A complete guide for what to do in Brussels in one day

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What to do in brussels in one day

While it doesn’t have the romance of Paris, the landmarks of London or the sexiness of Barcelona, there’s just something about Brussels, Belgium that lures travellers from near and far.

Perhaps it’s the waffles. Or the world-class beer scene. Or its easy connections to big hubs in Europe like Amsterdam and Frankfurt which make getting here a cinch. Whatever it is, Brussels has somehow managed to avoid the throngs of tourists that descend on spots like Prague and Venice, making it the kind of place you can simply amble around and soak it all in.

Despite being home to a million people and the headquarters of the European Union, there aren’t that many major sites which makes it easy to see most of the highlights in less than 24 hours. For those tight on time, here’s a complete guide to what to do in Brussels in one day.

What to do in brussels in one day

Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont includes an incredible array of specialty teas, heaping plates of delicious scones and sandwiches and delectable desserts.

Grand Place in Brussels. Shutterstock.

What to do in Brussels for a day: Grand Place and Manneken Pis

Kick off your Brussels one day itinerary in the heart of action, at the Grand Place. This central square features the Gothic-inspired town hall, which towers above a large cobblestone plaza lined framed by cafes, chocolate shops and restaurants.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the spot is a must-see—especially if you’re visiting in August when the whole area is transformed into a giant flower carpet

What to do in brussels in one day

Nearly one million vibrant begonias are brought in each year and arranged into an intricate pattern, creating a masterpiece that ends up looking like a Turkish rug. Stretching an incredible 77 metres long and 24 metres wide, the whole square is lit up at night which is absolutely spellbinding. The tradition has been happening for decades, and has since been brought to other cities around the world.

The flower carpet in Brussels. Courtesy of Shutterstock.

The flower carpet in Brussels. Courtesy of Shutterstock.

Just a couple of blocks off the Grand Place, keep an eye out for Belgium’s most famous (and rather underwhelming) landmark: Manneken Pis, which is a tiny fountain depicting a young boy peeing. Seriously.

The hilarious bronze sculpture has somehow become a symbol of the country, and it goes without saying that it’s worth seeing…if only to have a good chuckle.

Manneken Pis is one of the top things to see in Brussels in one day

Manneken Pis

Brussels tours

Since you’ve still got a whole day ahead of you, spend the next few hours on a guided excursion that’s in line with your interests. For example, there are plenty of food tours where you can take part in a chocolate workshop, sample popular food in Belgium like waffles, or enjoy a beer tasting experience. Design buffs will want to sign up for a tour that explores Brussels’ Art Noveau architecture. Or, join a walking tour that passes by other city landmarks, including Monts de Artes, St Gudula Cathedral and the impressive Les galleries Royals Saint-Hubert.

 

What to visit in Brussels: The Royal Palace and Atomium

Farther outside the city centre, there are a few landmarks worth seeing, including the regal Royal Palace of Brussel, which is the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians. However, it’s worth nothing it’s not actually used as a royal residence, since the nobility actually live in the Royal Palace of Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels.

Royal Palace of Brussels. Shutterstock. belgium

Royal Palace of Brussels. Shutterstock.

One of the best things to do in Brussels with kids is to head to Mini-Europe, where there are small replicas of Europe’s best-known landmarks like Big Ben, the Acropolis and the Eiffel Tower. Little ones will get a kick out of this miniature continent, where 80 cities and hundreds of buildings are represented at a scale of about 1:25. 

Cap off your Brussels sightseeing by stopping by the impressive, futuristic-looking Atomium. The 103-metre tall structure was created for the 1958 World Fair, and symbolizes an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times in reference to the power of nuclear energy. Head inside to learn more about it at the permanent exhibition, and grab lunch or dinner at the Atomium Restaurant which is 95 metres high, meaning great city views. Click to book

What to do in brussels in one day

The Atomium

Best food in Belgium

Finally, the best way to experience Brussels is to enjoy some Belgian dishes: namely chocolate, waffles, beer and mussels. Belgian beer is fantastic even if you’re not a regular beer drinker, as there are sweet concoctions like Kriek and Framboise which taste suspiciously similar to cherry and raspberry juice (but with a nice buzz!). As for the mussels, they’re worth ordering just to say you ‘ate mussels in Brussels.’ 

The best food in Belgium

Where to stay in Brussels

  • MAS Residence– This hotel is so unique that every single one of the huge rooms is designed differently. With it’s perfect location, you can walk to major attractions in the city and also get to and from the airport easily. Click here to book
  • FunKey Hotel– This kitschy hotel has a board game theme, where every room’s design is inspired by a different game. Of course, they also offer an extensive inventory of board games to play, which will bring you back to your childhood and make for some great entertainment after a day of Brussels sightseeing. Click here to book
  • Thon Hotel EU– This property proves it’s possible to be sustainable, affordable, and still provide a great guest experience. Centrally located in Brussels, Thon Hotel EU has spacious rooms and an excellent restaurant that serves a great breakfast.  Click here to book

What to do in brussels in one day

Tips for your Brussels itinerary

Currency used in Belgium: The euro

Language: French and Dutch are the main languages, but most people speak at least some English or Flemish as well. As a matter of fact, with so many diplomats living in the city you can expect to find people who know about seven different languages!

Must do: Eat a waffle! The Belgians swear by their thin liege waffles, but most people are more familiar with the huge Belgian waffles. You can enjoy one with a number of toppings including ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, strawberries and bananas. 

Day trips from Brussels

If you’ve got extra time on your Brussels itinerary to spare, there are plenty of fantastic day tours from Brussels that explore other areas in Belgium and even up to Luxembourg. The city of Bruges is a popular pick thanks to its picturesque canals, as well as Ghent and Antwerp which is considered the country’s fashion capital. Here are a few options: 

 

This article was originally published in June 2015 and updated in April 2020

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12 Responses

  1. Pascale says:

    So so so many things to see in Brussels! I would add the Marrolles and it’s daily market, the avenue Louise, the Horta Museum, all the comic stripes painted on the walls and the Natural Sciences Museum.

  2. W.Fearn says:

    Brussels carpet of flower gardens has no words to describe the splendor.

  3. Carolyn Brooks says:

    When I lived in Brussels in the 90’s the flower carpet was not every year but every 3 years. Have things changed?

  4. Lopez says:

    I lived in Brussels the last five years of my military career and was assigned to the US Enbassy to NATO. I LOVED IT!! Off the beaten path but try to swing by the Atomium where there are always some type outdoor activity or fest going on and just across the street from the Atomium is the Brussels Conference Center where there are usually a lot of events such as car shows taking place. The best feature of Brussels is that it’s Europe Central. Everyone Europe is easy access to Brussels.

  5. Michaela @1001VoyagesGourmands says:

    Very nice article about my city! Thank you for sharing this, is always nice to read good words about Brussels 🙂 Indeed, I also often get strange reactions and its a pitty cause Brussels is not only about Grand Place, Manneken Pis or Waffles. It needs to be experienced, there are so many cultural and random events going on, and there are some architecture masterpieces also beyond the city center. We have wonderful parks and forests that visitors can enjoy too! And the food, indeed, omg, so tasty and so much choice in nice restaurants and dven street food! I’d say, come, don’t only stay in the city center and enjoy the town in its full charm. You will need to search for the hidden beauty but that makes it even a more interesting experience! 🙂

  1. June 13, 2015

    […] Why Brussels, Belgium should be on your European travel list […]

  2. June 13, 2015

    […] Why Brussels, Belgium should be on your European travel list […]

  3. May 2, 2020

    […] A complete guide for what to do in Brussels in one day […]

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