If you’ve ever been to Brussels, I guess you know how the city can be unsettling. Full of ups and downs, street art pieces, expats, Chinese tourists, roadworks, weird bilingual signs and now military men¹, the city is really full of unexpected discoveries.
Living there (especially for a long time or for all your life like me) can give you, though, some hard time to think about it as special or even just as a touristic place. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that, when it comes to giving pieces of advice to travelers, you always end up with the most common places everybody has to visit. Don’t get me wrong, the basics are and always will be some must-see places to proudly show to everyone who :
- know that Belgium exists and is actually a country².
- have this terrible idea that Belgium is a great place for holidays³.
Those people can’t, of course, go to Brussels and miss well-known places like the Town Hall and the Grand Place, the Brussels Stock Exchange, Manneken and Jeanneke pis, St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral, the Royal Palace, the Palace of Justice and, if they’re not too lazy, the Cinquantenaire and the Atomium.
But for those who want to see more (because they have too much time or because they fell in love with the city⁴), here are five great ways to discover a bit more our lovely city:
The Green Walk
You like walking, biking, skateboarding or rollerblading? You’re a huge fan of nature? So this is for you. The Green walk (in French : la Promenade verte and in Dutch : De Groene Wandeling) is a trail of over 60 km that actually goes around the whole city and it looks like that :
Lucky you, it’s divided into 7 parts of 5 to 10 km so you don’t have to do the whole walk in a row. You can find a great guide with some explanations and maps for the 7 parts here (in French/Dutch, though but I guess that if you call Brussels Environment they should be able to give you an English one: +322 775 75 75).
Looking for Art Nouveau and Art Deco vestiges
If you’ve never heard of these architectural style, be careful, you may fall in love with them quite quickly. If you do (which I’ve no doubt about it), you must know that those two architectural styles were pretty popular between 1890 and 1940… And also that Brussels quickly became the capital of Art Nouveau thanks to, among others, Victor Horta and Paul Hankar.
You can spend a few days visiting the city and looking for all the famous buildings, starting with the Tassel Hotel but also with some places like the Hannon House, the Old England, the Cauchie House, the Ciamberlani Hotel, the Falstaff, the Belgium Comic Strip Center and, of course, the Victor Horta’s Museum.
But if you look up and be attentive, I reckon that you would likely be able to find one house with some art nouveau decorations or art deco style in every street of Brussels. And if you do so, I would suggest you try to take a picture of every single piece you do find in Brussels ! This little game could literally take you weeks and would be a way more interesting way to exercise and discover the city than playing Pokémon Go, wouldn’t it ?
In case you feel lazy and not really adventurous, there is a also mini-map that costs only 1€ and that you can find at the visit.brussels tourist information offices but also plenty of guided tours !
The 100 % Brussels guide – special edition museums
I don’t know if you had noticed it but Belgium weather isn’t the most reliable one (well, you’ll tell me that nowadays with the climate change it’s the same everywhere and we should stop expecting “seasonal” weather⁵) so having a plan B in case of raining/snowing/hailing while visiting Brussels is always a good idea.
It happens that, by chance, Brussels is full of nice and interesting museums (amazing isn’t it ?). Art, Sciences, Tradition, History, Archeology, Literature, Architecture, you definitely have plenty of choice. But more than that, there is a brand-new guide available in three languages (EN, FR, NL), including an app and 4 suggested city walks ! Having all these good tips will only cost 12€ and if you can combine it to the Brussels Card, you’ll spend the most intellectual and sophisticated 24 hours of your life, for sure !
The 100% Brussels guide – special edition museums is available in some bookshops and museums. To check where to find it, the best way is to contact the Brussels Museum Council (+32 (0)2 512 77 80 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Tasting all the Belgian beers and chocolate
… and probably getting sick like you’ve never been ! But it doesn’t matter cause it’s clearly worth it, isn’t it?
Regarding the beer, you can either do the classic stuff (having drinks at the famous Delirium Café and/or going for the Brussels Beer & Brewery tours) OR you can try to do it like a warrior : going to the pubs locals love, asking for every single beer you’ve never had before and not getting out until closing time ! You could try one of these : the Moeder Lambic, La porte Noire, the Supra Bailly, the Monk, the Poechenellekelder, the Flip, L’Atelier, La porteuse d’eau, the Roskam, the Potemkine, L’amère à Boire, l’Aubiergiste, the Kafka, Le Café de la Maison du peuple, Café De Markten… and many other ones !
But more than tasting all the Belgian Beers, why not visiting some breweries ? Between the Cantillon, the Brussels Beer Project, The Brasserie de la Senne and En Stoemelings, you can definitely spend the whole week just visiting Brussels’ breweries and tasting beers !
Regarding the chocolate, well, it’s all the same. You can go for the commonplaces like Côte d’Or, Galler, Jacques and Leonidas, for the famous and expensive ones like Corné Port Royal, Marcolini and Wittamer or for the special ones like Ethiquable, Dolfin, New Tree, Zaabär (where you can even visit the factory!). Anyway, the rule here is: don’t be shy or distrustful, taste them all, even the weirdest ones ! You probably never found curry white chocolate, speculoos milk chocolate nor cuberdon dark chocolate anywhere else so…
After that, if your stomach is still okay with all this, you can even try to visit every single fritkot (which is the Brussels’ word for chip stall) in Brussels starting with Frit Flagey, la maison Antoine, Friterie Clémentine, Fritkot Bompa, Friterie du Café Georgette and so on.
Have you ever done any treasure-hunt while you were a kid ? I bet you liked it ! Well, be happy cause Gemotions actually allows you to do it again without making a fool of yourself. How wonderful is that ?!
How does it work ? Well it’s quite easy : Gemotions uses portable phones and short text messages for interaction. Using the web application players will receive on their phones questions and actions to undertake along the way.
All you have to do is create an account and choose your game (you can even create your own personal game): Unusual Brussels, Ixelles Art Nouveau, The hidden treasures of the Soigne Forest, The magical world of Belgian Chocolate or the Comic strip route. Or you can do them all, it’s up to you !
There are, of course, many other ways to make the city yours. But you will have to find them yourself… Cause that’s what travelling is all about : trying what makes the locals so happy to come back home, every time they go abroad, isn’t it?
¹ Which is definitely one of many governmental decisions we do not agree with.
² Yes, there are people who actually think that Belgium is a town or a region of France or the Netherlands. Some even ignore our existence (to these I’d like to say: “Come on, where did you think your chocolate and fries were coming from, you, moron?”).
³ How they came with this idea is, actually, a question I’ve never been able to come with a likely answer…
⁴ Truth is, despite the weather and the traffic, Brussels is a really nice town to live and wander, so does Belgium.
⁵ Which is totally overrated anyway !