Back in 2014, I spent eight weeks in France helping supervise a study abroad trip during grad school. Halfway through that time, my husband (then boyfriend) came to stay with me for a month. It was awesome and we enjoyed every single moment of it. We mostly stayed put since I worked during the week, but we did take a few weekend trips here and there. For our final weekend, we decided to visit Brussels, Belgium.
Brussels was never really on my bucket list of places to travel. Not sure why, I just never really had thought of it. So when we were making our plans and deciding where to go, we had our last weekend trip narrowed down to either Brussels or Amsterdam (both Justin’s ideas). I had already been to Amsterdam before, so Brussels it was.
Let me tell you, this little “ehh, sure why not” trip was SO worth it. Thanks, love, for the idea 😉
Brussels was seriously one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to. It had everything you’d expect from a cool European city. Old buildings, great food, amazing sites to see. Yet it had this cozy, welcoming little small-town vibe at the same time. We felt like we could walk the entire city and see everything without feeling too overwhelmed or out-of-place. It was the perfect destination for an impromptu weekend of exploring. In other big cities, like Paris, sometimes it can just be so overwhelming. There’s so. much. to. see. And if you want to experience anything off the beaten path, in my experience at least, you’re pretty much out of luck unless you either know a local or have already gotten to know the place really well. Don’t get me wrong, Paris is one of my favorite places on Earth. But Brussels had this amazing vibe that felt totally approachable. We kind of just went in without any set plans or expectations, and played it by ear. We didn’t over plan. We basically spent the weekend doing whatever we happened to feel like doing.
how to spend a weekend in Brussels
Arrived late in the day, hotel check-in, dinner, exploring
We stayed at the ibis Brussels Centre St. Catherine hotel, which was affordable and, miraculously, conveniently close to everything. On our first night, we wandered out of the hotel and found a nearby restaurant for dinner. You know how finding a place to eat is always a stressful experience? Yeah. Especially when you’re in a foreign city or country. Just near our hotel was a little strip of restaurants with outdoor seating areas. We really didn’t know where to go, so after pacing back and forth on the block a few times, the HANGRY started kicking in, so we just picked a place and sat down. Best. choice. ever. I had a dish I’d never heard of, but is now one of my most favorite meals in the world – Carbonnade Flamande (this is the recipe I always use when I make it at home, so so so good).
After dinner, we wandered some more. After traveling all day and a late dinner, we weren’t looking to do anything too crazy. About five minutes later, we realized we were in the heart of downtown when we found ourselves on a very cool pedestrians-only, brick-paved street surrounded by people. People and nightlife and cool vibes were all around us. We wandered into one little bar tucked away in an alley called Au Bon Vieux Temps, which we found out the next day is one of the oldest bars in Brussels, built in the 17th century. Very cool.
Brewery tour, dinner, waffles
The one activity that we did plan ahead for our weekend in Brussels was a Beer and Brewery Tour. So glad we did this. The tour picked us up at the Grande Place, right in the heart of downtown, and took us all around the city by foot, and we even visited a world renowned brewery called Cantillon Brewery. Supposedly this is beer mecca. We got a private tour of the brewery and got to see how the beer is made. This was another one of those experiences that wasn’t necessarily on my list, but turned out to be very awesome.
We visited some other bars as well and got to drink plenty of delicious Belgian beer. When I was younger, I used to hate beer, but over time I have definitely developed a taste for it. I would choose beer over liquor any day, and I even prefer it over wine most of the time. I do love me a great glass of sparkling wine, though. Anyway, back to beer. I believe the one pictured below was a smoky bacon flavored beer, if I recall correctly. At the end of our tour we stopped at one more bar where we ended up just hanging out with the other people who were part of our group.
After the tour, you guessed it, we wandered some more. There’s this one area of Brussels where there just blocks and blocks of restaurants. You know those touristy, overpriced restaurants, where the staff stands outside and tries to get you to come in? It was a bit overwhelming, so when we started to panic, we just picked one and sat outside. I had mussels for the first time with some delicious Belgian style fries (moules frites). I wouldn’t order mussels again, and it was little overpriced, but hey, it’s part of the experience right? It was great.
After dinner, we did a bit more exploring on our way back to the hotel. In Brussels, there are two types of fast food that you absolutely must try. First of all, they have these little fry stands where they serve French fries in a paper cone. Get some fries. Second, they have these little waffle shops that serve up amazing dessert-style Belgian waffles. Oh. My. Gosh. The waffles are fluffy yet crisp, and warm, and topped with whatever your heart desires. Do not pass this by. Anything you have in your mind of what a Belgian waffle is, just go ahead and erase it. This is the real deal.
So on our way back to the hotel, we grabbed dessert from a waffle shop and sat down on the steps of the Brussels Stock Exchange building to enjoy. Side note: see that little blue fork in that photo? Every waffle shop gives you a tiny little plastic fork/pick with your waffle. I secretly think these are actually designed to make us tourists look silly. Anyone struggling to eat the thick, chewy waffles is clearly a tourist. If you want to blend in, it seems you should either just eat it with your hands, or – and this is my favorite alternative – bust out your pocket knife and use that as a fork. See the things you learn when you travel?
Manneken Pis, brunch, departure
The next day we got up early and squeezed in a few more touristy things before heading out. We walked around the city some more to see the places we hadn’t already visited, like the Manneken Pis. We also walked through Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert where we had brunch. This is basically a giant indoor/outdoor shopping mall, except it’s absolutely beautiful. From there we grabbed our luggage and headed to the train station.
If you’re in Brussels for a weekend, just take it easy and play it by ear a bit. Sometimes, that’s the best way to see a place. I would most definitely recommend the beer tour that we did (linked up above) if you want to taste delicious beer, learn some cool history, and see a ton of the city. Definitely, definitely, pick up some fries from a fry stand. And by all means, do not miss out on a true, authentic Belgian waffle.
thinking of going? pin this post to save it for later!