Between all our recent European travels, I feel as though my feet have barely touched the ground the past few months. But one of my big New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 was to take more frequent small trips and explore Europe more (rather than eschewing the cities on our doorstep in favour of the extended long-haul trips we usually take).
Although I frequently travel to Brussels for work, I only ever get to see the Government district and the inside of the European Commission buildings while I’m there (with an occasional detour through the Grand Place on the way back to the Eurostar station if the weather is behaving). Given how easy it is to get there from England, I decided it was about time we properly explored all the city had to offer (which is so much more than just the seat of the European Union).
So when Alcatel asked if I’d like to put together a city guide in conjunction with their current promo (get return flights to one of eight European cities when you buy the new Pop4 handset), it was the perfect excuse to finally explore this grand old city. It was my first time trying the handset, but I have to say it was the ideal phone for travelling; because of the dual-SIM function I could put both my UK and travel SIM in at the same time, and the camera and maps were excellent for navigating our way around town without getting lost (and snapping everything along the way, of course).
Brussels is the perfect size for a weekend city break; small enough that you feel you can cover a decent chunk of it in two days, large enough that you’ll have no shortage of things to do. These were the best things we covered during our stay:
Do // For a dose of culture, start with the magnificent Grand Place. A large cobbled square bordered by the opulent Town Hall and guildhalls which marks the centre of the old town; it is a Unesco World Heritage site and surely one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.
Afterwards, walk over to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (around €8) on Rue de la Régence for a morning with Rubens, van Dyck and all the Flemish greats. Afterwards, head to the Royal Palace next door; it is free to visit from July-September when the Royal Family go away, and the spectacular rooms are worthy of any Disney princess (I’m not sure I have ever seen quite so many chandeliers in once place). Afterwards, we bought an ice cream and happily lazed beneath the canopy of trees in the Parc du Bruxelles across the road.
Shop // Treasure hunt for antiques: We visited both the Sablon (every Saturday and Sunday at the Place du Grand Sablon) and Les Marolles (every day on the Place du Jeu de Balle) flea markets and the surrounding antique shops. On the first Sunday of every month there is also a vintage market at Halle Saint-Géry. I picked up vintage postcards from Paris and a set of 1960s cocktail glasses at the Sablon, and an antique bust of Marie Antoinette and a pair of golden pheasants for the dining room table at Les Marolles. During a sudden downpour at Les Marolles, we dashed into the Cafe La Brocante on the corner of the square for coffee, which was charmingly stuffed with locals and antiques in equal measure.
Grand arcades: Don’t miss the beautiful Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert near the Grand Place. Built in 1847, it is a beautiful glass-roofed passageway housing luxury shops and cafes. We loitered for nearly an hour in the magnificent Tropismes Libraires bookstore in the Galerie des Princes section.
Hip boutiques: For the best small, independent fashion, design and lifestyle boutiques, head to the Rue Dansaert / Rue des Chartreux district. We made the mistake of visiting on a Sunday morning when many stores were closed, so visit on a Saturday or weekday instead for the best range of options.
Eat // It would be positively remiss to go to Brussels and leave hungry. From the famous chocolate and waffles to the traditional carbonades flamandes (beef stew) and moules frites (mussels and fries), there is no shortage of gourmand delights on offer.
For brunch, head to Peck 47 on Rue du Marché aux Poulets for eggs + savoury waffles or the original Le Pain Quotidien on Rue Dansaert (both a short walk from the Grand Place).
For lunch or dinner, make for local-favourite Le Fin de Siecle on Rue des Chartreux. We had dinner there on Saturday night and the atmosphere was lively and cosy; the food a delicious offering of Italian and authentic Belgian dishes.
Craving something sweet? Head straight to haute chocolaterie Pierre Marcolini for the best chocolate the city has to offer (not to mention glorious macarons and ice cream pops dipped in the chocolate of your choice). For a snack on-the-go whilst sightseeing, the chocolate-dipped strawberries at Godiva and the cheap as frites nutella-topped waffles (find them beside the Manneken Pis fountain) both earn an honourable mention.
Souvenir // I’m sure it’s obligatory to return home with a stash of Belgian chocolates in your suitcase. Pick up a box from Pierre Marcolini, Mary or Elisabeth (all have several locations dotted around the city), and a few blocks of Dolfin from the convenience store (I’m especially taken with their Earl Grey-infused dark chocolate tablets). A tin of Belgian waffles or speculoos (traditional cinnamon-spiced biscuits) from Maison Dandoy will also make a marvelous gift for friends back home. For something more unique, hunt for a vintage copy of Tintin or an antique tchotchke from the Les Marolles or Sablon flea market.
Good to Know // Brussels is small enough that you can walk just about everywhere, but if the weather is bad or you want to save your feet, the subway is clean, easy and goes everywhere you need to go (aside from hopping on the subway to get to our hotel, we walked the entire weekend). Everyone speaks English perfectly, but otherwise it’s the perfect excuse to practice your French.
Look 1: J.Crew jacket // Gap jeans // J.Crew top (similar style here) // Ferragamo shoes // Chanel bag // ASOS hat // Kenneth Jay Lane necklace (similar style here) // Chanel brooch // Karen Walker sunglasses.
Look 2: Zimmermann dress // J.Crew necklace // Ferragamo shoes // Valentino bag // ASOS hat // Karen Walker sunglasses // Michael Kors watch.
Have you been to Brussels before? Let me know if you have any more recommendations and I’ll try them on my next trip!
Love, Miss B xx
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