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Wondering what to do in Brussels in one day?! Brussels is not only the lovely capital of Belgium, but it’s a city full of history, architecture, great food and delicious chocolate. What’s not to love about this combination? If you only have 24 hours in Brussels, Belgium, this is the perfect one day City Guide for you! This is a curated list with the top things to do in Brussels in a day (your “must do” list) written by a native Belgian.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 How much time do you really need to visit Brussels?
- 2 How to get around the city of Brussels (+ Brussel Travel Tips)
- 3 10 Best Places to visit in Brussels in one day – Fun things to do in Brussels
- 4 Where to eat in Brussels: Three exceptional restaurants in Brussels
- 5 Something about Belgian chocolate (The Belgian Chocolate Culture)
How much time do you really need to visit Brussels?
Although it is possible to visit most of the principal sights in one day, I would recommend if you have extra time staying two full days in Brussels. Like that, you won’t have to rush to cover it all and you have time to visit some of the more original places or explore some of our famous beer bars. But if you only have one day in Brussels, then do not worry because in here I highlight the main things to see in Brussels in one day!
How to get around the city of Brussels (+ Brussel Travel Tips)
Given that Brussels isn’t very large for a capital city, getting around and visiting its main sights (Brussels highlights]) is very easy. Most of them are situated in the city center, within walking distance of each other. A nice way to explore Brussels is by wandering around aimlessly through the pedestrian cobblestone streets and you’re bound to stumble upon its landmarks eventually. Make sure that you check off the top ten places to visit in Brussels in one day mentioned below.
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10 Best Places to visit in Brussels in one day – Fun things to do in Brussels
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Grand place is the main and most beautiful square of Brussels. It’s surrounded by beautiful guild houses, the city hall and the museum of the city. Hang around for a while and take your time to observe the architectural details in the facades of the guild houses. Can you guess what profession they’re referring to? And also, did you notice that the city hall is not symmetrical at all? Try to spot as many differences as you can between its right and left wing!
Brussels has a thing with peeing statues. While wandering through the center you might have spotted Jeanneke Pis (a peeing girl) and Zinneke Pis (a peeing dog), but the most famous peeing statue is Manneken Pis. Although the reason behind it’s fame is still unclear, many legends claim to explain its historical background. One of them relates how a little boy was standing on the city wall and peed on the burning gunpowder fuse, thereby saving the city from a massive explosion. What a hero!
Rue des Bouchers
This is one of the most famous streets in the historical center of Brussels. It’s part of a network of medieval, small, cobblestone streets that together make up the Ilot Sacré (Sacred Island). All of these streets are lined with seemingly nice restaurants, but be warned: this is a tourist trap. The food may be cheap, but it’s of a very low quality and the bill will rise quickly as soon as you order a few drinks. Instead I’ll give you some recommendations on where to eat below. Nevertheless, the area around the Rue des Bouchers is nice to stroll around and maybe have a beer in the famous bar Delirium which has about 1000 beers on offer. Make sure to ask for the beer list (it’s a book!)
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Mont des Arts
Walk up through the little park next to Gare Central and you’ll reach Mont des Arts, which offers one of the best viewpoints over the Brussels city center. It gets particularly nice in the evening when a beautiful sunset sky adds some warm colors to the scene. Don’t forget to look behind you as well, where you’ll find the Musical Instrument’s Museum, which is a former Old England department store and still has a beautiful art nouveau facade.
Located in front of the Royal Park, the Royal Palace is an imposing building that functions as the King’s administrative workplace. (He and his family actually live in another palace in Laeken.) The palace isn’t usually open to the public, but for a few months every year in Summer, it’s possible enter for free and visit some of its impressive rooms, so try to plan your visit accordingly. Afterwards, take a break in the Royal Palace in front of it. Why not bring a picnic?
These covered shopping arcades are another sample of Brussels’ fine architecture. Built in the 19th century, the gallery complex consists of two major sections: the Galerie du Roy (the King’s Gallery) and Galerie de la Reine (the Queen’s Gallery). There’s also a smaller side gallery called Galerie des Princes (the Princes’ Gallery). Here you’ll find a series of fancy (expensive) boutiques and some of Belgium’s most famous chocolatiers, like Neuhaus, Leonidas and Marcolini.
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Dominated by the Saint Catherine’s church, this large square is home to some of Brussels’ most famous fish restaurants, with Noordzee as one of my favorite lunch places in town. In general, this entire area is very popular with locals who love to hang around by the fountain while sharing a drink with their friends.
Palace of Justice
This colossal landmark on Place Poelaert is the most important courthouse of Belgium. Although the Palace of Justice been in scaffoldings since forever, it remains a very impressive and beautiful building. But have a look inside too! You can enter the lobby for free and marvel at its beautiful classical architecture. It stands on the area where convicted criminals were hanged in the Middle Ages. At least, they died with a last nice view, as the square offers a good lookout of the city with the Atomium in the distance. Bring something to drink and hang around for sunset on Place Poelaert, like the locals do.
Park du Cinquantenaire
This park is situated a bit further from the center, so you might prefer taking a metro to Schuman to get there faster. Shaped as a pentagon, this park was created in the times of king Leopold II in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Belgian independence. Walk through the park until you get to the three triumphal arches. From the three museums situated around these arches, the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces & Military History stands out, as it will also grant you access to the top of the triumphal arches from you’ll get an unbeatable view over the area.
Of course, a trip to Brussels isn’t complete without a visit to the Atomium. Take the metro to Heizel and get your camera ready for a selfie in front of Belgium’s most iconic monument. Originally built for the World Exposition of 1958, the nine spheres represent the nine iron atoms as a symbol for the faith in scientific progress at that time. Although the park around the Atomium is a nice place for a walk, you can also buy a ticket and visit the interior to check out the temporary and permanent expositions, whizz through the tunnel via the escalators and enjoy the view from the highest sphere.
Where to eat in Brussels: Three exceptional restaurants in Brussels
Located next to the Sainte-Gudule church, the restaurant Chez Gudule has specialized in a very unique cuisine described as Belgo-Vietnamese food. The owners are fanatic travelers who brought back culinary inspiration from their travels and use them to give a twist to our traditional Belgian recipes. For example, the nems have been prepared with Belgian beer, and the Belgian dish ‘waterzooi’ gets an exotic touch by adding coconut milk.
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Au Stekerlapatte is one of the most ‘Brussels’ places in Brussels. The name sounds absurd to us too, as ‘Au Stekerlapatte’ is a dialect word for a person so drunk he has to lean against the wall while staggering on. As for the food, you can expect a variety of typical Brussels dishes, which are generally rather meaty. One dish that stands out for me is their ‘carbonnade flamande’, a stew prepared with Chimay Bleue beer. Also the beer menu confirms its Brussels identity, as they offer a large and original beers from different Brussels-based microbreweries.
If you would happen to spend a romantic weekend in Brussels, it’s worth taking the tram to the commune of Ixelles, which boasts a vibrant restaurant district. One of its most outstanding gems is La Quincaillerie, a former ironmonger’s shop turned into a beautiful restaurant. It retains some details of its former life like the hardwood drawers, the stairs, the balconies… The big clock above the central staircase isn’t an original piece, but it’s definitely a winning eye catcher. Make a reservation beforehand and insist on getting a table by the balcony, which is an excellent spot for a romantic tête-à-tête. When it comes to food, La Quincaillerie is all about ‘bistronomie’, which refers to a combination of ‘gastronomie’ and ‘brasserie’. What it comes down to is that you’re up for a culinary treat with high-quality food and biodynamic ingredients, yet the portions are large enough and prices are still affordable.
Is it dessert time already? or better Chocolate time?
Something about Belgian chocolate (The Belgian Chocolate Culture)
When in Belgium, make sure to set apart enough time to explore our renowned chocolate culture.
Did you know that the first Belgian praline was actually invented in the Galleries Royales mentioned above? Neuhaus was originally a pharmacist who had discovered a very smart trick to improve the taste of drugs: he enveloped them with a layer of chocolate. This method became so popular that in the end he left the drugs out and replaced it with a sweet filling instead, thereby giving birth to the Belgian praline.
Apart from the Galleries Royales, you can also find various chocolateries in the city center and in the Sablon area, which is a bit pricier.
This is a guest post by Sophie from the travel blog Bitten By The Bug
Author’s Bio: Sophie from Bitten By The Bug has a travel blog which focuses on Brussels and by extension other places to visit in Belgium. She loves to explore new restaurants and bars in her own city, and shares her recommendations on the blog. If it’s your first time in Brussels, you’ll also find lots of info to help you prepare your trip to the Belgian capital city. Follow Sophie on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest.
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