Weekend in Belgium
One dreary evening in February, my friends and I decided to spontaneously take a weekend break to the land of beer, waffles, fries, and chocolate. I instantly fell in love with how surreal Brussels felt and how indescribable Belgium would be, with its winding and twisting roads and alleyways, multilingual and multicultural overall confusion, and laid-back people. Take a look at some of the hot spots in Brussels and Bruges that led me to put this country in my Favorites list after only one weekend.
As soon as I stepped onto the Grand Place (or Grote Markt), with its massive air of grandeur, the guildhalls detailed in gold, the heaviness of these architectural beauties boxing you in, my breath was completely taken away. Little did I know that we would spend our after-hours one night underneath Le Cygne, where Karl Marx used to spend his days, and that it would become one of our most cherished memories of the year.
How to get there: We flew to Brussels with Brussels Air, and since we chose an off-peak weekend our roundtrip tickets only cost 70 euros! Brussels has become one of Europe’s cheapest flight destinations recently, so I would definitely recommend taking advantage of cheap offers (our flight was not even the super cheap 6am flight either!).
Once we arrived, we easily took the Line 12 Bus directly from the Airport on a quick 30-minute ride to the center of the city, at the Brussels-Luxembourg Railway Station. You will find that Brussels is extremely well communicated, from buses, to the underground system, to trains.
Where we slept: A hostel right in the heart of the Grand Place literally called the Hostel Grand Place. Us being a bunch of broke students, we did not mind the burnt/torn sheets or the weird check-in process. The only problem we did have was with the hostel manager himself on a Saturday night as we were getting ready go head out, he said that we were being too loud for playing music and talking at 9pm on a Saturday, and threatened us by telling us he had our credit card information and could leave us broke and homeless that same night if he pleased. Regardless, we wrote a very strongly worded TripAdvisor review (I’m sure that you can tell from our form of retaliation that we were not being by any means overly rowdy or crazy that night). Needless to say, if it hadn’t been for that one incident, I still would recommend any hostel similar to this one, since it is quiet economical, convenient, and great for holding large groups of people.
Quick Hijacked Tour of Brussels
Being the unorganized bunch that we are, we didn’t plan a lengthy itinerary of things we were going to do by the hour. However, we found that if you go to the Grand Place in the mornings, you will find that many tour groups start their tours in this iconic location, and that many are free! So, we tagged along a tour group and learned a lot about the history and culture of the unofficial European Capital.
As we left the Grand Place, we rubbed the Everard t’Serclaes statue for good luck, and went to visit the Manneken Pis, a statue that I like to think of as the Mona Lisa of Brussels, since they are both much smaller than expected and practically impossible to see during an overcrowded tourist stampede.
Then, we moved onwards to the southeastern neighbourhood of Sablon/Zavel (pictured under the title), where you will find all the big Belgian chocolatiers temptingly located in the same square in the heart of this beautiful neighbourhood. We also entered the beautiful Église Notre-Dame du Sablon, a 13th Century Church that divides the two squares: Grand Sablon and Petit Sablon. We also walked around the neighboring district of Marolles, which we recommend taking a stroll in, with its bohemian air and quirky antique shops.
From there, we moved on up to the Quartier Royal, where the Royal Palace and Brussel’s main museums are located. The Royal Palace, which can be visited for free from July to September. We took a stroll down the serene Royal Park, right on front of the palace. Unless you want to dedicate your entire weekend to museums – which you most certainly could – you have to choose one or two of the museums from the large lineup on this royal street. There is the Musée Magritte, dedicated to the witty Belgian surrealist, the Musée Fin de Siècle for modern art, the Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique for classic Belgian artists and traditional Belgian works of art, which is the one we went to, amongst many other smaller museums for musical instruments, archeology, film, and many more.
We then moved on to the European Quarter of the city on a quick metro ride. This part of town was completely different from what we had been used to for the whole day. With its clean-cut official buildings and large installations, even the metro station that was under renovations looked massive. We visited the Parc du Cinquantenaire/Jubelpark, with its iconic Arc, was an awe-inspiring sight, and we hit it right when the sun was setting, and you could see the lilac and blue merging above you and set a new light on the entire neighborhood.
Upon returning to the center of the city, we somehow split up and got lost, and my faction of the group ended up wandering further (we think) to the north from the Brouckère, a newly pedestrian area with a huge movie theater, while the other half enjoyed themselves looking at Smurfs at the MOOF Museum near the Central Train Station.
We decided to end a day of tourism with a visit to the Atomium, Brussels’ famous building from is 1958 Expo that is still a popular tourist attraction today. We took public transportation to get there and watched the sunset reflect over the really impressive structure. Although we arrived moments after the Atomium had closed (6 p.m.), we still think the visit was worth the trip and just looking at the structure itself is reason enough to go.
Food and drink are extremely important to the Belgian people, so, of course, in order to be respectful tourists, we had to eat and drink a lot, and very well, only to be respectful, of course. Here is a list of all the food and drink we would definitely recommend for your cheat weekend in Brussels:
Where and What We Ate:
- Lots of Gofres and Frites: French for waffles and fries, these street-food delicacies can be found anywhere in the center! Pack your breakfast/dessert waffles with nutella, strawberries, banana…or your frites with the traditional mayo, or curry, or spicy ketchup…there are so many options! Our group favorite Frite spot is the one in the La Chapelle square, between the Sablon and Marolles neighborhoods.
- Chocolate: Our primary source of all things chocolatey was in the city of Bruges, which is talked about below, but we did check out some choco-shops in Brussels. Beware when shopping for chocolate near the Grand Place/Sablon areas, for the prices could be too high to bear!
- Cuban Food: Well, because, why not! We found La Cantina Cubana on Rue des Grands Carmes and loved it! If you somehow manage to get tired of fries and beer (how though?), and feel like having some good ol’ ropa vieja, we recommend this happy restaurant with great staff.
- Vietnamese Food: Again, we really went out for the international experience here, probably because we live in a middle of nowhere town with the most exciting culinary being a kebab place that has already given two people food poisoning, just a guess though. We went to Le Lotus Bleu on Zuidstraat 70 and also recommend it if you’re in the mood for Vietnamese!
Mitraillettes: Translating to ‘machine guns’, these sandwiches will most likely be the death of you (like seriously, three of us had to go puke somewhere). So take it from us and don’t attempt to eat one on your own! If you do share, it will be glorious; a sandwich with your pick of meat and veg, covered in french fries and topped with your favorite sauce! These can be found pretty much at any frite or kebab store in crowded squares that we passed by.
- Traditional Rustic Food: The vague description here is due to the fact that we were in Bruges, tired, hungry, and our original traditional Flemish restaurant was closed (lesson to learn from our mistakes: most Belgian restaurants are closed on Sunday!). So, we ran to the first place that would serve us food, and it was this hidden, family-oriented, local restaurant serving rustic food, much from its own backyard. It was incredible, but we had to run back to the train and forgot to get the info. We are so sorry amazing homey restaurant, you were delicious! If you leave the center far enough, you will surely find gems like these that will serve you amazing traditional cuisine, along with regular-people prices!
Where and What We Drank:
- There will only be one bullet point in this section: Beer! We went almost immediately to one of the most popular beer places for tourists: the Delirium Café. This café has over 2000 different kinds of beer, and is buzzing with noise. It was impossible for us to get our own table, so like many others, we shared a spot on the round beer-soaked tables with a few strangers. At least in our experience, it was completely normal and expected to pick up conversation with people you would share a table with, and we even went partying out with a group of international people temporarily working in Brussels.Belgian people are very proud of their variety and quality of beer, and there’s almost an infinite amount of brands and kinds available, so don’t try the same beer twice! Personally, some of our favorites on this trip were: Leffe, Rasputin, Chimay, Duvel, and Hoegaarden.
Although we did spend most of our weekend in Brussels, we decided to take advantage of our stay in Belgium and have a little adventure in the iconic city of Bruges, located in the north of Belgium. After watching the film In Bruges, I really did not know what to expect from this city since it was mocked so much for being extremely boring, but also being depicted as the ultimate tourist destination, with beautiful canals, quaint houses, and romantic bridges.
Bruges was breathtakingly beautiful and the movie’s cinematography did do it justice. Even as we left the old part of the town and entered a more residential area, we still found beautiful canals, picturesque houses and bridges, all almost too-perfectly well-kept to keep up with the town’s image. On the other hand, it was extremely touristy; the chocolates were a fortune, and there were the same kinds of stores nearly everywhere, but Bruges is still definitely worth a visit, even if it’s just a day trip.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed my Fisheye journey through this beautiful and exciting country!
From left to right: Main square in Bruges, Friend having a macaroon in Bruges, Friends chilling by a small square in Bruges, Enjoying the sunset by a contemporary fountain in the outskirts of Bruges