So, I know I was meant to be focusing more on my Italian travels and life in Italy but how can I not also share my other amazing travels. Like the weekend I just spent in Brussels, Belgium.
Truth be told, I didn’t know much about Brussels other than the fact that it was the capital of Belgium, the home of the European Union and the city of chocolate, waffles, beer, mussels and fries. Say chocolate, waffles and fries in the same sentence and you’ve definitely got my attention!
However, the deciding factor that made me choose Brussels for the weekend was the fact that I found €15 return flights from Venice. Seriously, I don’t know what it is with me, but I am the queen of finding cheap flights!
€1 waffles in Grand Place.
My fiancé had told me a few weeks prior that he could possibly have a week or weekend free late November, so I immediately got searching. When I found these cheap flights, I booked them without hesitation, because even if he didn’t end up having the time off, what was a loss of €30 if we actually ended up going?
Anyways, it was one of the best spare of the moment decisions I’ve made in a long time as Brussels was beautiful and we had a lovely weekend — even if the weather wasn’t that great.
The city itself is a bustling mix between old and new Europe. Due to its many conquerers, Brussels has a mix of architectural themes and is often called the art nouveau capital of Europe. The people are very friendly, and speak several languages including French, Dutch, German and English.
One of the many art nouveau buildings in the city.
How to get there
Brussels is very well connected by both plane and train. I wasn’t aware of this prior to arriving there, but you can actually train to and from Brussels from several other major cities including Amsterdam, London and Paris.
It is also home to two very well connected airports — Brussels National Airport which is about 12 kilometres from the city centre and Brussels Charleroi Airport which is 60 kilometres from the centre.
I flew with Ryan Air and in true Ryan Air style, we arrived and departed from Charleroi Airport. But Ryan Air does also fly to the National Airport too, as do most other budget and international airlines.
Brussels Town Hall in Grand Place.
From Charleroi Airport, the easiest way to get to Brussels is via the Brussels City Shuttle. The journey is just under an hour and drops you at Brussels south train terminal, where from there you can either taxi, tram, train or metro to your hotel.
I admit though, I was a little annoyed at the fact that my return shuttle tickets (€28) were double my return flight costs and even if I didn’t find cheap flights, I think €28 is a little pricey for a shuttle bus. But it is the easiest and most efficient way to and from Charleroi Airport.
Where to stay
As with most major cities there is a wide variety of accommodation available, from 5 star hotels to hostels and B&B’s. Actually, when looking on Booking.com a lot of hostels were actually the same price as a double or single room at a 3 star hotel — weird.
However, true to my budget and style, I found a cute little B&B for under €100 called Villa 36 and I would highly recommend it. Nathalie, the owner was the most lovely host and was incredibly accommodating and helpful. She’s actually a Parisian architect who moved to Brussels to find work and ended up buying an incredible house and transforming it into a beautifully decorated bed and breakfast.
Because I arrived to Brussels by myself, as my fiancé was meeting me a day later, when she remembered that there were going to be two of us, she moved me to a bigger room which was much appreciated. I also scored a bathtub which was perfect for an evening alone after a long day of walking and exploring.
What to do and see
- Acquaint yourself with Brussels and go on a FREE walking tour with Viva’s Tour. I would highly recommend them, their ‘Tour of the City Centre’ was one of the best and entertaining tours I’ve been on. It leaves everyday from the Grand Place at 10am, 1.30pm and 4.30pm and lasts for two hours. Just look for the big, orange umbrella. They also have tours of the European Quarter and the Salon district. As well as tours in Brugge, Gent and Antwerp.
- Brussels has over 40 murals dedicated to comic books and art across the city. Google some or find yourself a map and go on a self guided tour to find them all.
- Visit the Royal Palace and Parc de Bruxelles — Brussels equivalent to Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park. The Royal Palace is often open to the public which is kind of cool, but for those not lucky enough to be there on such occasion, it’s pretty enough to look at from the outside and the gardens are immaculate. The park also makes for a nice break from all the cobbled stone streets and hustle and bustle of the city.
The Royal Palace.
- Take in the views and culture from Mont des Arts, Brussels’ art and museum district. It’s a short walk from the Royal Palace, and the views over Brussels and the gardens are pretty special. It’s also home to the Musical Instruments Museum, the Magritte Museum and the Royal Library.
- If you’re interested in music, then definitely check out the Musical Instruments Museum. If music isn’t your thing, it’s definitely still worth checking out as it’s one of Brussels prettiest art nouveau buildings. It also has a roof top restaurant with some pretty amazing views of the city. You can go up and not order anything and take photos, however the best views are restricted for paying customers only. I can’t attest to the food, aside from the fact that it’s a little pricey and they do a brunch on Sunday’s for €30 a head.
- The Grand Place is the city’s main square, and it might just be one of the prettiest squares I’ve visited. The buildings in the square are rich with history and interesting background stories, all of which I learnt about on my free walking tour. It’s also home to the Town Hall, the old Breadhouse which is now the Brussels City Museum and several old guild houses wit their distinct mascots.
Mont des Arts gardens.
- Check out Brussels’ pride and joy, the Atomium. It’s a large silver structure consisting of several spheres which was originally built for the World Fair in 1958. Today, it’s one of the city’s largest tourist attractions. Visitors are able to visit the highest sphere for panoramic views of the city, and there’s also a restaurant in another sphere. I personally didn’t check it out as I wasn’t that fussed on it, but I’ve read great things about it.
- Next to the Atomium is Mini Europe. In the spirit of Brussels being the capital of the EU Union, you can visit all of Europe in a couple of hours by way of miniature versions of Europe’s most famed attractions. You can visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Big Ben and Saint Mark’s Square for examples. This is another attraction I didn’t get to, but purely because I ran out of time. But hey it’s a good excuse to get back to Brussels right?
- Find Brussels’ (tiny) mascot, Manneken Pis. A fountain in the shape of a little boy pissing — ever so classy Brussels! To be honest this little guy was a bit of a let down and incredibly underwhelming as he is super tiny and also fenced off because people kept stealing him. In fact, the statue isn’t even the original anymore as it’s now housed in the City Museum in Grand Place. He is pretty famous and also has over 100 costumes which the locals like to dress him up in.
The underwhelming and tiny Mannekin Pis.
- And, in the spirit of equality, Brussels also has a little girl peeing fountain called Jeanneke Pis which is on the same street as the famed bar Delirium. And, lastly a peeing dog fountain called Zinneke Pis. Zinneke Pis was actually around the corner of my B&B and I found him accidentally walking home one evening. In my opinion, he’s my favourite!
- If shopping is your thing, then get your butt to Rue Nueve. Not only is it a pedestrianised street full of shops, it’s also home to several shopping malls as well. We scored some great, Black Friday bargains!
- And last but not least, if you have time definitely do a day trip to Brugge, Gent or Antwerp. I did Brugge and Gent in one day via train. Brugge is about an hour away and Gent is in between. I caught the train from Brussels south terminal (Brussels Midi), stopped in Brugge first and followed by Gent and then back to Brussels. Both towns were beautiful, I felt as though I was walking in a movie set. Watch this space for a city on Brugge and Gent.
What to eat and drink
Not going to lie, one of the things I was most looking forward to when visiting Brussels was the food! I didn’t get to all the places I wanted to try but I will definitely be back to tick them off soon. So here are some of the recommendations I did try and love.
- Waffles! Waffles are available everywhere across the city, basically on every corner. I tried and tested a few but nothing could beat the €1 waffles from Le Funambule on Rue L’Etuve (the same street as Mannekin Pis). Majority of the shops on this street sell traditional Belgian waffles with no toppings for €1! Apparently, all chocolate, fruit and cream are purely to entice the tourists and a local would never be caught dead with toppings on their waffles.
€1 waffle from Le Funambule.
- Amadeo for all you can eat ribs! I had read a lot about Amadeo prior trying them, so expectations were pretty high as I’m a huge sucker for a good rack of ribs. And, I can happily say that Amadeo did not disappoint. For €17 you can eat ribs till your heart (or stomach is content) and they also top up your baked potatoes too. I think one of the highlights of the ribs are the sauce. Not your typical smoky, BBQ sauce but more of a Indianesque/Brazilianesque taste to them. Also, the decor of the restaurant was super cute and I would have happy ate there just for the atmosphere and ambience.
Rib goodness at Amadeo.
- Peck 47 was one of the cafes I unfortunately didn’t get to try because the wait was 40 minutes long and being the fatty that I am, I couldn’t wait that long! But, I still wanted to include it on the list as the food looked delicious. Peck 47 is an all day breakfast and brunch cafe, aka my favourite kind of cafe! Think Eggs Benedict and bacon and eggs served on fresh waffles. Brunch is the one food group I miss the most living in Italy.
- Lune de Miel is a delicious Thai restaurant, just by the old Brussels Stock Exchange building. Actually the entire street is filled with yummy looking Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. I however settled on Lune de Miel and was delighted. They have a great lunch special for €10 and the servings are big. I enjoyed it so much, we dined there twice. Each time I had the satay chicken sticks for entree and the pork Pad Thai for my main.
- Chez Leon is another restaurant we didn’t get to but heard a lot of great reviews about. They are famous for their mules and frites aka mussels and fries. So if mussels and fries is your thing, hit up Chez Leon.
Pork pad thai from Lune de Miel.
- Lastly, for cheap drinks you should definitely try The Big Game Sports Bar. They have 3 for €10 Coroners, 2 for €5 ciders, 3 for €10 Jagarbombs and more.
- And because it’s an institution, you should check out Delirium bar just so you can say you’ve been there. Delirium is famous for stocking over 3000 types of beer including few out there flavours like coconut and chocolate.
Ok all this food talk has me wishing I was back in Brussels! Lucky for me, I will be back in January (yay) but for those planning a Euro trip, I would definitely consider adding Brussels to the list.