Start your day in the Grote Markt, Brussel’s picturesque main square. Like many European cities, this is a popular hub for tourists and locals a like to catch up, have a drink, or marvel at the stunning architecture. Luckily, the square is relatively empty at breakfast, so we suggest grabbing an outdoor seat at one of its many cafes and enjoying a cappuccino and a signature Belgian waffle while taking in the sights. Don’t forget to look up! The top of many of Brussels’ buildings are adorned with golden statues and intricate details that are easy to miss.
As tourists pile in, make you way northeast, past the fountain of Charles Buls and through Les Galeries Royales. This regal shopping boulevard is completely covered due to the unpredictable Belgian weather. Everything from luxury watches to succulent chocolate can be found in this indoor-outdoor shopping mall. Desserts aside, Brussels is known as a hub for European comic art. As you walk through the city, be on the lookout for street art featuring characters from the Smurfs, Asterix, and Tintin. For the young and the young at heart, the Comic Strip Museum is a must-see. The museum does an excellent job showing the creative process that allows these characters to come to life. Admission is reasonable and the gift shop has plenty of charming and quirky merchandise to bring home to family and friends.
After your visit, head towards the main train station (Brussels Central) and hop on a metro to Bruparck. This urban park is home to a variety of attractions but we recommend MiniEurope and the Atomium. MiniEurope features scale models of European landmarks. Brussels’ cosmopolitan makeup is partly due to the fact that it is the birthplace of the European Union. This miniature park celebrates the city’s heritage. Everything from Big Ben to the Eiffel Tower to the Colosseum is faithfully recreated. Expect to spend no more than an hour here, then make your way to the Atomium. Originally built for a World’s Fair, this structure stands out in the Brussels skyline, and seems to be straight out of a Jules Verne novel. The museum inside is devoted to scientific progress and has a myriad of hands-on exhibits. What really seals the deal here are the views you get from its observatory, where (provided it’s a nice day), one an enjoy a panoramic view of Brussels and the surrounding area. The Atomium often has long lines for tickets, so we recommend purchasing the combo ticket at MiniEurope, which is valid for both attractions.
Once you finish an afternoon at Bruparck, head back to Brussels Central and go back to the Grote Markt. Just a few blocks south of here lies the famous Mannekin Pis. Arguably Brussels’ most recognizable tourist attraction, the statue of the urinating boy is worth checking out. The rest of the evening can easily be spent walking around the old town, composed of the Grote Markt and its surrounding area. The Old Town Hall and the Musical Instrument Museum are both great ways to spend your evening. There are plenty of amazing restaurants in Brussels, but if you’re up for Ethiopian food, Kokob is tremendous. You are fed well despite its modest prices and the coffee is spectacular.
Despite being the capital of Belgium, Brussels is a compact city that can easily be explored in a day. Whether you’re a student studying abroad planning on taking a day trip or a family that doesn’t have too much time to spare, the city’s highlights are worth checking out.