Journeys, Travel Guides

How to fall in love with Brussels in 48 hours

The magical sounds of old musical instruments from around the world, the scent of mussels and fries at every street corner, the comics culture, discovering the Art Nouveau’s crib and the French vibes of the city are some of the things that brought Brussels close to my heart.

But one thing that made me choose Brussels as a destination has to do with “The Bird Trap”.

For a good part of my childhood years, I woke up with the image of a skating ring in the old Brussels (15th century old).

My grandmother had an old print of “The Bird Trap”, a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, hanging on the wall next to my bed.  I’ve often wondered if that old skating ring was a real place, and I was delighted to find out that it was located in Brussels.

Don’t know where exactly it is, but my guess – it’s in the Grande-Place de Bruxelles, before it was drained.

But Brueghel the Younger is not the only one who brought me to Brussels. René Magritte and Victor Horta also played a role in this Belgium trip.

If Magritte’s name sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen the surrealist painting of a man in a bowler’s hat with an apple covering his face – it’s a self-portrait called “The Son of Man”. He was also one of the first advertising creatives, although he hated doing it.

When it comes to Victor Horta, there’s just one thing to remember: he’s the father of Art Nouveau movement in Architecture. Born in Ghent, Victor Horta lived a good part of his life in Brussels, where he built the fabulous Hôtel Tassel – the first true Art Nouveau building in Europe.

So these three artists made me choose Brussels as a destination in the first place. Then there was the great food in Belgium, of course; and let’s not forget the delicious black comedy called “In Bruges”.

Brussels might be fascinating because of its art and architecture, but the city is also about tasting sinful dishes, admiring the comic strip walls and delightful French vibes.


How to spend 48 hours in Brussels [Brussels City Guide]

Brussels is one of those few places that feed most of my travel interests: Art & Architecture, Great Food, Street Art and Mood.

In an attempt to see, taste and feel all the city had to offer, I’ve created a travel itinerary that might be useful to people who want to understand what Brussels is all about (in just two days).

Brussels is a sensorial trip, so here’s a summary of what makes it special according to each sense:

Hear: An enchanting encyclopedia of sounds coming out of old instruments gathered from around the world – or the number one reason to visit MIM (Musical Instruments Museum).

Musical-Instruments-Museum-in-Brussels

Taste: Take a short food tour of Brussels because the food culture here will amaze you. Try Belgian meatballs and Herve Cheese at Balls & Glory, Godiva Chocolate Strawberries, Belgian Fries at Chez Papi and various types of chocolate, of course.

Belgian-Waffles---Gaufres

Touch:

Rub the statue (Monument à Éverard t’Serclaes) for good luck on Charles Buls Street, right next to Grand Place de Bruxelles. I know it’s silly, but also funny.

Everard-t-Serclaes-monument-in-Brussels

Ladies, I have one word for you – lace. Lace stores in Brussels might not be as amazing as those in Bruges, but there are a few beautiful ones in Les Galleries Royale Saint Hubert. A small lace decoration can make a very nice souvenir from your Belgium trip.

Smell: The scent of mussels and fries at every street corner in Brussels will make you feel you’re on the Mediterranean Riviera.


See & Do in Brussels

1) Go Art Nouveau Treasure Hunting

Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels deserve a special tour, but since I spent two days in the city, I had to settle on visiting just a few of them.

Square Ambiorix – the streets around Square Ambiorix shelter the emblematic Art Nouveau mansions in Brussels. Here’s where you’ll find the amazing Saint-Cyr House by Gustave Strauven and Villa Germaine.

MIM – Musical Instruments Museum – is one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels

The Entrance at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium

(For my next trip to Brussels, I’ve already pinned some gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings, and I’ll share them with you, in case you have 2-3 extra days to spend in Brussels.

First, I would love to visit some of the architectural masterpieces by Victor Horta: Hotel Tassel, Victor Horta House, Van Eetvelde, Solvay and Autrique Houses. Then, an extended Art Nouveau tour in Brussels would include five other famous houses: Cauchie, Ciamberlani, Hannon, Hiboux, Otlet.)Saint-Cyr-House-by-Gustave-Strauven---Art-Nouveau-Brussels


2) Take a Street Art Tour in Brussels – Comic Strip Walls 

The street art scene in Brussels is like nothing you’ve ever seen before!

With 700 comic strip authors, taking a full tour of the most important artworks can take around two days, even if they’re pretty close to each other. Here’s a list of top 52 comic strips in Brussels.

The Comic Strips are everywhere in the city, but I’ve chosen to visit just the ones closer to city’s center – the streets around Manneken Pis have few interesting ones among which the famous Tintin by Hergé, Olivier Rameau by Dany & Greg. While walking towards Saint Mary’s Royal Church, we also found The Scorpion by Marini.

Comics are a big part of city’s culture, so you’ll be surprised not only by the large comic strip walls in Brussels, but also by the number of comic book stores.

Comic Strips Brussels - The Scorpion


3) Visit Grand Place de Bruxelles by day & by night

Grand-Place is one of the two most beautiful squares in Europe, sharing the title with San Marco in Venice.

It’s one of those places you have to see once in a lifetime! Because it doesn’t matter how many photos of it you’ve seen before, you’ll still be amazed when walking in Grand-Place for the first time.

This architectural gem (17thcentury old) has an eclectic style, buy you’ll surely distinguish the imposing Gothic and Baroque elements of the buildings around the square. It’s also a UNESCO Heritage Site.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time (3 hours) walking in circles and trying to grasp the beauty of this place while marveling at each architectural detail. If you don’t want to spend so much time here, you can only check out the top spots.

Top spots in Grande-Place de Bruxelles: La maison du Cygne, Monument à Éverard t’Serclaes, Hôtel de Ville (Brussel’s City Hall), King’s House and, of course, the guild houses / guild halls.

Grande-Place-Bruxelles,-Belgium


Visiting Grande-Place de Bruxelles at night is one experience I would recommend because that’s when all the lights shaping the beautiful buildings turn on in the square.

It’s something magical about those first few moments! There are lots of people who sit down on the cobbled square, waiting for the guild houses to light up, and most of them sit silently or barely whispering like something amazing is about to happen.

I think those are the people who make the moment feel special for all others.

When do the lights turn on in Grande-Place de Bruxelles?

Well, it depends on the season. In June, when sunsets are around 10 p.m., the lights turn on during the after-glow / after sunset.

Grande-Place-Bruxelles-by-night


4) See some of Brussels’ landmarks

– Manneken Pis

– European Commission

– Mont des Arts

– Royal Palace of Brussels

– Galeries Royales Saint Hubert


5) Visit a couple of Museums in Brussels

– Musical Instruments Museum – Take the audio guide for an amazing experience!

MIM - Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels


– René Magritte Museum


6) See a few Belgian Churches

– Saint Mary’s Royal Church

Saint-Mary-s-Royal-Church,-Brussels

– Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

Cathedral-of-St.-Michael-and-St.-Gudula

7) Take a food tour in Brussels

Belgian food is beyond delicious! You can find top dishes to try and recommendations for restaurants in my Belgian food tour here >

Belgian-Food-Trip---Top-10-Dishes-to-try-in-Brussels,-Bruges-and-Gent


One other thing I loved about Brussels is the French vibe of the city.

There was this pleasant surprise to be able to speak French all the time, with words coming out way easier than they did 10 years ago, when I visited Paris (even if now I speak less than then).

That’s probably because the French-speaking locals in Brussels boosted my self-confidence by speaking slowly, carefully pronouncing each word, unlike the French people in Paris. So by understanding 99% of every conversation, I was able to better communicate in French. That was a relief!

With so many things to do in Brussels that fit my interests, it was hard to cut some items off my list and create a travel itinerary for 48 hours only, but I hope you found it interesting.


Travel tips for a trip to Brussels

Best time to visit: June – because sunsets are after 10 p.m. and you can get some sunny days too.

Accommodation: Our hotel choice was good, but not fantastic. The good thing about it was its proximity to city center. It’s called Citadines Toison d’Or Brussels Aparthotel and it’s in the Ixelles neighborhood, in case you need a reference.

How to get to and around Brussels:

We took a shuttle bus from Charleroi Airport to downtown Brussels (31€/person).

Getting around Brussels is easy, and we used the metro and the tram every day, but we also walked a lot around the city. The best option for us was a 24h pass for 7,5€, so we took one for each day spent in Brussels. You can use it with every transport option in the city.

The best street we discovered during our walks was Rue Royale. It goes from the Royal Palace to Saint Mary’s Royal Church and it’s filled with architectural gems you don’t want to miss when visiting Brussels.

My travel itinerary in Brussels on the map


Belgium Trip: Brussels, Ghent, Brugge | June 2017 | All Photography ©Ana Matei  – Instagram: @mateiana


Hope you liked my Brussels City Guide and you’ll share it with your friends.


Read Next: 

Belgium Food Tour >
Ghent City Guide (Featured by Visit Flanders)> 
How to spend a day in Brugge>

Ana
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