Exploring Brussels on a budget!
Updated: Apr 27
I visited Brussels twice, and both times, I spent most of my time wandering the streets, trying chocolate, and eating waffles. Though there is so much more to do in this beautiful city, eating all that you can is truly the best thing you could do here!
1. Roam around Grand Place
The Grand Place is the most popular sites in Brussels & is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, owing to the beautiful heritage buildings in the square. It is the one place that everyone who comes to Brussels would visit. There are many cafes and restaurants in the square, and even more in the narrow streets that begin at the square. It’s almost like all roads lead to Grand Place in Brussels. As every time I got lost, I somehow ended up back at the Grand Place!
If you are looking to shop for chocolate in Brussels, all you have to do is walk through the roads the lead away from the Grand Place. All the city’s popular chocolatiers have a store around the Grand Place.
The Townhall built between 1402-1455, and the Brussels City Museum are two of the most important edifies of the square.
2. Go see the Mannekin Pis
The small bronze statue of a boy urinating into the basin of a fountain is the most popular landmark in Brussels. There are statues of Mannekin Pis made from chocolate, as key chains, and other souvenirs. The Mannekin Pis replicas are everywhere in every size imaginable, so much so that when I finally got to the Mannekin Pis landmark, I was sorely disappointed! It was such a small statue-only 61cm tall. I was expecting a much bigger icon of Brussels! For a while I didn’t realise that I was looking at the Mannekin Pis, owing to its small size, but the crowd around it, and the signage made me realise that this is it!
The Mannekin Pis is sometimes clothed in different costumes, and it makes the sculpture look rather adorable!
The story behind the Mannekin Pis
Mannekin Pis (Dutch) translates to ‘peeing little man’. The original Mannekin Pis was created in 1619, and is now in the Brussels City Museum. The Mannekin Pis statue that is on display near the Grand Place is a replica that was installed in 1965.
There are many legends regarding the origins of the Mannekin Pis.
-One of them state that when in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. A young boy named Julianske who happened to be spying on the foreign power saw that they had placed explosives at the walls of the city. He urunated in the fuse of the explosives, and saved the city.
-Another story is of Duke Godfrey III of Leuven, a 2 year old duke. In 1142, the Dukes troops were battling against the lords of Grimbergen. The baby duke was placed in a tree by his troops so as to encourage them in the battle. It is said that the boy urinated on the enemy troops from atop the tree, which led them to lose the battle.
3. Visit the Royal Palace of Brussels
The Royal Palace is now used as office spaces for government officials and function space for state events.
The Palace is open for visitors only from 21July to beginning of September. It functions 10.30-5PM Tuesday to Saturday.
Kindly check if this information is the same around the time of your visit.
4. Explore the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert
This is a stunning shopping arcade located just 1.2 km from the Grand Place. I walked here whilst stopping to eat at every other corner on the way. Though I couldn’t afford anything in the stores here, it was nice to walk through here and admire the architecture of the building.
5. Fall in love with the St. Michael & St. Gudula Cathedral
This beautiful church is an example of Brabantine Gothic architecture, and its construction began in the 11th century. It has beautiful stained glass interiors depicting the Legend of the Miraculous Sacrament.
6. Marvel at the Notre Dame du Sablon
The Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon is a 15th century church, which also was built in Brabantine Gothic architecture. Its patrons were the nobility of Brussels. It has two Baroque chapels. A legend relating to the church is of a woman who had a vision of Mother Mary coming to her asking her to steal the statue of ‘Our lady on the little stick’ from Antwerp, and place it in the Chapel of the Crossbow Guild. (which was built in 1304-the church replaced the chapel over a century later). She was able to bring the statue to the chapel in 1348, and since then the guild, and later the church have celebrated the arrival of the statue to them with an annual procession called the Ommegang.
7. Tour the Palace of Justice
At the end of its construction in 1883, it was the largest building in the world. It is the most important court building in Europe. The court has two floors, and a basement, that are open to visitors. It covers a staggering 2600 square metres, and not surprisingly, is visible from most parts of town.
8. Go on a Tintin trail
A trail that doesn’t add to your waistline is the Tintin trail! If you were ever fans of the comic Tintin, then finding Tintin & friends hidden in plain sight is going to be an absolute thrill. I didn’t know that they would be there, I just happened to spot them here and there and realised that it is a fun thing to do here.
9. Go on a Waffle trail
There is no better place to do a waffle trail than here in Brussels. It is too tempting not to try waffles everywhere, and too easy to fall in a waffle trap! There are waffle stands everywhere you go, and on some streets there are more than one, which means as soon as you enter the street smells of freshly baked waffles lure you towards them!
I had so many waffles, and I would have had more if I hadn’t saved up money to take back as much chocolate as I could afford!
Though Haagendazs isn’t a local brand, I did love the Haagendazs waffles with strawberries and Belgian chocolate! How I wish I could go back for a bite!
10. Go on a chocolate trail
If a waffle trail was hard to ignore in Brussels, a chocolate trail is even harder! There are streets lined with chocolatiers and they have a wide range of chocolates, truffles, cookies, & more! Brussels truly is a chocolate lover’s heaven!
11. Go on a Beer trail (or Just visit the Delirium cafe)
When in Belgium, you have to try the beer here. Though I wasn’t much of a beer drinker at the time of my visit. Head to delirium cafe- it has over 2000 types of beer on offer, lots of memorabilia, and even live music on Thursday evenings. You can do you entire beer trail here!
12. Visit the Atomium
The Atomium is a little away from the Grand Place, so if you want to get here you have to take the train (for which the day pass would be useful). It was built in 1958 for the Brussels World Expo. It is a 335ft tall stainless steel structure, that looks so out of place in Brussels, when compared to all the heritage architecture of the Grand Place that people come to see. I think this stark difference is what attracts people to the Atomium. 5 of its 9 60 ft diameter spheres are habitable and are home to exhibits and function spaces. The top sphere is home to The Atomium restaurant which offers an expansive view of Brussels. The restaurant offers Belgian food, and is a little pricey, as is to be expected!
How to get around in Brussels (budget options)
-Most sights that people want to see are within walking distance of the Grand Place, so there is no need to get public transportation or hire a cab here.
-But if you want to travel further in the city, it is advisable to get the day pass for the metro (€7.50), and finish all your travels to points that are further away from the Grand place in one day.
The day pass works out cheaper if you pan your day around Brussels in advance, as a single ride would be €2.50. The travel card allows for unlimited travel in one day.
-Get the MOBIB card if you plan on staying in Belgium for a longer than just a couple of days. It can be used on buses, trams, metro, & trains across Belgium.
-Cycle through Brussels
If you’ve dreamed of seeing Europe on a bicycle- Villo is your dream come true in Brussels. Whether you want to cycle around town just for a few hours, or for weeks-Villo has a subscription plan that is right for you. Go to the following link to know more! A day ticket is €1.6, and 7 day ticket is €8.2!
-Tip to eat lunch for slightly cheaper
Get the plat du jour
Many restaurants have a dish of the day which would be a little cheaper than ordering off the menu.
-Place Jourdan has great options to eat.
Check out the following link to see the latest events in Brussels. It will list any flea markets, or music events that will be happening in town which a tourist would otherwise not know of.
Hope you liked my suggestions for Brussels! Let me know your thoughts in the comments!