Following my 10 day tour of Belgium, lots of people ask me ‘Is Brussels worth visiting?’ It absolutely is! People on Euro-trips often skip Brussels in favour of London, Paris and Berlin. But, what you find in Brussels is a much more manageable, yet still diverse capital city. Brussels is the centre of the EU Parliament and has some amazing sites including the beautiful Grand Place square. I really loved Brussels and spent two days there, but I would go back for more!
What is the best time to go to Brussels?
The best time of year to visit Brussels is between May and October, when the weather is warm and there is less chance of rain. Note that August can be particularly warm, around 23°C. Avoid Brussels in the winter months from November-February because the weather can be cold and changeable, with temperatures dropping to around 5°C. Only visit in December if you have a particular desire to see the Christmas markets – that is a trip in itself!
So now for the all-important question…is Brussels worth visiting?
Is Brussels worth visiting?
Brussels is definitely worth visiting! It is the perfect place to start a tour of Belgium, as most flights go into Brussels and Brussels Charleroi airport. There is an awful lot to see in Brussels, including the Royal Palace, EU Headquarters and Grand Place. It’s also got a few quirky things to it like the three peeing statues, vintage clothes shops and cool rooftop bars. I went to Brussels solo and was lucky enough to meet a friend there (who works for the EU) and so it was great to have someone local making recommendations.
Brussels feels much more manageable as a capital city than many other capitals in Europe. It is smaller than both London or Paris and feels more walkable. There is also a great metro system for getting around. You will also find some really beautiful neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Brussels, such as St Catherines and the Sablon. For the street art lovers amongst you, you will enjoy following the Comic Book trail and find a lot of Tintin artwork! All in all, Brussels is a fabulous city and in my opinion, deserves 2-3 days at least!
Is Brussels worth Visiting? Pros of visiting Brussels
Brussels is a truly fantastic European capital that is extremely accessible. Brussels has bragging rights for great food, Tintin based street art and beautiful architectural sights. It is much smaller than Paris and London, making it seem more manageable and easy to get around on foot.
Accessible from UK and USA
Brussels is well connected with two airports – Brussels-National Airport or Brussels-Zaventem Airport and Charleroi. Brussels National airport is closer to the city centre than Charleroi and is the best option of the two. However, Charleroi (approx 55km to the South) is still reasonably accessibly. You can take the Flibco airport shuttle bus direct from Charleroi to Bruges or Brussels. There is also a local bus that takes you from the airport to Charleroi Central Gare.
Many people choose Charleroi because it is linked by several cheap airline routes, such as Manchester to Charleroi with Ryanair.
English widely spoken
Although Brussels is around 75% French speaking (and also some Dutch), you will be pleased to know that English is widely used. I had no problem using English in the cafes, restaurants, tourist spots and hotels in Brussels.
Beautiful Architecture and sightseeing
- La Bourse – Place de la Bourse is the stock exchange square. It is free to go inside ‘La Bourse’ and you can admire the elaborate decor and carvings. There is a beer museum inside with a sky bar (cost 17€ per entry, including a beer tasting)
- Grand Place – The main central square in Brussels with buildings including the guild houses, the City Hall and the Maison du Roi.
- The Royal Palace – The King’s administrative residence and main workplace.
- EU District – Visit the headquarters of the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and European Commission.
Picturesque Neighbourghoods and Street Art
- Comic book route – Walk through the streets of Brussels enjoying comic book art featuring Tintin and more!
- St Catherines – A beautiful Church, Main Street with fountains and cool street art. Home to very good seafood restaurants (I had my moules-frites at Restaurant François).
- The Sablon – A beautiful area to visit with quirky shops and cafes, a beautiful Church, Brussels Grand Synagogue, the The Royal Musical Conservatory and one of the most beautiful parks ‘Le Petit Sablon’.
Great Day Trips
Brussels is a fantastic location and if you didn’t want to move accommodation too frequently, you can see a lot of Belgium and Luxembourg as day trips with Brussels as a base. The following are good and easy day trips to do by train or bus….
- Ghent – Ghent was once one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe, second only to Paris in the Middle Ages. The prosperity from the food and textile trade resulted in some phenomenal 11th, 12th and 13th Century Architecture. Don’t miss St Michaels Bridge, Town Hall, Friday Market square and Bavo Cathedral.
- Bruges – One of the most picturesque cities in Europe, stepping into Bruges feels like stepping into a fairytale. Don’t miss Bruges Belfry, the Markt, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, Saint Salvador Cathedral and the Church of Our Lady.
- Antwerp – Belgium’s biggest port and capital of the diamond industry. Don’t miss Grote Markt, Museum Plantin-Moretus and the Cathedral of our Lady.
- Leuven – A beautiful city just half an hour to the east of Brussels. Don’t miss the Leuven historic town hall and St Peters Church.
Digital Nomad and Traveller scene
Brussels is a very international city and its easy to meet and chat to fellow remote workers and travellers. I spent a lot of time at Hostel Latroupe which has a great bar open all day (and 25€ for unlimited beer all day haha!) I met an Argentinian accountant and a Policeman from South Korea, who were also enjoying the sights of Brussels.
The great thing about Brussels is that although it has a Metro system, central Brussels is actually really walkable. To put it in perspective, Brussels has an area of 32.61 km², whereas Paris has an area of 105.4 km². By both size and population, Brussels is approximately a third of the size of Paris. This means that you can walk the city centre and just need to use the metro to get between neighbourhoods.
Public transport in Brussels is easy to use, with many machines having options for different languages including English. You can pay using contactless payment (credit or debit card) on most (if not, all) trams, buses, and metro stations.
- Metro – The Metro system in Brussels is comfortable, runs regularly and is easy to use.
- Trams – There are 17 different tram routes in Brussels. Lines 32 and 33 link Gare de Midi and the city centre. Line 51 stops at Brupark for the Atomium and Mini Europe. Most trams run from 6am to midnight.
- Flixbus – Flixbus links Brussels to other main cities in Europe including Paris (4h20) and Amsterdam (2h45). Book your tickets online in advance.
- Flibco – Flibco is good for airport transfers from Charleroi. They run from Charleroi airport direct to Brussels Midi and other cities including Bruges and Ghent.
- Bikes and scooters – Brussels is a popular cycling city and you can rent bikes and electric scooters at various points. Download the Bolt app.
Well geared up for tourists
Brussels is set up well to accommodate tourists and has numerous free walking tours which I recommend that you join. The one that I did was with Quentin from Ambassador Tours. The walking tours go from Grand Place at 10.30am daily. You learn a lot about the history of Brussels from them. You can also spend a touristy day visiting the Atomium (great views) and the mini-Europe.
Food and Drink
Food and drink is amazing in the Belgian capital – you certainly won’t go hungry in Brussels! Belgian food is very heavy, and Belgian beer is very strong, so you will need to pace yourself! There are a few essential recommendations for eating out in Brussels…
- Waffles at Happy Dicks!
- Burgers at Brasserie Surrealiste.
- Moules-frites at Francoise in St Catherines.
- Pistolet – The small round Belgian breads at Pistolet Original – Sablon.
- Belgian Chocolate at Mary’s (the first female chocolatier in Europe!)
Trio of Peeing Statues
The funny thing about Brussels is that the locals are quite proud of their ‘peeing statues!’ There are three to find….
- Mannekin Pis – The peeing boy (the original)
- Janeke Pis – The peeing girl
- Zane Pis – The peeing dog (mutt)
They’re like Pokemon – you gotta catch em all!
Is Brussels Worth Visiting? The Cons of Brussels
Like in all big cities, there are a few districts you’ve got to look out for, and a few people that you will want to avoid. Brussels is a bit costly (although cheaper eateries can be found). Also, the weather in winter is not the best so you might like to think carefully about when you want to go.
Poverty and Drugs in the Big city
As with any big city, there can be challenges. I experienced just a handful of strange people in my time in Brussels! One inebriated woman shouting ‘WHAT?! WHAT, WHAT!?’ at everyone who passed her making them jump half the time. I saw an alcoholic sleeping with empty bottles all around him in an alley that did not smell very pleasant! I’ve also experienced a few beggars asking me for money, but you just have to wave them on. I didn’t experience any of these things in Bruges or Ghent, but I guess that these are the challenges of living in a big city. Don’t let it put you off as there are not too many problems at all considering it’s a European capital, and generally these people don’t bother tourists.
Although many people speak English, there may be some situations where you will need to use your French (Brussels is about 75% French speaking) or Dutch (the other quarter). It is a very international city so you can also expect to hear German, Spanish and other languages being spoken, which can be a little confusing! A good idea is to download Duolingo and do some French before you go to Brussels and while you are there. Just remember to switch to English or Dutch when you visit Flanders (this includes Bruges and Ghent).
Cost – expensive part of the world?
Brussels is not the cheapest part of the world to travel, although it’s not as expensive as London or Paris. I was paying approximately 20-30€ per meal out with a drink. A good tip is to look for the restaurants without pictures of food (tourist traps), and instead opt for those that advertise in French the ‘plat du jour’, which is the ‘dish of the day’. It’s often good value. To fully enjoy Brussels you really need a budget of at least 100-150€ a day, or even more if you want luxurious accommodation and meals out every night.
Changeable weather, especially in the Winter
You probably want to avoid Brussels in the winter months (that is unless you specifically want to go to the Christmas markets). Between November and February the weather can be chilly and changeable with temperatures of around 5/6°C. Pack an umbrella and rain jacket just in case!
Most important Brussels Travel Tips
- Spend at least 2-3 days in Brussels.
- Join a walking tour on your first day if possible – they start at 10.30am on Grand Place.
- Take good walking books and a rain proof jacket (you will be walking a lot and weather can be unpredictable in winter).
- Carry your backpack on the front or use a front facing bum bag (fanny pack!) to avoid pickpockets.
- Explore some districts on the outskirts including St Catherines and Sablon.
- Don’t miss Grand Place, La Bourse and the Royal Palace.
- if you want a touristy day, head to the Atomium and the Mini-Europe – you can get there by tram (number 6 from Brussels Midi).
- Take your Credit/Debit card because some places in Brussels are card only (not cash).
- Depending on what you want to do and how long you are staying, it might be worth you getting a Brussels Card, which can help you to save money on transport and museums.
What to pack for Brussels
- Sturdy walking boots or comfortable trainers (mine are Karrimor)
- Comfortable clothing – jeans, shorts, T-shirts and leggings or hiking trousers.
- Comfortable dress and shoes for evenings out.
- A refillable walking bottle – I use SIGG because they are sturdy and durable.
- Plenty of Euros (including small coins) and a VISA or MASTERCARD (Credit or Debit)
- Padlock – for securing your belongings, particularly if you are staying in Youth Hostels.
- The Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg – to read on transport and when you don’t have access to wifi. Also good to take on the go as it has a Brussels map.
Where to stay in Brussels
- LATROUPE Hostel – On Boulevard da Anspach.
- IBIS – Ibis Brussels Centre Gare Midi is a great mid range option and centrally located.
- Steigenberger Icon Wiltcher’s – For a high end and luxurious stay on Avenue Louise.
Is Brussels Worth Visiting? Further Reading
So, is Brussels worth visiting? Absolutely! It gets my vote and is actually one of my favourite European capitals. If you are staying in Brussels, you might also find these articles interesting and helpful….