On a continent as broad and diverse as Europe, some countries require days or months to fully take them all in. Others, you can see on a quick layover. While you certainly could spend weeks exploring the belle of Belgium, you can get a good feel for Brussel's spectacular diversity in just 24 hours. From historical highlights and artistic ambles to moments of decadent culinary delights, Brussels has influences from France, Holland and Germany reflected in the culture, people, architecture, and glorious food and drink options. If you like adventure, but have limited time - here’re a few spots not to be missed.
We would be remiss not to mention the city's tragic 2016 terrorist attack, and while you can see subtle tributes to the incident, the city is as safe as it's ever been. The beauty and buzz of Brussels easily transforms any air of anxiety into appreciation.
Where’s the best place to kick off a highlights tour of one of the most international and welcoming cities in the world? In the center of town, at the Grand Place, of course. A UNESCO World Heritage Site that will appeal to everyone from the history hound to architecture aficionado, the site is locally known as Grote Market and is home to famous museums, concerts and flower markets.
Inside Tip: Come early in the morning before the workday begins and the droves of tourists descend to capture the best photos as the sun rises.
Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) and Cafe
Part of the Royal Museums for Art and History, the Musical Instrument Museum is an audio and visual delight, housing over 8,000 internationally renowned instruments. Established in 1877, this beautifully ornate building offers musical tales and tributes as well as breathtaking views. The MIM has an airy, art nouveau dining space and café, ideal for a traditional Belgian lunch.
Inside Tip: Order the shrimp croquettes, a Belgian specialty as the shrimp and cheese bites deliver their own symphony of tastes and textures.
Belgian Chocolate Tasting
There are literally thousands of chocolatiers in Belgium, and Brussels boasts some of the finest - one being the Laurent Gerbaud Chocolatier. Hand rolled, and accented with nuts and fondant, these chocolates are almost too pretty to eat…almost! The café also offers chocolate making classes every Saturday.
Inside Tip: Order one of the café’s superb hot chocolates to compliment your dessert options.
It’s easy to fuel a busy day of exploring with sweet and savory street food options. Try the traditional crisp and airy Belgian Waffles, or the Liege waffle, denser and made with a buttery brioche dough. It’s hard to ignore the temptation of Belgian Frites, slathered in a cream sauce that's available at food carts throughout the city. An afternoon feast of frites naturally leads to a search for a comforting quaff and the choices abound in Brussels cafes and breweries.
Beer Tasting at its Best
No Brussels visit is complete without a Belgian beer or two. While there are too many breweries and brew shops to count, the Cantillon Brewery is a historic and welcome favorite. Dating back to the 1900s, this traditional family brewery in Anderlecht is known as the exclusive purveyor of Lambic Beers, a local favorite that's often featured in the cuisine. The flavor is dry, and cidery, with a sour aftertaste. Open for public visits with tasting flights and tours, Cantillion even offers public brewing sessions, a highlight for any beer lover.
Royal Museums Of Fine Arts
An art collective focusing on preserving the most important visual collection in Belgium, you could easily spend hours exploring the Royal Museums. Through paintings, sculptures and drawings, all 20,000 works across the six museums illustrate history, from the 15th to the 21st centuries and feature some of the finest works in Europe. Review the gallery roster to identify what appeals to you, as it would take days to cover everything. The Old Masters, Magritte, Fin-de-Siècle, Modern (selection) Museums, as well as the Wiertz and Meunier home-studios are all incredible.
Inside Tip: Visit the "Bruegel. Unseen Masterpiece – Where are Art meets Technology ” collection. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts launched this project jointly with the Google Cultural Institute in anticipation of the 450th anniversary of Bruegel’s death, in 2019.
Brussels is easily reachable from other destinations in Europe via rail, car or airline. If you're travellng by rail (Rail Europe or Eurostar), be sure to buy the Brussels Card for discounted rates at museums and other landmarks around the city. Bikes are another great way to explore. Pro Velo is an appealing option, especially when time is tight. They offer a myriad of rental choices along with safety equipment and detailed maps through parks, streets and off-the-beaten-path gems.