Brussels is famous for quite a few things: Beer; Chocolate; Mussels; Frites; Graffiti; Being the base City for Europe’s bigwigs; A statue that urinates 24/7, just to name a few. But if murals, politics and local landmarks isn’t your scene, and if none of the others listed don’t take your fancy, then hell, maybe Brussels isn’t for you! If I had you at beer? Then you should probably read on.
Eat: Fin De Siecle
Waiting in line for a meal isn’t a bad thing if the meal itself was worth the wait. This restaurant certainly delivered. Queued out the door and apparently busy every night of the week, there is nothing flashy about Fin De Siecle. But for what it lacks in style, it makes up for with bundles of charm, character, atmosphere and incredibly unpretentious but delicious Belgian cuisine. Popular with locals and tourists alike, the queue was relentless during our whole stay (no reservations folks) but don’t fret – you’ll be well looked after. The staff are fantastic: hurrying here and up and down and there. The menu is chalked in French, so you may want to save your blushes (and your servers time) by brushing up a little on the language before you arrive. Don’t expect to pay any more than 15 to 20 Euros for a meal and you should probably skip lunch that day as the portion sizes are generous to say the least. Fantastic.
Sleep: NH Hotel Du Grand Sablon
Situated in the scenic Place Du Grand Sablon ( a charming little area, dotted with art galleries) you can’t go too wrong with this hotel. The reviews are mixed (as is the case with most hotels) but as I understand it, they come mostly about the dated rooms. My experience? Great. Nothing more; Nothing less.
Our room (on the 4th floor) was bright, clean and modern. One of the best I’ve slept in. The location is excellent: just up the hill from Grand Place, which is around a ten minute walk away. The breakfast was superb with plenty to choose from and of a high quality. The wi-fi was free but slow. So, so, slow. Overall, the hotel was great value for money. In fact, our stay was an absolute steal at £230* for four nights. Merely looking for a central place to crash, I was quietly pleased with my choice. Du Grand Sablon more than exceeded my expectations. Green? Not my colour but hey, I’ll roll with it.
*Lastminute.com Standard double room with breakfast. City tax not included.
Go: Grand Place
Grand Place (which should be pronounced in a more alluring accent than mine) is the main square/hub in the centre of Brussels where you’ll find an abundance of restaurants, chocolatiers, bars and shops as well as some stunning architecture such as the town hall. There is many a tourist trap to be found around these parts, so some common sense is needed: don’t be ushered into restaurants. Shop around for your chocolate and be aware that prices are hiked up here. However, treat Grand Place as your base to explore elsewhere. There are some amazing restaurants and bars in the surrounding areas that are worth checking out. Brussels is a safe city so you should feel at ease venturing out the centre.
Drink: Cantillon Brewery
Unassuming and nestled just off a quiet street, Cantillon Brewery is quite easy to miss. Even standing outside peering in, you will still be unsure to what it is you are looking at. Since 1900, Cantillon has been brewing beer in this building and is still a working brewery today, maintaining it’s traditional methods. But I don’t need to google that fact, as the proud and friendly workers, (I say workers as there are no tour guides and you will be making your own way around) proudly state this to you upon entry and this information will be etched into your memory forever. Once your interest has peaked, you will be provided with two glasses of beer: a bitter and a kriek (cherry). And a warm metallic stove to huddle around. The beer is Sharp, bitter and clean and will be unlike any you have tasted nor will ever taste. A small brewery with a big heart, Cantillon is an ideal rainy afternoon activity but deserves much more respect than that. Six Euros will get you a self-guided tour and samples of their beer but you are likely to stay to sample more – there is plenty on tap! Check it out.
Only an hour from Brussels by train, you would be foolish not to visit Bruge. Okay, so I’m cheating here, but if you can spare a day, it certainly would be worth your while. Allow yourself to be swept along with the sea of tourists, frantically snapping through cobbled back roads, Gothic cathedrals and winding canals. Don’t bother with the locals as you will have trouble finding them. Once your patience is wafer thin, enjoy the scenic stroll back to the station – the trains back are frequent.
Not selling Bruge for you?
In all seriousness, it is a beautiful city even listed as a world heritage site. Despite it’s popularity, there is a little peace of privacy to be had for everyone who visits. Simply get lost and see where the day takes you. Strangely, Bruge feels somewhat peaceful, yet it is incredibly busy with foot traffic. An unlikely combination but it works.
There you go: Five tips to get you started.
Have you been to Brussels? Any recommendations? Feel free to share by dropping me a comment below.