So much to share from my time in Belgium. This was different than a lot of my trips but that was exactly what made it perfect. I am usually on the go and trying to fit multiple trips into one. My time in Brussels was very different, it was slow paced; I slept in and I did not get to do all the things. One thing did not change though - my eating. I still ate my weight in food. Between the waffles; fries and the local dishes - I feel like I gained 10 pounds over the weekend.
If you are thinking about Belgium - waste no time; finalize your plans; book your trip and get ready for an incredible time. I stayed in the Rogier area at the Hotel Le Plaza Brussels. Rogier is not quite city center but it is close enough. It is a short ten minute walk to city center and less than a ten minute walk to the Brussels nord train station. Rogier train station is a short walk from the hotel and access to city center means access to all the food and shopping options your heart desires. If you are headed this way, here are a few things I recommend for your itinerary.
Visit Grand Place. The facade of the buildings that make up the grand place is my definition of architectural opulence. The grand place is a UNESCO world heritage site in the center of the city and known for its decorative facade. The square is surround by the guild house; Maison du roi and city hall. If you find yourself here on a saturday you will likely catch a wedding or two. The square is also lined with shops and restaurants and if you are interested - the Belgium museum of beer.
Manneken Pis. The bronze sculpture of the urinating boy stands as a symbol of Belgium (and of the City’s defiance). is a must see. The statue is replicated all over the city. The main statue is a short walk from the grand place and one of the most visited spots in Brussels. These days you will find the statue clad in one of a reported miniature nine hundred suits.
Statue of Everard ‘t Serclaes. The statue of the reclining man is just off the grand place and legend has it that rubbing the statue will bring you luck. If you believe in such; then by all mean go for it. If not, still stop by and read up on history of the statue and man depicted in the statue. Everard was lord of Kruikenburg who recovered the city from the Flemings.
Visit Brussels Park. If you want a break from the city or a spot to picnic or work out. The Brussels park is ideal. It is the largest public park in Brussels in walking distance to the palace and mont des arts. There is a main pond and several monuments that add to the character of this park.
The Royal Palace of Brussels. This is the administrative home of the king and queen of Belgium. It is only open to the public (for free) every day (except for Mondays) during the summer (end of July to early September). Unfortunately, I could not visit the interior; the exterior and gardens are accessible and very lovely.
Shop at Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. This is known as one of the oldest shopping arcades in the world. Apparently it is older than the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. The shopping arcade is lined with restaurants ; film theater. Some of Belgium best chocolatiers have shops here including Mary and Leonidas.
Eat Waffles. Belgian waffles are top notch - they are so good. If you google best waffles in Brussels - you will get a variety of options. I decided to treat myself to Maison Dandoy. Waffle and one topping of choice will set you back seven euros if you are dining in their tea room. Prepare to wait in line for fifteen to twenty-five minutes; but I thought it was worth it. I decided to go for the dine in option. I ordered the waffle with one topping of speculoos ice cream. If you have tried the famous Dutch Christmas cookie then you are in for treat. if you are in a treat yo self mode - then can I recommend the hot chocolate with whip cream as well.
Eat Frites (Fries). Good lord, they make amazing fries in Belgium; the price for an order of fries and sauce range from 2.50 euro to 7 euros and worth the splurge. In my research Maison Antoine and Frit Flagey were highly recommended. The latter was out of my way and the former is closed on Sundays. Instead, I decided to try Fritland which is in the heart of city centre. This spot has been around for a few decades and their fries and sauce will set you back about 4.20 euro and they are the best fries I have ever eaten.
Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art. This was probably my favorite part of the trip (don’t judge). Did you know the Smurfs was created by the famous Belgian cartoonist - Peyo ? There was an exhibition of the Smurfs and great female comic artist on while I was visiting. I missed the Mangis exhibition by a day (insert: sad face). Ticket to the centre is 10 euro and I thought it was worth every penny.
Visit Mini-Europe. The park is a reproduction of famous monuments from the European countries - from big ben to the Eiffel tower and everything in between. The monuments are reported to be at a scale of 1:25. The entry fee is 15 euro and I initially thought it was too steep but I really enjoyed my time there, It is not something I will do again (maybe when I have kids), but I am glad I stretched my budget to fit this one on the itinerary, The park is about a half hour from city centre. From Rogier train station, take the number six train all the way to Heysel train station; a short seven minute walk will get you to Mini-Europe and the Atomium.
Check out the Atomium. Next to Mini-Europe is the Atomium. This is the last remaining structure from the 1958 world’s fair. The very unique structure is made up of nine atoms; five of which are open to the public and house restaurant with panoramic view; exhibition and a view deck with a telescope that gets you views of Antwerp and its port. It cost 12 euros to visit the interior.
Explore Mont des arts. You could easier spend several hours here. It is about ten minutes from the palace or about fifteen minutes from the grand place. This hill of arts has got all the art your heart desires. The garden is a work of art in itself and the complex is home to the royal library; national archives; the mim (museum of musical instruments); Belvue museum and so much more. My time was spent in the garden taking a break from the trek around the city; there is a restaurant/bar at the top of the hill. Brussels centre train station is not far off. You can get trains to other parts of Belgium from there.
Plan a day trip (or two). You know how much I love my day trips and Brussels is perfectly stationed for several day trips. Brugge is less than an hour and half away; Antwerp , Brugge and Ghent is about an hour from central station. You can also take a train to Amsterdam and other parts of Europe from central station.
Where to eat in Brussels. The food in Brussels is fantastic. For brunch, I recommend Peck 47 and Streetpecker. Lyly’s is an amazing fondue restaurant in the city center; Grimbergen cafe has a great menu mix - the steak and flemish beef stew were excellent.
Drink Belgian Beer. Full disclaimer ! I am not a beer person and was very overwhelmed by all the options. The folks at La Belgique gourmande were incredible to this beer novice and after my twenty questions to the staff, I decided to try the Belirium red. It was really good. If you like beer, you should check out the beer museum located in the Grand place.