The first time I visited Brussels I fell in love with it; the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the city’s uncanny ability to reignite those feelings around every corner. Simply because there are so many unique and fun things to do in Brussels in a day.
From the minute I stepped out of the Central Station all those years ago, I knew I would be back. Without surprise, Brussels was added to our itinerary as a last-minute inclusion during our summer travels in Europe.
When I first found out that we could squeeze it into our schedule I phoned my best friend, whom I traveled with the Brussels the first time, and exclaimed my excitement that I would be returning.
I could taste the Kriek on my tongue and exhausted David with my excitement. Is it really possible to grow attached to the places that you visit? I mean, in a way that is different from the way you attach to all the others?
We travel a lot and it’s hard to point a finger at just a few of our favorite places. Yet, I’m tied to the good memories that I’ve made in Brussels.
Most people look at me with surprise when I admit this, wondering out loud how I could possibly choose a city like Brussels over the likes of Paris or Amsterdam.
Don’t get me wrong, I have good memories from those cities too, but Brussels has that perfect mix of ingredients that keeps it near to my heart.
Without further ado, I want to share with you the reasons I love Brussels and will always take the time to return. My suggestions are, in my opinion, the best way to spend a day in Brussels (or five!).
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg (Travel Guide)
15 Things to Do in Brussels in a Day
1. Try Lindeman’s Kriek
The core of my love for Brussels comes from the succulent cherry beer, Kriek. The first time I visited Brussels, I wasn’t much of a drinker, let alone a beer drinker.
Yet, the when in Rome syndrome hit me and I struggled to find something I liked on the menu. After several taste samples, I realized fruit beer was a great way for me to have a beer without the ‘beer taste’ I disliked so much.
It worked and I dreamed of the days I could return to Belgium for some real Cherry beer. A close second is Lindeman’s Peachtree. This peach beer is often my go-to if I am looking for something sweeter and with more body than the Kriek.
Just the smell of the peach aroma as the bartender sets it on the table is enough to have my mouth watering.
Related Article: Best Belgian Beer Experiences in Brussels
2. Eat Some Belgian Waffles
The banner icon of Brussels that you’ll be hard-pressed to ignore as you wander the streets of the city is the waffle. Simply put, Belgian’s love their waffles and they serve them in the craziest, sweetest, strangest varieties you can imagine.
Do you want fresh kiwi, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry or all of the above? No problem. Want peanut butter, Nutella, chocolate, caramel or all of the above? No problem. Perhaps you want some apple ice cream with that.
Make it your own and then make sure you top it off with some tasty, freshly whipped cream.
Related Article: Guide to the best waffles in Brussels
3. Stroll the Grand Place
This is a definite must-see on any trip to Brussels – and it’s hard to miss! The heartbeat of Brussels, it’s central calling place and one of the nicer squares in Europe that you’ll come across, the Grand Place is a great place to hand out and enjoy those items I mentioned above.
The Grand Place is the city’s central square with scenery dominated by the City Town Hall and the City of Brussels Museum, both done in stunning baroque and Gothic styles. The square is perhaps most famously depicted with its “flower carpet.”
Every two years in August, a huge 19,000 sq ft carpet made of vivid and varying begonias is laid out across the square for a grand effect indeed.
People come from all over the world to marvel at the pattern, which is unique each year and enjoy the city of Brussels. Other than the cheesy Hard Rock Café on the one corner (it wasn’t there last time I visited) the place is great to relax and just take in Brussels.
It is not uncommon to see entertainers in the square singing or dancing and of course plenty of tourists gathering to take selfies.
Try to visit in both the daytime to see the stunning architectural details and at night to see the square brought to life by visitors and performances. Grab a bottle of Kriek (succulent cherry beer) or Lindemans Pecheresse and watch the world unfold before you.
Our Recommended Tours:
- Brussels Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop
- Small-Group Highlights of Brussels Bike Tour
- Brussels Food and Beer Walking Tour with Mussels and Chocolate
4. Pay a Visit to Mannekin Pis
Yup, that’s right. A statue of a little boy peeing is one of the most famous things to see in Brussels. Standing at just over 24 inches and located between Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat, this pissing boy is a funny little attraction.
This little guy cracks me up. Imagine hearing about a statue of a man taking a piss and then being told it’s one of the most iconic places to visit in Brussels.
I didn’t quite get it the first time. Imagine my surprise when I walked around the corner to a huge group of tourists gathered around a small corner fountain.
Standing on my tippy toes I struggled to catch a glimpse of the statue that everyone talks about. Pushing to the front I was in shock to find an 18-inch statue of a small boy, holding his peewee and pissing into the fountain.
I laughed out loud, took a couple of pictures and learned the story of the statue by eavesdropping on a guided tour opposite of me. Turns out this little guy thought he’d put out a palace fire by peeing on it and was idolized forever because of it.
There are many stories behind this statue: one says the palace was once on fire and this little boy put it out with his urine, one says the boy peed on a witch’s front step and she turned him to stone in revenge, and another says he was a little lord who peed on enemy troops leading to their defeat.
Whatever story you hear, it’s clear that he is a figure who has been adored since his calcification in 1619. Over the years it has also become a tradition to dress the statue in various costumes which he has had several hundred of now, from Elvis to a judo master.
Our top recommended tours including Mannekin Pis:
- Private Brussels Sightseeing Tour plus Battle of Waterloo Tour
- Private Brussels Sightseeing Tour plus Antwerp Day Trip
- Brussels Small-Group Walking Tour
5. Find the Atomium
This structure looks otherworldly and is a testament to the creativity of the people that created it. The Atomium is a silver beacon near Bruxelles Park outside of the city center.
First presented at the World Fair in 1958, the Atomium is a stainless steel atomic structure depicting the iron atoms of an iron crystal on a massive scale. The structure sits in Heysel Park and stands at 335 feet tall.
It features 9 spheres, 5 of which are open to the public as exhibition rooms, with the highest ball a restaurant where, on a clear day, you can see a great view of the city.
CNN even named it Europe’s most bizarre building and I think that title is justifiably earned. I’ve been told you can buy a ticket to visit the top bubble for a great view of the surrounding area.
There’s even a restaurant up there that I think would be great for dinner over the lit city, but I haven’t been up there. I prefer to appreciate the Atomium from the ground.
Recommended Atomium Tours:
- Skip-the-Ticket-Line Brussels Atomium Admission Ticket
- Mini Europe and Atomium Combo Ticket
- Brussels Half-Day City Tour
6. Eat Belgian Frites
One glorious word, fries or fries to us Americans. Crispy, crunchy, golden brown and deep-fried to perfection, fries.
The Belgian’s eat fries like American’s eat ice cream and you would be remiss if you walked the streets of Brussels without seeing a Frites stand on every corner.
Fries are my weakness, I love them and can barely resist them when they’ve been cooked to Belgian perfection.
Want to know how it’s really done? Observe long strips of Bintje potato that is sliced to the perfect thickness, pre-fried in beef tallow and then fried again when you order.
Then served in overflowing cardboard cones wrapped in paper and topped with mayonnaise or aioli. It’s frites perfection to a T.
7. Take a Chocolate Tour
Not a big beer fan? How about delicious Belgian chocolate? I know I’m overwhelming your senses at this point, but just one more delectable wonder of Brussels is the chocolate.
If you were overwhelmed by the beer, waffles, and fries then just go ahead and add one more corner shop that sells chocolate to the mix. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.
Belgium has been known for its chocolate for centuries and today houses one of the World’s finest chocolate shops, Godiva among others.
The chocolate shops are welcoming with several kinds of chocolate on display. They even do free tastings each day so don’t hesitate to pop your head in while you’re strolling around the city.
There are a number of tours that take you through the medieval center of town to the world’s very first Godiva chocolate store and into the surrounding neighborhoods, passing galleries, and monuments as you eat a wide variety of chocolate treats.
There are even some that include a small workshop where you can learn to make your own mouthwatering Belgian treats!
Our top recommended Chocolate tours:
- Brussels Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop
- Brussels Chocolate Tasting Tour
- Brussels Chocolate Workshop
8. Can You Find Janneke Pis?
Just when I thought I couldn’t raise my eyebrow more, enter Janneke Pis. I actually didn’t even know she existed and certainly didn’t visit her on my first trip to Brussels.
However, this second time around we were led into the backstreets of Brussels, which I have deemed the restaurant alleys, for a little surprise.
When I first saw her I had a mirror reaction to that of my first viewing of Mannekin Pis.
Here, squatting in a fountain, was a little girl with pigtails taking a piss. I guess with all the attention that Mannekin Pis gets, it’s only fair that a girl is added to the mix.
She’s hidden down a dead-end alley next to one of the most popular bars in Brussels. Let us know if you’ve found her.
9. Wander the Cinquantenaire
This site makes the top things to see in Brussels list on every single occasion and I totally get it. The structure is gorgeous and overlooks the most serene and green park in Brussels.
Not only is it a great spot for photography but its an oasis away from the city with huge trees and large lawns.
On my first visit, my friend and I were doing the waffle dance through the grass after making our purchase at a waffle stand.
She asked me where we wanted to sit and I said, hmm, how about right… there. She looked at me and asked, ‘right here?’ I said yes and she slumped onto the grass right into a patch of hundreds of 4 leaf clovers.
Buy your Cinquantenaire entrance ticket in advance with Viator.
10. Embrace Godzilla at Mini Europe
Ever felt the urge to feel like Godzilla and trip through a city just to see what it feels like?
Look no further, your Godzilla dreams can come true at Mini Europe. This park holds replicas of Europe’s icons on a small scale, meaning you can take a tour through the whole of Europe and see every famous site in only a couple hours.
The displays are complete with the history of each place you visit and the famous site you are seeing. When you’ve had your Godzilla fix you can wander into the main buildings where they serve national dishes from around Europe in various food stands.
Visiting with little ones? Mini Europe is also a fun and interactive theme park that features over 300 major sites from across the expansive and diverse continent.
From the Leaning Tower of Pisa to London’s Eiffel tower to the bullrings of Seville. Mini Europe is located right next to the Atomium. You will find the replications very detailed and quite impressive for such a small park.
11. Visit the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
A beautiful interpretation of French Gothic architecture, this cathedral towers over visitors and beckons them to her doors. It has a clean, no-frills facade with beautiful stained glass windows lining its tall white nave.
Spend some time soaking up the peaceful spirituality of this site and you may even take the tour of the crypt to learn more about the building’s history.
12. Take a Beer Walking Tour
One of Brussels most well-known commodities is its delicious beer, so why not take a 2 to 4-hour walking (read: stumbling) tour!
Most tours take you on an epicurean trip to various bars and breweries around town, letting you taste various crafts while guides teach you about Belgium’s brewing traditions and subtle differences.
They also usually include a small sampling of Belgian snacks such as chocolate, cheese, and ham. Knowledgeable guides and a fun sociable atmosphere.
Our Recommended Tours:
- Small-Group Brussels Beer Tasting Tour
- Belgian Beer Tasting in Brussels
- Beer and Chocolate Tour in Brussels
- Treasure Hunt and Beer Tasting in Brussels
13. Belgian Comic Strip Center
A fun and nostalgia-filled museum, the Belgian Comic Strip Center, is dedicated unsurprisingly to Belgian comics!
Learn how comic strips are created and take a trip down memory lane to learn about the history of not just some beloved cartoon characters like the Smurfs and Tintin, but also on the history of comic strips themselves.
Even if you’re not a huge comic fan, many people enjoy the architecture which was designed by Victor Horta in an Art Nouveau style featuring many glass installments that make it interesting to look at.
See the city’s must-see sights on a Brussels Hop-on Hop-off sightseeing tour
14. Take a Day Trip
Have an extra day to spend? In addition to our top picks in main Brussels, another great option is to take a day trip out to Bruges, Ghent, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, and Antwerp.
Feel like you’re being transported to a fairy tale land as you stroll the cobbled streets and wander along the canals with truly architecturally stunning buildings to see. Below are the top 5 day trips from Brussels that you simply can not miss.
Top Recommended Day Trips:
- Ghent and Bruges Day Trip from Brussels ** Top Pick **
- Luxembourg Day Trip from Brussels: Two Countries in One Day
- World War I Battlefields Tour of Flanders from Brussels
- Amsterdam Day Trip from Brussels
- Antwerp Half-Day Trip from Brussels
15. It’s No Secret, I Love Brussels
So there you have it, a little insight into an unexpected love. Brussels may not be on everyone’s list of places to visit when you’ve got the likes of Paris to compete with but just do me a favor.
Leave one or two days for a train ride and pop over to Brussels on your next trip to Europe. I promise you’ll be extending those couple days to 4 or more.
The capital of Belgium, Brussels doesn’t always make people’s top list of places to see in the world, but we think it should. It has a number of attractions and things to do that highlight its architecture, history, and food culture.
It’s worth mentioning that Brussels is a foodie’s dream city, with mouthwatering treats such as waffles, beer, fries, and, of course, chocolate around every corner. Practice your French and Dutch, and experience a quaint historical city with castles and lovely countryside.
More on Belgium:
- 3 Day Bruges City Break Guide
- 15 TOP Things to Do in Ghent, Belgium
- Biking from Namur to Dinant in Belgium
- 15 BEST Things to do in Luxembourg
- Hiking in Luxembourg from Kautenbach to Wiltz