With tickets to U2’s last tour concert in Europe in our hot little hands we headed to Brussels for a four day summer break. We had a fantastic time and I have picked out some of my favourite things to share with you:
Getting to Brussels
This will depend on where you are coming from but as we were coming from Lac du Bourget in France we decided to take the train. About six hours from arriving at the station in Aix les Bains to getting to our guesthouse, with a one hour change-over in Paris meant that the afternoon of travel was very easy going – work was done, magazines were read, coffee sipped. We booked through SNCF and travelled on the TGV and Thalys lines – both of which were great, although the latter had a really good meal service included as well.
Getting around Brussels
Walking, walking, walking – our feet were really all we needed. We took all of five metro rides the whole four days we were there.
Things to do
When we arrived at our guesthouse the owner gave us a map of Brussels and then very quickly started squiggling and writing all over it – his top tops for a few days – a mix of touristy and off the beaten track. My three favourites were
- The Magritte Museum – laid out chronologically you start out at the top of the museum and work your way down through the levels bearing witness to how Magritte’s artistic style and focus developed across the years. I can remember studying his art at school and loved being able to see these works in real life.
Top tip: on Wednesday afternoons after 1pm entry is free.
- Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert – this is tourist central but if you can block all the crowds from your mind and simply enjoy the architecture this is a really special place not to mention the buskers playing fab music just outside the main entry.
- The World of Steve McCurry exhibition – held at the Brussels Stock Exchange his iconic photos were hung in this amazing space separated from each other only by voiles evoking a sense of mystery as you wandered amongst the 200 odd pieces. Whilst this may not be on when you visit Brussels click here to see what current exhibitions are on.
Shops to visit
- Antique stores: Having just bought a new (but old) home and with grand plans of renovating it while keeping nods to its history evident we took to Rue Haute, Minimes and Blaes searching through Antique stores and the bric-a-brac market in Place du Jeu de Balle. Whilst I didn’t rate the market at all, think more junk than treasures, the antique shops and design stores dotted along these two roads were great. My three favourites were 125 Rue Blaes, Galeries de Minimes and Stefanick – all rabbit warrens of treasures. Whilst the range was fantastic the prices were even better – significantly cheaper than buying similar items in France.
- Design stores:
New de Wolf Plus – everything you can imagine that a décor store needs with the choices a little off-centre which really appealed to me.
K-Loan – industrial style furniture and accessories that were so well designed and made that this store is a must visit if that is the style you are looking for.
Flying Tiger Copenhagen – one of my all time favourite cheap and cheerfuls, I shopped up a storm in the ten minutes I had before having to head to the train station. Lots of little bits of housewares, fun things for the kids, basically you name it they have it. Could have spent a lot more time here, and a lot more money – next time!
- Housewares – I have fallen in love with the chain store Dille & Kamille. A large selection of housewares, including my favourite enamel dinnerware in a load of colours, to spices, sweets and other useful ingredients.
- Chocolates – you can not leave Brussels without visiting a chocolate shop. Whilst I was not a fan of the hot chocolates around town I did enjoy the bite sized chocolates. Most tourists buy their chocolates from one of the many stores at the Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert however I think the best place to go is Grand Sablon – all the iconic chocolatiers have stores here, their prices are the same, the tourist numbers are limited so service is quick and they have a little more time to spend with you to help you choose which beautiful box of treats to take home with you. My favourite is Pierre Marcolini and with a shop on the ground floor and a chocolate bar on the top floor it is well worth a stop.
Places to eat
There are a few things that Belgium is famous for – the waffles, meat/cheese nibbles while having a drink, beer, pots of mussels and their frites. Unfortunately I only had a waffle at the stadium ahead of U2 coming on stage (good but I am sure not the best example of this desert treat) but a yellow waffle truck did stalk me the whole time we were in Brussels, or perhaps it is safe to assume there are many of them around. A few places we tried and really enjoyed were:
- The Rugbyman 2 – a great fish restaurant located on Saint Catherine Place. As with most European restaurants, there were a la carte options and house menus. Opting for the latter we were not disappointed, I tried lobster for the first time and they did a fab crème brulee.
- Berlin Fabrik – a perfect lunch stop, or place to catch up with friends over a beer. We kept it simple with fries coated in cheese and bacon, with a plate of meat and cheese accompanied with a glass of local beer. Delish, we wanted more but couldn’t squeeze anymore in.
- JAt’ café – a very popular lunch spot for Brussel-ites with delicious bagels, cakes by the slice and yummiest salted caramel cupcakes I have ever had. Quite a simple yet funky interior to boot.
- MIM Café – sitting on the top floor of the Musical Instruments Museum this café has some of the best views in Brussels. We stopped in just for a drink to plan our afternoon but the menu looked great and was kid friendly as well.
- Arion Café – tucked in Louise this café was a hub of activity with locals passing through for a quick drink or meal. Lots of delicious options that would be great for an early snack through to a large meal. The on-the-house night-caps were appreciated as well.
If you know where you are heading in the evenings I would highly recommend booking in advance as at both The Rugbyman 2 and the Arion Café were turning people away.
Where to stay
We wanted a good location and something more suited to a few days away for two. It didn’t take me long as I had never seen a 10 out of 10 rating for any property on one of the well known accommodation booking site. Where did we stay ? click here to learn more about this great guesthouse.
Other options that look quite fun (and came recommended from Brussel based friends) were The Hotel and U2’s preferred place to stay, the Hotel Amigo.
The final verdict on Brussels
Loved it, plenty of things to do for a couple of days at an easy pace. We will be back again very soon to do some serious furniture shopping – just need to complete the renovations first.