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To be honest, Belgium was never a country I was curious about. It’s small and isn’t really known for much besides waffles, chocolate, and being bilingual. Not that those are not cool things to be famous for, but I didn’t know if there were any other things to do in Brussels. However, I do want to give every country a chance. Because it’s not fair to judge a place if you haven’t been there at least once (preferably more than that).
So in 2017, we flew to Brussels for less than 24 hours. Not nearly enough time, but we didn’t have any actual vacation days and had to make do with the weekend. I really wish we had had more time and could have included a trip to Bruges as well.
But, in this post, I’m going to focus on the top things to do in Brussels in a day for people who don’t have a lot of time in the city. And I’ll also get into what I consider the best time to visit Brussels.
Brussels is the capital of Belgium and primarily francophone despite being surrounded by the Flemish region of the country.
Officially, it’s a bilingual city which is one of the things I miss about living in Montreal. Similarly to other bilingual cities, it has street signs in both languages. But actually, English is also extremely common in Brussels because of all the EU institutions in the city. So if you don’t speak French you can easily get by in English. But if you do want to practice your French that might be one of the best things to do in Brussels.
Best Time to Visit Brussels
You may be wondering about the best time to visit Brussels. Well, we went in the winter, but even though it was March, it was not as cold as we had expected. We felt perfectly fine walking around the city. There was a bit of rain, but this somehow added to the atmosphere as it’s kind of expected in Belgium. If you bring a decent winter coat and good boots you should be fine exploring Brussels on foot in late winter. Finding accommodation close to the center will also help.
The summer brings its own attractions: lovely weather, flowers on the squares. But this is also a busier time for tourism so you will have to pay more for accommodation and will wait in line at museums and landmarks.
I think the best time to visit Brussels is probably early spring, specifically April. During that time the weather is not that harsh anymore, and there is more light during the day. At the same time, you still benefit from being in Brussels in the shoulder season with fewer tourists and better prices.
Best Things to Do in Brussels in a Day
Due to the city’s history, there are a ton of things to do in Brussels in a day. The best things to do in Brussels can be found in the city center which definitely helps if you only have limited time. In our case, we still missed some things like the European Quarter. It consists mainly of office buildings but might still be of interest to some people due to the Parc de Cinquantenaire and some museums. Belgium’s capital also has one of the largest pedestrian zones in Europe which makes going for a nice walk one of the top things to do in Brussels in a day.
By far the most beautiful part of Brussels is certainly the Grand Place in its center. It ranks highly on top of any list of best things to do in Brussels in a day.
As March is still pretty dark we were able to see most of it illuminated at night. I’ve been told that in August the entire square is covered in flowers which must be an even more breathtaking sight. So you see the dilemma of finding the best time to visit Brussels. And the top things to do in Brussels will also depend a bit on the season.
There’s a reason the Grand Place is also known as the most beautiful market in the world. The City Hall is the most impressive of the buildings in the Grand Place. The King’s House is another fascinating building and actually a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Brussels has some amazing buildings to admire, and a walk from the Palace of Justice to the Royal Palace on to the Brussels Park gives you a really nice feel of the city’s more aristocratic part. Centuries-old Flemish buildings adorned with gold are the highlight here.
Manneken Pis, the landmark of Brussels, on the other hand, is nothing special if I’m honest. Now, you will find it on most lists of the top things to do in Brussels, but I don’t agree. We even missed it at first and had to go back to find it. It’s quite small and was surrounded by people taking photos of it. Not really one of the best things to do in Brussels if you ask me.
Like many famous sights in big cities, it’s something you simply take a picture of and then move on. However, I do like the fact that they dress up this little statue of a boy on special occasions. Manneken Pis can also be seen in souvenir shops all over the city and in the form of chocolate in the many chocolate shops around the Grand Place.
With Only One Day You Can’t See All the Top Things to Do in Brussels
Of course, there were several things we didn’t manage to see, such as the Atomium. A visit there is considered one of the top things to do in Brussels on any guide, but we didn’t have a lot of time and decided not to take the metro all the way to the Atomium for half an hour to see it. It’s now one of the major attractions I haven’t seen while in a city (such as the Little Mermaid when I was in Copenhagen).
I don’t mind at all, though, as it’s always good to have something to go back to a city for.
All in all, Brussels is definitely worth a trip, even though we didn’t see the EU quarter or any of the museums due to the limited time we had. I hope, however, that when I go back one day there will be more vegan food available, as the vegan food options in Brussels were quite limited.
What would be your top things to do in Brussels in a day? Do you think you’d enjoy spending a few hours in the Belgian capital?
I definitely have to return one day to explore a few more of the best things to do in Brussels. And maybe I’ll go in April which I think would be the best time to visit Brussels.