Brussels, the capital of Belgium, needs a few days to explore, but often that is just not possible. I only had 1 day in Brussels to try to cram in as much as I possibly could.
There were many things I wanted to do. Just the list of foods I wanted to try was enough to fill a whole day, let alone see any of the sights. Here is how I spent my one day in Brussels and some alternative suggestions too.
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1 Day in Brussels
We started early. The first stop was to get breakfast, and I had done some research and found a couple of places that had been recommended.
Peck 47 was a place that came up regularly in my reading, but we chose to go to the other option I had found, MoCafé – mostly because it was closer to where we were coming from!
It also helped that we could tick another attraction off the list while getting breakfast too.
Mocafé is conveniently located in the beautiful Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, which reminded me of the well-known Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy.
Of course breakfast had to be Belgian waffles. Traditional waffles are generally just covered in sugar, no cream of extras.
The idea is that the taste of the waffle should be the star of the meal, not all the accompaniments, but I couldn’t help myself, I had to get some fruit added to my waffles too.
As an aside, this is only one of the types of waffles found in Brussels. The second type is called L’Ancienne style, and they are found at supermarkets in packets of six or so.
These are made with the sugar already inside of them, and take my word for it, they are a delicious treat. Make sure you include a supermarket visit on your 1-day itinerary in Brussels!
The city of Brussels is the proud owner of three peeing statues! Yes, you read that right! The first one, Mannekin Pis (we will get to him later) was put in place in the early 1600’s.
No one seems to know why the statue was created or if it is of a significant person, but it has become one of the most popular attractions in Brussels.
In the 1980’s, someone though that there needed to be some gender equality – if Brussels has a peeing boy, why not a peeing girl too?
So Jeanneke Pis was born. She sits (squats?) down a small alley where you will also find the famous pub Delirium (more on that later too!).
Then it was off to the stunning Grand Place to meet our guide for a free walking tour of the main sites.
We went with Sandeman’s New Europe. We have done many good free walking tours with them in the past.
The guides always try to be entertaining, and more than one has been an aspiring actor, so often the stories and history take on a real theatrical feel!
As we walked around the city centre we learned all about the history of Brussels, significant landmarks, important people and the most popular foods. We also stopped to taste a Belgian beer.
Amongst other places, during the tour we walked past Mannekin Pis, the original peeing statue.
When we saw him he was naked, but he has around 1000 different outfits and there is a person whose job it is to change what he is wearing regularly.
He is clothed for two days, has one day naked, clothed again differently for two days, and so on.
While no one really knows who the statue is of, one of the popular legends is that it is the Duke Godfrey III of Leuven from back in the twelfth century.
At two years old the Duke was too young to lead his troops into battle, so he was instead hung in a tree (in a basket!) near the battlefield.
Apparently, at one stage the enemy came right up to him – and he peed on them! This proved inspirational to his troops, who went on to win the battle.
Whatever the reason this statue is here, it has now become an icon of Brussels. The tourists flock to see him and are almost all disappointed at how small he is.
In fact, he is often quite a let down. You will likely pass by him anyway while you are in Brussels, but the legend is more interesting than the actual statue – unless of course you want to check out what he is wearing!
One thing our guide did do well during the walking tour was to talk a lot about the local foods and give some good recommendations where to find the best local versions.
As the tour ended around lunchtime, we were suitably hungry and lunch just had to be one of the real Belgian originals, so frites were our choice.
Our guide had recommended a tiny place called Friterie Tabora and we discovered once we arrived that it’s really popular – but also really tasty!
Basically, these are a really good version of hot potato chips doused in a delicious sauce. This little store had 42 different sauces you could pour over the top.
There was everything you could possibly imagine. I tried a spicy one called Samurai – again recommended by our guide, and now also by me if you like something with a little bit of a kick.
While we were on that side of town, we rounded out our collection with the third of the Brussels peeing statues. This time it was Het Zinneke, a dog with his leg cocked towards a street pole.
This guy is not a fountain though, so there is no flowing water involved. While trivial, these statues are kind of fun to seek out – and wonder what the Belgians are going to come up with next.
Next on the list was the Comics Art Museum.
It was a bit of a walk so this was the perfect opportunity to take a few detours as we made our way there – primarily through a few of the beautiful chocolate shops.
While these places are amazing, just to look at all year round, on our visit on Easter Sunday they were even more beautiful with Easter displays in all the windows and some special products available for sale.
We weren’t indulging (too much!), but we couldn’t help but pick up a few treats to get us through the next few days.
We picked up some traditional Speculoos biscuits from Maison Dandoy, Champagne Rose and Salted Butter Caramel chocolates from Mary, the first chocolate shop in Brussels by a female, and from Neuhaus, the very first Belgian chocolatier, we got the famous Manon chocolates and the delicious Orangette chocolates.
All of these were again recommended by our walking tour guide as some of the best chocolates in Brussels.
Our walk also took us past St Michael’s Cathedral – a Notre Dame look-a-like.
While this church was built about 200 years later than Notre Dame in Paris, it was built by the same “brotherhood” of builders so has many of the same features and design details.
This may be a great alternative to see this amazing style while the Paris cathedral is being rebuilt after the devastating fire.
And then finally we got to the Comic Art Museum. Belgium is where comics were invented, giving us characters known the world over such as Tin Tin, The Smurfs and Asterix.
This museum is dedicated to them, and all the thousands of characters the locals know and love but we have never heard of.
There is so much detail about the work that goes into the comics and all of the different styles, as well as sections on some of the most famous authors.
We were heading back into the area near Grand Place, and this time there was no distraction – we were on a mission, and it involved beer!
There is a bar in Brussels with more than 3000 beers from around the world available, so while here, we had to test out a couple! Delirium is actually a group of bars, all located next door to each other.
Each one of the bars has its own personal style and specialty.
There are so many different beers though, that any one of them will have more than enough options for someone popping in for a casual beer just to try something new.
Surely one of those is the best beer in Brussels!
Just one more thing to tick off the list, and that was to eat mussels. Mussels are a particularly renowned food in Brussels – is it just because of the rhyming words??
We stopped at the well-known, but Uber-touristy, Chez Leon. We had mussels and another Belgian food called stoemp (again recommended by our walking guide!).
Both were pretty good – even though I did think stoemp was meant to be vegetarian but it came with a couple of pork sausages with it. Maybe I missed something in tranlation on the menu.
One Day in Brussels is Not Enough!
Our day in Brussels was filled with food and drinks, a walking tour to learn about the city, and one museum, and we missed so many other amazing things.
Here’s a list of a few other Brussels attractions you can substitute in if our itinerary is not exactly right for you.
If the Comics Art Museum is not for you, perhaps try one of these instead
- Royal Museum of Fine Arts Brussels
- Museum of Natural Sciences
- Magritte Museum
- Train Museum
- Choco-Story Brussels
- Brussels City Museum
- Musical Instruments Museum
- The World of Banksy
There are dozens of amazing pieces of street art throughout the city of Brussels, enough to spend your whole day admiring them. There is a map showing where to find the major pieces here.
Atomium and Surrounds
The Atomium is a distinctive structure located a little out of the city centre, you will need to catch public transport or a taxi to get there.
Like the Eiffel Tower, the Atomium was built to be the centre point of a World Fair but has now become an exhibition space and one of the best places for views over Brussels.
Entry tickets to the Atomium also include entry to the nearby Design Museum.
Okay, this one might sound a bit, well, lame, but I have been to one of these miniature places before (in Istanbul) and I loved looking at all the tiny versions of the buildings and monuments we know so well.
Mini-Europe has 350 miniatures of all the favourite sites across 27 countries of the EU and the UK. You won’t need to travel anywhere else after seeing this.
Take a Cooking Class
This one might be difficult to fit into one day, but if you are a real foodie, you may prefer to do this instead of the walking tour. After all, with all the delicious food here, you might want to learn to make it.
There are options for learning to make waffles, or some of those delicious Belgian chocolates.
TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS
Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs
Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.
Hire a rental car – RentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.
Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.
Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.
Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.
Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.
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