While we really wanted to squeeze a proper visit to Belgium into the Euro Trip, time was short so we decided to make it a detour trip and see as much as possible between trains from Paris to Amsterdam. We bought train tickets with a 5 hour layover in Brussels and made the most of the time. We checked our backpacks into the lockers at the train station and then did all of our exploration on foot.
First stop, we walked to the the Royal Palace, with an expansive estate filled with perfectly manicured topiaries. It used to house the Royal Family, but has turned into a place of Royal business. Across the street, we walked through the Brussels Park, enjoying sun-dappled sidewalks with fountains and statues.
Royal Place and St. Jacques-Sur-Coudenberg
As we exited the park, we looked for the Royal Place where we found an imposing statue of “Godefroid Van Bouillon” in front of the St. Jacques-Sur-Coudenberg church with it’s colorful fresco and bell tower. From this statue, you have a great view of the Grand Place.
Mont des Arts
A stunning view from one end of the Mon des Arts shows the Lower Town of Brussels with the spire of the Town Hall in the distance. The garden has a fantastic geometric pattern (pictured at the top of the page) and has water fountains with plenty of park benches. Surrounding the Mont des Arts (French for “mount of the arts”), are numerous museums and palaces. I really liked a unique clock called a Jacquemart Carillion which was on an archway next to the garden and was really bummed out I didn’t get to see it ring. Next time!
The Grand Place is the stunning city center with a towering Town Hall. The square is so snug that I couldn’t back up far enough the get the whole building in the picture. I could have spent a lot longer going around and getting a good look at the architecture and visiting the many museums in the square. But I only had 5 hours, people.
Hotel Résidence Le Quinze in La Grand Place
The gorgeous guild halls surround the square with decorative facades that may or may not have anything to do with the business underneath (ie Starbucks).
I was trying to decide what to see while in Brussels and at top of every list was Manekkan Pis. So if you want to see the top most popular attraction of Brussels Belgium, head to the nearest two foot tall bronze statue of a little boy pissing into a fountain. Seriously. It is supposed to represent the “rebellious nature” of the people of Brussels (they are a bunch of rascals). I was highly disappointed to see he was naked because he occasionally will be dressed in various costumes, which are all on display at the City Museum in the Grand Place. It was incredibly underwhelming, but there were waffles right next door, so it worked out in the end.
Waffles, Beer, French Fries, and Chocolate
Belgium is known for their superior version of the waffle, for some of the world’s best beer, for having invented french fries (or should I say Belgian Fries?), and for their mind-blowing chocolate. (And for their diamonds, but we ran out of time.)
For the first course, we sampled the waffles just around the corner from the Manekkan. Le Funambule Waffles had it’s own version of the statue and a massive selection of toppings for your waffle (I went with strawberries and whipped cream). And at 1€, you really can’t go wrong!
As a proud foodie, I wasn’t about to let the fact I just housed a Belgian waffle in record time hold me back from also enjoying more Belgian delicacies! We were on a mission to find a cold Belgian beer and piping hot fries (with the obligatory mayo that Europeans insist on drowning their fries with). We kept an eye out for an inviting pub and found a cozy establishment along one of Brussels’ many narrow side streets. We asked for the bartender’s suggestion on the best beer and then we drank up!
To say “cheers” in Brussels, they mostly speak Dutch, so we said, “Proost!”
Cathedral St. Michael and St. Gudula
When we finished our feast, we saw we still had time before our train, so we walked over to the magnificent gothic Cathedral down the road from the station. The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula was an amazing find for a big gargoyle nerd, like myself, with plenty of comical and detailed creatures to gawk at through my camera lens.
Midi Train Station:
Before we jumped on the train bound for Amsterdam, we had one more mission to complete, which was to try Belgian chocolate whilst in Belgium. We had very little time left before our train, but luckily there was a chocolate shop right in the station. La Belgique Gourmande did not disappoint, where we were able to select a delightful variety of Belgian goodies and pay by the ounce. I boarded the train with a bag full of chocolate candies that I slowly nibbled on all the way to Amsterdam.
I missed the famous “Flower Carpet” by just days, as there were plastic bags full of flowers being cleaned up from the Grand Place when we arrived. I also really wanted to see the Atomium sculpture and taste-test at a few chocolate factories and Belgian breweries. Apparently, there is a female version of the Manekkan Pis, but I could probably be fine without seeing that. Until next time Belgium, “tot ziens”!
Anything I forgot? Mention a Belgian must-see I missed as I whipped through Brussels below!
Jessie is the creator and author of Known To Venture. In 2014, Jessie set off on a solo backpacking trip through Europe and has been hooked on traveling ever since. She just returned to Colorado from Thailand and Vietnam, where she was teaching English, Science, and Math, and is already planning her next big adventure.