The first Country people think to plan for a trip to Europe is probably not Belgium. Although the capitol of Brussels is quite well known, primarily for it being the headquarters of the European Union, it’s not a huge tourist destination. While planning our trip to England, we couldn’t decide which city we wanted to spend the last two days of our trip. London’s chunnel is a two hour underwater straight shot to two places on the European mainland- Brussels or Paris. Although we ended up choosing Paris, my thoughts never left Brussels. I started researching and found Belgium is an amazing country – so amazing that I decided to book our next to trip there, adding Amsterdam at the end of it.
On this trip I got that “first time” feeling that I hadn’t really experienced since my first time to Europe. I think it’s because this trip was the longest I’ve gone without traveling since I first started 5 years ago. Whatever the reason, I was overwhelmed with the feeling when I walked out of the train station into Brussels, Belgium on an early Sunday morning. The magic of the cobblestone streets, cozy shops, elaborate architecture and stunning churches all came rushing back to me; this is Europe. I think what emphasized the surreal feeling was the fact that the city was still asleep and all mine to explore. Quick to fade, I soon became desensitized to the magic of Europe.
The very clean city of Brussels has plenty for the tourist to see and do. For me, the first 2 days of the trip were definitely the best, and I think we did as much as anyone could possibly do in a single day, including trying all of the famous food and drink. Belgium is famous for waffles, chocolate, beer, mussels, french fries dipped in mayonaise and there are dozens of these shops and stands everywhere.
First, we tried the famous Belgium style waffle. I personally don’t like waffles, but USA Belgium waffles don’t taste anything like REAL Belgium waffles! You can actually taste the sugar crystals in them. They are more of a pastry than a meal which is why they are so much smaller than USA waffles. They are like a hearty doughnut and would taste great with nothing on them at all. I couldn’t even finish mine it was so rich! They put all sorts of topping on them from Nutella to cream cheese drizzle.
Next, we tried our first taste of the famous Belgium Beer in a pub right across from the famous Manneken Pis statue. For those that don’t know about the Manneken Pis, it is probably the most well known tourist attraction in Brussels. The statue has many legends behind it, so you can choose whichever one suits you best. The funny part is that it’s just a tiny little statue of a boy holding his “privates” and peeing out water into a fountain. Sometimes they rig it with beer or wine and dress him up on special occasions.
Back to the beer.
In a nutshell, Belgium beer is full of robust flavor and is very strong. In Belgium, they wouldn’t dream of serving you a beverage in a cup other than the one that was made for it. It’s not like in the USA where you order a Bud Light and they serve it to you in a Miller glass.
Next came the mussels, which were good, but I wish I would have tried them a second time as I think I could have gotten much better ones at a less touristy restaurant. They were shriveled down to a pretty small size and were fairly dry. Still, I enjoyed them because I am not a picky eater and now I can at least say I tried Mussels in Brussels.
Brussels is an extremely walk able city. Right off the train station you are only a block or two from the old town center of the Grand Place which is the main tourist attraction of Brussels. We actually stumbled upon it without even trying.
If you go the other direction and walk up the hill above the train station, you will hit the Royal Palace of Brussels and the Palace of the Nation, seat of the Belgian Federal Parliament. If you go even higher, you will arrive at the European Union Headquarters. We wondered up to the grand palace area by evening and on our way back we found several gorgeous cathedrals that we went back to visit the next day when they were open.
Brussels, being headquarters of the EU, like Washington D. C. is to the United States; it wasn’t a surprise that we saw a political demonstration within the first few hours of arrival.
Brussels is highly doable to visit in a 2-3 day visit. I wouldn’t recommend staying longer than that, as there are many other cute and close towns to visit in Belgium.