travel

24 Hours in Brussels

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Back in September, Ian and I went on a week-long European trip to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary.  Funny story, we’ve never had good luck on our anniversaries, on our first wedding anniversary, Ian ended up in the emergency room due to a case of viral vertigo.  On our second wedding anniversary, our dog got a stomachache … and you can figure out the rest.  So in March, when I was perusing Expedia to satiate my wanderlust, I saw cheap tickets to Paris (~$350 nonstop, round trip), and I immediately booked them.  I figured, hey, maybe escaping Philadelphia will break this anniversary curse.  I’m happy to report that on our anniversary this year, nobody got sick, nobody went to the ER.

So for this European trip, we decided to base it out of Paris and train to another city for a few days.  We picked Brussels because it was ~90 minutes by train.  A lot of our friends suggested we just go to Brussels for a day, because “there isn’t much there”.  I took their advice and we only had around 24 hours in Brussels.  In retrospect, I wish I had stayed longer.  It’s such a charming city, very walkable, not that much hustle-and-bustle going on, which makes it a perfect location to just chill out and relax.  Since we only had 24 hours, we based it around the city center area.

We landed in Paris CDG on the day of our anniversary.  We were super tired, and it didn’t help that we had to wait for 4 hours for our train.  We thought customs would take forever in Paris, it turns out it took 5 minutes.  Our train arrived in Brussels around 1:30 pm and we checked in to our hotel.  We stayed at Sandton Brussels Centre, due to its proximity to the train station and is within walking distance to everything we wanted to be at.  When we booked the hotel, there was some sort of discount, so we managed to get it for around $90, which I think is a steal for a 4-star hotel in the heart of the city.

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Our first stop was Parc de Bruxelles, or Brussels Park.  It’s the largest urban park in Brussels and it’s an absolute dream to walk through.  You’ll see a bunch of locals just hanging out, walking their dogs, or reading a good book.  It’s pretty well-shaded by the tall, mature trees.  Right by the entrance of the park is the Royal Palace.  My online research said that they have tours during the summer.  But the day we were there, the tours weren’t available, so we weren’t able to go inside.  But the outside is so grandiose and quite a sight to take in.

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Next, it was time to eat!  The five things to eat in Brussels are waffles, fries, chocolate, mussels, and beer.  We walked along Rue de l’Etuve, which had loads of souvenir shops and chocolate stores.  We were so surprised by how cheap the chocolate shops were.  I guess because there’s so much competition, you can’t really charge too highly.  But some deals were insane, one store had 5 small boxes of chocolates for €20.  We got a lot of souvenirs (chocolates) here. 

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We had waffles from the famous La Funambule (many waffles from other vendors were eating in the next 20 hours).  Belgium waffles are so different from what I thought Belgium waffles are supposed to be.  In America, if you go to a breakfast place that serve Belgium waffles, they are typically crispy on the outside, soft on the inside with deep pockets for syrup to lay in.  The Belgium waffles there taste almost cookie-like.  There’s definitely way more sugar in the batter, the waffles are more rigid and dense (to hold all the toppings).  I think it’s definitely a dessert thing rather than a breakfast thing.

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The main attraction to Brussels for many is the Mannekin Pis, which is SO SMALL in person.  It’s this iconic bronze statue from the 17th century of a boy peeing.  You see it everywhere on postcards and souvenirs.  I’m not sure how people in Brussels feel about the unofficial mascot.

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We then walked to my favorite place of the day – Grand Place/Grote Markt.  It’s this city square that is encompassed by ornate historical buildings dating back to the 14th century.  Some I believe are still used by the government, and others are used commercially.  It’s so beautiful, and even more beautiful in the morning when nobody is there.

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Around 5pm, we started chasing down the other “peeing statues” – Zinneke Pis (a dog peeing) and Jeanneke Pis (a girl peeing).

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We then strolled along the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, which is a covered shopping strip with high-end retailers, restaurants, and cafes.

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In the morning, we visited St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, as it is a 1-minute walk from our hotel.  The interior was so beautiful, it’s built in the gothic style.  We then had brunch, got some food for the road, and headed back to Paris.  Brussels was truly so lovely, and we enjoyed every minute there.  Next time, we plan on staying a little bit longer, maybe explore a little bit more outside of Brussels and discover what Belgium has to offer.

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Things I ate in Brussels (not counting many street vendors for fries and waffles and chocolate shops):

My Little Cup (coffee shop)
Rue de la Croix de Fer 53
Ijzerenkruisstraat 53
Hours: 7:30 am – 4 pm
Notes: Coffee & pastries

La Funambule (waffles)
Rue de l’Etuve 42
Stoofstraat 42
Hours: 8 am – 10pm
Notes: Right next to Manneken Pis, dessert waffles with ice cream and fruit toppings

Maison Dandoy (waffles)
Located inside Royal Gallery of St. Hubert
Hours: 10 am – 9pm

Cafe Delirium (drinks)
Impasse de la Fidélité 4
Hours: 10 AM – 4 AM
Notes: 2000+ types of beer, next to Royal Gallery

Chez Leon (dinner)
Rue des Bouchers 18
Hours: 11:30 AM – 11:30 PM
Notes: Family-owned restaurant since 1893, known for regional cuisines of mussels & fries

Peck 47 (breakfast)
Rue Marche aux Poulets 47
Kiekenmarkt 47
Hours: 9 am – 10 pm
Notes: Really good egg benedict, savory waffles

Places I wish I had the time to visit:

  • Parc du Cinquantenaire (free) – beautifully landscaped park from the 19th century decked with floral gardens & fountains, home to art & military museums.
  • Atomium (€15) – Giant stainless steel atom, particles connected by escalators, with exhibitions & aerial views.
  • Mini Europe (€15,80) Miniature park with Europe’s landmarks created on a scale of 1:25, from Big Ben to the Eiffel Tower.
  • Musical Instruments Museum (€10) – Art nouveau museum with exhibits including traditional & mechanical instruments & a concert hall.

My Brussels travel tips:

  • Visit Grote Markt/Grand Place early in the morning (7am) for good photo opportunities
  • Everyone speaks English, but most signs will be in French/Dutch
  • Belgium delicacies: waffles, chocolates, fries, mussels, and beer!
  • Beware of pickpockets in bars/crowded restaurants
  • Some restaurants are cash only, check Yelp/Google prior to dining and make sure to carry some cash
  • Best places to get fries are just off of the street stands
  • There are chocolate shops around every corner, can’t go wrong with any.

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