I’m finally getting around to writing about my time in Brussels, I’ve been back a month already! I’ve written everything you need to know about beer in Belgium, but now it’s time for everything else we did in Brussels, with a post on our days in Bruges on its way shortly!
We (myself and my friend, Iola) arrived in Brussels on an early flight from Manchester and got the shuttle bus from Charleroi airport to Brussels Midi train and bus station. You can buy in advance if you like but you can get tickets easily from the kiosk outside the airport. Once in Brussels, we navigated our way to our hotel using the Metro and then went exploring. I’ve split out the sections into Food, Attractions, and then Comic book Culture & Art. Because this is a surprisingly big thing in Belgium! And I’ve also listed a couple of bits and bobs that I would probably try and see if I were to go back to Brussels.
After a pathetic airport breakfast, we were starving by the time we got into Brussels city centre. There were two things on our mind: fries and waffles, in that order. Belgian fries (they’re Belgian, not French, this is very important) and waffles are the nation’s delicacies next to beer and chocolate. Why isn’t the entire country morbidly obese?!
Top tips when scouting out both: Apparently, the greasier and dingier the place that’s selling the fries, the better they will be. If you’re talking city centre, we were assured that Fritland was the place to get fries. Yes, it will have a massive queue, but the people working there seemed pretty efficient. And don’t forget: Mayonnaise is the condiment of choice in Belgium, not ketchup!
It’s a well known fact in Brussels that the smaller the waffle shop, and the less they have already out on display, the fresher and therefore better the waffle will be. We just went to a random waffle hatch as they were selling them really cheap. But if you see a waffle street food van parked around anywhere, they’ll be running a much smaller operation so your waffle is likely to be much fresher.
We did most of our proper nice eating in Bruges and most of our drinking in Brussels! So, our evening meal for the first night was Hard Rock Cafe. Yes, they are completely westernised and in no way do you ever get an authentic experience… but I go there whenever I visit a new place. That’s just me!
Like the Beer tour, we also went with New Sandemans Europe’s free walking tour of Brussels. I love walking tours in new cities that you don’t know much about. They’re absolutely perfect for finding out more about the history. And I think me and Iola both agreed that we would have missed so much insider knowledge without this tour. Brussels is a real unique city and I felt we were able to fully appreciate the place we were in because of this tour. It is of course free, but in the sense that you should pay what you think the tour was worth. Our tour guide gave 110% and was well worth the money.
Central Markt & City Hall
The centre of Brussels, like, the absolute centre, was mental. You are completely enveloped by these enormous, imposing, beautifully lavish buildings that were so ornate. It was incredibly odd, yet enticed your curiosity at the same time. I wish I could remember everything that our tour guide said about the Central Markt, but I believe the history is that the market used to be made up of all Wooden buildings until an attack on the city lead them all to burn down. And then the people of Brussels resurrected the buildings in stone and with beautiful architecture as a way of proving that they wouldn’t be so easily defeated. The buildings were all built within very few years of each other which is just incredible.
The City hall has it’s own story. It looks very much like a church, but it is in fact the largest secular building made in Gothic architecture (usually a church-y style) in… Europe? The World? Out of a great deal of countries! The Hall is interestingly not symmetrical, and part of the hall was added later (and quite shoddily as well if you look closely).
Ah, the little peeing boy just down the road from Central Markt. Yes, I know, this teeny tiny statue is now a symbol of Brussels. New York as the Statue of Liberty, Paris the Eiffel Tower, and Brussels has Manneken Pis. Absolutely no one knows the story of Mannekin Pis. There’s a legend that a little boy was sat on the city wall when he saw some one light a gunpowder explosion and, without water and anyone to help him, he put the fire out with only the tools he had at his disposal. Really though, that’s just a nice story.
Apparently, during some war or time of trouble between Belgium and France, the French soldiers stole Manneken Pis and took him to King Louis XV. Louis XV knew how important Manneken Pis was to the Belgians and basically said to his Soldiers “What did you do that for you bunch of idiots?!” and had to return the statue to the Belgians. Not only did he return Manneken Pis, he knew he had to do something else to make up for the kidnapping. So, being a king, he knighted him. He knighted him Sir Manneken Pis. Yeah, really.
We saw Manneken Pis during a dressing ceremony were he was hidden behind a curtain and unveiled in that day’s outfit. It’s actually quite common to see Manneken Pis in some sort of get up. I know, I know. But the Belgians love the little guy.
This is the Brussels Cathedral. It’s not got many stories, except for the design. Recognise it from this bad picture? Yes, it looks oh-so-similar to the Notre Dame in Paris. This is because Belgium is quite a weird country that used to be part of different countries and has only been Belgium since 1830. That’s younger than the United States. So when it comes to things like Cathedrals, I can imagine they were a bit like ‘We need a Cathedral now, right now, quick and dirty. That French one looks alright, let’s just have that one. Next, City hall-” which is exactly how I like to think of the Belgian. Unpretentious. They’re not French and not German. They are Belgian and they do what they like, deal with it.
Unlike Buckingham Palace, the Palace was uncrowded and quiet. Except for, you know, the busy road near it.
Brussels Government & Gardens
Separating the Palace and the Government buildings in organised romanticism (is there any better kind?) is a beautiful garden with fountains and flowers and grass and the like which was lovely to take a stroll through. The Belgian Government is one of the oddest Governments ever. You know how the UK has one Government? Belgium has six. Let me say that again. Belgium has six different Governments. None with more power than the other. It has a Government for the French community, the Flemish community and the German speaking community. That’s three. It also has Governments for the Walloon Region, the Brussels-Capital region and a Federal Government. Oh my.
European Parliament & Gardens
Outside of the Walking tour, me and Iola decided to make the long walk out to the European Parliament and have a look around. It’s quite a stunning building and has a lovely park nearby. And if you’re lucky, you might catch two armed guards wandering around the park carrying the biggest and most intimidating guns I’ve ever seen.
Mont Des Arts Garden
This part of Brussels is where we ended the walking tour and it provided us with a beautiful view over Brussels.at this point!
Comic Culture & Art
It might surprise you, but outside of the States, Belgium creates the most comic book characters in the world. In the USA, basically every comic book character is a Superhero. In Belgium, you get Tintin. You get the Smurfs, you get Asterix. It says a lot about the culture in Belgium, and they’re very proud of this. Comic book art graffiti is all around the city.
We also went to the Comic Book museum and had a wander around. Yeah, neither of us are massively into comic books but it was really lovely inside and they’ve got a variety of discounts, including one for under 26-year-olds (YES!).
A couple of other places we might have also visited with more time include Musees Royaux Des Beaux Arts which is the main art gallery in Brussels. But, you know, I think one art gallery was enough this time… And to the Atonium which is very North of the city. It calls itself the top tourist attraction but… really? I can understand visiting there might be fun and I can bet it’ll give you fantastic views of Brussels… but it’s ages away. Someone with not much time in Brussels is bound to just stay in the centre.
I had a fantastic time in Brussels, but I have to say it was the people that really made the trip. Not only was Iola the best company on a trip, the tour guides were really awesome and their own personal stories just instilled my dream to further my education abroad and travel big time.
Have you been to Brussels? Did you do any of the same things I did or anything different?