When people come to visit Belgium, most likely they will be making a stop in Brussels. There are lots of things to do in Brussels, I mean hey, it’s the capital! It’s a major, bustling city with museums, history, and access to plenty of day trips!
Where I am based in France, in Lille, Brussels is an extremely easy day trip to take! I have been already 3 times! Although I must admit that Brussels isn’t my favorite city in Belgium, I still have had some really memorable experiences in this city. But as I said, I’m sure many people have this spot on their bucket list! And it is a really great central spot to explore other, more underrated areas in Belgium.
Here you can find the top 10 things to do in Brussels! Some of them are iconic, some you might not have thought of before! I hope you get a chance to cross some of them off your bucket list!
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1. Take a picture in Grand Place
The Grand Place in Brussels might be one of my favourite squares in Europe and it is one of the best things to do in Brussels. It is extremely ornate, covered in details, and gold on every surrounding Baroque building. The Town Hall, Brussels City Museum, and several other beautiful buildings are in the Grand Place. It is quite magnificent and is my personal favorite photo spot in the city.
This is the main square in Brussels, so you can find events all year round. When I came in the winter, their Christmas tree was towering in the center. And just this past summer, there was a flower show taking place. I know you can’t control the weather, BUT if you’re able to visit on a sunny day you won’t be disappointed. The gold details sparkle and shine in the sunlight- it’s magical!
2. Take a chocolate-making class
Of course, Belgian chocolates are iconic and are one of the foods people think of when visiting Belgium. But have you thought about maybe, LEARNING how to make them? Cooking classes have become one of my favorite activities I try to do while traveling. And my very first one was in Brussels!
On my first visit to Brussels, we booked a chocolate-making class and I loved it! I still recommend it to people as my favorite thing to do in Brussels. We spent 2.5 hours learning how to make 30 Belgian chocolates, that we got to take home at the end of the lesson. We made 2 different types of chocolate, and with the leftover chocolate, they made us some Belgian hot chocolate.
This was one of my most memorable activities I’ve done on my many visits to Belgium and I HIGHLY recommend trying it! Especially if you LOVE chocolate (like me)! The exact class we took is linked here!
3. Visit Mannequin Piss
This is one of the most famous attractions in Brussels. It astounds me the crowds of people that can be found admiring this very tiny statue! And it astounds me more that Brussels has almost adopted this statue as its symbol. You can find it on stickers, t-shirts, postcards, magnets – everywhere!
But why do we care about this little statue? It was designed in 1388 but there are many legends about the statue that have been introduced over the years. Most are surrounding the idea that the statue or boy the statue represents has saved Brussels, either from a fire or in battle.
And over the years, this little statue has gathered quite a sizeable wardrobe. The statue now has 1,000 costumes since the tradition began in 1698. You can find the statue’s outfits in the Brussels City Museum in the Grand Place.
For more information about this iconic statue, you can read more here!
4. Do a tour of the Old Town
Doing a tour of a new city is one of the best things to do to introduce yourself to the city. Whether it’s a walking tour, a free tour, or a bus tour of the city, exploring the old town with a guide to show off Brussels’s history is always a good idea.
My choice of walking tour was actually a walking tour of the different chocolatiers. (I told you I like chocolate!) There are lots of different types of tours you can take that might cater better to your interests. This particular tour went through the city’s history through the lens of chocolate. We walked through some of the most authentic and historic chocolate shops in the city.
Pro tip: It was on this tour that I learned that Leonidas, the brand of chocolate, isn’t authentic Belgium chocolates anymore. They are for sure cheap but are mainly catering to tourists. More authentic Belgian chocolates can be found in Galler, Mary, or Neuhaus! Galler is definitely the most budget-friendly option on this list!
5. Try local foods
I’ve talked a lot about chocolate so far but let’s not forget there are other iconic foods to try in Belgium! Trying the local foods is a MUST when searching for things to do in Brussels.
Fries or Frites are something you must do at least once. You can find authentic fries in what’s called a friterie, these are often takeaway places. But in the center of Brussels, you can find many restaurants that serve excellent fries. Frites are the most popular to buy at a friterie however you can find other fast food options as well such as fricadelle. Be sure to be adventurous and try some new sauces! Friteries will often have a wide variety!
Waffles are another Belgian specialty! But what I learned on a recent visit to Brussels is that there are Brussels waffles and Belgian waffles. Belgian waffles are the most common, they are smaller and thicker. But a Brussels waffle is larger, has a crispier exterior, and a very light, airy interior. They are really good!
Another Belgian icon is Moules Frites – mussels and fries. This is actually the national dish of Belgium, so if you like mussels, definitely try them in Brussels. If you’re a fan of mussels, you might consider visiting Lille, France in September. During Braderie weekend, the main food served is Moules Frites and there are mountains of mussel shells piling up around the city as a result. It’s a pretty fun experience!
6. Enjoy a bike ride to Atomium
Atonium is another iconic thing to do in Brussels. It is a large structure that resembles an atom that sits in a park a little outside of the city center. It was designed for the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958 and has stayed ever since. I just recently learned that it was actually made to symbolize the “peaceful use of atomic energy”. Which is pretty cool!
Today, it is a really popular place to stop by. People will visit mainly to ride to the very top for the panoramic view of the city. I will say that it is quite out of the city centre. When I went, we drove there and walked through the park. If you were walking from the Grand Place, it would take you over an hour. So maybe this would be a good time to rent a bike to explore this other icon of the city!
7. Happiness Expo
On my most recent visit to Brussels, the Happiness Expo was taking place. It has been running since March 31, 2023, and is set to close January 7th 2024.
This is one of the coolest art installations and exhibits I have been to. And to top it off, I love the message behind it! It is all about how art makes us happy. The exhibition explores ways to manage anxieties and stress through art and color in the most unexpected ways. It is an interactive, immersive exhibition that is fun for all ages. So if you are planning a visit any time soon, I’d highly recommend checking to see if the exhibition is still going on!
You can learn more about the exhibition here!
8. Stop by the Royal Palace
Did you know Belgium had a king and queen? Well, they do! And you can stop by the Royal Palace in Brussels for a visit! It’s closed this year, 2023, due to renovations but it plans on reopening in 2024! It’s also important to note that visiting inside the palace needs to be reserved in advance and only takes place during the summer months!
The Royal Palace is not the official residence of the monarchy, but rather it is the administrative residence! Even if you do not want to take a tour inside, it is a very nice building to admire from outside as well!
9. Wander around the Gallery of Saint Hubert
Right in the middle of the old town, not far from the Grand Place, you can find this really beautiful arcade. Other major European cities including London and Paris have noteworthy arcades and The Gallery of Saint Hubert is Brussel’s contribution!
This arcade is a covered shopping street that has been around since the 1830s and is another wonderful photo spot in Brussels! It has a beautiful, glass roof and is lined with stunning storefronts of some rather luxurious spots. I always come here to window shop the different chocolatiers!
10. Try some beer
Last but not least, a visit to Belgium isn’t complete without trying some local beers. I’ve mentioned Belgium’s favorite foods but now it’s time to talk about Belgium’s favorite drink! There are so many pubs to visit in Brussels that will give you the chance to enjoy Belgian beers – so it’s probably the easiest thing to accomplish off of this list of things to do in Brussels.
Now I am by no means a beer connoisseur, and if I’m honest, I don’t really like beer. BUT, for those of you who can’t wait to try some Belgian beers on your visit to Brussels here is a list of the 10 of the best craft-beer bars in Brussels courtesy of the Guardian!
And there you have it! How much time you need to spend in Brussels? I’d advise that you probably need 1 full day to walk around and be introduced to the city. If you’d like to stay longer, there are museums, tours, and other day trips that would definitely be worth your time!
If you’re not sure where to base yourself, Lille in France is an excellent city to base yourself. You can easily take train trips to several beautiful cities in Belgium including Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels! You can read more about the Train trips from Lille to Belgium here!