There’s so much travel content I want to share this year. Beyond my recaps, of which I have so, so many still to write, I really want to write posts on my tips for traveling alone and how I pack for international adventures. But first, I need to get through the set of recaps for my first big trip, which happened last October.
If you read about my trip to London last fall, you likely know that was only the beginning of my European trek. After a lovely weekend in London with some of my closest friends from high school, I took an early Monday morning EuroStar to Brussels, Belgium. I spent my three days in Belgium by myself, as two of my friends had moved onto Paris and one was still back in London. It was the perfect stop during my trip, as it’s not really a big enough city to justify a solo trip from the U.S. I did three days in Belgium — two in Brussels and one in Bruges in between.
Isn’t this the funniest thing?!
One of my favorite things to do in European cities where I’m not super familiar with the big sights (the way I would be in Paris, London, Berlin, etc.) is to go on a Sandemans New Europe walking tour. It’s a great way to acquaint yourself with the city, learn a bit about its history and make a mental list of places to go back to and explore more later.
After a quick lunch of a Belgian waffle, I took an afternoon walking tour with Sandemans. We met in the Grand Place, which is likely the most famous site in Brussels. It’s a gorgeous square filled with gold-accented buildings and important landmarks to the city, like the Town Hall (seen in the first photo above.) There’s lots of restaurants around the square, but they’re definitely tourist-y and a bit overpriced. However, I still recommend sitting on the patio of one of them and having a beer, especially at night when you can watch the town hall all lit up.
The tour took us through the Brussels city center, up near the Royal Palace and the E.U. Headquarters, so we got a big taste of the city. There are tons of amazing murals in Brussels, so that was fun to see, and it was a great way to learn a bit more about Belgian history — a topic that I admittedly don’t know a ton about! Another highlight? The Mannekin Pis! It’s a tiny fountain/statue of a little cherub-esque boy peeing. It’s sort of hilarious, but you need to see if you’re in Brussels.
If you are going to take a Sandemans tour, remember to bring cash! The walking tour is technically free, but these guides work for tips so it’s pretty rude not to give them one. I usually give 10 to 20 euros depending on how much I have in my wallet. (And if you don’t have a chance to grab cash before you go, your guide will gladly direct you to an ATM.)
Without a doubt, one of the best things about Belgium is the FOOD! For such a small country, they have so many signature foods: Chocolate, fries, mussels, beer, to name the most famous ones. I had a bunch of amazing meals in Brussels. I adore mussels, so my two dinners in the city were spent at Chez Leon and Aux Armes De Bruxelles. Both are located just off the Grand Place, and are actually across the way from one another, so very easy to locate. Chez Leon is a bit more affordable but Aux Armes De Bruxelles is more formal. I believe I had the white wine mussels at both, which were both excellent. If you have to pick one, I’d say go with Chez Leon because it’s a bit more affordable but the food is just as good. Mussels at both places are served with fries and bread — perfect for dipping into that delicious broth!
After my day trip to Bruges, I arrived back in Brussels hungry, but not starved. So I went to Fritland, very casual eatery where (you guessed it!) fries are the speciality. There’s tons of sauces to choose from, the fries are amazing. Crispy, but potato-y. So, so good. Worth a trip for an afternoon or late night snack — even though you’ll get fries with pretty much every meal in Belgium.
Of course, you can’t go to Belgium without eating a Belgian waffle. My mom thought they were too sugary sweet on her own trip to Belgium a few years ago, but I loved them! (And ate three throughout my three days in Belgium.) This is the best place to get a traditional Belgian waffle — according to my Brussels native tour guide — is Dandoy. I had breakfast there on my final day, and ate a light and sweet waffle covered in strawberries and ice cream. You can either take yours to-go or eat in house in their upstairs dining room.
On my last day in Brussels, I ventured further outside of the Grand Place area to visit the Royal Palace and the European Union headquarters. I walked to both, but if you’re coming from the Grand Place, be prepared for about a 30 minute trek. (It was no big deal to me, one of my favorite parts about traveling is all those extra steps you get in!) Sadly, the Royal Palace was no longer open for tours (it’s open in the summertime!) but it was still very impressive and imposing. Did you know that it’s bigger than Buckingham Palace? Crazy, right? The architecture reminded me a bit of Buckingham too.
Being a big fan of Europe and having an interest in politics, I was super excited to check out the European Union headquarters. I really went all out here, visiting three of the spaces that are open for visitors: The Parlamentarium, the hemicycle (seen above) and the House of European History. The hemicycle is definitely the best-known of these, as its where the E.U. representatives meet — sort of like the U.S. Capitol. The Parlamentarium was a detailed visitors center that gave a ton of background on how the E.U. came to be and the purposes it serves today. The House of European History is what you’d expect. This was probably my least favorite stop on the tour, even though I’m a huge history nerd! I think at that point in the day I was getting a little E.U.-ed out. (However they did have a chart showing European royal family trees going back like, 600 years, and I probably stared at it for 10 straight minutes!)
I stayed at the Hotel Aris, a no-frills, but definitely comfortable hotel right near the Grand Place. It was a really great spot — affordable, good-sized rooms and an incredible location. I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for a place to stay in Brussels and want something that’s a step above a hostel. It’s also very close to the Gare Central, which is not where the EuroStar trains go to but an easy enough transfer to get there.
And that’s my time in Brussels! It’s a great city with even better food. I feel like Brussels flies a bit under the radar when compared to its high profile neighbors Paris and Amsterdam. However, it would make a great two-day trip if you find yourself in this area of Europe!