Even though I’ve spent one weekend in Brussels and I went for some really nice day trips (one day in Bruges, and Groot Bijgaarden Castle) and even took a tulip tour from Amsterdam, that doesn’t mean the city is so big. I can easily say you can see the most important things in Europe’s Capital in one day in Brussels.
So here is my Brussels one day itinerary, with a map to help you better plan your escape.
I must admit I liked the city center and loved even much more the fact that you can find chocolate pretty much wherever you turn your head. Also, coffee is really nice as long as you know where to look for it. And there are places that will surprise you and impress even the most exigent art lover.
Plenty of green spaces, but also plenty of shopping options. Brussels is a mix.
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One day in Brussels itinerary
When is the best time to visit Brussels
We’ve been on an early April and the weather was rather cold. I think it was my fault because I didn’ bring my winter jacket, but you should know better than me.
During the day, the sun was up and it was pretty nice. However, in the morning and in the afternoon and evening the weather turned pretty cold. That shouldn’t be a problem with the right clothing though and I would totally recommend visiting Brussels during spring or fall.
Nevertheless, summer is also a great time to plan your visit to Brussels if you don’t mind the fact that it might get more crowded. I don’t think temperatures get extremely high and it can be pleasant to walk around for your Brussels one day itinerary.
Getting from the airport to the city center
One important thing to know when you only have one day in Brussels is how to get from the airport to the city as soon as you can. That’s how you will have more time to explore the city and let yourself seduced by the chocolate town.
If you’re traveling from Europe and choose a low-cost company (like we did – flying with Ryanair) you will most probably land on Charleroi Airport.
From there, there are 2 options of getting to town:
- Take the shuttle bus to Brussels city – this might prove to be a bit tricky. That’s because the bus runs every 30 minutes and there’s only one bus that leaves. We had to wait in line for at least 30 minutes both when we arrived and when we left. Add around 1 hour for the transit. If you, however, choose this option, it might be a good idea to book ahead of time online and save up to 9 EUR.
- Book a private transfer and forget about the lines. You’ll reach the city faster but will spend more. Book your privet transfer here!
The second option is to arrive in Brussels at Zaventem airport. From here it is much easier to get to town:
- The bus: 272 and 471 will take you to the North Train Station;
- By train: take the train from the platform inside the airport. The ticket is around 9 EUR, and you can check out timetables, options, and prices here.
- Book a private transfer or take a taxi. Book your privet transfer here!
Where to stay in Brussels
Personally, I loved very much the Sablon part of Brussels, thus if I were to come back I would book one of the below:
- The Hotel Brussels – a really nice cozy design, right in the heart of the city and next door to high-end stores.
- 9Hotel Sablon – spacious rooms, an interior pool, and a sauna in the heart of the city.
- Warwick Brussels – Grand Place – in Sablon, this coquette hotel will make you feel pampered in the heart of Brussels. It is a 5* hotel with an affordable price range.
If you have a lower budget as we did, you can always look a bit further from the city center. The area we stayed in wasn’t the best especially after the nightfall, but it was overall ok. And the ibis Hotel Brussels Centre Gare du Midi we stayed in was clean and nice.
Getting around in Brussels
- Public transportation – get your Brussels Card with STIB public transportation valid for 24 hours and forget about how much you pay and save money while you go.
- Hop on hop off bus – that’s a great option when you have little time, as you do with one day in Brussels. It is also a great option for when the weather is not very friendly. Book your ticket here!
- Tours – a tour is a great option when you have less time and want to see more things. I will recommend tours as we go and you can choose the one you like most.
What to see in one day in Brussels
My itinerary will help you see the best of Brussels in one day, without you running from one place to the other. There’s only so make you can see in 1 day in Brussels, and I strongly believe in making the best out of each trip.
Today’s society makes us want to do it all and see it all. But at the end of the day, we risk being exhausted. Also, it is very possible that weeks after the trip we won’t even remember what we have seen and what was where.
Thus, this is a friendly one day in Brussels itinerary, that you will actually enjoy!
Grand Place (Grote Markt)
Start your day in the heart of the city, one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, part of UNESCO World Heritage since 1998. Mainly because all roads lead here or from here, but also because in the morning you might be lucky and see it not as packed with tourists as it usually is later on.
Admire the imposing buildings which are guildhalls (buildings historically used by guilds for their meetings), take some Instagram worthy pictures, and when you are really determined you can visit the City Hall.
One other thing worth knowing when you visit is that one of the buildings in the Grote Markt is the Belgian Brewers Museum. However, I would rather go for a Breweries tour with a local and discover all those famous Belgian beers. And taste them!
Only a few steps away from the Central Market, at the junction of Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat and the pedestrian Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat you’ll find the famous (yet small) Mannekin Pis statue.
One of the most famous landmarks in Brussels, it is actually (as the name says it) a small statue of a boy urinating in the fountain’s basin.
The statue has a long history, he was first mentioned in 1451 and has lots of legends surrounding him. If you’re curious to learn more, booking a Brussels walking tour is always a good idea to both see the city, and learn about local stories and legends.
Chocolate shops, Choco-Story, Chocolate workshop
One thing you won’t lack in Brussels is chocolate for sure. As a chocolate lover, I thought the streets of Brussels were paradise!
Wherever I turned my head there was some small chocolate shop. Chocolate, waffles, and beer! Have I convinced you yet?
Some of the greatest chocolate in the world comes from Belgium, and even in the Grote Markt, there are at least 4 chocolate shops. I thought I might have enough, but that’s never the case with chocolate!
In addition to exploring all the chocolate shops in the center city, I couldn’t help but visit the Choco-Story Museum. I’ve learned so many things about cocoa and its origins, but also about the whole process it goes through until it gets to the form of ultimate desire: chocolate!
Book your Choco-Story ticket ahead of time.
Of course, I had some amazing sweets and chocolate in Colmar as well, but it was in Brussels that I really tasted heaven and saw the production process.
Book a Belgium Chocolate making workshop and spend some hours having fun, learning, and tasting fabulous chocolate.
Taste some Belgian waffles
If chocolate is not your thing, or if you would rather have it with something else, I’ve got you covered. Presenting the famous waffles.
I’ve learned in Brussels that there are actually two types of waffles: Belgian waffles – the sweeter type with a more sugary batter that will get denser, usually served with chocolate or any kind of sweet jam; and the Brussels waffles – with a pancake-like texture, airier, and not as sweet as the Belgian ones.
No matter which one you choose, I wouldn’t miss out on going to Maison Dandoy. It is one of the most famous places and you should try their waffles.
When you want to learn how to make these super sweet goodies and impress the people back home with your skills, book a waffle making workshop.
Mont des Arts
Just a short stroll away from the Central Market, and right next to Brussels Central Train Station, you’ll find the famous Mont des Arts.
Meaning literally the “hill of the arts”, this place is actually a hill and is where you’ll find a nice public garden and some urban and historic sites of Brussels.
The location offers a great view of the city and offers some pretty nice Instagram opportunities. I’ve seen plenty of people around with their cameras making the best of the location and the light.
Right outside of the main park there are some really amazing historic buildings waiting for you to admire them, some of them hiding pretty cool museums inside, like the Musical Instrument Museum.
The Royal Palace and the park
Climb the small hill from the Mont des Arts and head straight to the Royal Palace of Brussels – the official palace of the King and Queen of Belgium. When you visit during summer you will even have the chance to go inside, because they open their doors to the public.
However, if you visit at another time of the year, you can do what we did: take a few pictures of the Palace and cross the street to the beautiful Parc de Bruxelles and have a good Belgian beer.
End your one day in Brussels off with a walk around Sablon and a beer crat or pub crawl – Book your tour here!
Sablon was one of my favorite areas in Brussels and I really loved strolling around and especially tasting some incredible chocolate at Pierre Marcolini.
Some other things to consider for Brussels in one day
You could also consider starting your day off differently and taking the hop-on hop-off bus outside of the city center and all the way to the Atomium and Mini Europe.
It might be a good idea to see these places first thing in the morning when there aren’t many people around, and head afterward back to town.
Buy your tickets ahead of time and make sure you don’t waste any more time waiting in line and you have plenty of time for visiting all the other attractions of Brussels.
During spring, it is worth stopping by at the Serres Royales de Laeken (Royal Greenhouses). This place is definitely the most Instagram-worthy location in Brussels, and you must go in the morning to skip the crowds.
Just know that they are open to the public only for 3 weeks every year.
Other useful facts worth knowing for Brussels in one day
If you are visiting Brussels for the first time, there are some things you might want to know, and here are a few of them.
The local currency is Euro and as in most European countries, you will need to have some cash on you.
As we’ve experienced, the weather in Brussels might get a bit moody. Because of its location, the country has a very humid climate, thus it could feel colder than it actually is.
My tip for you when you are considering traveling during spring or autumn is to bring a really good jacket. My leather jacket didn’t do the trick in April.
Also, make sure to bring an umbrella or plan to see also indoor museums for when it starts raining.
Food to try in Brussels
I must admit I’m not such a huge french fries fan, but you should have some in Brussels. That’s because they are actually Belgian fries, not really French. Top them up with some mayo and ketchup and enjoy them as a snack.
Another thing to try is the famous mussels with fries.
And yeah, don’t leave without eating tons of chocolate and waffles.
Brussels has a good public transportation system, and you can always take the tram, metro, or bus. For all the maps, schedules, and price lists you can always check out the STIB-MIVB.be site.
Note that some lines, like the one we took to go to Groot Bijgaarden Castle for the tulip festival, are being operated by De Lijn. I wish I knew that before wasting so much time (and money on the wrong tickets) looking for the bus stop and waiting for the wrong bus. We finally bought the tickets on the bus and managed to find our way once we knew the deal.
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