10 things to do in Brussels besides drinking beer
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.
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.
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.
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.