Brussels; known for being the city at the heart of the European Union and the best place in Europe for a beer. But what else is there to this Belgian capital and why should you be booking a visit here?
This is actually a second trip for me. I’d previously visited Brussels in October as a birthday treat a couple of years ago, this trip had followed on from a whirl-wind day visiting the gorgeous town of Bruges, where this country ignited my love affair with Belgian beer and where I first tried moules. My four day holiday to Brussels in 2014, solidified this love after I cemented myself to a bar stool in Delirium and attempted to make a dent in the beer-bible of a drinks menu. Of course, I did break up the drinking with a spot of sightseeing here and there, but I knew i’d be back in Belgium sometime, and here I am!
After rising bright and early for an 8am Eurostar from London St Pancras we arrived at Brussels Midi Gare at around 11am. Using my Ulmon Offline Map, I navigated the 15 minutes’ walk into the historical city centre and located our home for the next few days; Ibis St Catherine. On our previous trip a couple of years ago, we were impressed by the location (a few minutes’ walk to La Bourse) and the friendly service. We were happy to find that these standards hadn’t slipped plus we got treated to a free upgrade; a lovely room with a view of the church behind the hotel! Nice!
After a speedy refresh and a change of clothes to match the sunny weather we headed out to one of my favourite pubs in the city, Poechenellekelder.
This uber cute puppet themed pub is right next to the famous Manneken Pis statue. Being right over the road from this popular tourist attraction, you’d assume that you’d pay a premium or constantly be in a battle for a seat, but in my experience that has never been the case. We bagged a seat outside under parasol and ordered ourselves a Kriek and a Kwak alongside a side of Gouda and bread and soak up the busy Friday buzz and took the lazy route for a change. Perfect!
After a couple more hours and a couple more tipples, feeling more in the swing of things, we headed up to the museum quarter past Gare Centraal to pick up my Brussels Card at the Visit.Brussels main office. I didn’t get around to wearing my ‘culture hat’ much last time, so as a second tripper to Brussels, I jumped at the chance of getting my hand of a pair of 72 hour city cards; I could really get stuck into some of the museums!
More on my Brussels card later though as it was time for a recharging nap before heading out for meal in our local area. A personal recommendation had us make a reservation at Amadeo on the road parallel to ours.
Warning though: this establishment is strictly for meat-lovers only and those with eyes bigger than their bellies; with a bold neon sign declaring it the ‘place for ribs’. The ‘all you can eat’ option isn’t for those susceptible to fall at the first hurdle either, when they say ‘all you can eat’, they really mean it. Devoured one rack? Another one will hit your plate before you’ve had time to lick the BBQ from your fingers.
I managed two racks before bowing out, but I did also tuck away two jacket potatoes (and side salad; remember your greens!). The ribs weren’t the best I’d ever had, but I can still definitely rate them, and for around 18 Euro’s all in, it’s pretty damn good.
Brunch is the order of the morning, and I was all too keen to try out local eatery Peck 47. This was a place i’d read up about, on S Marks The Spot, and it totally lived up to all expectations. This laid back cafe with a shade of hipster (think glass jar’s for your juices and industrial style interior with comfy couches and colourful chairs!) does a cracking Eggs Hemmingway, as well as being perfectly instagram-able, because what else do you need from your breakfast?!
I don’t think you can be blamed for giving into your sweet tooth pre midday. It’s Belgium right? Surely we’re allowed chocolate at any time of the day! Besides we’re on holiday so there was no guilt in using our Brussels card for free entry to the Choco-Story museum just off from Grand Place.
This small museum has a simple exhibition across a few floors, and whereas the exhibit isn’t the most modern of displays and requires a lot of reading, it’s very informative and tells you everything you’d need to know about the creation of chocolate and how it came to be the food we know today!
The highlight of this museum is easily the demonstration piece on the ground floor, where a real chocolatier showed us how pralines were made; he made it look effortless, but I’m sure there’s a real art to it! Afterwards he tempted us with samples and a chocolate fountain with dipping speculoos biscuits!
The MOOF (Museum of Original Figurines) was pretty awesome. I grew up with Tin Tin comics, visited Parc Asterix in France as a child and loved the Smurfs so I was in my element! I wasn’t expecting the exhibition to be as extensive but there were loads of sections all of which were thoughtfully constructed, creative, with bright and bold displays, perfect for kids and big kids at heart!
There were figurines from the recent Smurf movie, a tiny reconstruction of the Smurf Village, a Tin Tin cartoon playing on a mini-cinema and best of all, a wall of retro video games with the chance to battle it out on old style Nintendo’s, GameCube’s and an early PlayStation! Hit me with a heavy dose of Nostalgia MOOF! 😉
Rene Magritte Museum
Being a total art geek (former art student – hello!), I couldn’t pass up a chance to visit the Rene Magritte Museum. I was kicking myself that I’d missed out on this last time I came as I was super keen to see the original masterpieces of this famous surrealist painter.
As it turns out this was my favourite gallery from the whole weekend. Again, it was a lovely grand, modern exhibition with a massive array of works which allowed me to really delve into the mind of Magritte. Totally fan girling over the De ne pas etre une pipe!
A Different Type of Culture at Delirium Village…
After a culture-heavy afternoon, it was time to balance it up with some beer. It was Saturday, Brussels was teaming with crowds enjoying the evening sunshine, but for us it was time to head to Delirium Village, embrace the party atmosphere and try out some more (yes, more!) Belgian brews!
I’ve said it before, and it still holds true, despite Delirium being one of those big bucket list places to visit, meaning it does attract a huge swell of tourists and locals alike, this place is the holy grail of everything beer. This three-floored brew palace in the heart of Brussels includes the Delirium Monastery with offerings of Trappist and Abbey beers, the Floris Bar where you can catch a green fairy or two, the chilled out Hoppy Loft, the ground floor with a number of beers on tap and the basement floor for all the bottled varieties; over 3,000 different bottles available – the drinks menu is a whopper!
Thinking of visiting Brussels for the first time? Delirium Cafe is a superb place to kick off your love affair with Belgian beer. It’s true, Brussels has many, many amazing pubs, but with this cracker of a menu and the undeniable buzz of this incredible venue, it’s definitely not one to miss out on!
We partied on until the early hours, and finished off with a low-key night cap at Theatre Royal de Toone!
Even though I’d been to the Atomium before, I was in Brussels and thought I should go again! It’s like having a second trip to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower, right? Although it’s a bit far out of the historical city centre it’s worth the trip to visit this bizarre structure, and I’d recommend mirroring us and bringing along a picnic, pulling up a shady patch of grass and taking lunch with a view!
Hop on Hop off Bus: Brussels Card
With the continuing warm weather we caught the Hop on Hop off bus (free with our Brussels cards – Bonus!) and took the bus back to the city centre. When I’m in a new city I always opt to take the metro, being a London girl, I think I must gravitate to wanting to be underground (!), but this was really refreshing to be able to explore from above ground. As well as getting a great view of the Atomium as we breezed past, I loved being driven through the Belgian neighbourhoods and places I wouldn’t ordinarily explore. We alighted half way around at the Basilique Nationale du Sacre-Coeur and went to visit the Brussels Aquarium with our Brussels card. The Aquarium is quite a simple display with a variety of small marine animals from across the world, but you’ll find you get through the rooms quite quickly, however it’s well worth a trip if you’re in the area or you’re with young kids to find a ‘nemo’!
Back on the bus, we looped around back to the city, again with really interesting views; I noted a few gorgeous looking squares and streets that were actually really close to our hotel but we would have never seen had it not been for the Hop on Hop off bus!
After our light lunch at the Atomium I was so ready for a traditional Belgian meal of Moules and Frites! For this, we went unashamedly touristy and headed to Rue des Bouchers which is an adorable street packed with restaurants all serving huge bowls of mussels. In the heat, we chose to dine al-fresco on a table outside and opted for a ultra-filling portion of mussels with thick garlic sauce alongside a side of frites and a small beer, which came to just under 12 Euros. And it was just a delicious as the picture looks!
Free Walking Tour with Viva Brussels
If you’re a regular to my corner of the web, you’ll have read my post on Bratislava and you’ll know that free walking tours now have a fan in me! So when I found myself with a spare morning I thought i’d jump on a tour with Viva Brussels.
Meeting at the heart of the city; Grand Place at 10am (spy the Orange Umbrellas!) we were greeted by Dora our bubbly English speaking guide. Dora had fallen in love with Brussels on an internship and never looked back, and simply wanted to share with us some of the quirks of her adopted town.
On one the hottest days of the year so far, she kept it snappy at around 2 hours but was still able to guide us around all the major tourist hot spots as well as some of the lesser known gems, sharing legends about the Manneken Pis and his girlfriend, the stories of Karl Marx in Belgium, what to do near the Grand Place to bring yourself a little luck! Tin Tin’s links with the Nazis, where to find yourself the cheapest waffles (and how to eat them like a local), why you’re a charitable soul if you opt for the Trappist beers, how praline chocolates were discovered (not by a chocolatier!) and why the Belgium flag is actually all wrong!
Having worked up an appetite and jumping on the chance to indulge in yet another Belgian treat, we headed down to a Waffle house near the Manneken Pis. As a local, you should take your waffles plain with only a sprinkling of icing sugar. Cream screams tourist Dora had told us! Wanting to sit somewhere in between, I selected a Speculoos sauce covered one and did not regret it!
Finally, with only a few more hours left in Brussels and with the temperature stretching into the 30’s we thought we’d finish as we started and whittle the afternoon away in a few more of the fabulous Belgian pubs. Tavern Manneken Pis, across the road from my favourite Poechenellekelder was my go to for a portion (literally an entire block) of cheese and a Timmermans peche, then just down the road we stumbled into a cute travel themed pub ‘Le Cercle des Voyageurs’ with leather armchairs, and various international travel guides and books around the room. One wall was stacked high with old style suitcases! It was an adorable drinking hole, and perfect for thirsty wanderlusters.
Finally we ambled West towards Moeder Lambic for a couple of beers and free tapas (yet another bonus from our Brussels Card!) then resigned back to Midi Station for the Eurostar.
I’m biased, I love Brussels anyway, and it was fabulous to make a return trip in the summer; the great weather is a compliment to all things beer and moules! But I’m even more pleased that I was able to take some time to explore the city on a deeper level than before – exercising my basic french and seamlessly ordering a frites sandwich! The Hop on Hop off bus which came free as part of my Brussels Card was a real highlight, not only for the major tourist’s spots, but for the opportunity to cruise past a few of the Belgian neighbourhoods, and finally to chill out a bit more and discover beyond the beer.
Don’t breeze past this lush city, grab a Brussels Card, explore, get cultured, try all the beers (slowly!), eat ALL the food and fall in love with the heart of Europe.
So, How much will this cost me?
Phew! Sorry – that was a long post right? But you made it! So, if you’re thinking you want in, you might be wondering how much is one long indulgent weekend in Brussels?
Return Travel via Eurostar from London St Pancras to Brussels Midi; £68.50, Three nights’ accommodation in Ibis St Catherine; £75 each (double bedroom), Spending money including all food (lots of food!) and drink (lots of drink!) and tips for Viva Brussels Walking Tour; £175, A 72 Hour Brussels Card with Hop on Hop Off Bus (free access to museums across Brussels and shopping and food discounts); £48.50.
Total for four days (travelling as one-half of a couple) £367.
*Disclosure: We were generously provided with a pair of 72 hour Brussels Cards courtesy of Visit Brussels in return for an honest review. All opinions here and across my blog, are as always, totally honest and completely my own.
And for more information about Brussels, visit Visit.Brussels