Welcome to the heart of the European Union! But Brussels is so much more than a city of politics and administration. It is a place of exquisite culture, long history, incredible diversity and modern art. All your senses will enjoy a trip to this place, even if you’re only planning to stay one day in Brussels. The smells, the sounds, the tastes… all so profound, but never too overpowering. Just right. So, put on your walking shoes and prepare to immerse yourself into an absolutely mesmerising city.
What to do in Brussels in one day
1. What’s the best time to visit Brussels?
2. A few facts about Brussels
3. One Day in Brussels Itinerary
3.1. Grand Place
3.2. Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
3.5. Brussels nightlife
4. Free Things To Do in Brussels
4.1. Comic book murals
4.2. Visit free music festivals
4.3. Check out some of the free museums
5. Where to stay in Brussels?
6. Day trips from Brussels
7. Extra tips for visiting Brussels
Although there are various events, festivals and things to see in the city throughout the year, summer is definitely the best time to visit Brussels, especially if you’re a music fan. Not only are the music festivals in full swing, but the temperatures are usually quite bearable, even in July and August. July 21 is Belgian National Day, which means you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy parades and various celebrations. It can get pretty rainy however, no matter when you’re dropping by, so keep that in mind when packing your bags.
Brussels is EU’s capital. Because of that, most of the major institutions of the Union are located here: European Council, European Parliament and European Commission all operate from this city. But Brussels’ political significance goes even beyond that, since the city is also home to NATO headquarters. Because of that, you will find people from pretty much all over the world here – more than one quarter of the population are non-Belgians. Allegedly, French fries were also invented here, although France denies that feverishly. The two countries still fight over that to this very day.
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Brussels.
So, what is there to do in Brussels, Belgium? Quite a lot, actually. You can start your day from Grand Place, one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. Incredible baroque architecture is something to behold, but if you happen to come when a huge flower carpet is set up, you’ll be absolutely flabbergasted. The city hall’s tower is also quite impressive, and when you finish taking everything in, head down Rue Charles Buls and in about five minutes you’ll come across Manneken Pis, probably the most important of the places to visit in Brussels.
If you want to do some really spectacular shopping, head back to the square and then to its other side. Slightly northeast of Grand Place is Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, an incredible shopping hub, the very first covered shopping arcade on the continent. Now, there loads of luxury stores here, cafes and even theatres, so you can simply grab a coffee and do some people watching if you don’t want to shop. The building was recently renovated, which makes the whole experience even more magical.
After checking out the city centre and maybe grabbing some snacks along the way (trying their chocolate is one of the most important things to do in Belgium!), it’s time for a trip across town. True, Atomium is not that close, but you can get there by car, metro or bus, so there really shouldn’t be any problems. And you absolutely must come here because this is one of the city’s landmarks – it represents an iron crystal which has been magnified 165 billion times. Enter it, walk the corridors, check out the exhibitions there and enjoy an incredible view of the city. To save up some time you can get the ticket here, or even better, take the whole walking tour through Brussels and visit Atomium as a final stop.
Right next to the Atomium, you will notice a park of some kind. Mini-Europe is another one of things to see in Brussels because it offers you a chance to see all attractions of the whole continent at one place. Explore the intricate details of Big Ben or simply make a few steps and check out the Acropolis, all scaled down to 1/25 of their original size. The place is also interactive, so it’s a great destination if you have kids along, as they can learn much. Skip the line by getting your ticket here.
If you don’t have kids, on the other hand, you’re going to want to paint the town red when the day is over. While this place is not as big as some other cities, Brussels is definitely among the best cities to visit in Belgium. Brussels nightlife is one of the reasons for that, and clubs are scattered all over the city, from places like You Night Club to Red Line. The red-light district is in the northern part of town, if that’s the kind of thing you like, but apart from that there are plenty of bars – drinking outside on weekdays is very much a thing here, so don’t be surprised if you find a party in full swing on a traffic island or something.
If you don’t want to spend much when you visit Brussels, don’t worry – there are plenty of interesting and free things to do here. You certainly won’t get bored during your stay. Here are some of the most popular ideas.
Comic books have a very important place in Belgian culture. The Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Tintin and many others were created here. Throughout the city, you will encounter murals dedicated to them, and if you want to take a comprehensive tour you can get a map showing the location of all murals for just one euro. If you’re a comic book fan, this may very well be the one of the best things to do in Belgium for you.
Among the coolest free things to do in Brussels is definitely a visit to one of the city’s music festivals. You can come across them from June well into October, and the performers are usually located all over the town. Therefore, the chances are that you’ll stumble across a concert when you least expect it. The festivals are dedicated to all kinds of music, from jazz to classical, so all tastes should be well covered.
Because of the city’s historic and cultural background, visiting museums is definitely one of the best things to do in Brussels. It’s a good thing then that the entrance to many of them is completely free of charge. Some of them are free every first Wednesday of the month, some every first Saturday or Sunday of the month, which is also something to consider. All in all, though, you should be able to learn plenty about this city’s history without having to spend a cent.
Hotel Agora Brussels Grand Place
Rue des Eperonniers 3, 1000 Brussels
If you’re staying more than one day in Brussels, you will obviously need a place to stay. Hotel Agora Brussels Grand Place offers incredible value for your money and is definitely one of the best choices. Not only is it located at the very centre of the city, but it also offers accommodation in a building from the end of the 17th century! With modern rooms in a historic building, you will definitely enjoy your every second here.
Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo
Rue de l’Amigo 1-3, 1000 Brussels
To make your visit to Brussels a luxurious and memorable one, check into Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo. Just like the previous hotel on our list, it boasts excellent location in the city centre. Beautiful, bright and spacious rooms are equipped with designer features, and you can enjoy some excellent food in the hotel’s award-winning restaurant. If you’re looking for a classy place to stay, this is most certainly it.
Rue Artan 116, Schaarbeek / Schaerbeek, 1030 Brussels
Provided that you don’t mind the fact that FunKey Hotel is a bit away from the city centre (but not too much) and that you’re traveling on a budget, this is a truly excellent choice. The hotel has a pretty garden out front, provides free WiFi and each of the spacious rooms has its own bathroom. Buffet is there for you to enjoy for breakfast, and vegetarians are taken care of, too. Ideal for young travellers.
2GO4 Quality Hostel Grand Place
6 Rue des Harengs, 1000 Brussels
But young tourists don’t have to sacrifice the location, either. They can just check into 2GO4 Quality Hostel Grand Palace and they will be located on the main square itself. It is worth pointing out that every single room here has its own bathroom, plus you will have access to a shared kitchen and can get a free hot drink from them all day long. Because of the location, you are close to all the things you need to do or see in downtown Brussels.
Day trips from Brussels
Belgium is not a very big country, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to see. Quite the contrary – many will argue that you absolutely must make at least one of the possible day trips from Brussels because of its charming surroundings. The city is actually one of the best places to visit in Belgium, but here are a few suggestions on where to go if you have the time.
This high-speed train connects Belgium with a couple of other countries (namely, the UK and the Netherlands), so it is a great and efficient way to travel if you’re going for a longer day trip. Obviously, just as you can take Eurostar to Brussels, you can also take it to cities like Amsterdam and London. Do keep in mind, though, that there is only one Brussels Eurostar station, and that is Midi, located southwest from the city centre.
You will find Ghent atop of any list of day trips from Brussels primarily because of its beautiful medieval architecture. Indeed, the city’s buildings are something truly worth seeing, but there are many other forms of culture to explore, too. Music, theatre and paintings (you definitely want to see the Ghent Altarpiece and the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) all coarse through the city’s veins. And if you just want to relax, hop on a Ghent canal cruise and enjoy the scenery around you.
Bruges is equally popular as Ghent when it comes to Brussels day trips. Many compare it to Venice, because of the beautiful architecture and the fact that it is surrounded by a canal. What is really interesting about this city is that it has a whole lot of spaces dedicated solely to pedestrians, so you will be able walk around as much as you like. Naturally, canal cruises are available here too, but you would do well to try some excellent Belgian chocolate while here – it’s simply amazing.
Now here’s a really interesting trip for you. About two hours southeast from Brussels lies the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, one of the smallest countries in the world. But don’t think that because of its size it has nothing to show you. Quite the contrary – here too will you have the opportunity to marvel at some amazing architecture, but Luxembourg is also very green and perfect for relaxation. Modern art is also very present in this place, so go ahead and visit the museums if you have the time. It will be well worth it.
Why not? If you have the time, make a Paris-to-Brussels day trip. The journey by train lasts only an hour and a half or so, so why not hop on over to get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, walk down the Champs Élysées or visit some of the famous museums and other attractions the city offers? Paris really needs no special introduction. Just don’t make the mistake of heading to the Brussels Eurostar station, as this high-speed train does not connect the two cities.
– If you want a local to show you around, book yourself a tour with a Brussels Greeter! These are volunteers who will take you on a stroll through the city and show you its hidden corners you would otherwise miss. The whole thing is completely free, and the Greeters speak several languages, so just make your choice.
– When you sit down for a beer or a cup of coffee, look for a magazine called Agenda. It contains everything that’s going on in the city each week and is in multiple languages (English, French, Dutch). So, if you don’t know where to go next, this will give you an idea.
– There are many attractions that offer discounts for students if they have their ISIC card with them. Simply show your card and you’ll get a better deal!
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).