No doubt about it, Brussels is a bustling city with so much to see and do. I combined my visit here with Ghent, Bruges and then on to Amsterdam and Dubai. Click the cities to read my reports. As with all the other cities, this was also a solo trip. While in Brussels I stayed at the Crowne Plaza. See that review here.
I spent 2 days in Brussels and for me 4 days would have been more than enough to comfortably experience this city.
Brussels is busy, clean and by my standards safe. Public transportation is very efficient and another nicety for me is that most folks speak English. I actually walked most of the time and didn’t take the metro, trams or buses. For instance, it was about a 20 minute walk from the Crowne Plaza to the Grand Place. Luckily I had really good weather and averaged about 9 miles of walking per day. This includes walking within tourist venues.
I am a big foodie so I was really looking forward to sampling all the local famous items, Mussels, Sprouts, Waffles, Chocolate, Fries and of course Beer. I was not disappointed. I can personally recommend only 2 spots but there are so many choices and sources for selecting places to dine. One is Café Belga (cant find the official site) and the other is Nüetnigenough. This particular venue was super small and a line began very early. Not sure if they take reservations so it may be best to arrive early.
There are about 10 tables. I imagine indoors seats about 30 people max.
They have a great beer selection. This was the servers recommendation and it was outstanding.
Shopping and Sites
If possible, I would recommend setting aside time to lunch and window shop near the Gare de Central. There is a little area of nice café’s and shopping here along Rue de la Madeleine. I found this area of Brussels very charming. It is also only about a 7 minute walk to the Grand Place.
You will see that there are countless chocolate shops throughout the city and it may be difficult to choose one unless you’ve done a little research. I would also recommend asking a local sitting next to you at a café or on the metro instead of asking someone in the service industry like your concierge.
I recommend one of the Waffle shops near the Manneken Pis at the Grand Place. Its really no more than a walk up counter but the waffles are perfectly prepared.
Since you’ll be in this area anyway you may as well give this location a try. There are so many topping choices but I went with fresh strawberries and whip cream.
The hot chocolate is amazing. After my initial sip I thought, wow this is way too sweet but amazingly after a few more sips it some how begins to taste perfect. Such an indulgence compared to the traditional hot chocolate here in the US.
I am still dreaming about that stuff.
Since I had only 2 days I spent most of my time on the first full day in the Grand Place area. As I mentioned, I walked every place I went so I had the opportunity to just drop in on shops or churches along the way at leisure.
Normally, before I leave home I go to Google Maps street view. I put in an address and with the street view I can virtually walk the streets of most cities in the world. I find this very convenient when I walk from public transportation to my hotel or to map out a route for touring venues. It allows me to select preferred areas when I have limited time. I can see which streets have more shops or restaurants or if a neighborhood may look unsafe then I can avoid it. I just hate when I miss something interesting that was only a block away but I didn’t know it was there. Anyway, I find this to be very helpful.
As a solo traveler, I found the city to be very safe. One evening after dinner I was headed back to my hotel when I came upon a live music venue. I stopped to ask who was performing and it was Boy George. I bought a ticket and enjoyed a fabulous show, he is one of my favorites. Since this show was over so late the metro was closed but I decided to walk back to the hotel instead of a cab. It was about 1 am and the streets were pretty busy so I felt very safe, no problem. This was about a 20 minute walk and of course I stuck to the main streets along the way.
You don’t want to miss the opportunity to dine outside. Almost all the cafes have outdoor seating for meals or just for a drink. Its a great way to people watch and catch your breath. This is one of my favorite things to do in Europe and the Grand Place market area is a great place to stop.
Check at the City Hall building at the Grand Place and ask about tours. There was a tour of the Hall on Wednesday in english. This was an outstanding tour – I mean outstanding and not to be missed. I think its offered once a week so be sure to stop by and get information to confirm date and time. The cost was minimal.
I was able to use credit cards pretty much everywhere. You will want to ask your card company to issue a card with chip and pin since its becoming more difficult to use a strip to swipe. Make sure to get a pin even though they may insist you don’t need it. I was unable to purchase a train ticket in Amsterdam because although I had the chip I did not have a pin. While online to purchase the rail ticket Visa assured me I would not require a pin. Of course when I presented my card they demanded a pin.