Sandwiched between France, Germany and Netherlands lies a strong little country that boasts more diversity than just the cliché stereotype of beer and mussels. Often misunderstood as a weekend getaway destination or merely a dull centre of EU bureaucracy, Belgium has, in fact, a lot to offer — museums, medieval monuments, gorges and caves, state-of-the-art galleries — enough to make up a week’s worth of stimulating experience.
Although the country is distinctively split between the Flemish-speaking northerners (Dutch language as spoken in Flanders), and French-speaking southerners, I had no difficulty traveling around Belgium equipped with just English. It would be nice however, for the locals to be warmed up to fellow visitors with greetings in their language as a courteous gesture.
With 3 full days altogether, I split up each day starting with Brussels the capital, followed by an hour train ride out to Namur, a charming city in Wallonia in southern Belgium, and lastly Bruges, a medieval town in northwest Belgium.
Staying at Sheraton Brussels Hotel was a real convenience, only 10 minutes walk to the main sights at Grand Place and St. Catherine. First time visitors, what to do in Brussels you ask? (Downloadable itinerary below)
First on the list for all visitors to Brussels is non-other than the central square, Grand Place. This pedestrianised UNESCO World Heritage site is surrounded by opulent Gothic buildings from the Middle Ages, comprised of the Town Hall, Museum of the City and guild houses.
Of course, biscuits and chocolates aren’t to be missed in Belgium. At nearly every corner of a block lies an unsurprising chocolatier/bakery with their perfected goodies displayed against the shop windows. Almost two centuries old, the Brussels born biscuiterie, Maison Dandoy bakes the freshest Speculoos, a traditional spiced shortcrust biscuit, among other invigorating confectioneries. It’s a little hefty for a bag of biscuits but hey, what’s a few euros more for an authentic taste of a preserved family recipe that survived the World War 2?
Not necessarily an option some of you would like to include in your visit, but Pasta Divina scores 4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor and makes pretty delicious, well, homemade pasta. It gives you the option to create your own pasta dish if you feel like wandering off the suggested menu. Not your average large portions but sufficiently compensated with great texture and flavour.
St. Hubert Gallery
A few minutes away from Grand Place is this 19th century glazed arcade shopping centre filled with boutiques, restaurants, chocolatiers and even a cinema.
St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral
A beautiful national treasure, St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral holds royal ceremonies within those walls. There is no admission fee for visitors.
Royal Palace of Brussels
Although the royal family does not reside here, it is the official palace of the Belgium monarchy. The palace is open to the public from July to September.
Mont des Arts Garden
Not quite a top attraction in Brussels but this manicured garden is sure to catch any passerby’s attention, perfect for little breather away from the crowds on the main streets. Grab a drink and simply relax.
Noordzee Mer du Nord
Noordzee offers a unique, no-frills dining experience. With an open counter top and kitchen just behind, fresh seafood is prepared and served right under your nose. Being a favourite among both locals and visitors, get prepared to brace the crowds during peak times, and eat whilst standing as there are no proper seating but occasionally unoccupied stools and bar tables. Each platter costs €5.
Le Crachin Crêperie
You can surely trust the Belgians with making the delectable french dessert. Tucked in a quiet alleyway in St. Catherine, this crêperie will satisfy your appetite for the sweet and savoury. Freshly prepared and aesthetically pleasing presentation, I could have another crepes within minutes.
If I had another day in Brussels, I would have most definitely liked to visit the Atomium, an iconic landmark in Brussels, and Maison Antoine, a popular frites stall. It was a great experience nonetheless to have explored the city by foot, there was no need for public transportation to see and do all of the above. Download this Brussels itinerary that I’ve created with Tripomatic to help you enjoy Brussels with ease.