What are the five best things to see and do in Brussels?

Amanda Cherrin

The attractions in Brussels are as diverse as the city’s international population. If you visit, be sure to bring your appetite and sense of humor and prepare for a great time. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the five best things to see and do in Brussels:
 
1. Grand Place. A visit to the Grand Place is kind of like a stop at the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty — obligatory, but totally worth it. Surrounded by gilded buildings and gothic towers, including the Town Hall and the City Museum, the 15th-century square is really quite stunning.
 
2. Peeing Statues. The Bruxellois have a quirky sense of humor, displayed never more clearly than in the three statues of peeing creatures located around the city. The most famous, the Mannekin Pis, is a 15th-century statue of a peeing boy, who has an enviable wardrobe featuring more than 800 outfits. His clothes are changed a few times each month and the rest of his wardrobe is on display at the City Museum. The Jeanneke Pis  — rumored to be Mannekin’s sister — is a statue of a squatting girl, located a few blocks away, across the alley from the popular beer bar Delirium. Finally, there’s Zinneke, a statue of a dog, who is also heeding the call of nature.
 
3. Open-Air Markets. There are dozens of open-air markets operating year-round throughout Brussels where you can find fresh produce, meats, cheeses and more. The biggest one is the Sunday market at the Midi train station, which features more than 450 vendors. The Wednesday night market at Place du Chatelain may be the most chic — you can enjoy Champagne and freshly-shucked oysters as you shop.
 
4. Cantillon Brewery. Founded in 1900, this working brewery offers self-guided tours of its funky location where you can learn about the process of brewing tangy lambic beer using only wild yeasts. At the end of the tour, you can sample the fruits of this traditional Belgian style of brewing. If you try a gueze, be prepared for a uniquely sour taste, but even non-beer lovers will appreciate a kriek, a sweet-tart cherry beer.
 
5. The Matongé. Named after the commercial district of Kinshasa, Congo (a former Belgian colony), the Matongé is overflowing with the sights, smells and tastes of Africa. Located in the neighborhood of Ixelles, this thriving district is the place to sample grilled goat, take an African dance class or pick up exotic fruits and vegetables.

  • On September 18, 2012
    Amanda Cherrin answered the question: Amanda Cherrin

    What are the best Belgian beers and where can I sample them?

    The beer in Brussels is absolutely fantastic. While Stella Artois is well known, it’s a large international brand that you can find at home. While in Brussels, Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest you seek out a local Chimay, Westmalle, Maredsous, St. Bernardus, Duvel, Delirium…there are so many amazing brands to choose from. And, the beauty of drinking Belgian beer in Belgium is that is actually affordable. Remember that $10 Chimay you ordered in the U.S.? It’ll set you back about €3 (US$4) here. If you’re an amateur beer drinker, head to Moeder Lambic, one of the city’s best beer bars, where the knowledgeable servers will talk you through the nearly 50 beers they have on draft. Or try Delirium, a local institution that is in the Guinness Book of World Records thanks to the 2004 varieties of beer that it carries. You can sample a few and enjoy the dive bar ambiance. Just remember, Belgian beers pack a punch — drink more than two and you may be seeing double.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Amanda Cherrin answered the question: Amanda Cherrin

    What is the best thing to bring home from Brussels?

    One word: Chocolate. Of all of Belgium’s delicacies — waffles, frites, beer, mussels, etc. — Forbes Travel Guide editors think it’s certainly the most portable and perhaps the most delicious. Belgium is the home of wonderful Brussels-based chocolate houses, including Neuhaus, Leonidas, Pierre Marcolini, Wittamer and Zaabär, to name a few, all with stores throughout Brussels. If you’re pressed for time, you can pick up a box of chocolate from the many kiosks at Brussels airport, but for the best selection (and free samples), make time to browse the shops in the Sablon district. Surrounded by truffles, nougat, ganache, marzipan, mousse and more, you’ll feel, well, just like a kid in a candy store.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Amanda Cherrin answered the question: Amanda Cherrin

    What are the five best Brussels food experiences?

    Belgium is home to some fantastic food and unique eating experiences. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ five favorite food experiences in Brussels:
     
    1. Mussels. If you only have time to sample one Bruxellois dish, make it mussels. The tender mollusks are revered here like nowhere else. Volle Gras and Chez Leon are well-known spots for mussels, but if you go to the Rue del Bouchers, you’ll find it lined with restaurants that serve mussels with a variety of seasonings. Forbes Travel Guide editors like them simply prepared with white wine, onions and herbs. Your tender mussels will arrive in a big pot that’s enough to feed two, along with fries.
     
    2. Frites. There really is something special about Belgian fries: they’re fried twice so they come out soft inside and perfectly crisp outside. You’ll find frittur all over the city, but Maison Antoine is said to make the best. A cone of frites with one of their 30 delicious sauces (Forbes Travel Guide editors are torn between the andalouse, a spicy mayo, and the curry ketchup) will set you back around €3/US$4 — the best value in Brussels. Take your meal into one of Place Jourdan’s many frites-friendly bars and enjoy with a cold beer.
     
    3. Belgian waffles. Forget the waffles you’ve had at home — the ones in Belgium where they’re called gauffres — are amazing airy and light thanks to a yeast-based batter.  Head to Dandoy near the Grand Place Square and order a waffle with a simple dusting of powdered sugar, with fruit and ice cream or loaded with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. The whipped cream is so fresh and natural; it’s like a taste of heaven. For a real treat, enjoy your waffle with some tart cherry kriek beer.
     
    4. Beer. Belgian brew masters are considered among the best in the world and this is your chance to find out why. Experience a range of brewing styles at famous pubs like Poechenellekelder, Mort Subite or Delirium; for a more artisanal selection, head to Bier Circus. Brussels is especially known for lambic beers, which are fermented with natural yeast, but the range in Brussels includes tart gueze style, elegant wheat beers, fruit beers and trippels and dubbels with richer roasted flavors.
     
    5. Chocolate. Leonidas is the best-known Belgian chocolatier, but there are artisanal chocolate shops throughout the city. Wittmaer isn’t as well known, but it’s the chocolatier for the Court of Belgium. The Place du Grand Sablon is filled with chocolate shops with delightful specialities. In case you don’t get to a chocolate shop in the city, you can also pick up last minute chocolates at the airport.
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  • On September 18, 2012
    Amanda Cherrin answered the question: Amanda Cherrin

    Where is the best nightlife in Brussels?

    Brussels is big happy hour city, with diplomats and government types heading out after work to let off some steam with a craft Belgian beer. During the summer months, Belgians take advantage of the warm weather, preferring to drink outside on patios. Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest the Saint-Géry area as a favorite destination — during the summer you’ll find the entire area filled with outdoor seating and tourists and locals with cocktails in hand. Some of the area’s more popular bars include Café des Halles, Mapa Mundo, Zebra and Le Roi des Belges. If you go, plan to come early, stay late and be prepared for a raucous evening — don’t be surprised if you see people dancing on tables. If you’re in a clubbing mood, head to nearby You Club. A few tips: Belgians are casual, so jeans are fine; don’t be afraid to push your way to the bar (everyone else will); and being friendly will get you further than being demanding. End your night in the Bourse area with a late-night snack of frites smothered in the sauce of your choice.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Amanda Cherrin answered the question: Amanda Cherrin

    What is the best way to see Brussels in one day?

    If you’re looking to see all that Brussels has to offer to in one day, Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest you put on some comfortable walking shoes and invest in a 10-jump (read: trip) Metro card. Many of the city’s finest sites are within walking distance of each other and parking is nearly impossible in downtown Brussels. If you prefer to be on two wheels, the city has a popular bike share program. You can pick up a bike at one of the many kiosks located around the city, just look for the rows of yellow bikes. Start any tour of Brussels at the Grand Place — the beauty of the 15th-century square offers a taste of Brussels in its heyday and will energize you for a day of sightseeing. From there, either head to the Sablon for a day of antique shopping or wind your way to bustling Place Sainte-Catherine via the Bourse, the city’s impressive stock exchange building, and the clothing shops on Dansaert Street. Either way, make sure to grab a cone of frites and a waffle from the many trucks and stands en route. Finish your day with a pot of steaming mussels and a local beer for the full Brussels experience.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Amanda Cherrin answered the question: Amanda Cherrin

    Where is the best shopping in Brussels?

    If you’re seeking a high-fashion shopping excursion, head to Avenue Louise. It’s the Fifth Avenue of Brussels, boasting brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Versace and Dior, mixed in with more affordable stores like Zara and BCBG. American shoppers will especially appreciate the opportunity to shop some hard-to-find European brands like Zadig & Voltaire, Essentiel and Comptoir des Cotonniers. Trendsetters and those with a more “downtown” aesthetic should head to Dansaert Street, the heart of the  Belgian fashion scene, featuring local design houses like Christophe Coppens, Annemie Verkeke and Stijl. Nearby Léon Lepage Street hosts more up-and-coming designers and is also worth a look. You won’t find any bargains here, but are likely to score that to-die-for jacket that you’ll wear for years, coyly answering, “Oh, this little shop in Brussels,” when folks beg you to tell them where it’s from.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Amanda Cherrin answered the question: Amanda Cherrin

    What are the five best things to do with kids in Brussels?

    Belgians are kids at heart (they love comic strips and chocolate), so you’ll have no trouble entertaining your children in this kid-friendly town. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ five favorite ways to wow kids in Brussels:
     
    1. Belgian Comic Strip Center. Did you know the Smurfs are Belgian? Kids will love learning about the creation of everyone’s favorite pint-sized blue characters, created by Belgian artist Peyo in 1958, as well exploring the history of Tintin and other Belgian comic classics. Parents will enjoy the Victor Horta-designed building that houses the museum.
     
    2. Hot Chocolate. Make sure to drink your chocolate as well as eat it while in Brussels. It’s not hard to find a good cup of cocoa in this city, but Maison Renardy is the best hot chocolate shop. One sip and you’ll understand why.
     
    3. The Atomium. Kids — and adults — will marvel at the 102-meter sculpture that lifts nine massive metal balls straight into the Brussels skyline. Built for the World Exhibition of 1958, the Atomium currently serves as a landmark and museum. Children can actually spend a night at the Atomium, sleeping in small groups in “raindrops” or small mini-spheres.
     
    4. Musical Instruments Museum. This hands- and ears-on museum allows kids to listen to music as they learn about the instruments that make them. Plan to have lunch at the museum café, an attraction in its own right, which sits on the top floor of the historic Art Nouveau building and boasts some of the best views in the city.
     
    5. Mini-Europe. Take a tour of Europe in a few short hours at Mini-Europe, a park with 300 petite models of the continent’s finest attractions. Big Ben. The gondolas of Venice. A bullfight in Seville. It’s all here — just a little bit smaller. Kids will love the interactive models, which include an eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Amanda Cherrin answered the question: Amanda Cherrin

    What are the five best things to see and do in Brussels?

    The attractions in Brussels are as diverse as the city’s international population. If you visit, be sure to bring your appetite and sense of humor and prepare for a great time. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the five best things to see and do in Brussels:
     
    1. Grand Place. A visit to the Grand Place is kind of like a stop at the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty — obligatory, but totally worth it. Surrounded by gilded buildings and gothic towers, including the Town Hall and the City Museum, the 15th-century square is really quite stunning.
     
    2. Peeing Statues. The Bruxellois have a quirky sense of humor, displayed never more clearly than in the three statues of peeing creatures located around the city. The most famous, the Mannekin Pis, is a 15th-century statue of a peeing boy, who has an enviable wardrobe featuring more than 800 outfits. His clothes are changed a few times each month and the rest of his wardrobe is on display at the City Museum. The Jeanneke Pis  — rumored to be Mannekin’s sister — is a statue of a squatting girl, located a few blocks away, across the alley from the popular beer bar Delirium. Finally, there’s Zinneke, a statue of a dog, who is also heeding the call of nature.
     
    3. Open-Air Markets. There are dozens of open-air markets operating year-round throughout Brussels where you can find fresh produce, meats, cheeses and more. The biggest one is the Sunday market at the Midi train station, which features more than 450 vendors. The Wednesday night market at Place du Chatelain may be the most chic — you can enjoy Champagne and freshly-shucked oysters as you shop.
     
    4. Cantillon Brewery. Founded in 1900, this working brewery offers self-guided tours of its funky location where you can learn about the process of brewing tangy lambic beer using only wild yeasts. At the end of the tour, you can sample the fruits of this traditional Belgian style of brewing. If you try a gueze, be prepared for a uniquely sour taste, but even non-beer lovers will appreciate a kriek, a sweet-tart cherry beer.
     
    5. The Matongé. Named after the commercial district of Kinshasa, Congo (a former Belgian colony), the Matongé is overflowing with the sights, smells and tastes of Africa. Located in the neighborhood of Ixelles, this thriving district is the place to sample grilled goat, take an African dance class or pick up exotic fruits and vegetables.
  • On July 16, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to eat in Brussels?

    Downtown Brussels restaurants are notoriously expensive and stuffy, so it pays, literally, to go off the beaten path for quality food and service at a reasonable price. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ favorite local gems:
     
    1. Le Chalet de la Forêt. Chef Pascal Devalkeneer creates balanced and impeccably executed French inspired cuisine. Pair your repast with grand cru wines or local discoveries: the well-curated list here offers both. 
     
    2. Sea Grill. As the name suggests, this acclaimed restaurant in the Radisson Blu specializes in seafood. Chef Yves Mattagne sources ingredients from the best waters worldwide; a specially is the lobster dish prepared tableside.
     
    3. Alexandre - Restaurant. Opened in 2008 by “Top Chef” France contestant Alexandre Dioniso, Alexandre serves a modern take on classic French cuisine that quickly earned the chef international accolades. The Menu du Soir offers course after course of exciting dishes like squid ink risotto, black olive cakes, and beef cheeks served with a bacon galette. The €30 (US$38) two-course lunch is a steal.
     
    4. La Truffe Noire. This is widely regarded as one of Brussels’ best restaurants — and how could it not be with a menu based around black truffles? If you’re really looking to splurge, try the €225 (US $285) “Privilege Menu,” a six-course, truffle-infused dining experience.
     
    5. Comme Chez Soi. The name of this family-owned restaurant dating back to 1926 means “Like Your House”, but that refers more to the warm service than the cuisine. The dining room is done in warm woods accented by Art Nouveau glass and metals designed by Horta. It’s a breathtaking spot for enjoying creative multi-course tasting menus featuring some of the best ingredients sourced from around the world such as Zeeland mussels, Iberian pork and North Sea lobster.
  • On July 16, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to stay in Brussels?

    Brussels is home to some beautiful old-world hotels, and trendier, more modern establishments that cater to business and leisure travelers have cropped up in recent years. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the five best places to stay when in Brussels:
     
    1. Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo. A former prison was renovated into what is now one of Brussels’ finest luxury accommodations: The Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo. With a modern interior designed by Olga Polizzi, Hotel Amigo is the place to stay if high-thread count sheets and impeccable service top your list of hotel requirements. Request a room facing the Grand Place for one of the most exclusive and enviable views in the city.
     
    2. Sofitel Brussels Le Louise. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more glamorous block of real estate in Brussels than this one on Avenue Louise. The Sofitel sits proudly across the street from some of the best shopping and eating in the city. If you appreciate contemporary luxury,  the Sofitel Brussels Le Louise is the hotel for you.
     
    3. Royal Windsor Hotel Grand Palace. If you like to stay in a sumptuous, centrally located hotel, then the 266-room Royal Windsor might be the perfect option. You’ll find many attractions outside your room as well including a piano bar and nightclub that are humming until dawn, the popular Chutney’s bar and restaurant and a state-of-the art fitness center.
     
    4. Sofitel Brussels Europe. This 149-room hotel is set in the business district, perfect for the business traveler. Rooms come equipped with laptop safes, complimentary Wi-Fi and espresso machines. There’s also plenty of meeting and conference space if you’re traveling with coworkers.
     
    5. Hotel Metropole Brussels. There’s nothing like staying in a historic hotel that’s catered to royalty and visiting dignitaries for over a century to make your trip to Brussels memorable. Impeccable service, rooms filled with both classic architectural flourishes like cornices and chandeliers and the exquisite French restaurant L’Alban Chambon  make the Hotel Metropole unique.