I knew I wanted to see the tulip fields in The Netherlands but somehow Amsterdam felt both expensive during that time of the year, and I had already seen it on two other occasions. Thus after carefully analyzing all the potential options, I chose to mix it together with a weekend in Brussels.
Chocolate and waffles: spending one weekend in Brussels
First of all because somehow, even though there are very cheap flights from Bucharest, I had never been to Belgium or Brussels and after carefully researching the tourist attractions I thought I should give it a try.
Secondly, because flights and the overall cost for a weekend in Brussels were much less than one in The Netherlands.
As a truly romantic and lover of colorful towns, I thought Brussels (and some of its close by towns) will make me fall in love with Belgium. And that was true.
So here is my guide for Brussels: everything you can do in one day in Brussels, a weekend in Brussels, or three days in Brussels, together with day trips from Brussels you would want to know about.
Oh, and if you are wondering where to stay in Brussels, you seriously need to check out this Brussels hotel guide and choose your perfect location in the capital or Europe.
Getting from Brussels airport to Brussels
Since we flew low cost we landed at Charleroi airport, which is some 40 minutes away from the city.
Getting from Charleroi airport to Brussels: I would suggest booking a ticket to the shuttle bus to Brussels city as we did. The bus leaves in front of the airport and takes you directly to Bruxelles – Midi (Brussels Zuid) from where you have several options to get to the city center: train, bus, metro.
By booking the ticket online ahead of time, you will not only pay less (14.20 € max. per ride, while at the airport a ticket will be 17 €), but you won’t have to wait in two lines when taking the bus (one for the tickets and the other to get into the bus).
Additionally, you could pay extra for the fast track line where you won’t have to wait. This would be good if you are in a hurry because we had to wait on both occasions for the second bus in order to get in.
Make sure to check the shuttle bus timetable when leaving for the airport and get to Bruxelles – Midi in time because there will surely be some waiting time.
Getting from Zaventem airport to Brussels
Since this is the main Brussels airport, you will surely have plenty of options to get to the city center:
- The bus: 272 and 471 will take you to the North Train Station, while there are other options for Roodebeek metro station or Brussels Expo. Check out all the options here. The price of a bus ticket will be between €1.80 if you download the De Lijn app and buy it online, and €3 if you buy the ticket on the bus
- Hotel shuttle
- The train: you can reach the train platform directly from the airport and a ticket will set you back around €9. Check out timetables, options, and prices here. And go here if you want to buy your ticket online ahead of time.
What to do in one day in Brussels
Before leaving, when I asked around about what can I do in a weekend in Brussels or even 3 days in Brussels, people would tell me that I should spend more than one day in Brussels.
This is the place where people come to live, not to visit.
Even a friend of mine living there was surprised we chose to spend so much time in the city because people don’t usually spend more than one day in Brussels.
No matter how much time you are spending in Brussels, one thing is sure: if you want to make the best out of it without any headaches, make sure to buy the Brussels Card.
I had mine for 2 days in Brussels and it made visiting places and using public transportation so much easier. And if you buy it online as I did you can start sightseeing right away without having to search for anything.
Ok, the city center is not that big, there aren’t so many things to do if you are looking for the classing touristic attractions, but if you give it a chance and step on the less crowded streets, Brussels might just surprise you.
So if you only have one day in Brussels, here is what you don’t have to miss out on
Grand-place de Bruxelles (Main Square)
Maybe the most crowded area of Brussels, but a place you should not miss on when you have only 24 hours in Brussels since it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1998.
As usually, in the Main Square you will find the City Hall which can be visited, but also the Maison du Roi, and many guild houses such as the house of the Beer Brewers guild which is now the Belgian Brewers Museum.
If you choose to go inside one of these museums you will spend a few hours here, if not let’s say some 20 minutes for a tour and some pictures will be more than enough.
Waffles and chocolate shops
Right after exiting the Main Square we bumped into some of the many chocolate stores that lured us inside with their amazing colorful displays and beautiful chocolate decorations.
As a matter of fact, some of the best chocolatiers are in a whole different area but we got there on a different day, thus I will include that in my guide for a weekend in Brussels below.
Something one should not miss, and I abused were the Belgian waffles.
Many might not know that there are different types of waffles (it’s ok, I didn’t know that either before going). There are the Belgian waffles – the ones in the picture above, sweeter usually served with chocolate – and there are the Brussels waffles – with a fluffy texture, not that sweet, and served with chocolate or whipped cream.
Ok, I did not see this little statue. I’ve read before about it and somehow we managed to miss it in all our explorations around the Main Square.
I’ve heard the statue is really small but iconic for Brussels, and it gets its clothes changed every now and then. So if you find it, stop by and take a few pictures.
Mont des Arts
Located on a hill, offering a beautiful view over a part of the city center, the Mont des Arts (or the hill of the arts) is an urban complex and a historic site in the center of Brussels.
Right next to the Nort train station, here is where you will find the Royal Library of Belgium, the National Archives and Square – Brussels Convention Center.
For me, the Mont des Arts was just a nice walk from the Main Square towards the Royal Palace (Palais Royal) where I’ve stopped by to take some pictures.
It is worth knowing that the garden in Mont des Arts is one of the most Intagrammable places in Brussels, and it is easily understood why. Even though I think that I was a bit too early for the party, and later on in Spring the colors would have been better.
The Royal Palace (Palais Royal)
With a stunning royal interior – it is a palace after all – the Royal Palace will sweep you off your feet.
Located in the Royal Park, the Royal Palace is the King’s administrative residence and main workplace, which can be also visited for a few weeks during the Summer.
If you are thinking about planning a trip to Brussels, even if only for one day, check these pictures out and see whether the Royal Palace is something you might want to see, and plan your trip accordingly.
Eat some traditional food
Apart from waffles, you should not miss out on the delicious fries with mayo, or the famous mussels and fries.
A weekend in Brussels
So you have done all of the above and still have another day to spend in Brussels?
No worries, I have you covered!
Groot Bijgaarden Castle
Since we had one additional day in Brussels, we decided to allocate half of it to go to the Groot Bijgaarden Castle which I found when searching on the internet information on tulips near Brussels.
We were lucky to visit it in April and catch the Floralia flower festival taking place at the castle, which is the only period of the year when the castle and its domain are open to the public.
In 2020 Floralia Brussels is scheduled between 4th of April and 3rd of May, so make sure to schedule your visit if you want to be amazed by the beauty of this place.
Apart from the royal feel, the thousands of tulips, the bridge, and the lake, in the weekend we’ve been there they also had the Venetian costumes from the Venice Carnival. This is surely one great opportunity to take hundreds of amazing pictures.
So if you don’t have the time or you don’t want to spend so much time and money on transportation and getting to the Keukenhof or tulip fields in The Netherlands, this place is just the right substitute.
Getting to Groot Bijgaarden Castle:
For us, getting to the Groot Bijgaarden Castle was an experience in itself, because I wasn’t very well informed and we bought tickets for the wrong public transportation.
After finding the right bus stop, we managed to get the bus towards the castle. Just know that the line is operated by De Lijn for which you will need special tickets, which can be also bought from the bus.
The return ticket was 6 EUR, and the fastest route is bus number 355 from Rogier, which leaves you really close to the castle.
Floralia ticket price:
The price of a ticket was 14 EUR which offered us access to the gardens and the greenhouse. The castle itself is not open for visits, but trust me there is plenty to do.
I’ve already talked about chocolate, but if you really really want to taste the best of the beast, only a few steps away from Mont des Arts is the area called Sablon.
And here is where you’ll find the best chocolate places you will ever go to.
And the one chocolate shop you should not miss, even though it is really expensive, is Piere Marcolini.
The Botanical Garden of Brussels
We walked to this place on an afternoon, before checking the opening hours, and of course, we arrived just as it was closing down.
Either way, I learned that this place is no longer a Botanical Garden but a modern Art gallery. Even so, the garden is still open and lovely.
Check this out if you are looking for other gardens or parks to visit while in Brussels in Spring.
Even though it is the most popular tourist attraction in Europe’s Capital we haven’t managed to get to see it, but if you have more time in Brussels, you should.
The nine spheres represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times and sure makes the perfect spot for some iconic pictures from Brussels.
You can also visit it on the inside and take in the 360 degrees Brussels panorama while enjoying a delicious Belgian meal at the restaurant you’ll find inside.
And while you’re there, get to see also Mini Europe. Get to see the most important places in Europe in just a few hours.
Choco-Story was actually the first place we visited when we got to Brussels since it is included in the Brussels card and since it is all about Chocolate.
It is a nice experience both for children and for grown-ups, where we found out all about cocoa and how it gets transformed into the best chocolate in the world.
Also, we had a live demonstration of how pralines are being done and got to taste lots of delicious chocolate.
The Royal Castle of Laeken and the Serres Royales de Laeken
Maybe one of the most Instagrammable places in Brussels, the Serres Royales de Laeken (Royal Greenhouses) are only open for a short period of time (around three weeks) during Spring each year.
I have to admit I was really sad I did not get to see the greenhouses since they were opening just a few days after we left Brussels.
Day trips from Brussels
If eventually, you have more time and choose to spend a long weekend in Europe’s Capital, you might want to have some ideas of day trips from Brussels.
Since we arrived on Thursday and left on Monday evening, we had plenty of time to have also one day trip by train from Brussels, but there are plenty of other options.
Bruges and Ghent
Bruges is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen (when it comes to little towns), and I would suggest you spend more than half of day in Bruges and get to explore the village one step at a time.
Since we only had little time, I had to settle for half of day in Bruges. Somehow in the few hours spent here, we managed to see most of the most iconic spots: the colorful central market, the Hoeke windmills, the empty and later on crowded colorful cobbler streets with gingerbread-like houses, the Beguinage, the canals.
After just a few hours of running around the streets of Bruges, we headed towards the train station and went to Ghent.
Reaching the train station in Ghent on a rainy and cold-ish day, I wasn’t expecting much from the city even though I had seen some pretty pictures.
We walked towards the city center for around 30 minutes and the city was so very different from what we had seen in Bruges, with a more 90’s vibe, grey blocks of flats, nothing colorful or with that Belgian vibe, this could have been almost anywhere.
But once we reached the old town center I must admit I started to like Ghent as well. Especially the impressive Castle of the Counts. Even though we didn’t have the time to go inside or climb its towers, from the outside the Castle is still impressive, especially looking at it from the water side.
Other day trip options from Brussels
- Hallerbos Forest – especially during spring when the forest turns all blue
- Villers-la-Ville – with its impressive Villers Abbey as the perfect setting for the most amazing pictures
- Antwerp (or Anvers) – a pretty port city worth visiting for the shopping scene
- Mechelen – worth stopping by on the way to Antwerp