Belgium is a fascinating country of juxtapositions. For one, half the country speaks French while the other half speaks Flemish. Also, while Belgium is the administrative capital of the EU it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Case in point – one of Belgium’s most well-known tourist attractions is the Mannekin Pis (seriously, a peeing-boy fountain).
Belgium’s quirkiness, its zany towns, and the amazing people and experiences I had truly have etched Belgium a special place in my heart. When I lived in Brussels for three months, I got a chance to explore many of its quirks. Here are my recommendations for what to see, eat and drink in Brussels, Belgium.
The Grand Place is the central square of Brussels and what a central square it is. The buildings in the square date from the 17th century, when Belgium was a prosperous commercial center in Europe. The Grand Place isn’t just gorgeous – it also has serious bragging rights being on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sights list. The Grand Place never got old to me and I was always entranced by it every time I passed through. The area surrounding the Grand Place is filled with a labyrinth of shops, cafes and pubs. The area always has a lively festival atmosphere with street performers. Every two years the Grand Place is also covered with a flower carpet of begonias (the next chance to see it will be in 2018) adding to its beauty and charm.
Going to Belgium and not having beer is like going to California and not having an In-N-Out burger. Belgium takes its beer very seriously and has a type to suit every beer connoisseur’s palate. Prior to Belgium, I was more of a wine lover. After being introduced to some stellar beers in Belgium, I found myself beginning to develop some warm feelings towards beer. There are so many great options for finding beers in Brussels. Delirium is one of the most well-known bars in Brussels, having nearly 3,000 varieties. It’s located in an alley near the Grand Place (along with the Jeanneke Pis – a female counterpart to the Mannekin Pis). If you want to get adventurous you can also search for Trappist beers, which are brewed by Trappist monks which are considered some of the finest beers in the world. If you want to get your Trappist beer fix check out Monk bar located in the St. Catherine neighborhood of Brussels.
3. Mannekin Pis
After the Grand Place, the Mannekin Pis is one of the most well-known symbols of Belgium. The Mannekin Pis can be a little tricky to find (at least for someone as directionally challenged as I), and it’s actually quite smaller in person, but it’s a cute and quirky sight worth checking out. One tradition associated with the Mannekin Pis is dressing him in different costumes based on traditional costumes from Belgium’s history as well as costumes from other cultures. So, whether he’s naked or decked out in military garb go check out the Mannekin Pis.
Belgium has such a rich cuisine it’s no wonder I came back to the US about 5 pounds heavier. From the chocolate shops that dot the city to frites and waffle stands, there are so many great options for eating. Mussels and frites with mayonnaise is considered the national dish of Belgium, and it’s incredibly delicious. One of the best places to go for mussels and frites is Chez Leon, which is located near the Grand Place area. Belgium is also known for its love of frites (fries) and its arguable that the Belgians may have came up with the idea of fries before the French but Belgium fries just didn’t sound as good as French fries (or maybe the Belgians already had their fair share of food titles and the French were jealous?) There are tons of stands throughout the city that serve frites with mayonnaise. One of the most famous frites stands in Brussels is Maison Antoine. There are also plenty of bars around the area and most allow you to eat your frites with your beer. Belgian waffles stands can also be found all over the city, you can find them by their aromas of deliciousness. Belgian waffles are cheap and you can add on every topping imaginable. Last but not least, Belgian chocolate is renowned throughout the world for its quality. Chocolate shops dot the city and you can find chocolate that fits every type of budget from budget friendly Leonidas to the more upscale Mary chocolatier (which is the official chocolatier of the Belgian royal family), and of course there is always Godiva, one of the most well-known brands of Belgian chocolate.
The Atomium was originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and it depicts an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. While the Atomium is a bit touristy, and better and more inexpensive views can be found elsewhere in Brussels, the Atomium is still worth checking out. The Atomium is located a bit away from central Brussels but there are tons of beautiful parks around the area to take a stroll around.
So there you have it, five great things to see, eat, and do in Brussels, Belgium – a country I fell in love with and one that hopefully you will too.