Welcome to Brussels! This massive melting pot of a city, Brussels is host to countless museums, parks, and monuments both world-famous and largely unknown. The sheer magnitude of things to do, here’s a guide to a perfect 48 hours in the city.
On your first day in Brussels get ready for a day filled with traditional Belgian cuisine, stunning architecture, and historical art.
Morning: Get your bearings and learn about Brussels architecture
It’s time to spend your first morning in Brussels learning a little bit about its history of incredible architecture. Many of the city’s most memorable buildings were built during the art nouveau movement around the turn of the 20th century, and the man who led the charge of introducing the style to the city was Victor Horta. Between 1898 and 1901, the prominent architect and designer designed and built his own exquisite house, and since the late 1960s it’s been open to the public as a testament to his vision and to beauty of the movement of which he was a part. No visit to Brussels would be complete without spending some time exploring his residence and learning about the craftsmanship that went into any piece of art nouveau furniture, sculpture, or architecture.
Lunch: Nosh on a Belgian staple
Because the Horta museum is a little bit outside of city center, it’s easy for a visit to the museum to take up a few hours—by the time you get back to downtown Brussels, you’ll probably have worked up quite an appetite. For a filling meal that deliciously reimagines a Belgian staple, check out Kipkot—its two locations in Brussels dole out some of the most scrumptious rotisserie chicken in the city. The restaurants are casual and efficient, and their rotisseries come with a wide variety of sides, from the standard heap of Belgian fries to an apple compote. There’s also a highly-regarded chicken cheeseburger as an equally appetizing alternative.
Afternoon: Soak in the majesty of Mont des Arts
After lunch, your next step is on the Mont des Arts. This museum-studded hill is only a short walk away from Kipkot, and on your way you’ll be able to cut through the Grand-Place, Brussels’ iconic city square. Its history stretches back well into the middle ages, but thanks to a particularly ruthless cannon barrage from the French during the 9 Years’ War almost all of the Grand-Place’s guild halls were built in the mid-1690s. Because of its beauty and prominence, expect to find it full of people throughout the day—that is, unless you happen to be visiting in mid-August on an even-numbered year, when the center of the square place is carpeted by more than 500,000 flowers.
Once you’ve soaked in the majesty the Grand-Place, continue up the Mont des Arts to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. This consortium of museums brings the best of Belgian art to the table in five distinct institutions. There’s the Old Masters Museum, the Fin-de-Siècle (end of the 19th century) Museum, and then the Meunier, Wiertz, and Magritte museums in Brussels. Those last three are named for some of the Belgium art world’s heaviest hitters—make sure you don’t miss René Magritte’s famous and thought-provoking surrealism. These museums are a perfect place to while away an afternoon exploring the full scope of Belgian painting and sculpture.
Dinner: Dine in a restaurant that opened its doors almost a century ago
Now that you have a mind full of traditional Belgian art, you’ll probably want to fill your stomach with some traditional Belgian food. We’ve got you covered over at 9 et Voisin, a restaurant that started started serving Brussels almost a century ago. It’s situated in a building with sky-high ceilings and a cozy brick interior right by the center of the city. This is a great spot for a generous portion of hearty Belgian fare—we highly recommend the sausages with stoemp, a typical Flemish dish. As should be expected, there’s plenty of sidewalk seating available in the warmer months.
Evening: Grab a pint of Belgium’s finest
Now that you’ve seen their art and tried their food, it’s time to enjoy some of Belgium’s famous beer. For this after dinner treat, there’s no better place to go than Delirium. A powerhouse in the Brussels nightlife scene, the Delirium village is a series of bars big enough to feel like its own neighborhood. It also boasts a record-holding selection of beer—there are more than 2,000 to choose from. Later in the night, the village will pack with people from all over the city and all over the world looking to enjoy the immense variety of Delirium’s wares.
Explore historical musical instruments, landmarks, and enjoy your second day in Brussels.
Morning: After breakfast explore the world’s historical musical instruments
Though Le Pain Quotidien (meaning “daily bread”) now has locations in more than 20 countries, it all started right here in Brussels. Enter the original location close to the center of town and the vibe feels like “local bakery,” not “global chain.” While locals will pop in and out throughout the day to pick up their day’s loaf of bread, the real treat is to stay and sit down for a quick meal. There is a delicious assortment of breakfast- and brunch-y eats on the menu, some of which are mainstays and some of which change seasonally. Their specialties are their tartines, open faced sandwiches served on their signature sourdough bread. Le Pain Quotidien is a wonderful way to start a day of exploration on the right foot.
After breakfast, head back up to the Mont des Arts—this time, you’re not going to an art museum but to the Museum of Musical Instruments. It’s hard to say what’s cooler—the actual museum, or the beautiful art nouveau building in which it resides. Step past the famous steel facade and you’ll be greeted by several floors packed with almost every instrument imaginable. There are dozens of different types of pianos, dozens of variations on the violin, and an endless number of drums. At some points, the line between instrument and sculpture is wonderfully blurred, but the museum provides an audio guide for a small fee that will set the record straight by offering you an example of how the strange, curved object in front of you sounds when played.
Once you’ve seen your fill of instruments, start heading back down the Mont des Arts until you can see the spires of Brussels’ imposing cathedral. It sits on the side of the hill, looming over the rest of the city. Inside, it’s got everything you know and love about European cathedrals: the sky-high vaulted ceilings, the ornate gilding on the statuary, and plentiful marble. Two things set this cathedral apart, however: one is the pulpit, an exquisite wooden structure sculpted from the base to depict the garden of Eden and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from said garden. The second is the cathedral under the cathedral—excavations related to a renovation in the 80s revealed an old romanesque church lying in the footprint of the current cathedral, and those ruins are preserved in an exhibit underneath the cathedral.
Lunch: Refuel on a quick bite after a historical morning
You could probably spend several hours uncovering all of the detail that fills the cathedral, but your stomach might have other plans. Descending the rest of the way down the Mont des Arts and heading a short ways across to the other side of the city center will bring you to Fanny Thai, a great Thai spot that offers a full two-course lunch for less than the price of most appetizers at your typical Brussels restaurant. It’s a nice spot for a sit-down meal, but the service is quick and you’ll be able to keep exploring in no time.
Afternoon: Get some pictures of the Atomium
Your next stop is just outside of the city, but it’s worth the trek—built in 1958 for the World’s Fair, this is Brussels’ iconic monument: the Atomium. A set of 9 massive steel spheres arranged to resemble the structure of an iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times, it dominates the skyline of northern Brussels and has become a symbol for the city. The Atomium is open to visitors throughout the year—you can head straight to the uppermost ball to get a bird’s-eye view of the city, or you can take a set of escalators and stairs to the lower spheres which are host to an annually rotating set of exhibitions that take advantage of the sculpture’s unique architecture and historic setting. There’s also a chic restaurant right above the viewing platform on the top sphere, but the price of the food is inflated to match that gorgeous view.
Dinner: Enjoy your last evening in Brussels in Place du Luxembourg
Once you get back to the city center, you’ll probably want to unwind from the day. Luckily for you, so do many of Brussel’s young professionals, who stream out of their offices in the European Quarter and over to the Place du Luxembourg in the evenings to enjoy food and a drink at one of the many restaurants and bars in the area. If you get there early enough in the evening (or mid/late in the afternoon), you’ll find part of the square cordoned off and filled with food trucks.