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Godiva chocolate in Brussels. Photo: EverJean. All other photos by author.

Beer is serious business in Belgium.

THE COUNTRY PRODUCES more varieties than there are days in a year, and many come with personalized glasses in which only that type may be served.

But beer isn’t all the country has to offer. On your next trip to Brussels, Belgium’s capital, sober up with some of these other activities.

1. Ascend the Atomium.

Built in 1958 when Brussels hosted the World’s Fair, the Atomium is a cross between sculpture and architecture.

It’s modeled after a crystallized molecule of iron magnified 150 thousand million times.

Escalators take visitors to expositions in the various spheres, and the upper sphere houses a restaurant, Chez Adrienne.

2. Experience Mini Europe.

At the foot of the Atomium is Mini Europe, the only place where touring the continent takes just a few hours. Roughly 80 cities and 350 buildings are represented.

Marvel at impressive reproductions of Europe’s most attractive monuments, watch Mount Vesuvius erupt, and see a Finnish girl dive into icy waters.

3. Discover Old Town.

The crown jewel of Brussels’ Old Town is the Grand Place, built as a merchants’ market in the 13th century. Tour the striking Gothic town hall or people watch from a café. Then, wander the surrounding cobblestone streets.

Stroll through the Galeries St. Hubert, a glass roofed arcade lined with cafes, theaters, and luxury shops. Also be sure to see the Manneken Pis, the famous bronze sculpture of a boy peeing in a fountain.

4. Sample world-famous chocolate.

Learn about Belgian chocolate at the Chocolate Museum, then visit some of the Brussels’ most celebrated chocolate shops.

Wittamer, in the heart of the city, is a family-owned chocolatier that’s been in business since 1910. It’s the official chocolate supplier to the Belgian Court.

Pierre Marcolini, whose flagship store is located near the Grand Place, is a newer but welcome addition to the Belgian chocolate scene.

Marcolini opened his first store in 1995, the same year he was named the World Champion of Pastry.

5. Savor moules frites.

When Bruxellois devour this unofficial national dish, they eat the first mussel with their fingers and then scoop up the rest using the empty shell as a utensil.

And what about the fries? They dip those in mayonnaise.

Moules frites can be found at most restaurants, but if you’re near the Grand Place, try the mid-range and delicious L’Estaminet du Kelderke.

6. Revisit the comic strips of your youth.

Did you know that Tintin was created by a Belgian artist? You would if you visited Brussels’ Comic Strip Museum. See original pages of comic artwork, sketches and memorabilia.

Learn how the Smurfs, also of Belgian origin, got their start. (Hint: They’re a spin-off!)

7. See a puppet performance.

Nestled at the end of a cobblestone alley in Old Town is Café Toone, whose cozy building dates from 1696.

Enjoy a drink with locals downstairs, then head up to the attic for a show like no other: marionettes perform Shakespeare and other classics.

8. Take a tour.

Hop-on, hop-off bus tours, offered by Brussels City Tours, give a good overview of the city’s most famous sights. Catch the bus outside Central Station.

For do-it-yourselfers, take a walking tour of Brussels’ most upscale designers, explore the city’s antique and flea markets, or experience its beautiful green spaces.

9. Visit the EU.

As the European capital, Brussels is home to the European Union headquarters. Take an audio-guided tour of the European Parliament, the elected body of the EU.

During sessions, you can even attend a parliamentary sitting. Check for session dates here.

10. Okay, a little bit of beer…

Near the South train station, which connects Brussels to other cities in Europe, is one of the last traditional breweries, Cantillon.

Almost nothing has changed since the brewery opened in 1900.

See the open vats where their signature Lambic beer is cooled, and the oak wood barrels where it’s aged for up to three years.

Community Connection

If Brussels is but one stop on your trip around Europe and you’re on a budget, check out Matador’s list of Top 10 Free Things to Do in Europe.

 


 

About The Author

Alexis Wolff

Alexis Wolff lives in New York. Her travel writing has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008 and A Woman's World Again.

  • Valerie

    Can't forget those gaufres! Those rocked my world in Brussels! You can't get waffles quite like those anywhere else.

  • Kjell

    Yeah. We have the best! :D But those were still Brussel waffles. I've aten better ones up at the coast ;) If you're visiting Brussels I'd suggest taking 2 extra days and stop by Ghent and Antwerp while you're at it. We aint the biggest country around but we've got a lot of history and those 3 towns will pretty much show you everything Belgian culture has to offer.

  • Karan

    How can I forget my, intense beer drinking experience, at this beautiful pub called DELIRIUM … cozy little place with approx 200 different brands of beer on offer .. coming from Mumbai, I was immediately sold on the concept of 200 odd different brands of beer !!!!!!!! .. friendly service too :-)

  • Jonjie

    Thanks for the tips. Will be in Brussels first week of August and things will help me explore the city.

  • viv

    very useful list given here mate…we used these as a guidline to plan our trip here and really enjoyed it

    lovley place

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Great to hear! Glad you had a successful trip.

  • http://MonkeyBrewster.com Cornelius Aesop

    I was getting a little scared until I read number 10, good save. Also I noticed that mayonnaise on the fries seems to be very popular outside the US where ketchup seems almost customary. In Brazil if not a ‘hot sauce’ type oil that hails from northern Baia region then mayonnaise and in Peru your fries most often come with mayonnaise and aji amarillo.

  • http://www.besthikingboots.org Mike Boots

    This was about 15 years ago since I visited but they eat fries with mayonnaise and paprika in Germany.

  • http://www.muttznuttz.com Alan

    Can’t say I was impressed last time I was there! The company who hired me placed me in a great hotel – slap bank in the middle of a red light area – okay, I was working and didn’t see much, but what little I did see was run down and sleazy.

  • Sonia

    HI. myself and two other students are heading to the centre of brussels for four days, we have a place to stay but we have no idea what to do when we get there. We would be really greatful if people could tell us some good places to go out e.g. pubs and clubs, nice restrauntbars etc,but we are not really into sight seeing PLEASE HELP!!

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Sonia, if you don’t get an answer here, try posting to the Matador community forums: http://matadortravel.com/forum

  • http://www.virtuallee.co.uk Lee

    This will be our third visit (we usually cycle and camp over 4 days) to Belgium and we have never been to Brussels before. Thanks for the suggestions – they’re different to most of the ones I’ve come across in ‘normal guide books’. We’re crazy about this country! The architecture, old cities, quaint villages and countryside is beautiful. The food is awesome. The people are also very friendly, although we have only travelled the Flemish part so it will be interesting to see the difference now that we’ll be doing south of Brussels.
    If anyone is doing a weekend trip, then don’t miss Bruges and Gent our two favourites cities.

  • http://maps.google.com.au/maps/place?georestrict=input_srcid:a15423193bca9603&hl=en Sandy Brisbane

    What no sprouts? You’re right of course. Makes the beer taste funky……

  • http://www.guidegecko.com Tracy Barb

    Yes we have lot of things to boast in Brussels other than drinking beer. Good information on different entertainments we have in this beautiful travel destination.

    I am not a kid but still I love to enjoy puppet performance in Café Toone at this Old Town. Brussels is the beautiful destination blessed with many entertainments.

  • http://www.movetospain.wordpress.com Carla

    No waffles?!!? :( I also recommend the Belgian fries from street-sellers, dripping mayo and ketchup. And for a good beer visit, Delirium bar is a good start given that they have thousands of beers, both bottled and on tap, although it is a bit mainstream.

  • http://abbiemood.com/ Abbie Mood

    Belgium has so much good food, you could spend a whole trip just eating.

  • Sabana

    Honestly I was surprised to see the top from someone who had really been here (?). I live in Brussels and finally made it to the 1. Atomium after 3 years. I don’t know how in the world it got on place one but it’s definitely not to to recommend! Talk to some people here who’ve done it and you’ll see, there’s nothing you miss out by just watching it from far or at night when it’s lit. The place is run down and there’s nothing to see, looks like they didn’t change anything inside since 1970. Not worth the money.
    2. Mini Europe is a tourist rip-off as well. Never heard anyone recommending it. You’ll see some famous landmarks and buildings etc in small, nothing more, nothing less. You better save your money and see the stuff in real.
    3. Grand Place is fine if you’re into old old old buildings. Tourist rip-offs everywhere, make sure you stock up your chocolates elsewhere (e g in rue des tongres). Don’t take the wrong street, especially after dawn and you could be in trouble. Brussels is one of the most run down and least preserved city I’ve ever been to. It feels like you’re 20 years behind the rest of Europe and there’s nothing done for tourism.
    I haven’t seen any friendly people here, be careful in public transport, they’re very pusy and rude. You almost have to beg sales assistants to serve you, don’t bother asking for advice, for their salary they don’t bother helping you out.
    4. Chocolates, like I said, don’t buy at Grand Place. Go elsewhere in the grey run down city, towards Rogier. Marcolini had fancy shops, only tourists buy there. Wittameer is so upscale that even I didn’t try it. Stick to the ‘real’ Belgian chocolate like Leonidas, Corné or the real real ‘artisan’ ones outside of Brussels.
    Food isn’t good and expensive here. Usually don’t eat out here. Try London or Paris but not Brussels. If you’re really into moules and frites try it. Probably the least worst thing you can do here ;-)

    I would never spend that much to see the city from the hop on hop off bus. It’s not very big, you can do by public transport.

    I’m living here and I was shocked. The capital of Europe and nothing’s working. My colleagues and expats who arrive here every day are shocked and disappointed. If you don’t have to come here, don’t do it. I wonder why anyone would spend money to see Brussels. I wonder if the author has been here *laugh*

    That’s just my opinion, my point of view. I’v been to 3rd world countries with better transport systems, cleaner cities and friendlier people. You can come for the beers – Cheers

    • Viviane

      well, well, where do you come from then?? It sounds like you come from heaven

      Why do you live here then?

    • http://jerick.blogspot.com Jerick

      Were you living on a coccoon when you were in Brussels? I guess with your inhibitions about Bruxelles you failed to open out the shell and see what the city has to offer.

      I’ve lived in Brussels as well for a few years, and I would still choose Brussels over Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam. I admit that I had my fair share of bad luck there – but there are lots of great things (some are listed in this articles) that I enjoy about this city and overwhelmingly took over all of my bad experiences.

      The locals are really friendly – many would attempt to speak back to you in English to help. Food & chocolates are also good and cheaper compared to other EU cities.

      Brussels is a city that is often taken for granted for many travellers, but they don’t know what they’re missing.

    • Visitor

      What a sad comment, from what seems to be a very sorry person, imagine living in a place and thinking this about it. I have been to Brussels several times and frankly I don’t agree with this comment.

      There are a lot of fine resturants, with good service, but like in any other big city in Europe it requires that you have money, and by the comments above, it seem to me that the writer lacks founds, if you find a hop-on-hop-off bus expensive, then……

      And by the way Leonidas is of Greek origin, I meet the owner some years ago in a fine Greek resturant close to Grand Place.

  • Abhishek Jain

    Top 10 things in Brussels – How could you miss MIM – the ‘Musical Instruments Mueseum’ !!!
    The museum houses thousands of musical instruments from all over the world, ranging from historic times to modern times. You also get an infrared headphone through which you can hear what any instrument plays like. Definitely a must see. And at 5 Euros, its quite cheap too. The rooftop restuarant also offers panoramic views of the city. More details here – http://www.mim.be/en

  • http://twitter.com/chaitsy chaitanya battaluri

     i never went to the place. after reading this article i want to. All major attractions are here in a glance. great post. thank you.

  • http://www.aswetravel.com/ Sofia – As We Travel

    I absolutely love Belgian chocolate, and with so many cute chocolate shops lined up along the streets of Brussels – I was in heaven..

    The Grand Place was fantastic!

  • Fiona

    Don’t miss the Magritte Museum….my favourite gallery of all …yes, over the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, The Tate, Tate Modern, National Gallery, etc Very nice, helpful staff too.

  • aterEgo

    there are very good museums in Belgium, check out here 
    http://www.belgium.net/top-belgium/top-10-museums.html

  • PATRICK DE WEYER

    all the best thing to do are in Belgium….
    come and join
    eBook store

    eBook downloads

    download ebooks

  • http://profiles.google.com/beachdan84 Daniel Beach

    I loved Brussels, there are ton’s of attractions and awesome things to do! http://www.visitbrusselsbelgium.com

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