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There’s more to Brussels than drinking beer, as delicious as the local brew is.
The Belgian capital’s also the perfect location for sightseeing: with a growing number of trendy restaurants and bars, almost 90 museums and beautiful parks, there’s something for everyone.
Here are some handy tips to make the most of Brussels…
1. Check out the architecture
Brussels has some amazing historical buildings that date back as far as the 1800s. You can take a city sightseeing bus or rent a bicycle, but the best way to soak it all in is to explore on foot.
Start at the famous La Grand Place or ‘Grote Markt’ – the UNESCO World Heritage site is surrounded by famous landmarks including Brussels Town Hall and the Breadhouse (Maison du Roi).
One of the city’s stranger landmarks is the Manneken-Pis, also known as "Little Julian". Julian is a small bronze statuette fountain sculpted in the 17th century; he is supposed to represent the irreverent spirit of Brussels. The “Muscles from Brussels” statue of action superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme is also a must see.
2. Order good food
Brussels is a city with wonderful culinary experiences to offer, and (unlike some other European cities) it’s pretty easy to find some amazing food for quite a good price compared to other European cities. If you’re not a native however, the menu can be a little confusing, so here are some options that you won’t want to miss (with translations):
3. Explore museums
Car lovers should head to Autoworld. The museum houses one of the best international collections in Europe with over 400 vehicles dating back to the late 1890s. You can also see some historical items like the horse carriage used in 1853 for Napoleon's the Third's wedding.
Want to let out your inner child? The Toy Museum is a treasure trove of toys with over 20 rooms and 1000 square metres of space dedicated to toys. The Comic Strip Museum is the perfect place to geek out with a library of over 60,000 comic books – you can also pose for photos with some giant comic characters.
There is also a floor dedicated to the evolution of comic books in Europe from 1929 to 1960.
My final must see location is the Hergé Museum which is located around two hours outside Brussels. You’ll have the chance to explore the work and life of Belgian cartoonist Georges Prosper Remi, creator of the beloved Tin Tin.
Ok, beer is still important…
The annual Belgian Beer Weekend happens every September, run by the "Belgian Brewers" and almost every brewery in the country is a member. The French-speaking town of Lustin also hosts an annual Belgian Beer Festival where over 650 types of beer are available along with a massive beer inspired flea market. Here you can find every type of beer glass, bottle, and collectible item you can imagine. There are at least a dozen other beer festivals held throughout the year and across Belgium including:
While you can take the train or metro to Brussels’ main sights, if you’re only in town for a short period of time I recommend jumping aboard a big red City Sightseeing bus.
The benefit (besides not getting lost due to that hangover from the night before) is the hop-on, hop-off tourist buses leave you right outside most of the major landmarks and tourist attractions. 24- or 48-hour unlimited passes are only €23 Euros and busses run all year round.
In Brussels they offer two different itineraries that run for 75 minutes with pre-recorded commentary in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Dutch and Russian.
If you’re staying for more than a few days I would strongly suggest getting a MOBIB Basic travel card with ten journeys as it’s useful for getting around Brussels and beyond the main tourist spots and the upside is that it can be shared if a travel mate loses their card after too many Belgian beers.
So how do I get to Brussels?
By Plane: Being the de facto capital of the European Union you can get reasonably-priced flights to Brussels from the following places: New York City (Turkish Airlines €600), Los Angeles (Aeroflot €751) Melbourne, Australia (China Southern €1135) and London (British Airways €201). Note that you might be able to get a far cheaper deal if you book in advance and are willing to have a stop-over, the prices I found were for flights at the start of December 2013.
Once you arrive in Brussels, catching a taxi from the airport to the city will set you back around €35-45. I suggest using the The Airport Line: an express connection (30 minutes) between Brussels National Airport and the European District and costs €4-6 each way.
By Rail: If you are already holidaying in Europe you can easily get to Brussels by Eurostar from London, Thalys from Amsterdam & Paris and ICE from Cologne & Frankfurt. You will arrive in Brussels Midi station that allows you easy access to the Metro line to take you anywhere in the city.
By Ferry: If you are trying to travel by sea the easiest option is to disembark in Rotterdam, Netherlands or Bruges and take the train to Brussels. P&O ferries is one of several services and offers an overnight trip from Hull, England from around €139 each way.
Off to Brussels soon?