I’ll be honest: Brussels has never really been high on my bucket list of places to visit. Every time that I’ve been here, I’ve either changed trains between the Eurostar & Thalys from London to Amsterdam, I’ve spoken at a conference, or I’ve ended up here on a surprise trip with WOWTrip, like the most recent time I was here!
But, as with all places where you have no high expectations, I managed to find LOTS of fun things to see and do in this city and I would definitely recommend a visit. Even if just it’s because it’s a perfect base to take a few day trips to other Belgium cities with the train.
In this article, I’ll take on a highlights tour with fun activities and sights that I recommend to do if you only have one day in Brussels, so you make the most out of your day. Enjoy!
What we'll cover in this article
- ONE DAY IN BRUSSELS BELGIUM ITINERARY
- How to Spend Your Morning in Brussels
- How to Spend Your Afternoon in Brussels
- How to Spend Your Evening in Brussels
- Day Trips from Brussels
- Products from Amazon.com
ONE DAY IN BRUSSELS BELGIUM ITINERARY
How to Spend Your Morning in Brussels
ARRIVAL IN BRUSSELS
Brussels was founded in the 10th century, next to the river Zenne. The Belgian Revolution in 1830 led to the ‘Frenchification’ of the city, that used to be Flemish. It’s a city that might seem grey and unattractive from the outside, but when you have a closer look, you will find great architecture, unique cafés and a lot to see and do, all day long.
The compact city of Brussels can easily be explored by foot, although with the Brussels Card, you can get unlimited access to the public transport (metro, bus and tram) + a lot of the museums.
When you arrive by air, you can either land at Brussels Airport (BRU – also called Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National or Zaventem!!) or Brussels Charleroi Airport (CRL). For your own sanity, you really want to arrive at BRU (Zaventem), because it’s closest to the city center and you can easily get there and back by train in about 20 minutes. We took an Uber, which worked out the same prize and was really convient (with 4-5 people).
If you arrive by train, you will arrive at either Brussels North (Gare du Nord / Noordstation), Brussels Central (Gare Centrale / Brussel Centraal) or Brussels South (Gare du Midi or Zuidstation). When you travel with the Eurostar, you will arrive at MIDI. When you want to travel to any other Belgium City, you’ll probably depart from CENTRALE.
BREAKFAST IN BRUSSELS
During my last visit, we stayed close to the North station in Brussels, and a really nice place for breakfast was ‘Streetpecker‘, a casual European fusion cafe with healthy breakfast bowls, eggs in all varieties, pancakes, avo on toast, coffees and teas, homemade juices and more goodness. A really nice way to start the day!
But what I would recommend, is heading out straight to the area of the ‘Vossenplein’, as I had a great brunch there at ‘PinPon‘, this restaurant is located in the old fire station on Place du Jeu de Balles. I met up with my friend Bene from my time in Sydney (who is Belgium) and had a great time catching up here!
- Natural caffè – The go-to place for coffee connoisseurs. With salads, sandwiches, hot meals and all kinds of desserts and pastry, as well as teas and natural juices, this is a perfect place to wake up.
- Peck20 (Also Peck 47) – The place to go to for an all-day breakfast. From granola bowls to healthy smoothies and poached eggs, it’s all here.
- MOK – MOK is all about specialty coffees. You can also enjoy breakfast or lunch here… and everything is vegan.
- Boulangerie Charli – Freshly made bread and pastries. There will be a queue, just so you know!
- Yeti – Organic BIO lunchroom with tasty and large portion brunches.
SHOPPING IN BRUSSELS
If you’ve started your day at PinPon, then you’re right next to the flea market of the ‘Vossenplein‘, which is a nice and relaxed way to start your day. It runs daily until 2 PM. If you’re really into markets, on Sundays, you can also find the ‘Zondag Zuidmarkt‘ (‘Sunday South Market’) under the South Station in Brussels.
Also in this area, there are loads of vintage clothing and furniture shops where you can drool over all the original and stylish items on display. I paid a visit to the following shops:
- Foxhole Vintage
- TAA Design Store
- Wine Studio 126
- Passage 125 Blaes
- K. Loan
Other shops I spotted in other parts of Brussels:
- Appart N17
- HYP Store
- Episode Belgium
- Gabriele Vintage
- Isabelle Bajart
- Hunting and Collecting
Walking through the city, I also came across the beautiful Galeries Royals Saint-Hubert. This shopping gallery, covered with glass, is open all year and has some nice seating for a drink or two. They built it with the motto ‘alles voor iedereen’ (‘everything for everyone’), which you can still see engraved at the entrance… although these days, you can mostly find luxury boutiques here.
STREET ART IN BRUSSELS
Did you know that Lucky Luke, Tin Tin and the Smurfs are originally from Belgium? I bet you didn’t! Throughout the entire city, you can find murals with cartoons on them. No matter where you are in Brussels, amazing street art is literally around EVERY corner.
Here is a little taste of what you can expect in Brussels Streetart:
Location: Rue du Chêne / Eikstraat
How to Spend Your Afternoon in Brussels
VISIT THE GRAND PLACE IN BRUSSELS
In the center of Brussels lies the Grand Place (The ‘Grote Markt’ in Dutch). The square is surrounded with a variety of incredible buildings, covered in highly detailed and gold-coloured details, such as the ‘Hotel de Ville’, the city hall. The square is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and it’s easy to see why. It’s a nice place to sit down and watch the world go by.
LUNCH IN BRUSSELS
After all that walking, I guess it’s time for lunch for us, right? Unfortunately, my lunch next to the Grand Place wasn’t that great. Highly overpriced and just… meh. Just what you expect in the most touristic spot of the city, really.
I would recommend heading over to the Sint-Katelijne (Sainte Catherine) area. Here’s everything is really relaxed and there are lots of restaurants to pick from, or have a look at some of the following suggestions for nice lunch places around the city:
- Le Cercle des Voyageurs – Coffee Place for travel lovers. Some evenings, there are live music or film screenings.
- Au Pays des Merveilles (APDM / In Wonderland) – Great bagels and fresh smoothies, milkshakes and deserts.
- Original Pistol – A delicacy shop with a counter for a meal in a cozy atmosphere, in a contemporary and original setting. They serve a variety of sandwiches / rolls, as well as soups, salads and a wide choice in deserts.
- Victor Bozar Café – This stylish place will bring you a healthy lunch, or you can just enjoy a cup of coffee with a slice of cake. It’s up to you!
- G-Spud – With Scandinavian-style interior and freshly delivered ingredients each day, G-Spud brings you a 300-gram potato at the base of each recipe. You pick your toppings, get a salad and enjoy your meal!
- Moonfood – From a self-service buffet, you can choose from organic, vegan and gluten free ingredients to prepare a healthy meal for yourself and pay by weight of your selection. The recipes, inspired by the raw and healthy food trend from America, are checked by nutritionists monthly.
- Le Pain Quotidien – Homemade soups, sandwiches and salads. Perfect place for a healthy lunch.
MANNEKEN PIS IN BRUSSELS
Close to the Grand Place, you can find ‘Manneken Pis‘ (‘Little Men Piss’, if you’d translated it directly, I suppose), a tiny (like super tiny, it’s 61 cm) statue of a little boy… eh… well… peeing. It’s fun for a quick two-minute stop, but it’s crowded and apart from a bit strange to look at, really not that interesting. Every now and then someone dresses the boy in a fun outfit, so you’re never sure what you can expect when you visit. The statue was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619. The current statue is a copy which dates from 1965, as the original is kept in the Museum of the City of Brussels.
If you’re into watching statues pee (who doesn’t), you might also want to head over to the boy’s ‘sister’ Jeanneke Pis at the Beenhouwersstraat (Rue des Bouchers). She was commissioned by Denis-Adrien Debouvrie in 1985 and erected in 1987. Or, to make things even better, there is even a peeing dog statue called Het Zinneke in the city as well, created by artist Tom Frantzen.
SWEET TREATS IN BRUSSELS
After watching so many random people pee, it’s time to treat yourself again, I think. That’s easy in Brussels: just head over to one of the many little shops selling waffels and go wild! I like them ‘original’ (just sugar), but the chocolate and strawberries also looked great.
There are different types: the big crispy rectangle (from Brussels), the messy waffle which is ticker and sweeter (from Liege (Luik)) and the bubble waffle or waffle in a cup with a million toppings (from Instagram). You choose which one you like best!
- Wittamer – The history of this shop dates back to 1910! Because of the excellence of their products, Wittamer received a royal warrant of appointment to the Belgian court, so if you want the best, this is the place to go!
- Dandoy – This family business has been making tasty biscuits for over 2 centuries. Try their ‘pain à la grecque’, ‘speculaas’ and almond rolls. Brussels has 7 locations, but the flagship store is at the Boterstraat (‘butter street’, of course!)
- Leonidas – Leonidas makes more than 100 varieties of Belgian chocolates of the highest quality and freshness. They use only real Belgian chocolate to make bon bons with fillings such as: fresh butter, fresh cream, milk cream, hazelnuts from Turkey, Morello cherries from the Périgord, almonds from Italy and Valencias oranges, just to name a few.
MAGRITTE IN BRUSSELS
Rainy Day, or just really into art? Then I would perhaps end the afternoon with a visit to the Magritte Museum. As expected, the museum features the work of Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte. There are 5 levels to the building, with about 200 original paintings, drawings and sculptures. It includes famous works such as ‘Scheherazade’ (the one with the woman’s face made out of pearls), ‘The Empire of Light’ (the one with the dark house that has a light on) and ‘The Return’ (the one with the bird silhouet with clouds in it).
Sadly though, if you were expecting works such as ‘The Treachery of Images’ (the one with the pipe), ‘La reproduction interdite’ (the one with the boy looking into the mirror seeing the back of his head) or perhaps ‘Le fils de l’homme’ (the one with the man with an apple in front of his face), then you’re out of luck as they are in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam and in a private collection unfortunately.
Other Museum Suggestions:
- Paleis voor Schone Kunsten – Imposing Art-Deco building with interesting exhibitions, film screenings, dance- and theatre shows.
- Cinematek – This is the place where the Royal Film Archives keep the best domestic and international films, from classics to cult and Hollywood blockbusters.
- Muziekinstrumentenmuseum (MIM – Museum of Musical Instruments) – This lesser known museum is a gem in Brussels, not just because of the incredible art-nouveau building, but also because they showcase the entire musical history of the world. Take the elevator to the top floor for a great view!
- WIELS – Art Centrum with contemporary art, located in an old brewery. Arrive hungry, as they have good food too. They also have a rooftop terrace with great views.
- MIMA – The Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art combines genres such as graphic design, street art, illustrations and even tattoo art. A unique museum ánd exhibition space.
PARKS IN BRUSSELS
If you’re not too into museums, then I can recommend to visit some of the parks in Brussels. You can get some great views and enjoy nature from Mont des Arts, Parc du Cinquantenaire and the Botanical Garden of Brussels.
How to Spend Your Evening in Brussels
DRINKS AND DINNER IN BRUSSELS
The St. Catherine (Sint Katelijneplein) area is a really nice place to go and find some dinner. At the waterfront, a lot of the restaurant have a little outdoor area and most of them offer set menu’s. We walked over to the area behind the church and went into the funky looking Comptoir Be Burger. Here, they sell delicious hamburgers with unique flavours from all around the world.
Other Suggestions for drinks:
- De Haus – Cosy bar, and the place to enjoy a good gin and tonic.
- Beer Mania – With over 400 Belgium beers, this is the place for beer lovers! They also have regular jazz performances.
- Delirium – Well, actually, maybe you should go here: Delirium has the biggest assortment of beers from all over the world (over 2500!)
- Winery – It’s all about wines here, as you would have guessed! Great with some cheese or cold meats. Every month, you can do a good wine tasting course as well.
- Le Fontainas – Easy Going bar with retro interior. Good for a pint, a coffee and they also have DJ’s on the Sunday afternoon.
- ALL.THE.CAFES. Check for example: Café Maison du Peuple // Le Perroquet // Café Monk // Café Walvis // Kumiko // BarBeton (they all serve food as well)
Other Suggestions for food:
- Oficina – Here, they cook soul food with produce from local farmers and ‘ugly’ vegetables that don’t make it to auction.
- Humphrey – This is the second restaurant of Chef Yannick van Aeken. He worked as sous-chef in Copenhagen at the world famous ‘NOMA’ for 6 years. This restaurant, he runs with partner Glen Ramaekers, who is the host. The restaurant is all about sharing platters with world food!
- L’Amour Fou – Good burgers. Easy.
- Manhattn’s Burgers – Restaurant specialized in Premium Burgers. The design, interior and wrapping of your hamburger will remind you of New York… with Belgium fries, of course.
EVENING EVENTS IN BRUSSELS
When I visited Brussels a few years ago, there was also an amazing light festival called Bright Brussels going on in the city. This is a yearly event, so if you are around in Winter, then I can recommend paying a visit. It’s free and perfect for an original day out!
GOING OUT IN BRUSSELS
While we didn’t really go out in Brussels, here are some suggestions:
- Muziekpublique – Podium with the goal to put folk- and world music on the map of Brussels.
- Jazz Station – This lively jazz club is located in a former train station. Great for a drink or two!
- The Sounds – Another great place for jazz is The Sounds, with a good atmosphere and great cocktails. They serve Italian dishes.
- Bonnefooi – This bar/concert hall/exhibition space has free live music for you, every day! From jazz to rock to R&B and Samba, it’s all there. They also have monthly changing photo and art exhibitions.
THE ATOMIUM IN BRUSSELS
After two visits to Brussels, there is only one thing that I REALLY wanted to see and that somehow never happened… it’s seeing the Atomium. This steel construction consists of nine spheres with a diameter of up to 18 meters. The Atomium was built in 1958 in honor of the Brussels World Fair. Today, five of the nine globes are open to the public.
Because it’s a little bit outside of the center (in the Heysel Park), you have to take your car or public transport to get there. I’d say that if you have it on your bucket list, make sure to do it first thing in the morning, because Brussels is just too easy to keep strolling around in, and then you’ll have no energy left to go here at the end of your day.
The Atomium is surrounded by a green park. You can take the lift to the top sphere and enjoy incredible views over Brussels. For a bit of money, you can also have lunch here!
As close as I got…
What it should look like from up close (Photo: Pixabay)
Day Trips from Brussels
Brussels is the perfect place to make a day trip (or two in your weekend here). You could go to:
- Bruges / Brugge (about 1 hour by train)
- Ghent / Gent (about 30 minutes by train)
- Antwerp / Antwerpen (about 1 hour by train, or 30 minutes on the Thalys)
- Liège / Leuven (about 30 minutes by train)
Read our city guide on what to do when you only have one day in Ghent here!
Here is all the information you need to plan your own trip to Brussels:
BRUSSELS TOURISM OFFICE
WHERE TO STAY IN BRUSSELS
The First time I visited Brussels, I had a great stay at Hotel BLOOM!. It’s located close to the Brussels North station, where the train from The Netherlands/Germany arrives. (Please Note: This is NOT the Eurostar, which arrives at the South Station of Brussels!). The hotel was modern, had a great design and lovely rooms. Also their breakfast is amazing!
During the WowTrip, we stayed at the Hilton Central in Brussels, which had super friendly staff and was conveniently located, but the room I had was quite old and had a lot of broken things (plugs hanging out of the wall, hole in my chair), so it’s not a place I would recommend. I didn’t try the breakfast here, because it was a bit expensive and there was a lovely breakfast place across the square.
Other Hotel Suggestions:
- Vintage Hotel
- Hotel Pantone
- Studio Rempart
- Bed&Breakfast DRUUM
- Zoom Hotel
- JAM Hotel
- Hôtel des Galeries
- HAPPY Guesthouse
Below, you can find The Travel Tester practical map of Brussels Belgium, with top things to do in Brussels one day tips. Make your travel planning complete and get the best out of your trip! Make sure to click on the icon on the top left of the map to see the full directory:
Here are some great resources for your next Brussels Trip:
I hope you found this guide handy to decide what to do in Brussels, Belgium. Check our Belgium Guide for more ideas:
Looking to learn Flemish? Check out this great guide by our blogging friend Michele from The Intrepid Guide:
Did you like any of the Brussels highlights that we covered and are you planning a day in Brussels yourself? Select one of the things above to find out more or bookmark this article on Pinterest:
Disclaimer: My trip to Brussels was sponsored by WowTrip as part of #TheBloggerCourseWeekender (Monica Stott’s The Blogger Course). All photos and opinions are my own, as always.