If you’re visiting Belgium, it can be tempting to skip Brussels entirely in favour of Bruges and Ghent. But there are so many great things to do when you visit Brussels, that two days is really the shortest amount of time you should spend in the city.
Here’s a packed itinerary for two days in Brussels; keep reading for all the best things to do in Brussels and places to see when you visit the Belgian capital.
This post contains affiliate links – all that means is that if you buy something as a result of clicking on a link in the post, I’ll receive a small commission that helps me with the costs of running this site. Thanks!
Day 1 in Brussels
Visit the Grand Place
You have to begin your visit to Brussels in the very centre, the magnificent Grand Place. The Grand Place is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, so it’s definitely one of the top things to do in Brussels.
The Grand Place has been an important area of Brussels since the city since at least the 12th century, but the oldest building on the Grand Place is the Town Hall, which was built between 1401 and 1455. The other buildings around the square that you can see today were built in the late 1600s by Brussels’ trade guilds (one of them, the Brussels Brewers, is the oldest trade organisation in the world).
Most of the buildings are richly decorated, often with designs which reflect the trade of the guild that built them. The Grand Place was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998.
The square still served as a market until the 1950s, but these days it’s the heart of Brussels’ tourist attractions, which makes it a great place to start your visit to Brussels. There’s a Visit Brussels tourist information office in the town hall, and the restaurants and bars around the square make it a nice place to hang out at any time of day.
See the museums around the Grand Place
There are also several museums dotted around the Grand Place. The Brussels City Museum tells visitors about the city’s turbulent history; from the site of a fort in the 10th century, through control by France, Spain and the Netherlands, to the 20th century and how it emerged from two World Wars to become the “capital of Europe”. The City Museum is housed in the gorgeous Maison du Roi, opposite the Town Hall.
Other museums either on or very close to the Grand Place are the Belgian Brewers Museum, which shows how the legendary Belgian beer is made, the Fashion and Lace Museum, and Choco-Story Brussels, a small museum dedicated to Belgium’s other popular export, chocolate.
Comic Book Route
Next, explore the streets around the Grand Place, taking in at least part of the Comic Book Route. The Comic Book Route is a path which takes you around the central districts of Brussels, and celebrates Brussels’ connection with comics. On the route you can see 50 large murals inspired by comic books, covering the sides of buildings and featuring characters like Tintin and The Smurfs. The closest mural to the Grand Place is on Rue de l’Etuve, a couple of doors down from Choco-Story Brussels and on the way to the Manneken Pis.
If you want to follow the entire Comic Book Route, you can pick up a free guide at the Visit Brussels tourist information centre offices.
Manneken Pis (and friends)
Brussels is a beautiful and grand city, so you’d think it’d have a grand, majestic symbol. Not so. The symbol of Brussels is the Manneken Pis, a 400-year-old small statue of a little boy urinating. To make it even odder, when you visit Brussels you’re very likely to see Manneken Pis wearing some kind of costume. He has an enviable wardrobe of over 1000 costumes ranging from a Spanish dancer, to a football referee, to a full Elvis outfit.
The tradition of dressing him up goes back almost as far as the statue itself; there is a painting from the early 17th century showing him wearing a shepherd’s costume for the annual Ommegang parade. Manneken Pis was given his first official gift of a suit by a visiting dignitary in 1698, a tradition which continues today. Seeing the Manneken Pis is one of the top things to do in Brussels.
Manneken Pis isn’t the only urinating statue in Brussels; in 1987 he was joined by his peeing “sister” Jeanneke Pis. You can see her on Impasse de la Fidélité, on the other side of the Grand Place. A pet dog for them (Het Zinneke, sometimes called Zinneke Pis) was erected on Rue des Chartreux in 1998.
Mont des Arts, Place Royale and the Royal Palace
In this stately part of Brussels, you’ll find more world-class museums like the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, the Magritte Museum, the BELvue Museum, which celebrates the history of Belgium and sits on top of a ruined palace, and the very popular Musical Instruments Museum, which is housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau building.
Brussels is a fantastic city to visit if you enjoy museums, as there’s truly something for every taste. My favourite was the Comic Book Museum, which combines gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture with an interesting look at the history and role of comic books – it does help if you understand a little French though to be able to read the cartoons. The Visit Brussels card includes entry to almost every museum in the city and is a very economical way to see the museums which take your fancy on your trip to Brussels.
If you’re visiting Brussels between 21 July and September, you’ll be able to visit the Royal Palace. This is where the King of Belgium has his official residence and where most of the monarchy’s work is carried out. If you’re lucky enough to be able to go inside, you’ll be able to tour rooms including the Throne Room, the imposing main staircase, and the Mirror Room, which has ceilings covered with over a million Thai jewel beetles.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert and Rue des Bouchers
By now you’ll be ready for something to eat and a sit down, so head back towards the centre, via the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. Brussels has several atmospheric old shopping arcades, but this pair of arcades, one named for the King, another for the Queen, either side of Rue des Bouchers, are the most famous.
The Galeries Royales have a number of high-end shops, including amazing chocolate shops where you can choose from trays of tempting traditional pralines.
Rue des Bouchers is a colourful, narrow street lined with restaurants and bars. It’s a bit touristy, but you’re sure to find something good.
Day 2 in Brussels
If you only have one day in Brussels, then the itinerary for day one above will give you a good taste for the best attractions in Brussels city centre. If you have two days to spend in Brussels, here’s what to add to the one-day itinerary.
On day 2, you’ll leave the historic centre to see some of Brussels’ more modern sights.
First up on your second day in Brussels is visiting the European Parliament and the other things to do in the European Quarter. Brussels is effectively the capital of the European Union, and most of the EU’s departments are based in Brussels. Most of the buildings are off-limits, but you can take self-guided tours of the European Parliament building and see where Members of the European Parliament vote on EU issues.
We were visiting Brussels as the last city on our tour of all the European capital cities, so visiting the EU parliament was high on our list of things to do in Brussels.
Other places to see in the EU Quarter include the Parliamentarium, which tells the story of the European Union project and its impact on citizens’ lives, and the House of European History, which takes visitors back to the days when European countries were more likely to go to war with each other than work together.
All the EU attractions in Brussels are absolutely free; remember your passport to get into the Parliament building.
Parc du Cinquantenaire
The European Quarter is surprisingly green and lovely to spend time in. As well as Parc Leopold, which sits behind the EU Parliament building, the area also has one of Brussels’ most impressive green spaces. Parc du Cinquantenaire was created in 1880 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Belgium’s independence and it’s a popular spot for relaxing on sunny days.
The centrepiece of the park is the triumphal arch; on either side of the arch are museums (yes, more museums!). You can climb a staircase from the Armed Forces Museum to the top of the arch for a fantastic, far-reaching view over the city.
Next, take the Metro to Heysel to visit Brussels’ quirkiest attraction and my favourite place to visit in Brussels, the Atomium. Turning out of the Metro station, you won’t believe your eyes at the amazing structure in front of you. The Atomium was opened in 1958 for the Brussels Worlds Fair and was only intended to last six months, but it was so popular that it was kept after the Fair ended.
The Atomium is made up of nine, shiny stainless steel spheres, connected by 3-metre wide tubes. Its space-age shape is actually the same as a single iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times. Going inside the Atomium costs €15 per person, which might seem a bit expensive looking at the outside, but it’s a must-do in Brussels.
The first part of your visit takes you up in a lift to the highest sphere. Up here you can get a good view over Brussels, and windows all around the sphere mean you can see in every direction. There’s also a restaurant with fantastic views. Next, you’ll take the lift back down; at this point I thought that was the end of the visit and was honestly a bit underwhelmed, but it’s actually only the beginning.
Go up one of the many escalators into the next sphere, and you’ll be greeted with an exhibition about the history of the Atomium and the Worlds Fair. After that we were free to explore; two spheres held a mesmerising music-and-light show (sadly temporary, so it may have been replaced when you visit Brusssels). There was also a further viewpoint where you can get another glimpse of the views over the city.
I absolutely loved my visit to the Atomium; it was one of my favourite things to do in Brussels.
Next door to the Atomium is a Brussels attraction fitting for the “capital of Europe” – Mini Europe. This unique tourist attraction is, as the name suggests, a mini version of all the most famous sights in Europe. Never seen the Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Now you can, at a scale of 1:25.
There are around 80 cities and 350 famous monuments at Mini Europe; every country in the European Union is represented, from Denmark’s Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Greece’s Acropolis in Athens, Portugal’s Belem Tower in Lisbon and even Mount Vesuvius in Italy.
Royal Greenhouses of Laeken
If you’re visiting Brussels in spring, you may be able to take a look at another Royal building, the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken. The beautiful greenhouses are open for only three weeks in April and May, but are well worth a look if their opening coincides with your trip. The greenhouses are around 20 minutes’ walk from the Atomium, through the Osseghem and Domaine Royal de Laeken parks.
Take a brewery tour
By now you’ve seen a lot of historical and cultural sights in Brussels, so you might be looking for something to do to relax. Brewing beer has a long history in Belgium and the Brussels area, so it’s only right to understand it a little better by taking a brewery tour or doing some beer tasting at a brewery tap bar. There are quite a few options for beer-lovers in Brussels; I chose to visit Brussels Beer Project for a flash tour and beer tasting, and it was both interesting and a lot of fun.
There we have it, my suggested itinerary for two days in Brussels. With museums and sights galore, great food and fascinating history, I really enjoyed my city break to Brussels. What do you think you’d enjoy most?
Tips for your visit to Brussels
Why should I visit Brussels?
When I first started planning my trip to Brussels I expected it to be quite dull and corporate, but it was anything but. Even the European Quarter, home of the EU offices was vibrant and interesting.
There are so many museums that you could spend your entire trip visiting them and still only scratch the surface; from trains to dinosaurs, musical instruments to plants, there’s something for everyone.
Brussels is also a really beautiful city. The Grand Place is stunning, particularly when the sunlight hits the golden decoration on the guild halls and makes it seem like the whole square is glowing. I loved the old arcades, the narrow streets and the street art, particularly the murals of the Comic Book Route. The Art Nouveau architecture is a treat for the eyes.
And then there’s the food; if you love eating chips (frites), chocolate and waffles and drinking beer, then there’s no better place than Brussels.
Is it safe to go to Brussels?
Yes. You should take the usual precautions that you’d take in any major city, but in two days of walking around Brussels, using the Metro and the trams I never once felt unsafe.
Getting to Brussels city centre from the airport
Flights to Brussels either land at Brussels Airport (BRU), which is only 7 miles from the city centre and easy to access via public transport, or at Charleroi Airport, 65km south of Brussels.
Brussels Zavantem Airport (BRU) to Brussels city centre
To get to Brussels city centre from Brussels Zaventem Airport to Brussels Central Station, simply take the train. Trains leave the airport’s own station every 10 minutes between 5am and midnight, 7 days a week. The journey takes just 18 minutes and costs €12,70. Brussels Central Station is only a few minutes’ walk to the Grand Place.
Brussels Charleroi Airport (CRL) to Brussels city centre
To get to Brussels city centre from Charleroi Airport, take one of the Flibco transfer coaches. These leave Charleroi around every 30 minutes and take about an hour to get to Bruxelles-Midi railway station to the south of the city centre. Flibco also operate buses from Charleroi Airport to Bruges, Lille and Gent.
The Flibco buses do fill up rapidly, particularly if several flights have landed at the same time. You can buy bus tickets from the kiosk outside the airport arrivals hall, but to maximise your chances of getting on a bus quickly it’s best to buy your ticket online. Tickets are valid for the entire day on the ticket and until 4am the following day, so there’s no need to book a bus ticket for a particular time. You can show your ticket on your phone. Bus tickets from Charleroi Airport to Brussels city centre cost €14,20 for adults, each way (as of March 2019).
Day trips from Brussels
I’d originally planned to spend only one day seeing the sights in Brussels, but there was so much to do I spent my two days in Belgium entirely in Brussels.
If you do have time once you’ve followed this itinerary for two days in Brussels, then the beautiful medieval cities of Bruges or Ghent are both an easy day trip from Brussels by train. There are guided tours, but it’s easy enough to make the journey by yourself and obviously much cheaper.
If you’re a real beer connoisseur, then you might want to take a day trip to Leuven, 30 km east of Brussels. Leuven is famous for its breweries (the brewing giant AB In-Bev, maker of Stella Artois, is based here) and it’s styled itself as Belgium’s beer capital.
As well as being known for its beer, Leuven is also an attractive and lively student town. The train to Leuven from Brussels takes just 23 minutes.