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!
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.
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.
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!