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  • Writer's pictureIne Vandenwyngaert

Brussels, Belgium: A Complete Travel Guide to Belgium's Capital

Updated: Sep 17, 2022

Located in the heart of Belgium, Brussels is the capital and largest city in the country. Not only is it an administrative, commercial, and financial hub, it is also considered the “capital of Europe”. This is because the headquarters of the European Union can be found here. The city itself is bilingual, which means that both Flemish and French are widely spoken. And although Brussels may not have the star tourist attractions of other Belgian towns, the capital has many things to do to keep travelers occupied for a couple of days. From world-class museums and art galleries to wonderful remnants of old architecture. In this article, we highlight how to get to Brussels, everything you need to know before going, where to eat and drink, where to stay, and the best things to do.

Check out our video about Brussels to get a sense of what it's like there!

How to get to Brussels

Brussels' central location makes it easy to travel here from Belgian and European cities by train. There is a high-speed rail infrastructure which connects major international cities to Brussels, such as London (2h by Eurostar), Amsterdam (2h by NS, Thalys, SNCB), Paris (1h30 by Thalys), or Cologne (1h45 by Deutsche Bahn, Thalys). There are 35 train stations in the Brussels-Capital Region, 8 of which bear the name Brussels. However, the one closest to the tourist attractions and city center is called Brussels-Centra(a)l.

If you're traveling from further away, you can also fly to Brussels. The Brussels Airport is located in Zaventem, just outside the city. Flights into Brussels arrive mainly from the UK (London), Germany (Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin) and other European cities. Direct flights from the U.S., Africa, and Middle-East are also available. From the airport, it usually takes around 20 minutes to travel the 7 miles (11 km) to Brussels Central by train.

Finally, you can also fly to Brussels-Charleroi Airport, which is the hub for low-cost carriers (many Ryanair flights operate from here). However, we don't recommend it as Charleroi is actually quite far from Brussels (55km/34mi to the south). There is a shuttle bus service named Flibco that connects Charleroi Airport and Brussels, leaving the airport every 30 minutes. The journey takes one hour and the bus stops in Bruxelles-Midi (Brussels-South railway station).

Use our map below to get directions to everything we discuss in this article.

Important things to know before you go to Brussels

The best time to visit Brussels is between May and October. This time is generally warmer and there are many activities and events in the city. The weather, however, is very unpredictable and it rains quite often, so be prepared! Another great time to visit is December. It will be cold, but the city will be decorated for Christmas and there is an amazing Christmas market during that month.

The city is bilingual: Dutch (Flemish) and French are the main languages spoken in Brussels. However, sometimes it will feel like French is more common. Most people also speak English.

Brussels is generally safe, especially in the city center and during the day. However, there are areas outside the center that are better to avoid (Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Schaerbeek, Anderlecht, Marollen, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, and Anneessens). Make sure to check the area before booking an AirBnB somewhere outside the city center.

Most attractions in Brussels are located in the city center within walking distance. Hence, it's best to explore on foot. There is also a metro and bus system in place if you want to get to the Atomium or Flagey (Ixelles). 2 to 3 days are enough to explore the city, but add at least 1 or 2 days to visit other interesting cities such as Bruges or Ghent!

brussels belgium infographic

Where to stay in Brussels

Find our recommendations for places to stay in Brussels below. These places are in the downtown area (at a safe location) as well as have good reviews:

Where to eat and drink in Brussels

Over the years, we've eaten and drank our way through Brussels! These are some personal recommendations:

  • Amadeus (they have ribs to die for!)

  • Ballekes (traditional Belgian meatballs)

  • Beiruti (amazing Lebanese street food)

  • Celtica (fun Irish bar)

  • Delirium (they have a wide selection of beers)

  • Ellis Gourmet Burger (great quality burgers)

  • Frit Flagey (great fries as well!)

  • Kokob (amazing Ethiopian food)

  • La Piola Pizza (widely known as the best pizza in Brussels)

  • L'écuyer (local student bar)

  • Madame Moustache (fun bar with good atmosphere)

  • Maison Antoine (the best fries and sauce in Brussels!)

  • Otomat (Belgian pizza chain with very innovative pizza's)

  • Waffle Factory (Though, the best waffles are often just found in the train station at a little stand!)

  • Wolf sharing food market (lots of different food options - affordable)

There are so many other great places to eat in Brussels so we can't list them all! Definitely try these typical Belgian dishes when you're there:

  • Stoofvlees (Belgian beef stew)

  • Vol-au-vent (Creamy chicken)

  • Fries with a typical snack (e.g. mitraillette, bitterballen, boulet, frikandel, kipcorn)

  • Kaas- & garnaalkroket (Cheese- and shrimpcroquettes - typically served as an appetizer in a restaurant)

  • Moules-frites (mussels with fries)

  • Steak tartare (raw meat with an egg - it's actually delicious!)

  • Filet américain (this is a raw meat spread - you can eat it on a sandwich called "martino")

Best things to do in Brussels

Brussels has many amazing things to do! We'll now break down the top 10 things to do in Brussels for you.

10. Admire the Grand Place (Grote Markt)

Located right in the heart of Brussels near the Central Train Station, the main plaza, known as the Grand Place, is probably the first place you’ll visit. The square is one of the best preserved in all of Europe, with unique architecture and rich gold decorations. Most buildings date back to the end of the 17th century and were former “guild halls”. Guild halls are medieval building used to store goods and as places for celebratory events. When not required for guild members' events, the hall often became a place where townspeople could hold entertainments.

Today, the square is also home to several restaurants and cafés as well as the beautiful city hall. Combine a visit to the square with the nearby Royal Galleries, where you can find chocolate shops and cafés, covered by a spectacular glass roof.

grand place brussels belgium

9. Find Brussels’ icon: Manneken Pis

Manneken Pis might be one of the most famous landmarks in Brussels. The fountain sculpture of the little boy urinating can be traced back to the 15th century. However, little is known about its origins. It is 55.5 cm (21.9 in) tall, which is a lot smaller than most people expect! During celebrations, events, and festivals, the statue is dressed up in a costume. A collection of the costumes can be seen at the Garderobe Manneken Pis museum just down the road. What most people don’t know is that there is also a female and dog version of this statue, hidden around the city: named Jeanneke Pis & Zinneke Pis.

manneken pis brussels belgium

8. Visit the Royal Palace & Brussels Park

The Royal Palace is located in the Royal Quarter, and known as the workplace of the Belgian King. The palace interior can only be visited from the end of July until the end of August. However, it’s beautiful from the outside as well and makes for a great photo-op. A ceremonial changing of the guards takes place here every day at about 2:30 pm. But besides the palace, you can also visit the Brussels Park or the Coudenberg Palace Archaeological Site right next to it. The Coudenberg Palace shows the cellars and tunnels of the former Palace of Brussels, as well as forgotten streets that had been buried beneath the city for centuries.

brussels belgium royal palace
Royal Palace from the outside

7. Try Brussels waffles & delicacies

Belgium is the land of fries, chocolate, and waffles. But in Brussels specifically, you should try the Brussels waffle, which is a crispy waffle sprinkled with icing sugar and often dressed with various toppings. There is actually no such thing as a Belgian waffle, because there are two distinctive types: the Brussels and the Liège waffle. However, you can find both types all around the city. Besides waffles, you should also try fries in Brussels. There are many great fries shops (friteries) around, but we recommend Frit Flagey or Maison Antoine.

brussels waffles
the Brussels waffle

6. Go on a day trip to Bruges & Ghent

If Brussels is the only place you visit in Belgium, we highly recommend going on a day trip to Bruges and Ghent from there. Located an hour or more to the north-west of Brussels, these are Belgium’s most beautiful cities in our opinion. You can book a day tour that combines both cities, which includes a professional guide and transportation. But if you’d rather visit at your own pace, that’s also possible. Both cities can easily be reached via train from Brussels. We have seperate videos about Bruges and Ghent, so you can learn more about each city and the things to do there.

ghent belgium
the beautiful city of Ghent

5. Relax at Cinquantenaire Park & see the Triumphal Arch

Another thing you can’t miss in Brussels is the Cinquantenaire Park and the Triumphal Arch. This Park was established in 1880 to commemorate Belgium’s 50th anniversary. At its center is the beautiful Triumphal Arch, which connects two of Brussels' most interesting museums: the Royal Art and History Museum & the Belgian Army Museum. But even if you’re not interested in visiting the museums, it’s still worth coming here on a sunny day to relax in the park.

triumphal arch in brussels belgium
the Triumphal Arch

4. Go on a beer tasting tour

Belgian beers taste unique and are often referred to as the best beer in the world. This is thanks to a wide range of flavors, brands, brewing processes and ingredients. Since the time of the first Trappist and Abbey beers brewed by monks, the country has had a solid heritage to build upon! In Brussels, you can find a wide selection of beers. We recommend going to the Delirium Café, which offers more than 2,000 beers from around the world. But you can also decide to go on a guided tasting tour, during which you visit a few top bars while learning about the beers and history!

delirium cafe brussels belgium

3. Learn about the EU at the Parlamentarium

As mentioned before, Brussels plays an important role within the EU as it hosts the official seat of the European institutions. The Parlamentarium is the visitors' center of the European Parliament and can be visited for FREE. With an audio guide, you can walk around the interactive display while learning everything there is to know about the EU. From the initial path towards European cooperation, to how the European Parliament works and what Members of the European Parliament are doing to tackle Europe’s biggest challenges.

eu institutions in brussels belgium

2. Enjoy the panoramic view at Mont des Arts

Belgium doesn’t have many hills, so views are often hard to find! Luckily, Brussels has a few… the Mont des Arts is a small hill with a lovely view of downtown Brussels and the City Hall Tower at its center. But this area is also more than that. It’s the official art district, with some major museums and cultural institutions being only a short walk away. These include the Magritte Museum, the Museum of Musical Instruments and the Bozar cultural venue.

mont des arts brussels belgium
view from the Mont des Arts

1. Visit the Atomium

Finally, a trip to Brussels isn’t complete without a visit to the national icon: the Atomium. Built for the 1958 World Fair, this 102-meter-high steel and aluminum structure represents a molecule of iron magnified 165 billion times! It was actually a reference to the progress and research in the field of science, matter and nuclear energy - in its peaceful use. Today, you can enter the building, with a permanent exhibition on the history of the structure and an incredible panoramic view. Get your entry ticket here so you don't have to stand in line (sometimes the queue can be very long!). A visit to the Atomium can easily be combined with the nearby Mini-Europe or a walk through the Laeken park, where you can see the official royal family residence and beautiful monuments.

atomium brussels belgium


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bucket list for brussels trip

Other Top Brussels resources:

If you're looking for some other suggestions and tips on Brussels, here are some great articles that will help you:

Need more travel inspiration? Check out our other destinations and other articles about Belgium:

World Wild Hearts

Hi! We are Ine & Zac. An international travel couple from Belgium and the US. We created World Wild Hearts to inspire life-changing travel experiences like we've had. Use these tips, stories, and guides to inspire your next adventure of a lifetime!


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