Planning a trip to Brussels? Get some inspiration on what to do while you’re there with our idea of a perfect three-day itinerary. History, culture, entertainment, restaurants… Pack it all in at a comfortable pace and don’t miss a thing!
It’s no accident that Brussels is considered to be the unofficial capital of Europe. The Belgian capital is, of course, home to many European institutions, but, as you will discover during your stay, the whole city tells the story of Europe from the Middle Ages to the present. Brussels manages to express the great diversity, the tensions and - above all - the reconciliations of Europe.
Your visit should start with one of the most beautiful public squares in the world, the Grand Place, which has witnessed the city’s most important events, especially during wartime. All around the square, each building is unique and has a story to tell. The town hall, recognisable for its Gothic tower reaching 96 metres high and its asymmetrical architecture, is the only building in the square dating from the Middle Ages. The King's House, rebuilt in 1873 in a neo-Gothic style, is no longer a royal abode, but houses the city museum. Here, you can admire a model of the city in the Middle Ages, as well as the 883 costumes of the Manneken Pis.
Once out of the museum, head south, taking Rue Charles Buls, then Rue de l’Etuve, a semi-pedestrian street that will lead you to Brussels’ famous mascot, the Manneken Pis. This statue is to Brussels what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, or the Statue of Liberty to New York. However, astonishingly, it stands only fifty centimetres tall. The name says it all: Manneken Pis means "the boy peeing" in local language. Its origins are unclear and it has been the subject of many legends and stories. Less famous, his female counterpart is visible in the Impasse de la fidélité, opposite the Grand Place.
After lunching on Brussels’s most famous speciality, moules-frites (mussels and chips), it’s time to visit the Bozar, or Palace of Fine Arts, which is located near the historic centre. This art gallery is an active part of cultural life in Brussels, hosting events in all areas, including music, exhibitions, shows, movies or architecture. The building, designed by Victor Horta in the early twentieth century, is a particularly striking example of Art Deco architecture. This is fitting, as Brussels is known as one of the world capitals of this style.
For the evening, return to the vicinity of the Grand Place, and specifically on Rue des Bouchers, where you will find numerous bars and restaurants that contribute to the city’s vibrant nightlife.
The next morning, it's time to head to the city’s second major symbol: the Atomium. It is out of the city centre, on the Heysel plateau, reachable by metro. This is where the World Fairs have been hosted, and indeed the Atomium was built for the 1958 World Fair. The Atomium is a large structure representing an iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times, representing atomic science. These nine atoms have become known as a symbol of the unity of the nine provinces that make up Belgium, although this was actually a coincidence. Each sphere can be visited by the public, and you can have a bite to eat and enjoy the view from the highest sphere.
In the afternoon, stay on the Heysel plateau, where you can explore the Mini-Europe park, which displays models from all over Europe. It may well inspire you to plan your next European trip.
For the evening, the café-brasserie Le Cirio offers both excellent cuisine and interesting architecture, as it’s housed in an Art Nouveau building dating from 1886. This is the cafe in which Jacques Brel used to drink his “half and half”, a glass filled half with sparkling wine and half with white wine.
On your final day, head to the Magritte Museum, which is right next to the Palace of Fine Arts. Here you will find over 200 works by the surrealist painter, including drawings and paintings, but also posters, films, photos or music scores.
Once outside, make your way back towards the Royal Palace and enjoy a picnic in the park in this huge, tranquil space, where the inhabitants of Brussels like to relax.
Remaining in the vicinity of the Palace of Fine Arts, visit the Museum of Musical Instruments, which is said to be one of the most complete and most interesting in the world. It boast a collection of over 8,000 instruments and a library specialising in musical works.
Going down a few steps, you will come to the Maison de la Bande Dessinée, or House of Comics. This museum is an opportunity to learn more about another Belgian speciality. Tintin, Spirou, Blake and Mortimer, Lucky Luke, Gaston, the Smurfs and Boule and Bill all hail from these shores. Inside the museum, you will understand the importance of a clear line, a feature of Belgian comic strips that applies not only to the drawings, but also the way in which the stories are constructed.
For your last night in Brussels, head to the centre of town, not far from the Grand Place, to Delirium Café on Impasse de la Fidélité. Here you can sample another great Belgian specialty: its beer. This bar offers over 3,000 different beers.
With its open, easy-going manner and its friendly inhabitants, as well as being one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, Brussels is also one of the most inviting. The Belgian capital holds many secrets and exceptional features. If you have the opportunity to spend a little longer in Brussels, don’t miss the Leopold Quarter, home to countless European institutions, and take the time to visit the Marolles district with its famous flea market.