Belgium’s capital is not just about beer, waffles and chocolate. But that’s not a bad start.
By spending just one day in Brussels you will be able to soak up its UNESCO-listed architecture and the vitality for which this cosmopolitan city is famous. Make every minute count with this 1-day Brussels itinerary which includes the very best things to do in the so-called capital of Europe.
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How to Visit Brussels in 24 Hours
Brussels is an easy city to explore.
Its main attractions are scattered across a relatively small area and are clearly signposted. Chances are you will stumble across Brussel’s highlights purely by accident.
But isn’t it better that you have a cunning plan up your sleeve to ensure that you don’t miss out on the best of Brussels?
Whether you are visiting Brussels on a day trip or staying overnight, this itinerary will give you the jump start that you need. Simply tweak this guide according to your interests and available time.
There is also practical information, including where to stay and eat. And if you have two days in Brussels (or longer) I have added some further suggestions for things to see.
Top 5 Things to Do in Brussels in One Day
A Perfect 1-Day Brussels Itinerary
Brussels in a day: Map
To help you on your way, I have custom-made a map of the route that this Brussels itinerary follows. From start to finish it covers a distance of fewer than three miles and includes stops for you to sample some of the food and drink for which this city is known.
Think of this as a free Brussels self-guided walking tour. For an interactive map with directions, simply click here or on the image itself.
BREAKFAST AT CHARLI
Start your day in Brussels with a tasty breakfast at Charli. This excellent bakery has a few seats to linger over your brioche and coffee and is very cheap.
Address: Rue Sainte-Catherine 34
Whilst you are in the neighbourhood, visit Place St. Catherine. Named after the hulking Church of Ste-Catherine, this is at the heart of one of Brussel’s most fashionable districts.
Begin your Brussels sightseeing tour with the city’s mascot. But manage your expectations.
The name tells you much of what you need to know.
Protected by a wrought-iron fence, this is a teeny weeny statue of a pissing urchin in a sort of shrine. Many origin tales and myths swirl around this little fella, but the most popular one posits that he was cast in the 17th Century to embody the irreverent spirit of the city.
Address: Rue de l’Etuve 31
Did you know that you can also visit Jeanneke Pis, Manneken’s more modern but equally playful sister? She hangs out on Imp. de la Fidélité.
THE GRAND PLACE
This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of Europe’s most magnificent squares. The Grand Place was the hub of commercial life in the emerging city from the 12th Century and became Brussels’ civil and political centre from the 15th Century.
But what are those magnificent buildings lining the Grand Place?
With its 96m spire rising above the Grand Place like an exclamation mark, the Hôtel de Ville dominates the square. Much of the north side of the Grand Place is occupied by the 19th Century Maison de Roi.
The west side of the plaza is home to the city’s gable-roofed guildhouses. On the eastern side of the Grand Place, the existing guildhouses have been subsumed into one façade.
BELGIAN WAFFLES AT AUX GAUFRES DE BRUXELLES
Are you ready for the best waffle of your life? Then grab a pavement table at Aux Gaufres De Bruxelles.
I can recommend the Belgian waffle with strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate.
Address: Rue Marché aux Herbes 113
What about the Bourse?
La Bourse (Brussels Stock Exchange) pops up frequently on lists of things to see in Brussels. But don’t make a special visit to see it in 2022.
As it has been undergoing renovation since 2020, it is currently hidden under scaffolding. It is scheduled to reopen in 2023 as a museum of Belgian beer.
MONT DES ARTS
Mont des Arts links the Lower Town and Upper Town of Brussels.
Literally meaning Hill of the Arts after a planned art museum that was never built, an imposing equestrian statue of King Albert I graces its lower end. From here, a landscaped garden and stone staircase lead to a terrace in the Upper Town.
Linger here for a few minutes to take in the views.
CATHEDRAL OF ST. MICHAEL AND ST. GUDULA
Known simply as St. Gudula by locals, this magnificent Gothic cathedral is dedicated jointly to St. Michael the Archangel and St. Gudula. Begun in 1215, this place of worship was 300 years in the making.
It’s safe to say that it is more striking on the outside than on the inside. However, it is worth venturing inside to take a peek at the wonderful stained glass windows and its elaborate carved oak pulpit. This depicts Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden as the Virgin Mary and some cherubs helpfully stamp on the head of a serpent dragon.
Why not take a more scenic route to the Palais Royal, the next stop in this Brussels itinerary? Veer away from the busy main road and walk through Parc de Bruxelles.
Whilst this may not be the prettiest park that you will ever visit, its tree-shaded footpaths will be welcome on a hot day in Brussels.
ROYAL PALACE OF BRUSSELS
The large but uninspiring Royal Palace is the official residence of the Belgian royal family. At its core, the Palais Royal is a clumsy conversion of 18th Century townhouses.
If you are visiting Brussels between July and September, you will be able to see inside the palace. If you are not in town during these months, by all accounts you are not missing much.
Concealed beneath the 18th Century Hôtel Bellevue are the remains of the Coudenberg Palace.
Staring life as a fortified castle in the middle ages, it kept a careful watch over Brussels from Coudenberg hill. Over a 600-year period it was transformed into one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe.
After a devastating fire in 173, it lay forgotten underground. The charred ruins of the palace were pulled down and the ground levelled for the construction of the new royal district.
Today, the remains of the Palais du Coudenberg have been extensively excavated and can be reached from the Musée BELvue.
PLACE DU PETIT SABLON
The small but perfectly formed Place du Petit Sablon is a delightful refuge from the busy city. Formerly a horse market, it was laid out as a public garden in 1890.
Take a closer look at the wrought-iron balustrade surrounding the garden. This is embellished with 48 bronze statuettes that represent the medieval guilds.
At the rear of the park, there are ten statues, illustrating life in 16th Century Belgium through its scholars and humanists (most of these will not be familiar to most people).
CHURCH OF THE BLESSED LADY OF SABLON
Also known as the Church of Our Lady of Victories at the Sablon or Notre Dame du Sablon, this 15th Century church began life as a chapel for the guild of archers in 1304. However, its fortunes changed for the better in 1348 when a statue of Mary, said to possess healing powers, was brought from Antwerp. This humble chapel became a pilgrimage centre and was transformed into a proper church to accommodate its visitors.
And that statue of Mary? The Protestants chopped it up for firewood in 1565 but two carvings of a boat with passengers and its sacred cargo tell its story.
ROYAL GALLERY OF SAINT HUBERT (GALERIES ROYALES SAINT-HUBERT)
I’m not a big shopaholic but not even I would skip the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert.
Featuring magnificent glass-vaulted galleries – du Rio, de la Reine and des Princes – this has to be one of Europe’s finest indoor shopping arcades. Dating from 1847, it is certainly one of the first.
It’s a lovely place to stop for a coffee or a Belgian beer.
DINNER ON RUE DES BOUCHERS
But perhaps it’s time for something a little more substantial? If that’s the case, then you are in luck.
Rues de Bouchers, which slices the Hubert Galleries in two, is Brussels’ best-known restaurant ghetto. The touristy restaurants are a little hit-and-miss but I had a very good meal at Aux Armes de Bruxelles, which had been recommended by my hotel.
If You Have Two Days in Brussels
Here are a few suggestions for places to visit in Brussels if you are there for two days or longer.
Belgium is a chocoholic’s dream destination and Brussels is the birthplace of this long tradition. Visit Choco-Story to learn more about the cultivation, production and marketing of chocolate.
I visited Choco-Story as part of a mission to discover the best chocolate in Bruges and loved the interactive experience, not to mention the free samples.
Address: Rue de l’Etuve 41
>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKET
This small museum close to the Grand Place celebrates the life and times of the famous gravelly-voiced Belgian singer Jacques Brel.
On the recommendation of travellers I met when visiting Ghent, I rented the museum’s excellent Jacques Brel walking tour.
Address: Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés 11
VICTOR HORTA MUSEUM
Brussels is famous for its Art Nouveau architecture. This museum is housed in the former residence and studio of Victor Horta, one of the movement’s leading lights. Reservations are required.
Address: Rue Américaine 27
MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS MUSEUM
Belgium’s Musical Instruments Museum is partly housed in another of Brussels’ landmark Art Nouveau buildings. Over a thousand historical and modern musical instruments are displayed in four galleries, making it one of the largest collections of its kind in the world.
Address: Rue Montagne de la Cour 2
COMICS ART MUSEUM BRUSSELS (BELGIAN COMIC STRIP CENTER)
The Belgians love their comics and some of the finest examples of this art form are on display in the Comics Art Museum, housed in another Art Nouveau building designed by Victor Horta.
Address: Rue des Sables 20
COMIC STRIP WALK
Brussels has street art with a theme. Since the early 90s, characters and authors of the Franco-Belgian comics have decorated walls in the city centre and Laeken district.
Get your comic strip walk map here.
OLD MASTERS MUSEUM
If your artistic tastes veer more towards the traditional, spend a few hours exploring the works of Flemish artists at the Old Masters Museum.
Address: Rue de la Régence 3
This was one of the places that I wanted to visit in Brussels but I ran out of time. It is located in Magritte’s former home and is reportedly a Surrealist extravaganza.
Address: Pl. Royale 1
>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKET
This famous Brussels landmark, located in the northern part of the city, represents a molecule blown up 165 million times. The Atomium was built for the World Fair in 1958 and although it never became the symbol of the city as intended, it is reportedly an enjoyable excursion.
Address: Pl. de l’Atomium 1
>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKET
This Brussels attraction is just the ticket for any ardent Brexiteers out there. Not.
Located at the foot of the Atomium, Mini-Europe displays reproductions of monuments from around 80 European cities.
Address: Av. du Football 1
>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKET
Plan Your Day in Brussels
When is the best time to visit Brussels?
The best time to visit Brussels is between March and May, and in September and October. Accommodation will be cheaper and there is less chance of rain.
Visit Brussels in summer and you can look forward to warmer days and nights and more festivals. But you can also expect a lot more visitors.
Although winter in Belgium can be grey and dreary, the twinkling lights and mulled wine of Brussels’ Christmas markets will lift your spirits.
How to Get to Brussels
Brussels not only has an international airport, but it is also a terminus for Eurostar trains from London. This means that Brussels is an excellent day trip from London.
Thanks to its excellent train connections, Brussels is hard to beat as a base for a Belgium vacation.
Getting to Brussels by train
If it is your first time in Brussels, its train stations can be confusing.
Brussels Midi / Brussels Sud / Zuidstation
This gloomy station in a gloomy part of town is the main international hub, including that for Eurostar trains. To be avoided whenever possible.
Brussels Centrale / Gare Central / Brussel Centraal
As its name suggests, this is the most central of the city’s stations. This is not a place where you would like to linger but it is convenient.
Brussels Nord / Gare du Nord / Noordstation
Although many trains will pass through here, it’s unlikely that you will use this station as a departure point.
Getting to Brussels by air
Most flights to Belgium’s capital land at Brussels International airport, 14 km northeast of the city centre. From here, regular trains run to the city’s three main railway stations.
Budget airlines may land at Brussels-Charleroi airport, located 50 km south of the city centre. From here, there is a shuttle bus service to the city centre.
How to get around Brussels
If you stick with this Brussels itinerary, you shouldn’t need to use public transport. Many of its main attractions are scattered over a relatively compact area and are reachable on foot.
However, the user-friendly network of trams, buses and metro lines might be useful if you are staying out of the city centre or if you are visiting attractions further afield.
There is also the inevitable hop-on-hop-off (HOHO) bus service.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR HOHO BUS TICKET
Where to stay in Brussels
Although you can visit Brussels on a day trip, I recommend booking a hotel for at least one night. That way, you can make the most of your day in Brussels and enjoy its bars and restaurants in the evening when the day-trippers have departed.
Here are my recommendations:
I stayed at this elegant boutique hotel in the heart of the city centre. It was a remarkably peaceful refuge, considering its location, with stellar service.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK A ROOM
Here are some other choices of accommodation that may suit other tastes and budgets:
This small 3-star guesthouse close to Brussels City hall has attracted fabulous reviews. Breakfast is included in the room rates.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK A ROOM
Do you fancy a glamping experience on the doorstep of the Grand Place? This could be just the ticket.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR COCOON
None of these places takes your fancy? Click here to find other great accommodation choices in Brussels.
Is Brussels Safe for Solo Travellers?
The priority for female solo travellers is staying safe when travelling alone. Brussels is a relatively small city and its tourist area felt relaxed with locals and visitors enjoying its attractions, bars and restaurants.
There is a but though. As in many cities, petty crime, including pickpocketing, is not unusual and I found Brussels Centrale station to be unpleasant after dark. In recent years, there has also been the threat of terrorist attacks.
As ever, a little bit of common sense goes a long way. Although Brussels has a low crime rate, remain vigilant. Keep your belongings close to you and use your hotel safe to store valuables.
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