Weekend Break in Belgium – discovering Brussels

When I first considered travelling to Brussels I encountered numerous articles, blog posts and reviews which strongly discouraged me to ever visit the capital of Belgium. Described as grey, boring and dangerous, the city seemed like the last place I wanted to visit. In October my best friend and I found cheap flight tickets, which were so inexpensive (around 20$ or 15 Euro both ways) that I simply had to go, even if I was extremely agitated with safety issues. I literally freaked myself out reading safety articles and how Brussels’ safety index in only 59%. Then, to increase my disconcern, I watched documents on terroristic attacks on 22nd of March 2016 and even considered not going. Above all, my paranoia was infused by the fact my landing date was on the third anniversary of the attacks. Luckily, my boyfriend convinced me not to be such a crybaby and we flew to Brussels.

A great arc in Brussels

Charleroi Airport and getting to Brussels

We landed in Charleroi Airport just before 11 PM. Being a control freak as I am, I planned everything in advance, purchasing tickets for the shuttle bus. It was a rather neat idea, as we were one of the last ones to get on a bus to Brussels (it was second-to-last bus that night so with the crowd that gathered in line, there was a great concern we would not make it, if I didn’t purchase tickets online). The bus took us through well-lit highways straight to Brussels-South railway station in Rue de France. We were a little bewildered by the marking system, so we decided to take a tram instead of metro. What is interesting, the timetable of trams was so confusing, we didn’t really know which way we should go. The monitor above tram-shelter projected direction the tram was coming from, as oppose to where it’s going. Also, the timetable showed next stops above the stop we were on, which was even more confusing. I don’t know how it is where you live, but where I come from it’s the complete opposite.

The Grand Place

We started our first day with a long walk from our hotel to the narrow streets around La Grand Place. In the heart of Brussels, the “Great square” one of the most often visited places in Belgium. It is a great quadrangle surrounded by architectural masterpieces altogether forming a UNESCO Heritage Site. The 15th century Town Hall and King’s House, as well as 200 years younger guild houses give the La Grand Place an astonishing feeling of wealth and luxury.

 

We spent a rather long time reading interesting details about guild houses and how each sculpture or even shape of facades conveyed a deeper meaning. My favourite building, the baker’s house named Le Roy d’Espagne, decorated with busts of Saint Aubert (patron saint of bakers) and sculptures of six figures representing force, wheat, wind, fire, water and security, all believed to be necessary ingredients for baking a perfect bread, charmed me immediately.

 

Manneken Pis

From the Grand Place we ventured towards the statue called Manneken pis. “Little Pisser” is a bronze figure just next to the Town Hall, depicting a toddler urinating into the fountain. The statue is the best-known symbol of people of Brussels, representing a rather dark Belgian sense of humour. Each week a non-profit association “The Friends of Manneken-Pis” dress the figure up in various outfits. While we visited Brussels Manneken Pis was dressed in FC Barcelona attire and we have yet to discover why.

Manneken PIs statue in Brussels

After a rather long walk through narrow streets around La Grand Place we decided to head for lunch. We found out earlier that our hotel is just next to the place with “greatest pommes frites in Belgium” so we headed there. There was quite a queue, with a lot of Belgians so I knew the fries were going to be delicious. We ordered and were pleasantly surprised that we could take them out and eat in one of the nearby bars where we ordered additional beer. The size of fries is rather tricky, so if you visit Brussels always go for small ones as you will get full quite easily.

The Atomium

After lunch we travelled by metro to one of the most well-known symbols of Belgium – the Atomium. Built for the first postwar Expo in 1958 the steel structure has become an unmistakable trademark of Brussels. In the shape of iron particle enlarged 256 million times, designed by Andre Waterkeyn and architects Andre and Jean Polak, Atomium is 102 meters tall and is a rather literal symbol of progress and development. Connected with escalators and elevators hidden in pipes each sphere is 18 meters in diameter. I enjoyed the sight of it but felt as though the surrounding was not that pleasant.

After lunch we travelled by metro to one of the most well-known symbols of Belgium – the Atomium. Built for the first postwar Expo in 1958 the steel structure has become an unmistakable trademark of Brussels. In the shape of iron particle enlarged 256 million times, designed by Andre Waterkeyn and architects Andre and Jean Polak, Atomium is 102 meters tall and is a rather literal symbol of progress and development. Connected with escalators and elevators hidden in pipes each sphere is 18 meters in diameter. I enjoyed the sight of it but felt as though the surrounding was not that pleasant.

Used as a museum, exhibition center as well as a viewpoint the structure is a great place to explore. We did not enter inside as the tickets were rather pricy (20 Euro per person) and the weather wouldn’t allow us to appreciate the view anyway. If you ever visit Brussels and the sky is clearer visiting interiors of the Atomium is an absolute must!

Dinner and Belgian Ale

In the evening we returned to the Grand Place for dinner and drinks. We started out in the restaurant called Chez Leon, as we did not have to wait long to be served. We ordered seafood (of course!) and a bottle of cooled, white wine. I really enjoyed the food, although if I knew while ordering it would be covered in cheese I would have probably picked some that was not. We have also visited Delirium Tremens, most recommended bar in Brussels, but it was way too crowded for us and we finished our evening with some beers in a bar next to our hotel.

Autoworld

Visiting Autoworld was one of the main points of our trip to Brussels. Displaying more than 250 cars the Automotive Museum was one of most entertaining museum I’ve ever been to. I learned a great deal about the history of automobiles and discovered various trivia. Did you know that in 1955, during a race a car crashed and it’s scattering particles killed 82 people? Considered as the worst crash in motor sports history, it happened during a Le Mans 24-hour race in France. The accident was so tragic both France and Switzerland banned motor racing, the latter still holds the ban active today. You can read more about this here.

After visiting the museum we had only one thing left on our “to do list” before catching a bus to Charleroi Airport. WAFFLES. I could not leave Brussels without the famous chocolate! Therefore, we returned to La Grand Place, visited the oldest shopping centre in Europe and devoured delicious waffles!

Overall, I really enjoyed visiting Brussels and I would recommend a weekend trip to anyone. It was safe, beautiful and the food was quite delicious. I really enjoyed museums, historical buildings as well as modern parts, with bars and fancy restaurants.

Have you ever been to Brussels? Did you enjoy the city? Let me know in the comments!

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3 thoughts on “Weekend Break in Belgium – discovering Brussels

  1. Great photos! The story of that statue is so funny haha. I’ve never been but I’d like to, I love all the architecture and the grand buildings. Those waffles looking amazing too!

  2. Brussels is defiantly a great cultural holiday destination. This exciting modern city is rich in amazing medieval and nouveau art buildings.

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