An indescribable blend of cultures with some of the most genuine locals in Europe, the capital of Belgium proudly calls their city the capital of the European Union. That’s right, surrounded by some of the largest cities in Europe, Brussels finds itself at the center of all the administrative on-goings in the European Union. Between art nouveau facades and its Medieval roots, Belgium is teeming with quirkiness. As you stand in the center of one of the world’s most beautiful squares, Grand Place, you’ll notice the multicultural influences of the entire city within steps of you. Historic yet modern, bureaucratic with a touch of quirkiness, and majestic yet fading; Brussels is a city filled with a cityscape that swings in every direction. You won’t run out of what to do in Brussels and it will keep any American tourist starving for more. There are top things to do in Brussels around every corner!
There’s certainly more to Belgium than its work-first undertone. With Brussels nightlife flooded with university students, an art scene ready for take-off, and seemingly a foreigner from every culture, Brussels is packed to the brim with enough variety to keep you on edge. Slowly walk through Grand Place and down its side streets and listen to the buskers as they play all sorts of different music and perform a bunch of entertaining acts. You’ll see just how unconventional this city really is. Anything from its blend of cuisines to its plethora of amusing day trips; a Brussels itinerary is sure to fill up any traveler’s time in the city.
I’ve backpacked around over half of Europe in the span of three years, and I still believe the architecture, the laid-back culture, and its overall diversity makes Brussels one of the top European backpacking destination. The best advice I can give is to slow down and not rush through everything on your first visit. There is simply far too much to do in one trip.
Belgium is a country geographically placed in the northern part of Europe. It borders its Dutch neighbors to the northeast, its German neighbors east, and French neighbors to the west. It also shares a border with the tiny country of Luxembourg. To the direct north lies the great North Sea which is a quick crossing to the United Kingdom. It is, truly, very well-located for any American tourist backpacking through Europe routes. It’s capital city, Brussels, is at the heart of the European Union’s largest and most popular city and also offers day trips to several traditional Medieval Belgian cities that you don’t want to miss. Brussels can be easily reached by using the European Interrail system or many affordable flights and buses from anywhere in the continent. Now, all you need to do is prepare for your trip!
Things to do in Brussels
There are plenty of things to do in Brussels that can keep you busy for as long as you want to stay. You can see Brussels in a day or stay for a whole week – that’s part of the reason Brussels makes an excellent stop on anyone’s ‘Euro Trip’.
Here are a few must-see places that should be on everyone’s Brussels itinerary:
Grand Place Taking a Brussels walking tour around the historic Grand Place is one of the top things to do in Brussels — one of the best places to visit in Brussels and in Europe. You won’t miss it.
Guildhouses are scattered around Grand Place. These jaw-dropping houses are beautiful and covered in gold that shine under the sun and in the night lights of Grand Square.
Train World is a railway museum in Brussels and is considered one of the best things to do in Brussels. If trains and locomotives are your cup of tea, this is not to be missed.
Atomium was constructed in 1958 when Brussels hosted the World’s Fair. It is located at Heysel Plateau and you will notice by the amount of tourists surrounding it that it is one of the top things to do in Brussels.
Bois de la Cambre is an urban public park on the outskirts of Brussels. It is a nice escape from the rush in the city and you will see many locals there which is why I consider it one of the top things to do in Brussels.
Town Hall (Hotel de Ville) is a Gothic Building from the Medieval Ages in Brussels across from the city’s museum in Grand Place. It sees thousands of people take pictures of it per day. The entire area, of course, is one of the most beautiful things to do in Brussels.
Van Burren Museum is not in the center like most of the things to do in Brussels, however, the tram ride is worth the trip. The garden maze can entertain the kids while anyone else can take amazement in the awe-inspiring decor and artifacts throughout the property.
St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral is a Roman-Catholic church given cathedral status in 1962. It was completed all the way back in 1519 and is still very much the same today. I would certainly consider it one of the top things to do in Brussels even if you’re not a religious person.
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium holds one of the finest collections of art in Belgium and is included in the Brussels Card discounts. Check out more on that deal below!
Notre Dame du Sablon towers over Sablon Square in the center of Brussels. Transformed from a chapel into a dominating Gothic Church, this centuries-old church is worth seeing! Plus, it’s not too far from other great sights around the city.
Take a day trip to Ghent which is one of the most incredible medieval cities in Belgium. I spent a month in Ghent and still couldn’t get enough of it. Between the Gravensteen Castle and the unbelievably sweet cuberdon candies, there’s so much to fill your day trip itinerary.
Take a day trip to Brugge which is a smaller, more packed version of Ghent. The medieval is still very much alive in this small town. It’s quaint, historical, and only a thirty-minute train ride from Brussels.
Take a day trip to Antwerp which is a larger port city also only thirty minutes from Brussels by train. Here, they have some of the most delicious Belgian chocolate that has become world famous.
Belgian beer tasting in the capital of European beer. Learn what has made Belgium’s beer world renown as you taste at least four different beers with extremely different flavors. It’s a must while in Belgium.
Take a day trip to Luxembourg and see the best of two countries in one day! It’s a full day-long trip so make sure you bring the necessities. Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe but it packs a punch!
The Tale of the Tape on Brussels, Belgium
Brussels is the largest city in the country of Belgium with around 1.2 million citizens within its city limits. Brussels is known worldwide for multiple things. Its renowned medieval history makes it one of the best places in Europe to feel the history all around you. In addition, Brussels is a multicultural haven. People hailing all over Europe land in Brussels because of its connection as the home of the European Union.
What to eat in Brussels
If you want a taste of the local cuisine further than taking a Brussels beer tour, try these traditional foods:
Mussels or Moules-frites, in French, Mosselen-Friet, in Flemish, or mussels with fries, is a classic Belgian dish you can find at just about any café or brasserie in Brussels.
Fries although are normally known as French fries, aren’t actually French at all. That’s right, the home of potatoes as fries is right in Belgium!
Meatballs often served with tomato sauce or in beef stock (depending on what part of the country you’re in) are the rage in Belgium and there are no shortages in Brussels.
Belgian waffles are a specialty all over the country. In fact, there are two types of waffles that originated in this small country of Belgium. The square-shaped flakier (less sweet) kind are the Brussels specialty. The other circular, more dense and sweet waffles come from Liege.
Best time to go to Belgium
Brussels is a great place to travel year round. While I visited in the early spring and it did nothing but rain, there was a sweet ambiance that came with that weather in Belgium. In the summer, the sun comes out and it starts to warm up with the summer festivals.
However, my favorite time to visit Brussels would be in the autumn. Particularly in late September and early October when there are fewer tourists, lower prices, and the bright leaves begin to fall all over the cobbled streets.
Where to stay in Brussels?
Ideally, you’d like to make the most of your time by staying near Grand Place. However, as summer months can be very busy in Europe (especially if you don’t book your accommodation in advance), I found another great neighborhood to stay in is the Marolles area. Uphill from Grand Place, Marolles District is much more affordable with cozy cafes, drinking-man’s bars, and inexpensive restaurants. Plus, it’s just a downhill walk from one of the most beautiful squares in Europe at Grand Place. There are plenty of places to visit in Brussels scattered throughout the city so no matter where you are, you’re never too far from a few of the things to do in Brussels.
How to get there/get around:
I used Uber in Brussels multiple times and found it to be the best way to get to places to visit in Brussels that may not be in the city center or close to it. It’s not difficult to find a ride and is actually fairly common.
If Uber in Brussels is out of your budget, the city has a very organized public transportation system. For almost any Brussels tour, a Single Ride Ticket or a 24-Hour Ticket will suffice; I didn’t even have to use public transportation most days. However, there are other options available like a Week Long Pass or the Brussels Card which will give you discounts on various Brussels attractions around the city.
Personally, I didn’t feel the need to purchase the Brussels Card when I traveled to the capital of Belgium. With it, you’ll receive unlimited use of public transport or the famous hop on/ hop off buses and discounts to museums. However, I’m not the biggest museum type of traveler. If you are, it could definitely be worth your investment.
You can purchase a ticket directly from the metro driver when hopping on or find passes at tourist stores all over the city center.
American Survival Guide
Traditional Belgian Meal
A traditional dinner near Grand Place will cost you an unexpected pretty penny; $16-$18 will usually cover a delicious traditional entrée. I recommend making your way to the Marolles District where there are fewer tourists, better prices, and tastier food.
A Night Out
A beer in the heart of Brussels isn’t exactly cheap, but its world-famous beer so you have to splurge. Try over 2,000 different kinds of beer on tap at the Delirium Cafe — or, at least, a few.
A Frite stand (french fries) in the middle of Brussels Grand Place will cost you about $4 for a nice budget lunch. The price is even a little lower as you get further out from city center. Being that these things were invented in Belgium, you have to add this meal to your Brussels itinerary.
Bus or Train
Public transport is fairly expensive in Brussels when compared to other cities more regularly on a Europe backpacking itinerary. It costs around $2.50 for a regular 1-hour ticket on Brussels Public Transport. Alternatively, you can pay $9 and get a pass that will give you unlimited rides from Brussels Public Transport for 24 hours around all of the places to visit in Brussels. Although it’s quite a steep price, the route will take you through all of the top things to do in Brussels.
From Brussel’s main airport directly to Grand Place, you can call an UberX for less than $30 – or an Uber Van for the whole family under $50. Those prices are slightly more than in your average city but will take you to all of the top things to do in Brussels.
An all-inclusive Brussels Card is the ideal offer to see what to do in Brussels. The card is available for 24, 48, or 72 hours. The price of the card starts at $30, so you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it to you. It will take you through all of the top things to do in Brussels.
Brussels has an ordinary range of AirBnB selection. You can usually find an entire apartment in Brussels for anywhere from $60-$70 on a nightly basis depending on where you are in the city. There are also more expensive places closer to Grand Place which is nearer to all of the top things to do in Brussels.
For an individual room, one person can normally find a bed for less than $25 per night.
However, if you journey outside of the heart of the city looking to do Amsterdam on a budget, prices drop dramatically and you can find a bed for as cheap as $10-$12.
People from Brussels are French speakers with their own dialect. Check out this basic French language guide before you go! All around Brussels is the Flemish area of Belgium where they speak Dutch. Although I was told the French part can’t speak English as well as the Flemish, I, generally, had no problems communicating.
If you want cell service, it’s important to check with your provider about international charges. In addition, it’s always a good idea to alert your provider (and your bank) that you’ll be traveling internationally.
Credit Card Transaction Fees
It’s important to check your credit company’s policy on international transactions before using it abroad. There are plenty of credit cards available that advertise “No International Transaction Fees”. If you want to get a new card before leaving, find one like this.
Things to have before you arrive
It’s not imperative; however, I’ve always found travel much more relaxing when you arrive without a dire need of any essentials. Here are a few of them:
- Electrical Adaptors
- Power Bank
- Offline Map (app)
- Directions to your accommodation
Brussels – or Belgium, in general – is a country a part of the European Union (it’s actually the home of the E.U. – which means Americans are granted 90-days in a 180-day period to travel freely throughout the E.U. This means if you plan to be in Europe for longer than three months, you should take a look at this. It’s best to know what to do in Brussels in accordance with your visa before you arrive.
There are a lot of stereotypes that Americans have adopted over time. There are, also, a lot of stereotypes we have made about Europeans that just aren’t true.
With that being said, there are some cultural differences everywhere you go. Embrace those – they’re the best part about traveling because those differences educate you.
In Belgium, tipping is not common. Most gratuity is already included on your bill and therefore not expected. While riding in taxis, it’s common to round up to the nearest Euro. Other than that, you won’t see too many people tipping. Now you know what to do in Brussels when it comes to tipping.
Discover what to do in Brussels
Brussels left something to be desired for me. I much more enjoyed its Flemish neighbors Ghent and Brugge. Check out their guides, too. If you want to find out more about how to travel Europe on a budget, and all that it has to offer, click on over to our Europe travel blog page dedicated to tips for backpacking Europe! You will find these to be informative, giving you excellent insight into planning a trip through this multi-cultural continent.