Brussels is often overlooked by visitors in preference to its more glamorous neighbors such as Paris and Amsterdam. But this small capital city of Belgium can be an unforgettable stop on your European itinerary. Brussels is ideal for a day trip because most landmarks are within walking distance from the city center.
Getting to Brussels, Belgium
Brussels is about a two hour train ride from Paris or Amsterdam. If you’re based in either of these cities, you can easily plan a day in Brussels. Another option is to fly into Brussels, spend a day enjoying the sights and recovering from jetlag before heading on to your next destination.
Once you arrive at the city center, everything you would want to eat and see are in close proximity making it easy to navigate without worrying about logistics or figuring out transportation.
I chose Brussels for my son’s first trip to Europe when he was a year old. The city helped us get acclimated to the new time zone and atmosphere without the fear of missing out on precious sight seeing time. We did a self guided walking tour of the city while baby slept and recuperated in one of the grandest city squares.
What to Eat in Brussels
The Belgian waffles lived up to their hype with a light sweet coating enveloping a rich buttery taste. Be sure to sample a few from the many roadside vendors. Though they all look similar, there are nuances in flavor and texture.
Most of the chocolates stores in and around the city center carry similar brands and gift packages targeting tourists. They make great souvenirs but don’t give you the one of a kind Belgian chocolate experience that you may have dreamed of. Make your way inside the store and ask to sample some truffles and engage with the store keepers about local chocolate specialties.
What to See in One Day in Brussels
Gothic architecture distinguishes Brussels’ most famous landmark that defines the city center. Built as an open air market place in the 11th century, it rose in importance as a trading hub and the city’s town hall.
The buildings underwent severe destruction in the 17th century due to French army attacks that only the stone shells remained. The rebuilding efforts in the 19th century transformed the square to its former splendor with no evidence of damage or neglect.
You can walk by multiple times to fully appreciate this structure and see the effect of light during various times of the day. The bustling atmosphere of this city center with government workers and street vendors gives you lively welcome to the city.
The bronze statue of a peeing boy is one the most well known image of Brussels. There are various legends associated with this statue erected in the early 17th century. Though we didn’t get to see the little boy dressed up, his wardrobe consists of hundreds of outfits and he is dressed up several times a week.
A statue of a little girl peeing, the female counterpart to Manneken Pis, was added in the 80s at the end of touristy strip of restaurants. Though lacking in history, this statue is worth seeing as a reference to the former and as a cheesy photo op.
Les Galeries Saint Hubert
Boutiques housed in this 19th century gallery offer upscale shopping and one of a kind souvenirs from local artists. This enclosed arcade with a beautiful glass roof is great for catching a break from the weather.
You can stroll through this public park to get views of the Royal Palace and the Belgian Parliament. The park is full of life in the evening with street performers, college students and families.
Art About Town in Brussels
Since establishing large scale comic book production since 1920, Belgium shares a long history in development of European comics. The land where popular icons such as Tin Tin and Smurfs originated pays homage to its heritage through comic inspired street art.
There are guides to the Brussels Comic Strip Walk that cover murals of famous Belgian comics on building exteriors throughout the city. Walking through Brussels was like being in an open air gallery; there were several modern sculptures and art pieces that caught my eye.
Though you can sample this wonderful city in a day, there is a lot more to explore. A visit to The Hergé Museum (dedicated to the life and work of Georges Remi the creator of the Tin Tin cartoon) and Atomium (a steel structure of a magnified iron crystal built as a showcase for the 1958 World’s Fair) are at the top of my list for a future visit.