With famous, flashy neighbors like Amsterdam and Paris just one hour away in either direction, Brussels often gets overlooked as a travel destination in its own right. However, the Belgian capital, sometimes unfairly characterized as boring and grey, full of EU bureaucrats and not much else, has an incredible variety of things to do that most travelers don’t realize.
Best of all, with the exception of a couple of places within the old center (such as Mannekin Pis), you won’t be subjected to a barrage of other tourists while exploring this historic, fun, diverse, and incredibly surprising city.
As the home of rich food, incredible beer, and the legacy of a very popular European comic industry, Brussels will intrigue, astonish and entertain you. Here are the top ten things you should do when you visit Brussels!
- Explore the Belgian Comic Strip Center
- Dive into the Deepest Indoor Swimming Pool at Nemo 33
- Visit Delirium Bar
- Discover the Historic Center around the Grand Place
- Try the Pommes Frites at Frit Flagey in Ixelles
- Hike the Blue Forest (Hallerbos)
- Admire the Quirky Atomium
- Follow the Comic Book Mural Trail
- Get a Beautiful Skyline View from Mont des Arts
- Discover the Flemish Quarter in Saint-Catherine
Explore the Belgian Comic Strip Center
Visitors from outside Europe may be surprised to learn that the Franco-Belgian comic industry is quite enormous. Belgian artists have given birth to legendary comic series including Asterix, Lucky Luke, and Tin Tin. The charming and colorful Comic Strip Center in Brussels gives you a glimpse into not only the art and history of comic strips but also some of your favorite characters that got their start in Brussels studios.
Dive into the Deepest Indoor Swimming Pool at Nemo 33
Brussels is definitely not the place that pops to mind when you thinking of diving destinations. John Beernaerts, an avid diver, and traveler had the same thought in the early 90’s and decided to construct the world’s deepest indoor swimming pool. This incredible center, named Nemo 33, has a pool that reaches a depth of 113 feet at its deepest point. Nemo 33 offers diving instruction packages for those who have not mastered the technique of scuba diving yet.
Visit Delirium Bar
Delirium attracts many tourists, and for good reason; it has, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest selection of beers in the world. The owners of Delirium swear that you can find over 2,000 beers on tap at this legendary bar. Make sure you get here early because the sheer number of locals and tourists that flock to this place means there is usually a line out the door and people spilling out into the alley, especially on the weekends.
Take care with your beer selections though: Belgian beers may be delicious, but their alcohol content can be up to 12%, so drink in moderation.
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Discover the Historic Center around the Grand Place
Even if you only have 2 days in Brussels, you can’t miss the Historic Center. The stunningly elegant architecture of the Grand Place is truly breathtaking to behold in person. Walk through the Grand Place, which is officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage List, and grab a coffee at one of the cafes and restaurants surrounding the central square to take a break from your explorations, people watch and take in what is widely considered one of the most beautiful squares in the world. Be sure to return at night, when the Grand Place is all lit up.
Try the Pommes Frites at Frit Flagey in Ixelles
In addition to the best Belgian chocolate, Pommes Frites may be the nation’s most famous food. You can’t leave Brussels without trying one of the best Pommes Frites dishes in the city – Frit Flagey. The fries here are so delicious, and the shop so beloved, that locals staged a campaign to keep the store open when it hit financial troubles a few years ago.
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Hike the Blue Forest (Hallerbos)
Just 30 minutes outside Brussels’ city center lies The Blue Forest, so named thanks to the carpet of bluebells that covers the forest floor in late spring, giving the ground a blue-purple color. Hallerbos, as locals know the forest, looks like an image from a fairytale when the bluebells are in full bloom. As you walk through the dreamy forest, keep an eye out for rabbits and deer. If you want an alternative forest to explore in the Brussels area, accessible by local transportation, try the equally beautiful Sonian Forest, a green area full of plenty of lakes and streams.
Admire the Quirky Atomium
Some distance away from Brussels’ city center, but easily accessible via metro – disembark at the Heysel Metro Station – the modern Atomium structure is definitely worth a visit. The futuristic design is 102 meters (335 feet) tall, and five of its spheres are home to exhibits.
One is a permanent exhibit that revolves around the building’s development, Expo 1958 (for which the building was designed), and the structure’s importance in the city of Brussels, while the others are temporary exhibits, including one for families and children.
Follow the Comic Book Mural Trail
Brussels’ comic book legacy is evident not only at the Comic Strip Center but also in playful and colorful murals spread throughout the city itself. The city’s official website gives you a map of Brussels’ “Comic Book Route”. It’s a great way to discover some truly impressive street art, while also exploring plenty of Brussels neighborhoods on foot.
Get a Beautiful Skyline View from Mont des Arts
Mont des Arts is a gorgeous neighborhood worth exploring for both the numerous palaces and museums located just a few steps away, as well as for the magnificent view of the Brussels skyline that it offers. Spend the afternoon gazing at the vast collection housed in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts – over 20,000 drawings, sculptures, and paintings are kept here – or admire the grand façade of the Royal Palace of Brussels. If it’s a sunny day, stroll around the immaculately landscapes garden in the center of Mont des Arts.
Discover the Flemish Quarter in Saint-Catherine
Though most of Brussels is French-speaking, there are a few Flemish quarters sprinkled throughout the city. One of the most well known, and prettiest, is Saint-Catherine. You may be surprised to see many shop signs change from French to Flemish, and to also discover that this neighborhood was built on top of the ancient port of Brussels. This is also the reason many street names in the area begin with Quai (“dock”).
Saint-Catherine may no longer be on the water, but it still has some of the best seafood restaurants in Brussels, as well as beautiful gothic and baroque architecture, most evident in Sainte Catherine’s Church, which gives the neighborhoods its name.