What to do in the cold winter months following Christmas? That was the question as I surfed around trying to find a weekend plan for my birthday in January. There were only two key factors for me: I didn’t want to spend a million dollars and I didn’t want to bring our kids. I was looking for good food, interesting sights that wouldn’t depend on weather (this WAS January after all), and something a bit different than Germany, as we have had many adventures here already. The answer came in a Google Flights suggestion: Brussels, Belgium.
We selected a direct flight leaving Stuttgart EARLY Friday morning (6 a.m.!!!), and packed a carry-on for each of us. We grabbed a taxi from the airport direct to our hotel. This meant no car rental, which was extra savings and less hassle.
Our first stop after settling into the hotel was De Grote Markt – that’s Dutch for Le Grande Place, or Main Square. This pedestrian friendly square is gorgeous, with the City hall and several guild halls encircling a wide open swath that is perfect for selfies and panoramic shots. It’s no wonder this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site! If you have a chance, go back at night to see the buildings lit up. It was absolutely stunning.
From there it is just a quick walk into the a lovely old section of town where dozens of restaurants are located, as well as many bars, including Delirium, a must-see for beer lovers. Since we still get a kick out of the very liberal alcohol laws of Europe compared to those in South Carolina where we came from, we ducked in to the nearly empty cellar of Delirium to sample some of Belgium’s finest Lambic and Geuze beers at 10 a.m. Belgian beers involve natural fermenting processes, and the result is tart and tangy, or sweet. We tried a few sensational beers at Delirium and then headed out to find the Mannekin Pis, a small fountain located near the Grote Markt . This little statue has gained notoriety for being a tiny little boy peeing into a pond. Hilariously, there is a guild that costumes the Mannekin from time to time. We happened to get there at the tail end of the costuming ceremony, which involved a procession and much singing.
Directly adjacent to the Mannekin Pis are any number of waffle shops. Do yourself a favor, EAT THE WAFFLES! Crispy and fluffy and unlike anything any IHOP has ever served, they come topped with just about anything imaginable.
Next on our list was a short hike to Brasserie Cantillon. Cantillon Brewery- a must for beer lovers!The Cantillon Brewery, a family run brewery founded in 1900, still employs 19th century equipment and techniques to brew their tasty Lambic and Gueuze beers.
For 7 Euro a person, you can take a self guided tour and get 2 tastings in their tap room. This is an incredible stop for beer fans. I also wish to add the the people in Brussels were warm and open, spoke English everywhere, and were very pleased to offer recommendations and sight seeing advice. The gentleman running the tours through Cantillon was more than happy to discuss brewing techniques and also tell us about a small cafe down the street where we could grab a bite to eat.
Brussels has a TON of Museums! We managed to see the Rene Magritte Museum and also the Comic Strip Museum- which is housed in a former Art Nouveau Textiles shop! Totally intriguing and easy to see in about an hour.
Another activity to consider, especially when the weather isn’t so cooperative, is a Belgian chocolate making class. This was like a trip to Ritter Sport for adults! For 25 Euro per person, we made chocolate bars, pralines, and truffles with delicious Belgian dark chocolate that we got to package up and take home
One other thing I would recommend, especially if you do not have a car, is the City Sightseeing “Hop On, Hop Off” tour bus- usually the red double-decker buses you see circling major cities. These are incredibly touristy, I know, but I find it such a great way to see the main attractions of the city and learn a little about each one. Plus, you don’t have to do the driving and you can sit and rest your walking feet! We took the bus out to the far reaches of the city to visit the Atomium, a structure build for the 1958 World’s Fair in with an incredible view!
The Atomium features a gourmet restaurant in the top “molecule” (science people, forgive me if this is not a molecule) which is open until 11pm. Just be aware that this is a GOURMET restaurant and is a bit pricey. Hubs and I thought we’d stop in for a burger or a club sandwich for lunch and found the menu to be a bit above what we were looking for. That being said, it would be terribly romantic at night for a dinner for two!
I could go on and on about this city and all the things to see and do (and eat!), but I’ll leave it to you to discover more things on your trip. I know we’ll definitely be back!