Sometimes Brussels, Belgium can get a bum rap. Home to the European Union, the Belgian capital is often perceived as dull, gray and stuffy. These misconceptions mean it is often overlooked in favor of Paris, Amsterdam, London and even its smaller medieval sister, Bruges. But to bypass Brussels would be a shame for if you dig just a little deeper you’ll find an underbelly of fun, and a fascinating history just waiting to be discovered.
From its fantastic finger food, scrumptious chocolates and beer so strong you may only need one, to its many art museums and markets, Brussels is ideal for any kind of city break.
They know how to eat in Brussels. With rich foods, great beer and world-renowned chocolate, you’ll be in for a treat whatever you prefer. To that end, keep breakfast light by grabbing a pastry and coffee from one of the many bakeries lining the streets. Charli, a patisserie in Bruxelles-Ville, serves freshly baked, flaky croissants and cappuccinos that will remind you of your last visit to Italy.
For lunch and beyond, head to Maison Antoine, a family-run frites kiosk in Etterbeek. Established in 1948, Antoine is beloved by locals for its authentic, freshly cut potatoes fried to perfection. Smother them in a sauce of your choice—we suggest the béarnaise—grab the handy paper cone and join the throngs of locals on the street who walk and eat at the same time.
For a trendy take on Flemish classics go to brasserie Nuetnigenough, a lively neighborhood restaurant just off the city’s infamous Grand Place. Boasting a dark wooden bar, gilded mirrors and warm lighting, Nuetnigenough creates an intimate yet inviting dining experience. Try one of the many beers on tap—such as rédor Pils—and treat yourself to stoemp, a dish of sausages, pork cheeks and peanuts or waterzooi, a fish stew with prawns and mussels. With only 30 seats, the cozy eatery doesn’t take reservations so get there early to snag a table.
Brussels is a beer mecca and with so many varieties to choose from, you’ll be hard-pressed to just try one. We go giddy over the lambic, the thick, fruity beer that Belgium is known for. Parvis St Gilles, a large square in Saint-Gilles, boasts plenty of bars to while away the evening. Cafe Maison du Peuple, an atmospheric boite in a historic building, serves a variety of beers on tap and even more by the bottle. Groove to the sounds permeating from the DJ booth on the weekend. The fun times often spill onto the square as the evening progresses so don’t be afraid to get swept away by it all.
Brussels is a city of historic art with museums aplenty. Start at the Van Meer Museum, work your way through the Parlamentarium (the European Union’s museum) and end at the cheekily named Mannekin Pis, a statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain that is often garbed in a variety of silly outfits throughout the month.
The Horta Museum, once home to Victor Horta, a founder of the Art Nouveau movement, is one of Brussels highlights. Walking inside is like stepping into a fairytale: metalwork is fashioned to look like organic structures and romantic glass windows bring extra warmth to the golden yellow walls.
Situated in the city center, the Magritte Museum offers a unique insight into one of the country’s national heroes. Belgium-born René Magritte was a pioneer in the Surrealist art movement and his eponymous museum holds 230 of his most iconic pieces.
Place Flagey is best enjoyed on a bright sunny day. The food hall hosts a flea market every Sunday that is perfect for rummaging for hidden treasures. Score that perfect chic ensemble and celebrate with a dozen oysters. Bars and cafes conveniently surround the square making it a great all-in-one destination.
You can’t talk about Belgium without talking about chocolate and while some might prefer the chocolatiers in Bruges, Brussels is still the epicenter for the treat. Mary, founded in 1919, is named after the first female chocolatier who became famous due to the patronage of the Belgian royal family. The spacious shop-cum-tea-salon features Art Deco interiors and a bustling atmosphere. Try a cup of tea and pair that with their infamous praline chocolates. The ornate boxes make the perfect gift for your cocoa-loving friends back home.
Made in Louise
Made in Louise is a sleek, family-run boutique hotel in the heart of the city. Located in a 20th-century townhouse, all 48 rooms feature neutral interiors with pops of color here and there. Elegant wallpaper and rustic wood walls dominate the airy rooms. Sink into the comfy beds or relax under the walk-in rainforest showers. The Blackout shutters are a welcome addition if you want to sleep late in the morning and breakfast is a cornucopia of local delights.
Hipsters and flashy urbanites head to the Jam Hotel, situated in a former art school on the Chaussée de Charleroi. Expect industrial concrete, exposed brick and raw wood throughout. The comfy beds are enveloped in crisp, white linens. In summer, the hotel opens its rooftop pool, which is more a place to chill with a drink than a place to do your daily laps. Bar Perché is the place to be, come Friday or Saturday nights. Well-dressed millennials congregate on paint-splattered chairs as they sip craft cocktails.
MAS Residence offers a great balance between hotel and holiday apartment. Located in the European Quarter, the accommodations are just a stone’s throw from some of Brussels’ best attractions. All rooms feature contemporary furnishings, with bold colors and clean lines everywhere. Guests can keep up with emails back home in the office area or make their own coffee in the kitchen.