Brussels may not be the first place to think of when planing your next city trip, especially if you are like me, not that much into beer or chocolate (if you are, then you should certainly go, since you will find more variants of both there than probably anywhere else in the world). However, after having spent some time there, I can assure you that there are plenty of options to spend a fun and relaxed weekend in Brussels. Here are my favourite things to do on a weekend, no classic sights included :).
Apèros and markets
If you are travelling in spring/summer, and you are lucky enough to have nice weather, start the weekend with a drink at Apéro Urbain. This is a weekly outdoor work event organised Fridays at different locations (from May to September, locations are anounced every week on their website and facebook page). There are trucks selling snacks and drinks and DJs providing electronic vibes. If you want more of this, certainly also check out Les Jardins Suspendus, a rooftop apéro event located at the top of a car park tower (City Center, just off Metro stop De Brouckère, Parking 58, Rue de l’Evêcke 1). It runs Fridays to Sundays, and is one of the few opportunities to see the sunset over Brussels while sipping a cocktail. At these places you will find the hip young crowd of Brussels but be prepared for queues to get in and drinking from plastic cups. If you are rather thinking of something more settled but still special to Brussels, my other favourite for Fiday evenings is the farmers market at La Place des Chasseurs Ardennais (3-9pm, Schaarbeck, about 5-10 minutes walk from Metro stop Schuman). At the top right corner of the market you will be able to get a delicious bottle of French sparkling wine and a plate of saucisson and cheese for a mere 20 Euros – which is probably the best deal you will ever find in Brussels. While you will certainly find one or the other Eurocrat there, the market still retains a very local atmosphere and attracts many Belgians, which is quite different to for example the weekly market at Place du Châtelain (Ixelles, always on Wednesdays, 1pm-7:30pm, very popular with young Eurocrats and other EU bubble People).
Left: Apèro Urbain at Parc Ciquantenaire; Right: Sunset at Les Jardins Suspendus.
Sweet irresistable things
Brussels is not only famous for beers and moules frites, but also for chocolate and waffles . You almost won’t get around having at least one of them when visiting the city center and the Grand Place. Many of the large chocolate chains have stores around Grand Place (as well as in all shopping areas in the city), but if you are looking for something more upscale, you should head to Grand Sablon, where you will find Pierre Marcolini or, if you like macarons, the amazingly beautiful Ladurée store, which is certainly worth a visit. However, my personal favourite when it comes to sweet treats is definitely Aux Merveilleux de Fred. The shop is located also just around the corner of the Grand Place, but easy to miss, so you need to look out for it. They sell meringue-based patisserie in different flavours and colours, which are the perfect little gift if you are staying with a girlfriend. But you should definitely try some yourself. And last but not least, don’t forget to have a waffle (gaufre)!
From top left to bottom right: (1) Waffles-car (2) Merchandising in Ladurée Store in Grand Sablon (3) Shop window of Aux Merveilleux de Fred (4) Chocolates at Le Comptoir de Mathilde.
Things to do
If you like Vintage Markets and you are in Brussels the first weekend of a month – lucky you! Saturday or Sunday you will be able to check out the Brussels Vintage Market at Les Halles Saint-Gery (City Centre, 23 Place Saint Gery). Depending on the weather, stalls with mostly vintage or second hand clothing, accessoires but also randoms items as well as designer jewellery can be found inside and outside Les Halles. What makes it even better is the DJ inside, and the cherry on the cake of my visits is always the carrot cake and or cupcakes they sell inside. Just delicious! Unfortunately, the onsite bar is not always able to meet the demands of the large crowds of visitors, so you may have to get your coffee elsewhere as they tend to run out of milk or tea or whatever.
Another really nice activity, probably very unique to Brussels, is to take a Chocolate making class. Even though I am not too much into chocolate I did it once with friends as a birthday gift, an I loved it! There are several options, but I can certainly recommended the one at Zaabäre chocolatier (5 minutes of the shopping street at Avenue Louise). There is a public class on Saturday afternoon, for which however you should sign up in advance (more info and reservations here). You get to make chocolate yourself and then take everything you made with you – perfect gift and really good value for money (and the chocolate is delicous as well!).
If you wake up on Sunday and it’s just grey outside, don’t worry. One of my favourite activities on Sundays in Brussels was to take a stroll through Les Marolles and Grand Sablon, perhaps starting at Place Jeu de Balle for a breakfast or coffee at one of the bars and have a look around the Fleamarket, then heading over to Rue Haute, taking a coffee to go at L’Atelier en ville and strolling through the shops (mostly antiques and interior but also several art and design shops) which are all open on Sundays, and maybe finishing with a visit of one of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts . The Royal Museums complex hosts several entities, the one I would certainly recommend is the Magritte Museum. Just be sure not to arrive too late in the day, as it closes at 6pm (during the week at 5pm).
From top left to bottom right: (1) Brussels Vintage Market at Les Halles Saint-Gery; (2) Chocolate-making class at Zaabär Chocolatier (3) Matisse Museum Shop (4) Shop at Rue Haute.
Yes, you are reading correctly. I am advising you to go to Brussels and I am talking about getaways? Yes. One of the things I probably enjoy most about Brussels, is that it is so conveniently located in central Europe that allows you to travel to many cool places for a day or two in a very short time. I won’t be talking about full Weekend trips to cities like Paris, London or Amsterdam which are all easily reachable by train (1,5 – 3 hours) but about the places within Belgium that you should certainly consider visiting while in Brussels. In fact, there are many smaller cities in the Flemish part of Belgium, that are way more charming than Brussels. Antwerp, Bruges and Gent are all less than an hour away, and Belgian Rail provides not only really good return deals for the weekend (less than 20 Euros), the trains also run very regularly which allows you to be very flexible (check here). Another option worth considering is a trip to the Belgian seaside. There is a train directly to Knokke, which also stops in Gent and Brugge. Don’t expect palm trees and tropical beaches, but if you go off season in spring or fall, you will be able to enjoy a walk on the beach almost by yourself. If you have the time take the coastal tram and get off in one of the small towns, where you will also be able to see the dunes (around Kokside/De Panne). Furthermore, you can enjoy wonderful fresh fish and seafood at almost any one of the many restaurants. If you go by car, you may also consider taking a walk in one of the nature parks (e.g. close to Knokke – Nature Reserve Het Zwin, the Belgian part reachable via the Bird Park Het Zwin – more can be found here).
From top left to bottom right: (1) Gent (2) Brugge Grote Markt (3) Beach at De Panne (4) Streets of Antwerp
Tips: Gent is best during the Gentse Feesten, a street festival taking place normally the last two weeks of July; Bruges is particularly lovely to visit during the Christmas market. Antwerp is the place to go for shopping and has the hippest cafes and bars.
Last but not least…
Brussels city center is very grey as there are not many trees. There are however quite a few parks, and some of them pretty large, located only about half an hour from the city centre. So if you feel like taking a break from city life there are two good options: There is a huge parc next to the Atomium in case you were thinking of visiting it anyway, or you can go to Bois de la Cambre – the preferred weekend place for Brusselers. There you can rent a boat to paddle in the lake around the little Island with Chalet Robinson where you can stop for lunch or coffee.
From top left to bottom right: (1) Atomium; (2) Bois de la Cambre; (3) Parc de Bruxelles; (4) Bois de la Cambre Lake.
Enjoy Brussels :)!