Part of my reason for settling in Tucson was to have a home base which would actually make travel easier. Before I even moved in to my new apartment, Black Friday airfare deals were too good to ignore! With cheap flights to Europe, I ended up in Belgium for 6 nights in January. While planning a trip to Belgium, I soon realized that the country is small enough to make day trips to other cities, and staying in the same hotel for the whole week is always preferred! I found that Brussels gets a bad rap for some reason – a lot of people say it’s boring, and to spend as little time there as possible. Well, I loved it and am glad I stayed the whole week in Brussels! One week doesn’t make me an expert, so I won’t claim these are the TOP things to do in Brussels, or 7 things you MUST do in Brussels. These are just my suggestions of what to do in Brussels, based on my own 1-week itinerary in Belgium.
What to Do in Brussels
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Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour with City Sightseeing
Yes, this is as touristy as you can get, but I always enjoy a hop-on-hop-off tour when arriving in a new city. It’s a good way to get your bearings and note some areas you’d like to return to. In my case, I arrived from the US at 8:30 am, and couldn’t check into my hotel until 2pm, so what else was I to do? (Full confession: I did snooze a bit along the way!) There are two bus routes (red and blue) included in your 25Euro ticket and if you take them back to back, it will take about 3 hours. You can jump on or off at several stops, but I joined them right outside the Central train station.
Day Trip from Brussels – Bruges and Ghent
For my first day in Brussels, I took a bus trip to Ghent and Bruges. I considered individual day trips to each city, as they’re no more than 1 hour from Brussels by train, but ultimately, I decided the combo bus trip was the best way to go. For about $58, we got round-trip transportation from Brussels and commentary from our guide, who spoke 7 languages! We left Brussels around 9am and first arrived in Ghent.
After 2 hours in Ghent, we re-boarded the coach bus and drove on to Bruges. Our first stop was for lunch, where we all dined (at our own expense) together – you can also wander off on your own to choose a lunch spot. In total, we had 4 hours in Bruges. 3 were with the guide and 1 was off on our own, but of course, you can leave the group at any time. Bruges, like Brussels, has a maze of streets, alleys and squares so I wasn’t too comfortable wandering away on my own, especially when I had a bus to catch back home!
When I posted about this trip on Facebook, my friends seemed to have strong opinions for Ghent or Bruges, but not both! I suspect Bruges is more touristy and probably really crowded in the summer, so that could turn people off. However, it did seem a bit more lively to me, although I didn’t have enough time in either city to form a solid opinion one way or the other!
Chocolate and Beer Tour with Brussels Journey
You know by now how much I love food tours when I’m traveling! I didn’t find a typical food tour in Brussels, but I did find the Chocolate and Beer Tour from The Brussels Journey. For 75 euros, you get a guided walking tour of Brussels, with four stops at local chocolatiers, then 3 stops at local pubs. Our guide, Daniel, did a great job telling us about each chocolate we were sampling, and also chose a well-rounded assortment of chocolates to try. He also gave us tips on buying chocolate (two stores offered a 10% discount upon our return) and explained how prices vary so much.
We tried a chili pepper chocolate at Chocopolis:
Several options at Frederic Blondeel (my favorite was the Rose & Peppercorn)
My favorite at Pierre Marcolini was the Earl Gray Tea chocolate:
After a final stop at Meert in the Royal Galleries, it was time to move on to the beer portion of our evening. I’m not a huge beer drinker, definitely not a connoisseur of craft beers, but I asked for smaller portions and gave each one a taste. It was interesting to hear about the Trappist monks and Abbey beers, and we visited some pretty old establishments. My favorite was the Lambic beer, which reminded me of cherry beer I used to buy from New Glarus.
I only wish I had taken this tour on my first day, as I really got a better feel for my surroundings (it was my first glimpse at the Grand Place, even though it was maybe two blocks from my hotel!) In addition to eating and drinking, we got to see a lot of Brussels, including the infamous Mannekin Pis.
I was a guest of The Brussels Journey for this tour, however these are solely my personal and honest opinions – it’s a great tour!
Antwerp Food Tour with Belgium Food Tours
Antwerp is just an hour from Brussels on the train and makes an excellent day trip from Brussels. If I return to Belgium, I would definitely like to spend more time in Antwerp. It’s a beautiful, bustling city full of great food, which I discovered on a food tour, of course!
I joined Cornelis from Belgium Food Tours for a walking and eating tour of Antwerp’s best restaurants. I wrote about the food tour last week, click here to read about it!
Where to Eat in Brussels
These are a few suggestions of places that I ate and enjoyed, all near the area of Grand Place. Some I found on my own, while others were recommended to me. The local’s tip is not to eat at any place where the guy stands in the alley trying to get you to come inside, or any place with picture menus outside. Seems like legit advice to me, although when you are hungry and in a tourist area full of these places, it’s hard to keep searching. I nearly ate at the Hard Rock Cafe one night because I was craving a salad after so many days of waffles and frites!
Peck 47 – Daniel, our guide on the Beer & Chocolate tour, recommended Peck 47 for savory waffles. Just a short stroll from my hotel, I popped in around 11 on a Monday and got the only open table. This place is busy, and very hip. I loved the 00’s hip-hop (Ja Rule, Ashanti) playing over the speakers. I enjoyed a chorizo waffle with goat cheese and poached eggs. It was delicious and the waffles were much smaller than the giant sweet ones sold on the street. Bonus points for paper straws!!!
Chez Leon – also recommended by Daniel, apparently an exception to the ‘picture menu’ rule. Chez Leon is known for mussels, but since I’m not a sea otter prone to cracking open shells for dinner, I had the traditional Flemish beef stew. It was pretty good – I’m not usually a stew or soup person, but this is basically beef stewed in beer. It’s served on a plate, not in a bowl, so it’s not particularly stew-y, although the broth is nice for dipping your fries!
Le Pain Quotidien – I realize this is probably like the Panera of Brussels, but they have a good selection of pastries to go, or breakfasts which you can sit down to eat. I had a delicious avocado toast breakfast here one morning.
Where to Stay in Brussels
On the recommendation of a fellow travel blogger, I stayed at B-Aparthotel Brussels Grand Place. The B-Aparthotel is in a great location (walking distance from Central train station was key for me!) and within reach of Grand Place and so many places to eat! For an average nightly rate of 103 Euros, I got an apartment, complete with kitchenette, full bath and bedroom, all in a very modern, minimalist style (think IKEA furnishings.) Because I don’t travel with an international cell phone plan, I would prefer to stay at a hotel with a front desk. I was constantly worried about needing to reach the office during my visit. Aside from getting locked in the parking garage on the first day when trying to store my luggage, I didn’t need to reach anyone, but for peace of mind, I would consider a more traditional hotel. For families or those less paranoid than me, this is a great choice!
How Much to Budget for Brussels
Making a budget recommendation is difficult, as everyone has different budgets and spending habits, so I can only tell you what I spent. I’m not a budget traveler, and I will splurge on occasion, although I’m generally frugal as I don’t spend a lot of money shopping or on wild attractions like theme parks. So my largest expenses are flight, hotel and dog boarding! In total, I was able to spend under $2000 for a week in Belgium.
- Flight – $400 – killer Black Friday deal with cheap flights to Europe! Off-season FTW!
- Hotel – $750
- Tours & Transportation – $200
- Food – $220
- Souvenirs – $110
- Dog Boarding – $300 (it was actually the same amount to pay for my mom’s flight as it would be to board Bailey for a week, so my mom got to enjoy a week in the sun!)
Are you ready to visit Brussels?