A Few Tips And Tricks When Visiting Brussels

In a nutshell:

Belgium is a country of 30.528 km² located in the centre of Europe between France, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany. Tourism ranges vastly here, from the English tourists that visit Bruges to Dutch bike tourists in Limburg to the  French and German tourists in the hills of the Ardennes. Belgium has everything you could need, from the seaside to long countryside walks and even cross country skiing in winter.

Transport :

The road network in Belgium is very easy with major highways linking most areas in the country. From Paris, London or Amsterdam, it is easy to take high speed trains that are not too expensive and will bring you to Brussels or Antwerp swiftly and comfortably. The main airport is Brussels International Airport but the 4 regional airports of Ostend, Antwerp, Liège and Charleroi also offer a lot of international fights.  Charleroi (Brussels South) is particularly interesting as it is home to several low-cost airlines that have various routes to most European countries. Although flights from Ostend to Dover no longer exist, you can also hop on a ferry daily from Zeebrugge to Hull, on the British coast. Even the French ports of Dunkerque and Calais aren’t too far from the Belgian border, offering a direct line across the seas from Dover. Furthermore, there are ferries in the Netherlands that are also easy to reach from Belgium with the most important being from Rotterdam to Hull (UK), Hoek van Holland to Harwich (UK) and  Ijmuiden to Newcastle (UK).

Where to go :

Though there is a lot of tourism throughout Belgium, Brussels is always a big draw. The city is well known for its mascot, the statue of a little peeing boy called Manneken Pis. He stands very close the second most known place in Brussels, the Grand Place, with its Gothic town hall and baroque guild halls. Just outside the city centre you will find the area that was used for the 1958 Expo. The biggest landmark was built for this purpose and is still standing today: the Atomium underwent a complete restauration between 2004 and 2006. The building represents one elementary cel of pure iron and 5 of the 9 spheres are open to the public, a must-see for anyone visiting Brussels.

Events :

Belgian people are known for their relaxed, no-stress lifestyle and this means that parties are organised everywhere. A few of the best known events are music festivals like Tomorrowland, which has now spread to America and South America, Rock Werchter or Pukkelpop. These open-air festivals attract big international artists and have thousands of visitors every year. Another great event is the ‘Carnaval’ which is celebrated most towns in the country though the best known one is in Aalst. This is an event where everyone dresses up in costumes from the classic clown to the most ridiculous fantasy character. People create big floats and then drive them around the village where people are lined up in the streets, catching the confetti and candy that the floats throw out. This is an event that is loved by kid, as they are still eating the sweets two weeks later. Smaller events such as jazz festivals, art festivals and concerts are organised throughout the year so visitors can enjoy culture, arts and music alongside Belgian beer and snacks all the time.

Food :

Belgium is a country of food-lovers and in summertime many people will light up the BBQ to grill some juicy meat and eat outside on the terrace in the sunlight. The 4 internationally known products that Belgium is famous for are chocolate, fries, beer and waffles. Belgium has been said to have the best beer in the world and many people travel to Belgium just to buy the real Belgian beer. Might I add the fact that there are over 300 different beers made in Belgium so you have plenty to choose from. Head to Delirium, a well-known bar that offers the largest beer menu in the world, featured in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Restaurants are also everywhere in the country. Brussels’s main restaurants are ‘brasseries’ where you can enjoy ‘vol-au-vent’, mussels and fries as well as fish and pasta dishes. Head to Skievelat, Chez Lola or Belga Queen for traditional upscale Belgian cuisine or to La Quincallerie for fine seafood dining.  Some more hearty Belgian specialities include ‘gegratineerd witloof’, a locally grown chicory with ham and a cheesy sauce grilled in a very hot oven. ‘Stoofles’ is a Belgian meat stew served with fries. And last, but certainly not least, Belgian ‘bloedworst’, a black pudding sausage traditionally accompanied by brown bread for breakfast or lunch.

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Advice :

I have one simple word of advice for those visiting Belgium: bring a raincoat! Although in general the winters are pretty cold and the summers are pretty warm, you can never be certain and a rain shower is never too far away. Spring and Autumn can be very interesting if you want to avoid the crowds but, in general, summertime is the best time to visit Belgium, mostly because it is full of interesting events. So now you know all of this, get on that train, plane, boat or hop into your car and visit Belgium where there is something for everyone to do!

How To Visit Brussels In Two Days

How to get there?

You cannot visit Belgium without visiting the capital, Brussels, which has much to offer people of all ages. If you arrive at Brussels Zaventem Airport, you can take the train into the city, one of buses or a taxi. If you arrive by car, it is best to park outside of the city (Parc du Cinquantenaire or Jubelpark, as these are some of the few free parking spaces in Brussels) and avoid driving in the busy city.

The city centre in one day

You should spend a full day in the city as this allows you to visit the most important tourist attractions like the Grand Place, or Grote Markt, with its typical guild houses and classic city hall. Walking around the city centre you will notice that many buildings are covered by our favourite comic characters giving the city a unique atmosphere. Not far from the Grand Place is the famous Manneken Pis, the small statue of a peeing boy and maybe the most visited tourist attraction of Brussels. The surrounding streets offer shops of all kinds and nice cosy restaurants and bars where you can sit and enjoy a tasty Belgian waffle or the famous mussels and chips dish. For dessert, shop around for the best chocolate in the world with brands like Neuhaus, Leonidas, Godiva or Côte d’Or all within walking distance. Mind you, after a few days of eating Belgian food, you may need to lose a few pounds!

Chocolate shops at the centre of Brussels

For all the nature lovers, there is the option of visiting the Botanique, the botanical garden of Brussels with its wonderful greenhouse. If you walk from Rue de la Loi through the Parc de Bruxelles, or Warandepark, you will be venturing through some lovely green spaces, and, upon exiting the park, you will be faced with the grand Belgian Royal Palace on the Place des Palais. This is still the official residence of the Belgian King Philippe, though he usually spends his time in his palace in Laeken (also in Brussels).

The Parc du Cinquantenaire, or Jubelpark, hosts the Military and Aviation museum for anyone with a passion for World War history and classic aircrafts. The automobile museum  can also be found there. But, most of all, the grand arch and the neighbouring park itself are worth the visit. If you are interested in war history, you can visit some of the memorials across the city like the National Infantry Monument as well as the Palace of Justice with the Congress Column in front of it. The monument for the unknown soldier is buried at the foot of this column, and the location also offers a marvellous view over Brussels.

What to do in Brussels eat mussels with fries

The outskirts on the second day

If you are an adventurer and explorer like me, you can easily spend a full day in the outskirts of Brussels and visit some interesting places that are less well-known. One of these places is an ancient forest called Zoniënwoud located close to the city, where you can stroll around and enjoy some peace and quiet. The next big thing just outside of the city centre is the area that was used in 1958 for the EXPO world exhibit. Some traces are still to be found in the area that is now home to Brussels Expo. In fact, the most famous building left has since become a big national landmark. The Atomium consists of 9 spheres connected by tubes and representing one single unit cell of an iron crystal. The building has recently been renovated and hosts a range of exhibitions. What’s more, the highest sphere contains a restaurant that gives people a fantastic view over the city of Brussels, from a height of 102 metres.

Sonian forest in the outskirts of Brussels

The Heysel area around this national monument also houses a few little surprises. You can delve back into World War  history here, as a short walk from the Atomium through the green Parc de Laeken, brings you to a stylish triangular monument for the Belgian Airmen who served in the RAF during World War II, aboard famous aircrafts like the Spitfire and the Hurricane.

If, by now, you are feeling a bit tired, you can go relax with a cold Belgian beer before venturing onwards to a place full of history. Napoleon Bonaparte was finally defeated on 18 June 1815 in the Battle of Waterloo, and the site of this battle is located 17 km from the centre of Brussels. The location is important: it was chosen to prevent Napoleon’s troops from reaching Brussels. The famous hill on the battlefield has been transformed into a major tourist attraction with 226 stairs that lead to a statue of a lion facing France. This is  called the Lion’s Mound and it was placed on the top of the hill back in 1826. Every year, there is a live reenactment on the day of the battle to give spectators an idea of what the actual battle would have been like. It is best to go there on a mild sunny day as the site is in wide open space and the climb is about 43m high.

To top it all off, why not enjoy a typical Belgian dinner like steak and fries. After all, you have to put the weight back on that you just lost walking around!