I just got back from a weekend trip to Brussels and wanted to share some of the things I discovered. This is the second time I’ve been to the Belgian capital; the first time was in December 2011. Visiting Brussels in December has its pro’s and con’s; flights are cheap in the winter months because the weather is super cold, BUT there are Christmas markets in December so if you can deal with chilly weather it’s a fun time to go…but back to my most recent trip!
I flew into Charleroi Airport which is an hour from the city (I got a cheap flight from RyanAir) and purchased my bus ticket online for the Brussels City Shuttle. When you arrive at Charleroi exit the airport and walk right; you’ll see the City Shuttle kiosk where you can buy tickets and platforms where the buses pick you up (number 6 was where I caught my bus to the center). The bus takes you directly to Bruxelles-Midi / Brussel Zuid which is the main train station of the city – if you enter the station you can take the metro to the city center.
1. Eat and drink…everything!
Between the waffles, french fries and chocolate you’ll feel like you’re in food-heaven! Apparently Belgians invented “French fries” and they’ve got a special way of cooking them so that the outside is crispy and the inside is warm and squishy…delicious! They’ve also got traditional stew dishes worth a try, amazing chocolates and beer. When you order Belgian beer it comes in a special glass; locals believe that if you drink beer our of a glass that isn’t specifically designed for that beer it won’t taste as good!
2. See the sights
There are tons of beautiful sights and monuments to see in Brussels; you can find a list of the most commonly recommended ones here. This weekend a friend of mine who is living in Brussels took me someplace in the city I hadn’t seen before; she called it “the view”. This location’s real name is called Mont des Arts which means “hill/mountain of the arts” and it is definitely worth a visit; there’s also a posh restaurant where you can sit and enjoy the view at the top of the hill.
I also really enjoyed walking around the city center, particularly in the little streets around Grand Place, the central square of the city.
3. Shop in the center
What’s a trip to a major European city without a bit of shopping? I took full advantage of the summer sales this weekend! The small streets around Grand Place are full of cute stores and souvenir shops. If you’re looking for stores like Zara and H&M head to Rue Nueve which is also located near Grand Place. For posh and one-of-a-kind clothing (as well as extravagantly expensive clothing) head to Rue Antione Dansaert.
4. Go to a music festival
Brussels is the capital of Belgium so that means there are a variety of good music festivals in and around the city during spring and summer (there’s also other cultural festivals in Belgium year-round). This past weekend I went to Couleur Café which was AWESOME (I’m definitely going again next year). The famous Tomorrowland also takes place in a town close to Brussels in July so if you’re headed to the city see if there’s something fun going on nearby!
5. Travel to nearby cities (or countries)
The first time I went to Brussels we took the train to Amsterdam, then headed to Bruges, Ghent and back to Brussels. It was an easy trip and if you’ve got a few extra days you should try to see some nearby cities (it’s easy to get everywhere by train). You can probably buy the tickets online, but we just purchased them at the Bruxelles-Midi / Brussel Zuidstation train station. However it might be better to reserve them ahead of time if you’re visiting in spring or summer (at the station I was able to get “youth discount” because I was younger than 26).This link offers good info on getting to these cities from Brussels if you want to make the journey yourself. Spend more time in Ghent and Amsterdam if you go – Bruges is small so you can see everything in one day. Also, if you’re going to be in Brussels around February/March consider heading to Binche for Carnival—it’s only an hour away from Brussels!
Also – fun fact, you can take a train from Brussels to London, it’s only two hours and is much more convenient than flying!
BONUS – Nightlife Tip
Do as the locals do – drink and mingle near Halles de Saint-Géry (late-19th-century covered market halls that now house a heritage exhibition center and bar at night). The market and streets nearby have bars with outdoor seating – perfect for enjoying a beer in summer!