Brussels the capital city of Belgium is one of the top tourist cities in Europe. The Belgian capital has enough compelling reasons to lure tourists and travelers to this amazing city which is home to astounding Comic Strip Route and intriguing historical monuments. One day in Brussels is really not enough to explore the best of what the city has to offer. And then there are some beautiful towns outside the city which makes for easy day trips from Brussels. which we believe should be on your list too.
The first time we visited Belgium we spent only one day exploring Brussels and spent the other days doing day trips from Brussels. So here is what we could cover during our one day in Brussels.
Brussels has a distinctive charm with a medley of culture, trendy restaurants, cafes, over 100 museums and the towering skyscrapers. This is astounding how so many unique things are packed in one city. And getting to Brussels is convenient too with well-connected high-speed trains from London, Paris, and Amsterdam. So now that you have enough reasons to visit the Belgian capital city let us start with the top things to do in Brussels in one day.
We started our sightseeing at the Central Station in Brussels. We had collected a tourist route map from the information office which we followed to start our city sightseeing. Our first stop on the city tour was the Grand Place. On our way from Central Station to Grand Place, we walked us past several statues.
Place d’Espagne has an equestrian statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza – the fictional characters in the novel Don Quixote.
Grassmarkt has a gorgeous fountain with a statue of Charles Buls a Belgian politician and mayor of the City of Brussels.
Top Things to do in Brussels
The first glimpse of the Grand Place Square left us in awe and we stood there spellbound for a few minutes. Our eyes kept gazing at the buildings in square taking in the beauty of the architecture and artistic wonders.
The Grand Place or the Grote Markt is a historic square and an iconic landmark of the city of Brussels and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The square is surrounded by guildhalls and ornate buildings dating back from the 14th to 17th centuries. The two prominent buildings in the square are the Town Hall and the King’s House.
The Town hall is a medieval building built in the 15th century. The edifice features a striking Gothic tower topped by a statue of Saint Michael, the patron saint of Brussels.
The King’s House stands on the site of a 12th-century wooden building and then the 15th century by a stone building and was rebuilt several times. The imposing Gothic building houses the Museum of the City of Brussels. The museum walks you through the history of the Brussels City through paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and other artifacts. The most interesting part of the museum is the room which displays nearly 750 costumes of the Manneken Pis Statue.
If you happen to visit Brussels during the Christmas you can enjoy the wonderful light and sound show. The Grand-Place is covered with a giant carpet of flowers every two years in mid-August which is a colorful sight worth a visit.
There are several restaurants and cafes around the Grand Place with outdoor seating. It is worth it to spend some time in one of the cafes and marvel at the splendid architecture of baroque, neoclassical and neogothic styles. The narrow alleys around the square are also lined with souvenir shops and restaurants if you are looking for a quick bite.
We wandering through the cobblestone alleys looking for the iconic Manneken Pis. Several small cafes in the alleys had delicious looking waffles at the display and we couldn’t resist ourselves. We stopped by one of the cafes to devour on some delicious waffles.
While in Belgium indulging in some waffle munching with an assortment of toppings from chocolate, cream, jam, powdered sugar to fresh fruits is a must. And when in Brussels you cannot leave without sampling some delicious Belgian chocolates. These also make for some great gifts and souvenirs to take back home.
The eagerly awaited ‘Pissing Boy’ was just a couple of minutes walk from the cafe. Being there early in the morning was an advantage as we had the benefit to pose with the little boy without any hustle. There are several legends behind this statue from the little boy going missing and been later found pissing in some corner of the city to a boy urinating on explosives and saving the city from being destroyed.
There are two more statues one of a girl and other of a dog both peeing in the public. Jeanneke Pis famous as Manneken Pis’ little sister can be found a couple of minutes walk from the Grand Place. And then the dog Zinneke Pis about 10 minutes walk from the Grand Place we did not find him during our Brussels city tour but spotted him unexpectedly during our comic strip route tour when hunting for the comics around the Brussels city.
We came across the walls built in the early 13th century during the fortifications of Brussels. Today only a few sections of the walls remains can be found around the city.
Anneessens Tower and Walls
We came across the Anneessens Tower or the Corner Tower with the broken rampart on our way to Place du Grand Sablon. These walls were built as a part of the fortifications of the City of Brussels between the 11th and 13th centuries.
Today only a few sections of the walls remains can be found around the city.
Place du Grand Sablon
Place du Grand Sablon is a lively place which hosts a wonderful market at every weekend where one can shop for various antique items and clothing. There are numerous antique stores, boutiques, Belgian chocolatiers Surrounding the square. Closeby is Petit Sablon, a garden bounded by an elaborate wrought-iron fence which is dotted with pillars topped by sculptures.
Next to the market is the magnificent Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon Church or Eglise Notre-Dame du Sablon, a 15th Century Catholic church. The late Brabantine Gothic style church has some amazing Baroque chapels, exquisitely carved sculptures, murals, and beautiful stained glasses adorning its interior.
Walking along the same street, we came to a large historic square called Place Royale with an equestrian statue of Godfrey of Bouillon at its center. Place Royale or Koningsplein is a neoclassical square surrounded important historic buildings and monuments.
The neoclassical Saint Jacques-Sur-Coudenberg or Sint-Jacob-op-Koudenberg Church dominates the square. The main features of the church are Greco-Roman portico with Corinthian columns, fresco on the triangular pediment, belltower and a grandiose classic interior.
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Magritte Museum and BELvue Museum are important museums in the square.
The Royal Palace
The two other important buildings in the square are the Place Royale and the Coudenberg Palace.
The Royal Palace is a royal residence of the monarchy of Belgium located opposite the Brussels Park. The palace is open to the public every summer from 22 July to 2 September where visitors can explore some of the palace rooms and the artworks on display. The entrance is free.
Next to the palace is the former Coudenberg Palace or the Charles V’s Palace. Visitors can tour the archaeological remains of the palace which was damaged in the fire of 1731. The site is located underground and can be accessed from the BELvue museum.
Mont des Arts (Kunstberg)
We walked down the Coudenberg hill into a beautiful Mont des Arts garden. Mont des Arts is a historic complex which consists of important buildings including the Congress Palace, the Royal Library and the National Archives of Belgium. There is a beautiful geometric garden decorated with flower beds and its center is an equestrian statue of King Albert I.
Visitors can enjoy stunning vistas of the old town, the striking spire of the Brussels Town Hall in the Grand Place as far as the Atomium from the vantage point in the garden.
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
About 5 minutes walk from the Central station is the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. The magnificent Gothic church features remarkable stained glass windows and artworks in the interior including the Marble and alabaster altarpiece and the Baroque pulpit.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
In the street opposite to the Central station, some 5 minutes walk away is the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a shopping arcade. It has a narrow courtyard lined with opulent cafes, jewelry and confectionery shops on both side and an arched glass roof.
If you are looking for the best options for eating in the old town of Brussels then check out this quick guide on foodie Brussels.
Basilica of the Sacred Heart
We had booked an apartment close to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The way to our apartment from the metro station Simonis was through a large park with twin avenues lined with dense trees and a central lawn. The walk through the park provided with stunning views of the magnificent Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
The Art Deco church with a central dome flanked by the two towers is the world’s fifth largest Catholic basilica. One can take elevators to the outdoor gallery located at the base of the dome for remarkable panoramic views of the city.
Things to do in Brussels with Kids
After exploring all the major points of interest around the Brussels Central station you will still have a few hours left until dusk. Board a train from the central station and head to the Atomium one of the top things to do in Brussels. You would not want to miss this attraction if you are traveling with kids.
The Atomium, a unique fascinating structure in Brussels was originally constructed for the World Exhibition in 1958. The nine 18 m diameter stainless steel clad spheres represent the model structure of an atom.
The Spheres consists of exhibition halls and museums with the top sphere having a restaurant with a panoramic view of Brussels. There is a permanent exhibition on the history of the building and numerous temporary exhibitions.
Mini-Europe is another major Brussels attractions and one of the top things to do in Brussels with kids. The Mini-Europe is a miniature theme park located close to the Atomium. The park exhibits around 350 miniature monuments from around Europe including Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Big Ben and much more.
Another important Brussels attraction which would be of interest for the kids is the Comic Strip Route. You may not be able to cover it if you have only one day in Brussels. But you can bookmark it for your next visit to Brussels.
Comic Strip Route
Brussels has a well-known comic strip route, which is an interesting way to spot the well-preserved comic heritage of the city. Comic Strip Route in the city center itself offers more than 50 comics painted on buildings and walls. Go scouring for the comic heroes painted in vivid colors on the walls of the city is indeed an adventure.
The Belgian Comic Strip Center
But if you can squeeze in some time before heading to the Atomium you can visit the Belgian Comic Strip Center which is about 5 minutes walk from the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. The museum holds permanent and temporary exhibitions where you can discover the aspects of the comics art. The center also has a library with a reading room where the kids can explore more on the contemporary comics art.
Getting Around in Brussels
The major Brussels attractions including Grand Place, Mannekin Pis, Mont des Arts, Royal Palace and the numerous museums are located around the Central Station which can easily be explored on foot. You just need to reach the central station by either bus or metro. And Brussels has a very good network of metro and bus connecting major parts of the city.
There is definitely a lot more to experience and learn in Brussels called the ‘melting pot of cultures’. From historic charm to chocolates, fries, and waffles the city has something for everyone to keep the spirits high!
Best time to Visit Brussels
The best time to visit Brussels is from April to October though July and August are peak tourist seasons. We visited Belgium a couple of times once late October and the second time early November. October and November are our favorite months for the crowd are less with lower room rates and the spectacular fall foliage in Bruges and Ghent.
2 or 3 days in Brussels?
If you more than a day in Brussels we recommend you head one of the beautiful towns outside the city on a day trip from Brussels. Our favorite towns are Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Dinant and the beautiful city of Leuven. Each of these towns has a unique charm of their own and are sure to transport you into a time warp.
The Brussels Card benefits you with free admission to 40 museums in Brussels and discounts on various Brussels attractions including Atomium and Mini-Europe, tours, and restaurants. You can also choose unlimited travel on public transport and Hop On Hop Off bus with extra charges on the basic card.
For your one day in Brussels, you might want to buy the card only if you are planning to visit a few museums around the Place Royale and Grand Place. The card will really help you save money if you are planning to spend 2 or 3 days in Brussels. Check here for details and plan accordingly.
Brussels Tour Map
What has been your favorite part of sight-seeing in Brussels? Do share with us in comments.
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