If you’re planning a trip to Belgium you may be tempted to dismiss Brussels, opting instead to spend your time in more remote regions like Ghent and Antwerp. But don’t count it out so quickly! Aside from being a hub of international politics and the capital of Eurpoean Union, Brussels is oozing with charm, youthful energy the delicious scents of decadent waffles and Belgian chocolate waft through the air.
On the way back from Lisbon, Portugal on a recent trip with my dad, we stopped over in Brussels for 2 nights, giving us one full day to explore the capital city. Although I would have preferred more time, we managed to pack quite a lot into our short stay. If you’re traveling to Belgium, I encourage you to set aside at least a day to spend in this cultural hub. Below is an hour-by-hour guide to spending 24 hours in Brussels.Approaching the Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium
9:00 a.m. | Breakfast at Love Ciabatta
Get an early start to the day with a toasted ciabatta sandwich and fresh squeezed juice at Love Ciabatta. Sit outside and do some people watching or snag one of the cozy leather lounge chairs inside. This adorable sidewalk café is the perfect place to fuel up and map out the rest of your day in Brussels.
10:00 a.m. | Visit the Royal Palace of Brussels
The Royal Palace of Brussels (map it!) serves as the official palace for Belgium’s King and Queen, although the royal family actually resides at the Royal Palace of Laeken about 20 minutes outside the city. The Royal Palace of Brussels is where the King performs his duties as Head of State, holds meetings with the leaders of his cabinet and military and hosts foreign leaders for various receptions and events. During the summer, visitors can tour various rooms of the palace for free. Check here before your trip to see if tours are being offered.
10:30 p.m. | Stroll Through Parc de Bruxelles
Across the street from the Royal Palace you’ll find the Parc de Bruxelles. Grab a cappuccino, listen to live music, wander past the various fountains and enjoy this beautiful green space.
11:00 p.m. | Visit Brussels’ famous statues
One of Brussels’ biggest attractions is quite small in size. The Manneken Pis statue of a young boy peeing into a fountain attracts hundreds of visitors daily (map it!). The original statue was installed in the 1600’s and exemplifies the humor and free spirit of Belgians.
Jeanneke-Pis was installed in 1987 (map it!). As a counter to the famed Manneken Pis, Jeanneke-Pis depicts a little girl squatting and peeing into a fountain because, why should boys have all the fun!
You’ll also want to make a wish on the Everard T’serclaes sculpture (map it!). Everard T’serclaes was praised for saving the city of Brussels from the Flemings in 1356. At age 68, he lost his life attempting to stave off the sale of crown land thereby solidifying his place in the hearts of Belgians. The statue commemorating him can be found on Rue Charles Buls just off the Grand Place. It is believed that touching the statue brings one luck and rubbing the arm ensures ones return to the city of Brussels.
12:00 p.m. | Snap photos at the Grand Place
The Grand Place is Brussels central square and is one of the most beautiful in the world. Surrounded by gothic structures of the Breadhouse building and the city’s Town Hall, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In August every other year a carpet of flowers fills this historic square.
12:30 p.m. | Enjoy fries and a beer at Fritland
A Brussels staple since 1978, Fritland is the perfect place to grab some classic Belgian frites with and a cold beer. Choose from a variety of toppings and enjoy! There are numerous friteries throughout the city, so if you can’t find this one, don’t let that stop you from sampling this local fare.
1:00 p.m. | Tour the Brussels Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate
You cannot visit Brussels without sampling some Belgian chocolate. There are chocolate shops one just about every block where you can get beautiful gift boxes to take back home, but to learn the story behind the sweet treat, take a tour at the Brussels Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. Tours run throughout the day and are €6 per person. Learn about the history of how chocolate was introduced to Belgium then watch a demonstration on how the famous Belgian chocolate is made. The best part of the tour, free samples!
2:00 p.m. | Spend time exploring Parc de Laeken
After several hours exploring the hustle and bustle of Brussels’ city center, escape to nature at Parc de Laeken (map it!). This expansive park contains several noteworthy attractions including the Royal’s residence the Royal Palace de Laeken, the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, the Leopold I Monument, the iconic Atomium landmark and the EÉglise Notre-Dame de Laeken located just outside the park. There is a TON to see and do in this park, so you’ll want to give yourself a few hours to fully explore it.
Travel Tip: To get there from the City Center take the #3 tram line from Bourse to the De Wand stop or Uber it for about €15.
5:00 p.m. | Shop for souvenirs at Galeries Royales Saint Hubert
Before leaving Brussels, you’ll want to stock up on some goodies to take back home. Whether you want to take back a box of Belgian chocolates or something special from a local boutique, the Royal Gallery is a great place to find it. The architecture and intricate glass ceiling alone are worth a visit.
6:00 p.m. | Eat Mussels at La Belle Maraîchère
Sampling seafood is a must when visiting Brussels and it doesn’t get much better than La Belle Maraîchère. This upscale, family owned seafood restaurant that prides itself on serving the freshest delicacies the North Sea has to offer. The lobster bisque and mussels in white wine sauce will change your life.
For a more casual dining option, check out one of the many seafood restaurants located along Rue de Bouchers (map it!).
7:15 p.m. | Satisfy your sweet tooth with a Belgian waffle
A trip to Brussels would not be complete without sampling this classic sweet treat – the Belgian waffle. You’ll find a waffle shops on almost every block throughout Brussels. Most shops advertise €1 waffles, but that’s just for the plain waffles. If you want one with all the fixings – berries, Nutella, whip cream expect to pay anywhere between €5 – €7. Trust me, they are worth every penny!
7:30 p.m. | Visit the Grand Place at night
This central square is busy all hours of the day and night, but it really comes alive at night. It’s not unusual to find locals and visitors alike gazing up at the glowing architecture, sitting beneath the stars enjoying a beer and a game of cards or dining at one of several restaurants located on the square. The energy here is palpable and you’ll want to spend some time taking it all in.
8:00 p.m. | Take part in a beer tasting and pub crawl
Belgium is also known for its beer and what better way to get a feel its many varieties that with a beer tasting. The Brussels Pub Crawl offers beer tastings every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 8-9:15 p.m. for €14.
For an additional €5, those who wish to continue partying can join the pub crawl which starts at 9:30 p.m.
Travel tip: Tickets for the pub crawl alone are €8 when you book online and €10 if you buy in person.)
1:00 a.m. | Party the night away along Impasse de la Fidélité
If you still have energy after the pub crawl, finish the night at one of the many late night spots along Impasse de la Fidélité (it’s on the same street as Jeanneke-Pis). Order a beer and mingle with locals and tourists alike into the wee hours of the morning.
3:00 a.m. | Bedtime
After a long day exploring the city of Brussels, you’ll want to rest your head in a cozy warm bed. From 5 star hotels like Sofitel Brussels and Hotel Amigo to charming flats available through Airbnb, there are several options for accommodations depending on what you’re looking for.
Travel Tip: If you’re planning on a short stay in Brussels, consider booking a room close to the city center to limit travel time to and from your hotel or rental.
9:00 a.m. | Depart Brussels
And THAT is how you spend 24 hours in Brussels! This is quite an ambitious itinerary, but it gives you a sense of all there is to see and do in this special city.
Have you visited Brussels? What made it on your itinerary? Never been? What would you like to see and do in Brussels? Share your comments below!