The trip from Paris to Brussels was much quicker and cheaper by bus, compared to plane or train. A train would have been faster, but France has ridiculous surcharges for all trains to and from Paris.
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We left from Paris to Brussels early in the morning on September 2nd, 2015. It was only a four hour bus ride, but for some reason the route included three rest stops, for coffee, breakfast and gas.
We took the iDBUS, which cost 15 euros per person, and guaranteed you could put one checked bag under the bus. The bus was alright, not that comfortable of seats and lacking in leg room, but you can’t beat the price.
Arriving at Central Station at 10 AM and walked the 2 minutes to our hotel, BRXXL5.
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What to do and see in Brussels Walking Map:
What to do in Brussels in one day:
Manneken Pis Statue
Our first stop after dropping our bags at the hostel was the Manneken Pis Statue. There are many legends about the origins of the four hundred year old peeing boy statue, but the most important thing is it world known for being a little statue of a boy peeing.
The statue is also known for his 900 plus outfits and costume collection. Several times a week, the little boy features a different outfit, normally based on historical event on that day.
Make sure to check the schedule online or on the railing in front of the statue itself.
The Grand Place is a large market square and the highlight of tourism within the city.
It was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 because “the nature and quality of its architecture and of its outstanding quality as a public open space […] illustrates in an exceptional way the evolution and achievements of a highly successful mercantile city of northern Europe at the height of its prosperity.”
On one side of the Grand Place is the Brussels Town Hall. The gothic style building looms over the square, with its vast beauty for all to enjoy.
The Town Hall was original built in in the early 1400’s, but has gone through several transformations and expansions throughout its 600 year history.
There are tours available on Sunday and Wednesday. The tour times depend on what language they are in, so it is best to check out the Town Hall website for the most up to date information.
Museum of the City of Brussels
Across the square from the town hall is the Museum of the City of Brussels. While its architecture is not as vast and grandiose as the town hall, it is just as beautiful of building.
The museum is home to the majority of the collection of suits or costumes for the Mannekein Pis Statue. There is an entire room dedicated to the statue, its history, and its outfits.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00AM to 5:00PM, and on Thursday it is until 8:00PM. Tickets cost €8/adult, €4/students, and free for children.
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
Our next stop was the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. Due to the architecture, every angle that you view the outside of the church provides a vastly different perspective and photograph. You can spend some time getting a wide variety of architecture photos.
While the church is open daily, make sure to check the website, as they ask visitors to please avoid (or attend) mass times.
The Royal Palace of Belgium does not serve as the home for the royal family, rather as a place to entertain guests, visitors and heads of state from around the world.
At the palace you can see many of the grand rooms used to entertain dignitaries along with historical information of the royal history. The most famous room is the Mirror Room with the artwork ‘Heaven of Delight,’ consisting of thousands of beetles attached to the ceiling.
The palace also has rooms of royal artifacts and art from throughout the kingdom’s history. You would be surprised how many medals the royalty creates for themselves.
The Royal Palace is open only during the some from 10:30AM to 4:30PM. For exact opening dates, please check their website.
Our last stop for the day was the Congress Column. The column was built in 1890s as commemoration to the National Congress of 1831 which created the Constitution of Belgium, establishing the country as a parliamentary monarchy.
At the base of the monument is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of both the First World War and Second World War, along with an eternal flame.
It is not much more than a simple memorial and photo op.
Royal Palace of Laeken
The Royal Palace of Laeken, the residence of the royal family, is located i little bit outside of the city of Brussels. It is the White House of Belgium, you can take a picture from outside the gates, and there is not much more.
You can also visit the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken during a three week period every spring. Entry costs €2.50 for adults and is free for children. Check out their website for the specific dates.
Next to the royal palace is the Chinese Pavilion. It is part of a larger Museums of the Far East. You can partially see the building from the street, but at this point, that is it!
Unfortunately at this point the building is closed indefinitely for safety concerns. Check their website for any updates on a potential reopening date.
One of the most well known landmarks in Belgium is the Atomium. The Atomium was built as the main pavilion and icon of the 1958 World Fair of Brussels. It represents an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times!
Five of the eight spheres has different museum exhibits and one is a restaurant! The Atomium is open daily from 10am until 6pm. Tickets are €11/adults, €8/teens, and €6/children.
If you are looking for a nice dinner with a fantastic panoramic view of the city, the Atomium Restaurant is the place to go.
Botanic Garden Meise
The Botanic Garden Meise is outside of town, and is one of the largest botanic gardens in the world. It is home to over 3 million specimens.
If plants float your boat, this is one of the best gardens to visit in the world. The gardens are open year round with hours depending on the season.
Winter(15th October – 14th March) it is open from 9:30AM to 4:30PM. Summer(15th March – 14th October) it is open from 9:30AM to 5:30PM. Tickets are €7/adults and free for children!
The Parlamentarium is the visitors’ centre of the European Parliament. It is right at the heart of the Parliament’s Espace Léopold. The interactive centre provides a fun and educational experience in any of the the 24 official EU languages, utilising audio guides.
The centre focuses on every aspect of the EU, from its history and formation, to the global impacts it has today. I would suggest the Parlamentarium for every visitor to Brussels.
The Parlamentarium is open daily from 9AM to 6PM, except it opens on Monday at 1PM. Entrance is free, so there there is no reason not to go! No worries, there is also a cafe and gift shop at the end, the EU can always use some more money.
The National Basilica of Sacred Heart can be seen from many parts of the city. The large art deco towers and beautiful cupola stand out in the city landscape.
While we just went to the outside of the building to take some photos, you can also go up to the top of the basilica for a breathtaking panorama of Brussels. The lookout is open during the Summer from 9AM to 5PM and during the Winter from 10AM to 4PM.
Belgian Comic Strip Center
The Belgian Comic Strip Center is an amazing place for anyone young to old, who has any interest in comics.
The museum starts with the history of comic strips, along with the evolution of the art form. There is a wide range of examples, covering many genres, no matter your interest. If you are concerned about your kids, there is a vast Smurfs collection!
The most iconic collection for me was The Adventures of Tintin, by Hergé, which was being expanded to twice the size when I went.
The museum is open daily from 10AM to 6PM. Tickets are €10/adults, €6.50/youth under 25, and €3.50/children under 12.
What beers should you try in Brussels?
To simplify life, Belgium is known for its beer. There are an endless number of flavors and breweries to try from the country. There are three great, but different, ways to enjoy and taste a wide variety of local beers.
Bars: Going to any bar or restaurant in the city is the easiest way to try a variety of beers, on tap and bottled. This is the more expensive way to try new flavors, but you are also paying for the atmosphere and the ability to not sit alone in your room drinking. I would suggest buying a flight or sampler of beers, which is normally five or six small glasses of different types of beer they have on tap, for one convenient price.
Breweries: Within the city there are several breweries with tours and associated tap houses or stores. This is the perfect place to see how beer is made and everything that goes into the process. Many of the tours include tastings in the ticket price, but if you have already done many brewery tours, it might not be worth it.
However breweries do have a unique atmosphere. I would suggest the Cantillon brewery for a trip back in time with a traditional brewery where nearly nothing has changed over the last century.
At home: Head to the nearest convenience store or tourist shop, they are all full of a wide variety of beers. Beer is obviously much cheaper at the store versus a bar, The only downside is many of the bottles are at room temperature, so you will need to let them chill for a few hours.
Where should you stay in Brussels?
We stayed at the Hotel BRXXL5, a new hip concept in the hostels world. We had a reservation for two beds in a four bed room. Luckily for us, the room had been renovated since the reservation system was created. Three beds for two of us. You can’t complain with hotel conditions for hostel prices.
While you cannot expect this sort of glitch in the reservation system, I still highly recommend the hotel. It has a game room, TV room, full kitchen, restaurant/bar, and even a tattoo parlour!
The Brussels Card offers free admission to 39 attractions and museums in Brussels. It also includes wide-ranging discounts for numerous restaurants, stores and pubs!
This option includes unlimited access to Brussels’ public transport: STIB/MIVB trams, buses and metro.
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