We had the opportunity to take a quick trip to Belgium recently, and I’m so glad we did! We’d gone to Brugge last year, but hadn’t been to Brussels yet. Living in England, Belgium is an easy drive – you just need to book a crossing on the Chunnel or a ferry. We opted for the ferry this time, and I don’t think it’s something we’ll repeat. It’s definitely worth the extra money to save time on the Chunnel. The ferry takes a full two hours, plus time to load and unload. It was nice to see the views of the White Cliffs of Dover and Dover Castle, but our time could be better spent exploring Belgium! The ferry let us off in Dunkirk. I was hoping to go see the Dunkirk Memorial but it was closed for renovations. Once you get off the ferry or chunnel in Dunkirk or Calais, you are only in France for a short time before crossing into Belgium. I must say, the roads in Belgium are amazing, especially after driving the bumpy and horrible roads in England! Since we took the 8am ferry, we arrived in Brussels a little after 1pm (2 hour ferry, plus the one hour time change, and then the drive to Brussels). We were staying at the IBIS about a ten minute walk from the Grand Platz. Since we were driving, I was looking for a hotel that had parking nearby, and there were several garages nearby for only 18 euros for 24 hours. The location of our hotel was excellent – we were close to many nearby sites and restaurants. The only downside was there was an art exhibit right outside the hotel. I’m normally a fan of art and traveling exhibits, but this one involved loud music and strobe lights right outside our hotel window, until almost midnight, and even though I have an appreciation for the arts, I had zero understanding of what the artist was trying to convey. Once we were able to fall asleep after that, the loud, drunk tourists across the hall would wake us up around 1:30 am each night. Other than that, it was a perfect hotel with a nice breakfast buffet.
When we arrived in Brussels mid afternoon, we decided to check out Grand Platz, and do some wandering without a plan. After waiting in a long line for the worst fries and chicken balls we’ve ever had in our life, we decided to head to Delirium Village, a complex of different bars featuring Belgian beers and home to the Delirium Cafe. We both love sour beers, and Belgium is the place for that, so we enjoyed a nice happy hour, before heading off to shop and eat tons of chocolate! Delirium Cafe and it’s sister bars and definitely worth a stop; one touts over 2,000 different types of beer! It’s a great place to try something new or relish an old favorite. And if beer isn’t your thing — they have a Delirium tequila bar in the complex! Definitely check out Delirium Cafe, as Belgium is known for their beer, and this place is iconic.
Saturday afternoon and early evening was spent wandering around chocolate shops and tasting. Last year, we had made a weekend trip Bruges, Belgium. Unfortunately, it was during Lent and I had given up sweets and had longingly watched while my husband ate something from every shop. This year, I made sure our trip to Belgium was before Lent! We tried many amazing chocolates, but our favorite for the taste and value is Leonida’s. I love anything with hazelnut and coffee, and they have some great ones! We mayyyyy have stopped by one more than one occasion to “replenish” our sampler box. As I said, we loved Leonidas, but since you can’t go wrong with any of the chocolate shops in Brussels, so why not try a bunch of them???
Saturday night, we set off in search of something else Belgium is known for — moules! My husband doesn’t love mussels, but I do, and he was happy to oblige when I told him we needed to go somewhere for great mussels. There was a place that had been recommended, but it was several miles away and we didn’t feel like a long trek and we were tired. We ended up at Chez Leon , which was closer to our hotel and also amazing. There is always a long line outside during the evening, but don’t let that deter you – it is huge inside and the line moves quickly. Our meal did not disappoint – I had garlic mussels and my husband had a traditional Belgian dish, which was amazing! The service was great, and even though the restaurant was crowded, service was quick. Chez Leon is definitely a great place to go if you are looking for mussels, as they have a large variety! They are also open 7 days a week and take reservations online. A plus, it’s near the Grand Platz so you can admire it lit up at night on your walk home. After dinner, we enjoyed wandering around the streets of Brussels, trying more chocolate than one possibly should.
On Sunday, we set out somewhat early to start our only true full day of touristy stuff in Brussels. I was thankful our hotels.com stay at IBIS included breakfast, as that one less thing to search for in the morning. With full bellies, we made the long trek to the furtherest location for the day, where we would work our way back to town. My husband and I had a conversation recently where we agreed we did not utilize public transportation as much as we should, but the trade off is we see so much more while walking. This time, we walked the whole way there, and then used the underground a bit on the way back to save time (and our feet). We headed to Parc Du Cinquantenaire, which is beautiful (and impossible to photograph due to the size). Once there, we discovered Autoworld, a large museum. My husband is a huge car enthusiast, so this was a no brainer. I can honestly say I enjoyed walking around and seeing the classic cars. It’s worth a visit if you enjoy this sort of thing, and their featured exhibition changes frequently. There is also a military museum and an art museum nearby.
On our stroll back from the Parc Du Cinquantenaire, we stopped by the Royal Palace of Belgium. We did not go inside, just admired from the outside. In hindsight, I wish we had gone in as the photos I’ve seen online are beautiful. Parked right outside the Palace, was a waffle and ice cream truck, so of course we had to share a chocolate smothered Belgian Waffle!
Our next stop was a quaint area called Petit Sablon Square. This had been recommended by several friends, and there were many shops and small markets in and around the area. We enjoyed strolling through the streets, walking in the garden, and had a delicious lunch not far from the square. As usual, we spent a lot of time walking and exploring, including more chocolate shops. Eventually we made our way back to town and stopped by the famed Mannequin-Pis statue. It’s basically a small statue of a boy peeing; I don’t quite see the attraction, but it is well marketed in Brussels — pictures, postcards, mini statues, etc. It’s worth a visit, especially since it’s on the way towards city center and there are fun gift shops and chocolate shops nearby.
For dinner, we wanted to try an off the beaten path, authentic, Belgian restaurant, frequented by locals. Fin De Siecle did not disappoint! They are open daily for dinner, and accept cash only. You can find them on facebook, but their menu changes frequently. In fact, it’s listed daily on a chalkboard. You will likely wait, as the place is small, but it is worth it. I had a ham dish and it was incredible. The portions were large, and the beer selection was good as well. After a walk back to our hotel, and some annoyance from the loud “art exhibition”, we fell asleep with full bellies.
Our last day in Brussels was short, because we had to get to an afternoon ferry crossing (did I mention the Eurotunnel is much easier, and worth the extra money??). We got up early and did some last minute souvenir shopping (I collect postcards from everywhere we go) and of course picked up more Belgian chocolate since we’d eaten ours already. Before leaving town, we had time to visit the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. Royal weddings have taken place in this Catholic Church, which boasts a beautiful interior as well. While we were not able to do so, you can climb the tower on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month, but must book in advance. After visiting the Cathedral, we headed out of town. Whenever we travel by car to France or Belgium, we always stop at a Carrefour (large grocery store) to pick up Belgian beers, stroop waffles, and goodies, at a cheap price! Definitely look for one on your next roadtrip so you can enjoy the flavors of Belgium at home. We enjoyed our trip to Brussels, and I’m curious about visiting during Christmas Markets!
So, have you been to Brussels?? If so, what did I miss out on and need to visit next time??