To get the most out of a vacation, utilizing layover time is key. A fun way to squeeze in an extra city (or country for that matter) is an extended layover that allows just enough time to explore a small city for a day and get back in time for the flight to your final destination. Layover cities like Frankfurt (which has one of Europe’s largest airports) are built for this sort of thing. And small cities like Brussels can be easily covered in less than one day with the right itinerary.
The trickiest part about this city is figuring out what language to even attempt to speak. German, French, English – the signs are a mix and so are the languages spoken. While naive Americans like myself half expect everyone to speak all three languages, that certainly was not the case. But there is definitely enough English to get by.
The heart of the city is a 20 minute train ride from Brussels Airport. While the trains were a bit confusing (they don’t exactly say “downtown take this train at this time”) the ticket window and English-speaking locals were helpful enough to get us on the train to Gare Centrale.
Where to Eat & Drink
- Delirium Cafe – With over 2,000 types of beer, don’t say you can’t find anything you like on the menu. If you’re a bit overwhelmed like myself at 10am in this massive bar, just ask the bartender what his favorite breakfast beer is and drink up!
- Zebra Bar – Another great bar/cafe, although we didn’t make it to this one!
- Waffles and Chocolate – OK, this is not a place, it’s food. We stopped in Aroma at the Grand Place but any small, local cafe will do to try a waffle and a piece of chocolate. Cliche isn’t always a bad thing when it comes to food.
What to See
- Grand Place – Europe’s most picturesque square, Grand-Place is surrounded by baroque and gothic guildhalls and the stunning Brussels Town Hall. The beautiful buildings in this UNESCO World Heritage site date mainly from the late 17th century. Also a great place to find a cafe.
- Mannekin Pis – This tiny bronze fountain statue by Jerome Duquesnoy, dates from 1619 when it replaced a stone statue from the 1400s. He’s tucked away at the corner of rue de l’Étuve and rue du Chêne in Ilôt Sacré and is easy to miss… unless you go during tourist season where you’ll see a huge crowd with cameras. During holidays and special events they dress him up in cute outfits, like below.
- Place du Grand Sablon – A little quartier and one of the most charming in Brussels; Sablon is a maze of cobbled streets set around two squares, and was once home to the aristocrats of Brussels. The whole area is packed with stylish restaurants, slick galleries and hip cafés.
- Royal Palace of Brussels – A beautiful building worth walking by which also sits on the beautiful Parc de Bruxelles, which is reminiscent of Paris gardens.