Panorama of The Grand Place in Brussels in a beautiful summer day, Belgium
local perspective

10 things to know before visiting Brussels

Brussels is the capital of Belgium and is known as the heart of Europe. It is home to various EU institutions like the European Parliament and the European Commission and is known as the land of chocolate, waffles, and beer. But it is so much more than that.

Brussels is an underrated city. Often labelled as boring and overlooked by travelers, it isn’t the first city that comes to mind when planning your next European vacation. And yet, Brussels is a city full of art, delicious cuisine, unique museums, fantastic summer festivals, vibrant nightlife, gorgeous architecture, and, yes, a plethora of chocolate, beer, and waffles.

So why should you visit Brussels? Here are a few things you should know before visiting that might convince you to start planning a trip to this European capital.

National basilica of sacred heart of Koekelberg in Brussels, Belgium

1. Brussels is a city filled with history

If you look closely, you’ll notice that this city is filled with beauty and history. The streets are full of stories and it can be worth taking a guided tour to learn more about the history of the landmarks around you.

Brussels is home to the third biggest cathedral in Belgium and the fifth in the world. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart, also known as Koekelberg Basilica, was constructed at the end of the 19th century and is the largest Art-Deco-style building in the world. Then there are the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, commissioned by Leopold II in 1863. These greenhouses, open to the public during specific months, are home to a spectacular array of flora and fauna.

Brussels is also where TinTin and his dog Snowy were created back in 1975, and the city was also home to the Brontë sisters in 1842. Last, but certainly not least, you can also find one of the oldest shopping arcades in Europe here, the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. These galleries are still a great place to go shopping in the city centre.

We can go on, but I think you get the point.

People walking down a street in Brussels at night

2. Brussels is a walkable city

Although it is a capital city, Brussels is surprisingly walkable. The main tourist areas are within walking distance, although some require a steep walk uphill. The city centre is quite small and can be easily explored on foot, especially since most of it has been transformed into pedestrian-only streets.

The one tip we recommend is avoiding coming to Brussels by car, especially if you want to stay in the city centre. Driving in Brussels is a nightmare, and if you plan on coming with a car, opt to stay a little outside the city centre and instead take a tram, UBER, or metro to wherever you need to go.

Trams on the street in Brussels

3. Public transport in Brussels can be tricky

Brussels has an extensive public transportation network, including metro, tram, and bus systems. Nevertheless, depending on where you want to go, sometimes the route to your destination is fraught with curves and detours.

Most tourist areas are easy to get to by public transport, bike, or even by foot. However, there are some exceptions. The Atomium, located outside the city centre, is a little harder to get to, for example. There are also specific neighbourhoods, most of which are on the outermost rim of the city, that aren’t as well-connected. A great example is the neighbourhood of Watermael-Boitsfort, although most tourists would never usually go to this area unless they want to visit the beautiful Parc de Boitsfort.

Also, the transportation system is packed during rush hours, especially in and around the European Quarter.

People eating outside in central Brussels in summer

4. Brussels is a city for foodies

Being the capital of Europe brings specific advantages, including delicious and mouth-watering cuisine. Brussels is a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. People from all over Europe and the world have settled here, and many have opened their own restaurants, cooking authentic food from their homeland.

As a result, no matter what type of cuisine you are craving, there is probably a restaurant that serves that specific food.

We recommend wandering and getting lost in some of the streets in and around the city centre. It is there where you will find these restaurants. From Romanian to Thai, to Brazilian to Congolese, there are many different types of cuisines to try.

And if you want to try authentic Belgian cuisine, check out Fin de Siécle.

Beer logos on the wall at Delirium Cafe in Brussels

5. Brussels is home to the bar with 2,000 different beers

Although you can find a Delirium in many other cities, including one in Rio de Janeiro, the original Delirium Café is located in Brussels. This bar is home to over 2,000 different beers and even won the Guinness World Record in 2004 for the most beers offered.

The bar is located in the Delirium Village, a cul-de-sac close to the Grand Place, and is home to eight different bars, including the Floris Bar, where you can try over 600 different absinthes.

Crowd of people walking by Old Town shopping street of Brussels in the rain at dusk

6. The weather in Brussels is very unpredictable

One of the biggest problems with Brussels is that the weather is all over the place. It can be sunny one minute and then raining cats and dogs another.

Prepare yourself for the weather, especially for rain. If you are sightseeing, pack an extra jacket just in case it gets chilly and a rain jacket just in case it starts to rain. Although you might want to pack an umbrella, we wouldn't recommend it. Why? Along with rain comes strong winds, and the last thing you want is to deal with a rogue umbrella.

Panorama of The Grand Place in Brussels in a beautiful summer day, Belgium

7. Brussels has many beautiful squares

According to the Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis, Brussels has around 250 different public squares.

The most famous square is Grand Place, originally an open-air market built in the 11-century. It is a World Heritage Site, surrounded by opulent Baroque guildhalls. Grand Place is one of the most stunning squares in Europe, so take the time to soak in all of its magnificence. Our recommendation? Buy some chocolate, a waffle, or some beer, sit down on the curb, and just people watch for a bit.

Other notable squares include:

Place Chatelain

Famous for its open-air market on Wednesday afternoons, this square is filled with food stalls, wine, and plenty of music. The area, in general, is known as a trendy neighbourhood in Brussels and is home to shops, cocktail bars, and amazing restaurants.

Place Jourdan

Here you will find shops, restaurants, and pubs. However, the most famous attraction in this square is the Maison Antoine friterie, which often has a huge queue of people waiting for some of their famous French fries.

Place Jeu de Ball

With over 300 stalls offering a range of items from clothes to furniture, the Place du Jeu de Balle flea market is a must-see in Brussels.

Place Sainte Catherine

Another square filled to the brim with shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and pubs, Place Sainte Catherine is even better at night.

Manneken Pis (Little man Pee) or le Petit Julien, a landmark small bronze sculpture in Brussels, Belgium

8. Manneken-Pis has a sister and a dog

One of the most famous attractions in Brussels is Manneken-Pis, a statue of a little boy, well, peeing. One of the more disappointing facts about this statue is that it is relatively small, measuring just 61 cm.

However, if you come on a special occasion, you might notice that Manneken-Pis is wearing an outfit. Manneken-Pis is dressed for almost half the year, and an official calendar is published each month outlining the different outfits he will wear. There is also a museum just a stone’s throw away from the fountain that houses all 140 outfits.

However, many people don’t know that Manneken-Pis has a sister named Jeanneke and a dog named Zinneke. His sister Jeanneke was born in the 80s, making her a little younger than her brother. You can find her in the Delirium Village, specifically the cul-de-sac Impasse de la Fidélité. The dog, Zinneke, is located on the corner of Rue des Chartreux 35.

Belgian frites served with tomato sauce and mayonaise

9. Belgium is the birthplace of the French fry

Okay, this one can be a little controversial. But it seems as if French fries were invented in Belgium, not France.

Lore claims that the French fry was invented in Namur, located around 66 km outside Brussels. In the late 1600s, the Meuse River froze, forcing the villagers to look for another means of subsistence. Therefore, instead of frying fish, which they could no longer catch, they sliced up potatoes and fried them instead. And voila, the French fry was born.

Belgians take their French fries quite seriously, and in Brussels, you can find many friteries or restaurants that serve French fries as the main dish.

Now, what makes these French fries different? Well, Belgium frites are double-fried, making them extra crispy. They are fried in a special oil made specifically and exclusively to fry French fries and are served with a massive range of sauces. Don’t be surprised if your order of fries comes with five different condiments.

Our favourite friterie is definitely the ⁠Friterie de la Barrière in Saint-Gilles.

The Mont des Arts Garden with Brussels cityscape in the background

10. Brussels is very central

One of the best things about Brussels is its easy connections to other destinations, whether you want to explore Belgium a little more or if you are traveling abroad. It makes an excellent base for exploring the country, with easy day trip options to other cities including Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges.

Brussels also has a direct train to Zaventem, the international airport, and buses to Charleroi, the budget-airline airport. The city itself has three main train stations, Gare du Nord, Gare du Midi, and Gare Centrale, which travel both north and south. The high-speed international trains, like the Eurostar, arrive at Gare Centrale.

In reality, Brussels is a hop-skip-and-a-jump from many popular travel destinations like Amsterdam, Paris, and London—making it the perfect stop-over destination.

And when you are ready to move on, there are many great deals for flights out of Zaventem or Charleroi.

And there you have it. As you can see, Brussels is far from a boring destination. The trick is to explore the less touristy things and go off the beaten path. Brussels is a beautiful city to visit, and we hope this article convinces you to include it as a travel bucket list destination.

Planning a trip to Brussels? Stay at Craves for comfortable rooms in the heart of the city.

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Yvonne Ivanescu

Author - Yvonne Ivanescu

Yvonne loves writing, the ocean, and travel, so it comes as no surprise that her two main passion projects revolve around these topics. She the founder of Now in Rio Swim, a sustainable swimwear company inspired by the magic of Rio de Janeiro, and Now in Portugal, a website dedicated to providing unique stories and travel tips about the country she now calls home, Portugal.

Last Updated 23 June 2022

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