Brussels is ideal for a short weekend getaway. Depending on where you live, Brussels is not all too far away from Germany, so it is easy to reach, the city is quite clear and not all too big and well developed for tourism. Whether on foot, by sightseeing bus or public transport – you can get to all important sights quite quickly and easily.
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Things to know about Brussels
Brussels is the capital of the Kingdom of Belgium and has about 1.1 million inhabitantswith its 19 municipalities. In the actual core of the city, however, “only” almost 180,000 people live. Several European institutions have their headquarters here, such as the European Union and, since 1967, NATO. What we didn’t know, but read: The name Brussels is composed of the word components bruk (“swamp” or “bridge”) and sel(la) (“seat” or “place of residence”) and can thus mean “place of residence inthe swamp ” or ” bridge over theSenne“.
The Hotel Martin’s Brussels EU
On Saturday morning at 6.29 a.m. the ICE departed from Frankfurt Central Station. It was no problem to get seats at all, even if you hadn’t reserved, because the train was half empty. Three hours later we arrived in Brussels-Noord on time and from here we went by tram and metro to our Hotel Martin’s Brussels EU, which was only a few minutes walk from Schuman station.
Check-in at Hotel Martin’s Brussels EU was quick and easy. We could even get to our room, even though it was only 10 o’clock in the morning. Really great, so we were able to freshen up again before we started. We had booked the room directly online on the hotel’s own page and decided there for a special package called “Discover Brussels”. This package includes an overnight stay incl. Breakfast, 2 tickets for the Atomium and an aperitif at the bar. The price of 99,- € is really very good here,considering that the Atomium alone costs 12,- € admission per person and the breakfast again 15,- €. What you should not forget: In Brussels, you pay a city tax of 4.24 euros per night per room, which you pay directly at the hotel.
Our room was an exceptional suite with bedroom and living room. Sounds very generous, it was. The king size bed was in an extra room with attached bathroom. What was cool: The bathtub had a whirlpool function. The breakfast buffet was set up in the on-site restaurant. And here there was also everything the heart desires. From various types of bread rolls, croissants to waffles, pancakes and scrambled eggs to fruit salad, champagne and sweet particles. Really very tasty.
The 48-hour Brussels Card (including hop-on hop-off ticket)
To explore Brussels, we had a 48-hour Brussels card including a hop-on hop-off ticketto make sure we could really see the most important thing in the city in the short time. The Brussels Card offers free admission to 39 different museums, such as the Belvue Museum, Autoworld and planetarium. The card also offers discounts at various attractions, tour operators, shops and restaurants.
The red buses of Citysightseeing Brussels depart daily from two different routes – the red Europe route and the blue Atomium route. Since we wanted to do both, we made the blue route on the first day and drove off the red route on the second day. The buses departed at each stop at intervals of about 20 to 25 minutes and were on the road – at least on weekends – from 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. respectively.
The sights of the city of Brussels
In two days we explored the main sights of Brussels.
The Grand Place (Grote Markt)
The Grand Place, often referred to as the Grote Markt, has been the central square of Brussels since the 11th century and is considered the tourist highlight and THE landmark of the city. One of the most beautiful squares in Europe is certainly the Gothic, majestic town hall with its 96-metre-high bell tower, the baroque facade fronts and the Maison du Roi (Broodhuis), the former royal court. Since 1998, the square has been a UNESCO World Heritage Sitedue to its uniqueness. The rest of the square is made up of the 37 baroque guild houses (gilde houses), which were laid out with plenty of sculpture decorations and elaborately designed gables. In addition to the name of the respective guild, each house bears a proper name, such as the guild of butchers (“The Swan”), the guild of carpenters (“The Sack”), the guild of brewers (“Golden Tree”) or the guild of the merchants (“The Fox”).
The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
Built in Gothic style, St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral is the main church of Brussels and is located right in the centre of the city. The construction of the cathedral began in 1226 and was completed at the end of the 15th century with the completion of the 69-metre-high towers. It is hard to imagine that one has been building a church for so long. The church offers some special features, such as the 16 choir windows with their 1,200 glass paintings, which provide a bright and light-flooded interior. Or a chimes with 49 bells, which is located in the southern tower. Somewhat bizarrely we found the Baroque pulpit carved in 1669 with the skeletons, which is supposed to represent the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise.
Manneken-Pis and Jeanneke Pis
One of the landmarks of Brussels is the Manneken-Pis – a fountain figure of a urinating boy just 61 centimetres high, created in 1619 by a Brussels sculptor. Why this statue is such a magnet for tourists, however, has not become so clear to us. The fountain with the figure stands inconspicuously on a corner of the house not far from the Grand Place. The grapes of people already show you the way, if you should not find it directly. With us Manneken-Pis was completely “naked”. One might not believe that his wardrobe, however, has more than 900 costumes available, which are pulled out and put on on special occasions. So it can happen that the little boy is dressed in the jersey of the Belgian national team at international matches or, for example, as Elvis, if he has his birthday. The Manneken-Pis are not only available in Brussels, but also (similarly) in Geraardsbergen in Belgium, Duisburg, the Danish island of Funen and the Japanese hamamatsucho station in Tokyo.
Since 1985 Manneken-Pis has got another sister: Jeanneke Pis, also a urinating fountain figure (but in the squat), which is about 50 cm high and stands in a barred niche. Like her brother, she is in the centre in a small side street. And since all good things are three, Manneken-Pis and Jeanneke Pis got a little dog in 1998 called Zinneke Pis, who – who is surprised – also urinates on a street corner in the city centre.
The Kunstberg (Mont des Arts)
The Kunstberg (Mont des Arts) is a hill not far from the old town of Brussels, where you can find many interesting museums of the city (“Brussels Museum Mile”) such as the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, the Royal Library of Belgium or the Museum of Musical Instruments. There are also beautiful gardens, fountains, numerous seating areas, small cafés and the King Albert monument. The Mont des Arts certainly offers one of the most beautiful views over Brussels. From the stairs at the end of the Kunstberg, the tower of the town hall is clearly visible. And in fine weather , as with us – you can even see the National Basilica and the Atomium. We took advantage of the great weather to sit on the elevated stairs for half an hour, listen to the sounds of the street musicians and enjoy the view of Brussels. Really a great place 🙂
The Royal Palace in Brussels
The Royal Palace is located in the centre of Brussels at the head of the Royal Park and serves as the King’s official residence and as a place of work where he performs his daily work. In addition, foreign state guests as well as representatives from various sectors are received here. After the national holiday from 21 July to the end of September, you can even visit the palace and see the magnificent rooms.
The Atomium in Brussels
The Atomium is certainly the most famous attraction of Brussels, so it was of course not to be missed on our city tour. With one of the red sightseeing buses we drove to the north of the city and were let out right in front of the Atomium. Since the weather was excellent, we took some photos to put the Atomium in the right light. From close up it looks really quite impressive. The Atomium is a huge metal structure built on the occasion of the World Expo in Brussels in 1958. With the help of nine atoms, it is to represent the elementary cell of an iron-crystal structure in 165-billion-fold magnification. The Atomium is 102 meters high and consists of nine spheres, each 18 meters in diameter, which are connected over 23 meters long tubes and are partially walkable.
Since we had already received our tickets from the hotel, we only had to lock our backpack in a locker (are not allowed here) and could queue at the entrance area. Luckily, it was relatively fast. The next queue then formed in front of the elevator, because only with this one you get within 23 seconds to the top sphere of the Atomium, on which the viewing platform and a restaurant are located. From up here you have a nice panoramic viewof Brussels , but it is actually not world-moving, so we only ran a lap for a short time and then went down again after 10 minutes. Only the view of the miniature world, which is located right next to the Atomium, we found quite interesting. Arriving downstairs and escalators, you work your way up to the individual sphere bodies in which exhibitions are located.
The National Basilica of the Sacred Heart
The National Basilica of the Sacred Heart is already visible from afar, as it is perched on a small green hill in the Koekelberg district in the northwestern part of the city. The basilica is one of the largest churches in the world after the churches in the Vatican, London and Florence (at least if you look at the interior of the nave) and was built between 1905 and 1970 in Art Deco style. Today it can accommodate about 2,000 people. When we visited the basilica in the afternoon and also looked at the interior, only five other visitors were there. At an altitude of 53 meters, there is also an observation deck from which you should have a fantastic view of Brussels. Unfortunately, we couldn’t convince ourselves because she had closed when we were there.
The European Quarter in Brussels
Brussels is the capital of 510 million Europeans, and this is particularly felt in the city’s European quarter. It is home to countless European institutions employing 40,000 people from the 28 EU Member States, such as the European Commission and the European Council at Schumann-Rondell.
With the red sightseeing bus we were able to get off at Place du Luxembourg, i.e. directly in front of the European Parliament. There is also the Parlamentarium, a visitor centre where you can get to know the world and the workings of the European Parliament. Admission is free. At the entrance, we got a multimedia guide, which is available in all 24 official languages of the EU and provides you with important information as you walk through the exhibition rooms. The exhibition was very interactive and modern and makes it a little easier to understand European politics.
The Jubilee Park with the Arc de Triomphe
We had taken care of the jubilant park for the evening, so that we could make better use of the light conditions for photography. Because the most visible monument in the 37-hectare park is the 50-metre-high Arc de Triomphe with its Quadriga, which somehow looks like a mixture between the Brandenburg Gate and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In the evening it was beautifully illuminated from the west by the sun… which was also true. Unfortunately, three large, open “Dinner in the Sky” gondolas hung directly in front of the archway, so that unfortunately did not work with the beautiful photos. On both sides of the Arc de Triomphe there are two large exhibition halls – today it houses the Autoworld Museum and the Military Museum. On the meadows of the park sat many people, who had spread out their picnic blankets and recovered from the noise of the city. We walked across once, as our hotel was only 10 minutes away from the other end of the park.
Belgium’s legendary delicacies
Visiting Belgium without tasting the legendary waffles, fries and chocolate is really not possible! We must also admit that this is something that can not be missed in Brussels either, because at every corner there is a small stand offering one of the delicacies. The scent of freshly baked waffles can be smelled from afar and it is hard to resist here. The displays in the many shop windows of the city centre alone allow the water in your mouth to converge, so that you stand in the shop faster than you thought. The special thing about the Brussels waffle is probably the loose, fluffy egg dough and the square shape. The result is a golden brown baked waffle, which tastes pure or refined with icing sugar simply delicious.
Belgian fries are also part of the cityscape of Brussels and are almost considered a cultural asset here. We decided on a fries stall right in the city, which is after all one of the top 10 of the city: the Fritland on the stock exchange. The very long queue in front of the window already suggested that the fries are good here… or just initiate that, just like us, there are dozens of tourists who just want to try the “yellow gold”. No matter. For 3 euros per nose we got two large portions; the sauce was available free of charge due to the Brussels Card. And now to the taste: Well, the fries unfortunately did not cut us off the stool, because they are simply too thick for us and therefore taste too “potatoy”.
In a side street at the Grote Markt is the Museum van Cacao en Chocolade – Choco-Story, for which we did not have to pay an entrance fee due to our Brussels card. In the exhibition rooms, which are spread over two floors, you have the opportunity to get to know the history of chocolate – from the origin to the final product. At a small demonstration of a Ma’tre chocolatier we were shown in which steps chocolates are produced. And, of course, the snacking has not been neglected. In the exhibition room there is a large chocolate fountain where you can immerse yourself in biscuits. In addition, there are 6 different donors from which you could taste individual pieces of chocolate. It was really interesting to test the taste of pure cocoa mass, cocoa butter, white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate in direct comparison.
The Comic Museum “MOOF”
Thanks to our Brussels Card, we were also able to visit the Moof Museum (“Museum of Original Figurines”) free of charge, which is located in the Horta Gallery on the way from the Grand Place to the Kunstberg. From Tim and Struppi to the Smurfs to Lucky Luke, you can see the origin of a comic. The museum has over 6,000 original drawings by the most famous Belgian comic book writers.
More sights and photo spots in Brussels
On the way from the Kunstberg to the Palace of Justice you will find the Gothic church of Notre-Dame du Sablon. The Palace of Justice with its nearly 98-metre-high dome was unfortunately almost fully equipped. The huge building, built in 1883, has eight courtyards, 27 courtrooms and 245 other rooms. The residence of the Belgian royal family is the laeken castle in the north of Brussels, where we were able to take a quick look during our sightseeing tour from the Hop On Hop Off bus. Directly on the opposite side is the monument of Leopold I.
The Belgian Stock Exchange was founded in 1801 by Napoleon Bonaparte. The stock exchange building was completed in 1873 on the Place de la Bourse and with its triangular roof and columns at the entrance is somewhat reminiscent of a Roman temple. Right in the centre of Brussels is the 213-metre-long Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (Sint-Hubertusgalerij). The shop passage consists of a long corridor with two floors and a slightly curved glass roof. Today you will find mainly small cafés and many chocolate shops.
Here are some more impressions we gathered over the weekend in Brussels:
Starbucks Global Icon City Mug of BrusselsWe are collecting the Starbucks Mugs from the cities and islands we visit on our travels. Unfortunately, not every city that has a Starbucks store with an own mug. But if the city has an own mug we like to collect them as a souvenir. We only collect city mugs from the "Global Icon Series", which was released in 2008. You can see our complete collection here: Starbucks - Our collection of Mugs from the Global Icon Series
Brussels has several Starbucks stores and also its own cup 🙂