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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.’
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
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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