Brussels the capital of Flanders, Belgium and Europe Union, is easily accessible from France, Germany, Luxembourg and Netherlands. After having had a fun weekend in Strasbourg, I opted to make a stop in Belgium and it turned out to be a great idea. Brussels started life as a fortress, then developed into a market square and eventually blossomed into the economic, political and social centre of the Flemish capital. There’s loads to see and do and the main things can be done in a day or 2. I was not in a hurry hence I spent about 4 days lazily exploring the city.
Brussels is a fairly expensive city and while budget may not be a concern to all but for me I enjoy travelling without breaking the bank and so finding free things to do in an expensive city is always a plus. Here is my list of some FREE cool things not to miss on your next trip to Brussels:-
- Marvel at The Grand Place
Tucked in the centre of the old town, this majestic square dates back to the 11th century with its architecture made up of the guild houses with magnificent gables, pilasters, balustrades, ornately carved stonework, and rich gold decoration. I sat down, had coffee and enjoyed one of my fave travel hobbies – people watching. It’s best to visit at different times of the day with the light and darkness changing its feel. At certain times of the year it is fully covered in flowers, which I’m sure makes it all the more stunning.
2. Visit Notre Dam Du Salon of Brussels
It is very different from the Notre Dam in Paris; this Gothic church dates back to 15th century is quite an attraction. The interior of the church is breathtaking, in particular because of its marvelous stained glass. It was originally a small church erected by the Guild of Crossbowmen in 1304. A century later it had to be massively enlarged to cope with numbers of pilgrims attracted by the supposed healing powers of its Madonna statue. The statue was procured in 1348 by means of an audacious theft from an Antwerp church – apparently by a vision-motivated husband-and-wife team in a rowing boat. It has long since gone, but a boat behind the pulpit commemorates the curious affair.
3. Be Royal at Palais Royal
Located in the beautifully white Place des Palais area, the Place Royale is the most important building as it is home to the Royal Family of Belgium who currently spends most of their time in Laeken. They do however, fly the flag anytime his Highness is in town. Only open to the public in the summer months, it’s a good idea not to miss it. There is a ceremonial Changing of the Guard that takes place every day at about 2.30pm (which I missed, Shame!)
4. Giggle at The Mannekin Pis
Arguably one of the most famous [if not most famous] attractions of Brussels. It’s a little Boy pissing. It was really funny for me watching throngs of Tourists crowded taking pictures and selfies of the little boy. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I got the feeling of “really? That’s it?” Anyway, just like the Madonna statue, there a couple of legends behind the peeing boy. One is the the boy – Julien was peeing on the enemies who once surrounded Brussels and wanted to blow it up. He saw a fuse, peed on it, destroying the set up thus saving Brussels. Another favorite is that a witch cursed the boy for all eternity because he peed at her front door. Also, is the lost boy whose parents found him peeing in a fountain. What do you think really happened. On certain special days you will find the statue dressed in costume. pretty funny!!
5. Drink, Eat and Be Merry
Not Free but hey, we all gotta eat so here are some cheap eats J
When I think Brussels I think Beer, Waffles, Mussels and Chocolate. And so that’s exactly what I did. I generally do not drink beer since it tastes really bad and smells even worse but in a country with more than 2,000 types of beers, I was lost for choice. Some beers tasted fruity, were pink colored and smelled like roses. The best way to find great bars is to have locals take you to their spots. One very local bar that I visited allowed me to have the tastiest and cheapest beers ever. At Happy Hour we had beers for less than 1€ (about Kes 120)… Say what????? Yes
I am generally not a sweet tooth but who can resist 1€ (about Kes 120) Nutella filled waffles as you stroll the streets? The Liege Waffle – Waffle Street, not too far from Grand Place, is a street filled with souvenir shops and waffle shops. For only 1€ you can probably try as many flavors as you like. While still at all things sweet, then you know Belgium chocolates are to die for and Brussels is just the right place to buy enough chocolates to gift all your friends on their birthdays for a couple months. You also get to try out and make your own variants – it’s a wonder I still have my teeth cavity free after all the indulgence!
French fries – Belgium Fries – Fries – I just love fries. Actually I love most potato dishes thus I didn’t miss my visit to the popular Fritland to get my dose of Belgium Fries. I ordered what everyone seemed to be ordering hoping for just a taste only to end up with a pound of fries doused in mayonnaise and ketchup. Yummy it was but way too much that I barely made it to half the cone.
Moules Frites is a national dish in Belgium, and even though you might find picking the mussel meat out of their shells a tiny bit disgusting/ weird at first, let me assure you that it is well worth a try. Since I wanted to ensure that I get the best stuff, I stalked the web and came upon Chez Leon. It specializes in mussels and located in a central location. I met a Mexican girl in the dorm I was staying at and we decided to give this a try. The initial bites were awkward for both of us but after a while, we were both very happy with our meal. I don’t think it will be a meal in my staple menu but it definitely was worth trying it.
6. Enjoy a Free outdoor concert
In the summer months, there are numerous festivals and concerts and a couple are free and great fun. Once again linking up with my French friends from Peru we went to an outdoor Brazilian concert on my last day where we danced and laughed our souls out. Concerts and festivals allow you to get a feel of the real local life as compared to walking through the tourist attractions.
7. Get out of the city
If you have more than 2 days in Belgium, explore Brussels and get away to Ghent, Bruges or Antwerp based on your time and interest. With Ghent being 30 minutes away and Bruges 1 hour they are both doable in as day whilst staying in Brussels.
The Bruges Market Square is a beehive of activity. . . People watching at its best. I seat and try to go back in time listening to the horseshoe trot sounds, chit chats in multiple languages, camera clicks; I realize how the world is one tiny village and one ons that you must explore and be present. … .. . @herpavliness to answer your question:- I am team Ghent, it feels more authentic but Bruges gives you a better medieval vibe since it's all the old buildings are all close together. It is however also more touristic. What's your team? Ghent or Bruges ❓❔❓ #bruges #leaineurope #summervibes #cute #architecture #sunkissed #belgium #backintime #beauty #history #charming #queensabroad #travelisthenewclub #solotravel #kenyantravelblogger #selftimer #traveldiaries #sunnies #glow #canals #whichisbetter
8. Stroll the streets
I love to walk, and when travelling I love it even more. Brussels is a walking friendly city and this allows you to explore and discover corners and places that may not be on your travel guides.
9. Enjoy Sunsets at Mont De Arts
Mon de Arts is located on a hill in the centre of the city. It’s vantage point offers one of the finest views in the capital. It’s a place where locals go to chill on the stairs and also enjoy great sunsets. I am sucker for sunsets so seating on the steps at Mon de Arts as I watch people walk, chat, kiss and laugh was such a pleasurable time. It’s a perfect place to perfect the art of doing nothing.
10. Window Shop the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Les Galeries Saint Hubert is a gorgeous glass roofed arcade in the center of Brussels. It is lined with cafes, theaters and luxury stores. If luxury shopping is your cup of tea then skip the window part and dive in head first for some great shopping experience. For me, I stuck to window shopping as I strolled the stores, nibbled on some chocolate and wandered away lost in my own thoughts.
Did I miss any cool FREE things to do, if so let me know so that we all are covered on great fun FREE things to do.