.
Absolutely the first place to head. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it honestly took my breath away. I vividly remember uttering ‘wow’ under my breath as I turned the corner into the square. It is easily the most opulent town square I have been in Europe.
The Hôtel De Ville takes centre stage, towering over the other buildings and is the square’s only remaining medieval building.
But for me, the row of guild houses were the most beautiful. All stunning decorated with gilt gold, they were so special.
Make sure you visit the square both day and night. If you want to see it without the crowds, then get there first thing. But also definitely head back at night, seeing it lit up is quite the sight!
Sandemans Walking Tour
I have done free walking tours in cities before, and it is such a great way to introduce yourself to a new place. The Sandemans tours meeting in the Grand Place, almost every hour. You can book, or you can turn up.
It lasts around 2.5 to 3 hours, and is such a great way to see the highlights of the city and work out where you want to go back to. My guide was called Max. He was born in Brussels and had such a passion for the city. All the guides are freelancers, so the only money they make are from the tips left at the end. It’s a great way to ensure they are giving the absolute best tour they can. And trust me, it was a great tour.
Find out more by clicking here.
Quite the iconic image of Brussels now and honestly, quite bizarre. There are many legends about why there is a statue of a boy weeing into a fountain in the centre of Brussels. My personal favourite is that the boy peed on burning fuses to put out the lit gunpowder that was about to blow up the city.
The statue is a very short walk from Grand Place, and worth taking a small detour. You’ll find him immediately by the crowds of people trying to take their photo. He has been stolen many times throughout the cities history and actually this one is a replica. The original can be found in the Maison Du Roi.
Manneken Pis also has a less well known sister – Jeanneke Pis. She can be found on a dead end street, near the Delerium café. Although, was all locked up when I saw her!
Rue de l’Etuve
Brussels is famed for being the origin of the famous comic series, Tintin. On the way to see Manneken Pis from Grand Place, walk down the Rue de l’Etuve. On a wall on the way, you will see a rather impressive Tintin Mural.
Once a favourite haunt of the nobility, particularly when the rain fell. Now it is full of expensive boutiques, chocolate shops and cafes. The prices are rather steep, but definitely worth a wander and a window shop! There is also some pretty impressive architecture here.
Saint Michel Catherdral
I am a big fan of churches, and often try and seek out impressive ones when I travel. I headed to Saint Michel, partly to retreat temporarily from the rain but also as I had heard it was worth seeing.
Set up on a gentle hill, it is only a short walk from the city centre. There are beautiful stain glass windows to gaze up at. And my personal favourite – for a €1 you can go down into the basement and see the original stone round walls of the church that stood there in Roman times.
Parc de Bruxelles
I found Brussels oldest park to be a lovely, peaceful space. It was looking absolutely beautiful in autumn. It is located right next to the Royal Palace. So if you are heading up that way, take the time to stop, relax and watch the locals enjoying this piece of greenery in the city.
What would any guide to 24 hours in Brussels be without a mention of chocolate. I have to say, visiting these shops was my favourite thing I did in Brussels. I am a complete chocoholic, and this city did not let me down. Be warned though, it is pricey! I visited a fair few of the shops in my 24 hours in Brussels, and these are the ones worth mentioning!
This chocolate shop was the first to be set up by a woman, back in 1919. So I absolutely had to go and visit! I selected some of the delicious looking chocolates for a box. The salted caramel ones are my absolute favourite! It was very quiet and the woman was more than happy to help me choose. Not that I needed too much help!
This shop was my favourite I came across in Brussels. It was cute, small and welcoming. The staff who worked there were so helpful and friendly. They talked to me about all the different options and even let me try quite a few samples. I came away with a whole lot of goodies from here! If I was to only visit one chocolatier in Brussels, this would be the one.
Nehaus and Marcolini
In my opinion these are two of the classics of chocolatiers in Brussels. Both located in the Galerie de la Reine.
Nehaus started as an apothecary and was known for encasing the less than delicious medicine in chocolate shells, before removing the medicine. It wasn’t long before the medicine element was removed!
Marcolini is said to be a chocolate experience everyone needs to have at least once in their lifetime.
However for me, these two shops weren’t as welcoming and friendly as the others. They reminded me of how I feel if I ever step in a Dior shop, and I just felt a little out of place.
Where to eat
Obviously, only having 24 hours in Brussels I didn’t have too much time for food. I also wasn’t overly hungry considering I did eat more than my fair share of chocolate. But again I stumbled across some eateries worth a mention!
Sounds bizarre to start a where to eat in Brussels section with pasta right? But honestly, this was some of the best pasta I have ever had. In as long as I can remember. I was greeted and seated, by the lovely lovely owner. He and his wife moved from Verona in Italy 8 years ago and started this restaurant. He explained the menu to me with such love and pride. All the pasta is cooked fresh every day by his wife, and it is so so worth it. Just go.
Take a look here: Pasta Divina
The Sister Cafe
I randomly stopped off here as I was incredibly hungry. It wasn’t the tasty food in the world, but filling. What I liked about this place so much was the zero waste. My drink of homemade lemon and ginger, which was delicious, came with a metal straw. It also has a lot of vegan food, so good if you are searching for some. Also a lot of beers on the menu.
The Belgian classic! Apparently the secret is that they are fried twice. Once at a very high temperature for only a few minutes. They are then taken out and let cool, and then fried again at a lower temperature.
The other story Max, the guide from the Sandeman tour, was very keen to share was the mistake behind the name ‘French fries’. Apparently American soldiers in the trenches were eating the fried potatoes during the war. When they went home, they carried on making them. However, they were not sure of the country they were stationed in. The only knowledge they had to go on was the language, which of course was French. So they mistakenly believed they were in France, rather than Belgium and so the fries have been misnamed ever since.
So where to get them? I got this very very wrong, and hated the ones I bought. A Brussels fail (don’t go to Chez Papy). But Max said the best ones to be found are from Friterie Tabora. As he is a local take his word for it and go there!
Not food, but what would a 24 hours in Brussels post be without mentioning where to go for beer? These cafes are pretty renowned across Brussels, for serving the largest selection of beer. I had to try some Belgium Beer when in Brussels, so stopped off at Delirium Cafe. There are quite a few across the city, and I stopped at one just out Grand Place.
I sat outside and drank a Karmeliet Tripe, which the server told me was a good introduction to Belgian Beer. It certainly felt strong!
Final thoughts on Brussels?
I liked Brussels, I just didn’t love it. I do feel 24 hours is enough for this city. Someone did ask me what it was missing and I couldn’t tell you. It just wasn’t somewhere I fell in love with.
I think the perfect break to Brussels for me, would involve 24 hours in Brussels, followed by a day trip to Bruges
Interested in more European city breaks? Have a look at the following:
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