What to do in…Brussels
Brussels, don’t dismiss this city as somewhere you could just pass by on the Eurostar as it has a lot more to offer than just a fly-by visit. If someone was to tell me I would spend the best New Years Eve ever in the city where both NATO and the European Union have their headquarters I would say you have to be lying. But underneath the serious facade Brussels has turned into a bit of secret trendy weekend getaway.
How to get there
Brussels has to be one of the easiest places to get to from London, you simply get yourself to the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancreas International and hop on the train and in 2 hours you will be at the heart of they city. It’s entirely possible to do this for less than £40 each way in the standard classes or double that if you fancy travelling in the marginally better standard premier class.
You could of course fly, and if you are flying from the north of England then return flights from Manchester can come in at under £90 for most weekends with Ryanair and similar prices from all the major London hubs. From the airport it’s a short 17 minute train ride into one of the city centre stations and a short walk or cab ride to your accommodation.
How to get around
Brussels is so easy to get around, the majority of what you will want to do will be within walking distance from your city centre hotel. For attractions slightly further away then public transport is efficient and good value with multi trip cards offering the best value against making journeys on the metro, bus or tram.
Where to stay
There are many perfectly fine city centre hotels that will suit most leisure travellers despite being a little bit more on the clinical business side, both the Novotel and NH chain of hotels have good options. I stayed at the Novotel Brussels Grand Place which does exactly what it says on the tin and has a fantastic location practically right on top of one of the main tourist attractions and perfect for exploration walks of the city. If you are after something a bit more trendy and more in keeping with a boutique style hotel then check out The Dominican. The hotel is a former 18th century monastery which once played host to Jean Louis David, the famous French revolution painter. Rooms are chic and understated but with great touches such as Nespresso coffee machines. I haven’t stayed here yet but am trying to convince the other half we need to use some left-over Eurostar points and get a cheeky trip to Belgium in before the end of the year.
What to see/do
I wouldn’t come to Brussels expecting an itinerary packed full of must sees and dos, you can instead look forward to taking time to soak up the chilled out atmosphere and hop in and out of the many bars and cafes that are in large abundance. If you happen to time your trip during the winter months then you also have the added bonus of being around during the Christmas Markets and many areas are adorned with fairy lights making it all just look a little bit more beautiful.
The square where the Grand Place is situated needs to be your first stop. Stand in the middle and do a 360 degree turn to see truly remarkable architecture at every view point. The square is a great place to people watch and normally everyone advises to seek food/drink options away from the main tourist squares but this is part of the charm of Brussels so take a seat in one of cafes and treat yourself to a hot chocolate or waffle, or if beer is more your thing then you have an alarming choice ahead of you!
You could of course just spend your time sampling some of the 3000 plus beers on offer at Delirium, this bar gets packed so be prepared to push your way through both tourists and locals to get a drink or get there early! A great way to find somewhere less busy but equally as well stocked is to get yourself booked onto a beer tasting tour, I went with Global Enterprises Tours who showed us where the locals really hang out. I take no responsibility for what may happen to you after the tour but you may be surprised by just how hard the Belgians can party!
Whilst walking around the centre you’ll probably come across one of Brussels most infamous landmarks, the Manneken Pis. This small bronze statue of a boy urinating into a fountain is one of Brussels most photographed sights and the one that seems to appear everywhere across the city. From chocolate shop displays to modelling suits in windows, this little guy is everywhere! If you want to see the real thing then it’s just a short walk down the Rue de l’Etuve from the Grand Place.
Where to eat
Now I have to admit after spending most of our afternoons in the establishment next to Mannekin Pis, Poechenellekelder, where the menu mostly consists of mainly beer and cheese, I wasn’t too hungry come dinner time. However there are a couple of places we did have time to sample. Fin de Siecle is a good value no frills options for traditional fare, or if you are after fine dining then be sure to reserve a table at La Rabassier. At €29 the lunch menu is affordable and you could just spend the evening doing what I did and consume your body weight in cheese washed down with beer. Then have a little walk around to ease your stomach before sampling the chocolate and waffle delights that are on every street!
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