It’s true that blue skies are rare in Belgium, and this is part of the reason that long, sunny, summer days are so appreciated by locals. The colors of the country are grey and green for most of the year, but we enjoyed being cool and comfortable as we explored parks, lush gardens, and tree-lined city streets with charming architecture around every corner.
We had the pleasure of staying with family for our week in Belgium. Bryan’s aunt and uncle live on a beautiful street in southeast Brussels, and provided two weary travelers with a warm welcome. Most of our evenings were spent enjoying the fabulous food from Aunt Meredith’s kitchen, around a big table, with good wine and great company.
Brussels is a dynamic city in terms of people, cultures and languages. The Belgian capital is a melting point for French and Flemish speaking cultures, and on top of that, the city is enriched by foreign cultural influences. Quite literally, you can get confused in three different languages, maybe more, but everyone speaks English… but of course.
Being such a prominent city, and the main access point to the rest of Belgium by rail, Brussels is also a tourist hot-spot, especially in the Summer! The areas around Grand Place are bustling and you may not even see the tiny, Manneken Pis sculpture over the crowd of tourists fighting for a picture. If you prefer to miss the crowds, and don’t mind grey skies and the constant chance of rain, I recommend avoiding the Summer months. If you want to see Brussels come alive, and experience busy squares filled with happy Belgians basking in the sun, come enjoy the Summer!
We spent our days exploring by foot, by rail, and occasionally by car. It’s easy to get around in Brussels, and their outstanding rail system makes it easy to adventure outside of the city, visiting towns like Ghent, Antwerp, Bruges and Leuven.
Brussels is a big city providing much to see and even more to do! Here are our favorite experiences from our week of exploring….
Stroll through the city. Strolling through Brussels is a beautiful way to explore the city. Pick a park to journey through, like Parc de Bruxelles or Parc Egmont. Stroll through Grand Place, and maybe stop for a beer and people watch in this most popular city spot. Find a local street market, grab a waffle and shop for hidden treasures.
One of my favorite places to stroll is through the neighborhood streets of southeast Brussels. Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles are apparent throughout the city, which also incorporates unique art, creating a distinctively charming atmosphere.
Train to Bruges. Want to step into a postcard? This picturesque, medieval town is straight out of a fairytale. Every now and then I felt it was too picturesque to be real – like I was strolling through the Magic Kingdom. The streets are flooded with tourists in the Summer, but it’s also easy to wander your way down charming, cobblestone alleyways to find nice spots to avoid the crowds.
Bruges is only 1 hour from Brussels by train, making it a perfect day trip. If you are planning a visit and want our tips on how to spend your time, check out our day trip to Bruges post.
Train to Leuven. Take the train back in time to (Belgian) college life, with your host… the cobblestone streets and vibrant squares of Leuven. The streets are filled with students on bikes, and large, sunny squares filled with vibrant crowds enjoying a beer-hall atmosphere all week long. Is this what your college experience was like? Bryan had the pleasure of going to school here, and I enjoyed following him and his old college friend around some of their old stomping grounds.
Leuven is only a 20 minute train ride from Brussels, so it’s a shame if you miss this gem. You won’t find the tourist crowds that flock to Bruges, making it a nice and easy day of relaxing over good beer in an incredible atmosphere. If you want a better feel for this charming, picturesque town, follow us on a walk through Leuven here.
Eat Moules and Frites. There are many different styles, from a tomato broth to (my favorite) garlic and lemon. Helping yourself to a pot of moules and a side of frites is a must. There are numerous options around Grand Place, but the best moules we had were home-cooked. I recommend befriending a Belgian grandmother, if you haven’t already, to show you how it’s done.
Dine on top of the Museum of Musical Instruments. This beautiful building is famous for it’s large display of instruments – there are over 8,000! Even if you’re not interested in browsing the museum, take the (free) elevator to the cafe at the top for a great meal with phenomenal views!
Indulge in one of the many chocolate shops. Brussels is a place that smells sweet on every street. All you have to do is take a deep breath for a hint of dark chocolate… making it impossible to avoid indulging. Brussels is known as the Chocolate Capital of the World, and there are more than a few places that help it earn that title. Stop at Leonidas for their famous white chocolate, hop over to Galler just off Rue au Beurre for a local experience in the world of dark chocolate. You can even find chocolate factories that offer tastings!
Visit the Folon Museum. I’ve saved the best for last! This hidden gem is well off the beaten path – 20 minutes south of Brussels (by car) you will find The Folon Foundation, a renovated farmhouse in the Castle of La Hulpe. The grounds surrounding the castle are beautiful, with lush gardens and ponds creating a backdrop for Folon’s famous statues scattered throughout. The grounds are an enchanting place to host an event, or to simply enjoy the day with a picnic or lunch at the café.
Jean-Michael Folon was a Belgian painter, sculpture and illustrator, who has a simple, whimsical style and effortless flow. The museum itself was on of the most impressive I have seen! The entrance has a magical twist, and from there the journey of creativity continues with surprises around every corner. Each new room provided a unique experience to showcase Folon’s delightful works, using video, lighting, mirrors, mechanics and other special effects to set the tone of each gallery. I was thoroughly blown away!
Brussels is an incredible city, and has a prime location with easy access the rest of Belgium. Visiting in the Summer, when the city comes to life, is an especially delightful experience!