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The capital of Europe is famous for its historical architecture, comic book culture and delicious waffles. While having some impressive sights and museums, Brussels also has a quirky side. After all, not every city’s most famous landmark is a statue of a peeing boy! You could spend days exploring everything the city has to offer, but if you only have one day in Brussels, this itinerary will show you the city’s highlights.
This city of Brussels can be visited all year round. However, some months may be better than others, depending on your personal preferences.
Winter (December to March) – Brussels can get quite cold during the winter months and it might freeze. There are a lot of grey and rainy days at this time of the year. On the brighter side, there will be fewer tourists and prices will be lower.
Spring (March to June) – This time of the year is ideal to visit Brussels. Temperatures start to rise, flowers start to bloom and there aren’t too many tourists. Note that Belgian weather can be unpredictable in spring and there might still be a lot of rain during March and April.
Summer (June to September) – The weather is at its best during the summer months, but this is also the time of the year when tourists flock to the city and prices are higher. Brussels is particularly crowded during the months of July and August due to Belgian school holidays.
Fall (September to December) – Autumn is another great season to plan a trip to Brussels. There won’t be as many tourists as during the summer months and temperatures will still be pleasant.
Brussels Airport is a large international airport just 6.5km from the city center, welcoming direct flights from across the world. Brussels is also on the Eurostar network, connecting with London and Paris daily.
- Transfer – the quickest and most convenient option, you can book in advance with Intui Travel.
- Taxi – grab a cab which will cost around €50 and take about 20 minutes.
- Train – Belgian Rail has a direct train from Brussels Airport to Brussels Central train station in the city centre, and close to our pick of Brussels hotels, every ten minutes. Tickets cost €12.70 one way and the journey takes around 17 minutes.
- Bus – De Lijn operates two bus routes running from Brussels airport to the city centre, Line 272 and Line 471. Line 272 takes 30 minutes and makes more stops within Brussels city centre. Line 471 takes only 18 minutes as it’s more direct. The cost for both busses is €3 one-way.
See & Do
The best way to see Brussels is on foot as most of its main attractions are located within walking distance of one another. There’s just one exception in this Brussels one day itinerary, the Atomium, but it’s easy to reach using the metro transport system.
Being a walkable city, Brussels is best experienced by stopping for a waffle or cone of French Fries from time to time; you’ll find numerous stalls around the city centre. This one day itinerary will take you on an enjoyable stroll through the city’s highlights. If you’re using public transportation, Brussels Central railway station is the perfect place to start.
Start your day at the Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert
Located in the heart of Brussels, these beautiful glazed shopping arcades were designed by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer, and built between 1846 and 1847. The Galleries Royales Saint Hubert were one the first shopping arcades in Europe and they’re one of Brussels’ most remarkable pieces of architecture. When you enter the galleries, you’ll notice that they’re home to many chocolate shops, cafes, restaurants and apartments.
Wander Around the Grand-Place
Next, make your way to the Grand Place, one of Brussels’ most famous landmarks This UNESCO World Heritage site is actually the central square or Grote Markt of the city. It’s surrounded by beautiful guild houses and other impressive buildings, mostly dating from the 17th century.
The most important building here is the Town Hall, the Grand Place’s largest and oldest building. It has a statue of archangel Michael at the top and it can be visited on a guided tour. Another important building is Maison du Roi, French for the King’s House. This building was owned by the Duke of Brabant and now houses the Brussels City Museum.
To the right of the King’s House is a row of private mansions and guild-houses which are not as well-known as their neighbours, but nonetheless just as interesting. The Pigeon House or Le Pigeon was owned by the painters’ guild and for a time, was home to the French writer Victor Hugo who lived there during his exile from France in 1852.
The adjacent Chaloupe d’Or, or Golden Boat, was the headquarters of the tailors’ guild and is topped by a statue of St. Homobonus of Cremona, their patron saint. It is now home to one of the square’s bars which serves waffles, fries, and mussels, all foods this gastro-city is famous for.
See the Manneken Pis
Just a five minute walk from the Grand Place, you’ll find Manneken Pis, the famous bronze statue of a urinating little boy. It was designed by Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder in the 17th century but the current statue is a replica dating back to 1965. The original statue is kept in the Brussels City Museum on the Grand Palace.
There are many legends behind Manneken Pis. One of the most famous ones tells the story of the two year old Duke of Godfrey III of Leuven. The troops of this duke were battling against the troops of the Berthouts when the duke was put in a basket and hung in a tree to encourage the troops. From here, he urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.
Climb up to Mont des Arts
Located between the lower and upper part of Brussels, the Mont des Arts offers amazing views over the city. You’ll find a statue of King Albert I on a square right before ascending the Mont (which means mountain in French) and a beautiful garden on the slope leading up to it. As its name suggests, the Mont des Arts is surrounded by museums and cultural centres. Among many others, you’ll find the Musical Instruments Museum here, a music museum with thousands of instruments housed in a stunning Art Nouveau building.
Visit the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral
The Gothic St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral is one of Brussels’ most important landmarks. It started out as a small chapel in the 9th century and became a Romanesque church two centuries later. It’s only in 1961 that this church was baptised a cathedral though. This is the place where Royal weddings and funerals or coronations are held. You’ll find beautiful stained-glass windows inside its rather sober interior.
Check Out the Atomium
Next, take the metro to Heysel and make your way to the Atomium. This unique landmark was constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair known as Expo 58. It represents an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times and stands for faith in the power of science. The Atomium was not intended to be a permanent landmark but it became so popular that the authorities decided to keep it.
It’s possible to visit the Atomium’s interior and easy to book a skip the line ticket in advance. Inside, you’ll find a permanent exhibition of Expo 58 along with a temporary exhibition that’s changed once a year. As you make your way to the top, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view over the city, making this attraction one of the best things to do in Brussels in a day.
Visit Place St. Catherine
After visiting the Atomium, it’s time to head back to the centre of Brussels. Take the metro to the St. Catherine metro station. The large St. Catherine square was once the central fish market. The main attractions of this lively area are the gothic 19th century St. Catherine Church and the Black Tower. The latter is a remaining part of the 13th century city walls. If you like seafood, you’ll love this neighbourhood’s numerous sea food restaurants.
Get to Know Brussels Beer
Belgium is famous for its beer, with over 1000 different beer brands produced in Belgium. Belgian beers are usually ales, not lagers, with the emphasis on malts and a lot of fruity yeast flavours. Belgian beer is often “spontaneously fermented,” meaning that the beer is open to the air allowing local yeasts to take up residence in the beer, a bit like sourdough bread. This is what creates each beers’ unique flavor and taste.
Delirium café holds the Guinness World Record for types of beer available for tasting. Whether you’d like to taste some fruit beer, Trappist beer (beer is brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery under the control and responsibility of the community of monks, whose revenue is devoted to social service) or a more unusual kind of beer, you’ll most likely find exactly what you’re looking for at this popular café. Delirium Café serves more than 2,000 types of beer from all around the world!
Don’t forget to visit Jeanneke Pis while you’re there. This fountain of a urinating little girl is Manneken Pis’ counterpoint. It’s located right across the street from Delirium Café.
Head to Cafe Toone
If beer isn’t really your thing, you could head to Café Toone instead. This is an authentic Brussels café with a puppet theatre on the second floor. It’s one of the oldest cafes in the city and its puppet theatre decoration is quite remarkable. Don’t forget to check out Jeanneke Pis on your way to Café Toone!
Belgium has become something of a foodie destination in recent years. Brussels is known not only for its yummy waffles and fries, but also for its fine praline chocolate and superb seafood. Moules-frites is a popular dish which combines the delicious crispy fries made here with freshly caught mussels from Zeeland in the neighbouring Netherlands.
Head to Den Talurelekker for some traditional Belgian cuisine. This restaurant, a fifteen minute walk from the Grand Place, offers delicious food in a cosy setting. You’ll find typical Belgian dishes here, including some vegetarian and vegan options.
If you’re a lover of seafood, the restaurants around Place St. Catherine are the place to go. Restaurants like Noordzee / Mer du Nord and Restaurant François are famous for their fresh fish dishes.
For great spaghetti, head to Bavet, a restaurant located close to Place St. Catherine. Here, you can choose from the menu or create your own spaghetti dish by adding the ingredients that you love the most.
Top Five Brussels Travel Tips
- Brussels has three main railway stations: Brussels Midi, Brussels Central and Brussels Nord. This can be quite confusing to first timers in this city. Most tourist attractions are located around Brussels Central Station.
- Keep your eyes open for comic book street art while you’re wandering around the streets of Brussels. There are over 50 murals decorating the city. These are part of a project that began in the early 90s as a tribute to famous Belgian comic book artists, and you can follow the comic book route which starts in La Patrouille Des Castors, or take a guided walking tour.
- Don’t eat at Rue des Bouchers. This little street in the centre of the city is locally known for its pushy waiters, high tourist prices and mediocre food.
- Watch out for pickpockets. Brussels is safe to visit but just like in most capital cities, petty crime is common. Always keep an eye on your belongings, especially if you’re taking the metro.
- Visit the Grand Place early in the morning of your day trip to Brussels to avoid the inevitable crowds.
Do you have just a little longer to spend in Brussels?
If you have another half day in Brussels, or perhaps even two days in Brussels, add these attractions to your itinerary;
- Brussels has lots of museums. From art museums like the Magritte Museum, the Bozar and the Art and History Museum, to quirkier museums like the Belgian Comic Strip Museum and the Museum of Original Figurines.
- Visit the 18th century Royal Palace if you’re in Brussels after after 21st July, when tradition opens the palace until 25th August every year. The Royal Palace of Brussels is the administrative office of the Belgian royals but not used as their residence, which is the Royal Palace of Laeken on the outskirts of the city.
- Take a Brussels day trip to Bruges and Ghent, two of Belgium’s most beautiful medieval cities. Packed with Flemish art and architecture, one day in Bruges and Ghent will give you enough time to explore these atmospheric cities.
- Located on the Place du Jeu de Balles, the Marolles flea market is held every morning. It’s located in the Marolles district, which is full of antique shops, galleries and pubs. You’ll find anything on this market from junk to antiques.
- In the European Quarter, you’ll find the European Parliament, that can be visited on a self-guided tour, and the impressive Berlaymont building, which is the headquarters of the European Commission.
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