Brussels (Bruxelles in French) is the capital of Belgium. Located between France, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands, the Belgian state is split in three main regions that seldom “forget” to get along.
Brussels constitutes a region in its own right and it’s home to the main governing bodies of the European Union. The city is situated within the territory of the Flemish-speaking Flanders region on the northern side of the country. On the southern side lies the French-speaking Wallonia region.
The city of Brussels can be easily visited in two days. Here following are two optimized itineraries we’ve prepared for you to make the most of your 48 hours in the city.
The first day mainly focuses on the city centre and takes you to the most famous spots and sights; it includes visits to the main museums and a few options for a bite to eat. The second day is dedicated to the European Parliament and the Atomium with a few alternative options and a historic restaurant for a delicious dinner.
Starting from Brussels’s most iconic and somewhat curious symbol, the Manneken-Pis, or “peeing boy”, walk your way to the Grand-Place.
Once here take in all the grandeur and beauty of the main square, surrounded by Baroque-style guildhouses and a 15th-century town hall (Hôtel de Ville) with its impressive 96m-high spire. Every house number corresponds to a different guild. Rough Guides does a really good job in explaining all the buildings facing the square.
As soon as you’re done taking pictures of the Place from all the different angles, move south-east along the cobblestone streets up to the Mont des Arts where you can enjoy an elevated view of Brussels.
Walk past the statue of King Albert I on a horse and stroll the neatly maintained gardens. Climb the last flight of stairs and you’ll find yourself surrounded by museums, or rather a single museum complex called the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. The complex includes six museums but only four (the Magritte Museum, the OldMasters Museum, the Fin-de-Siecle Museum and the Modern Museum) are located between Place Royale and Rue de la Regence.
The last two, the Wiertz Museum and the Meunier Museum, are a bit further. The former is 20 minutes away from Place Royale, on Rue Vautier, whilst the latter is down south, some 40 minutes away on foot (15 minutes by public transportation), on Rue de l’Abbaye. The entrance to both is free.
Here you can check prices and opening times for all the museums.
If you’re short on time or not particularly interested in art in general, we do feel you should at least pay a visit to the Magritte Museum dedicated to René Magritte (1898-1967). The Belgian Surrealist artist is famous for his thought-provoking, ground-breaking works that questioned reality as we know it and sectioned it into various layers of consciousness. He defied existing canons and rules, creating beautiful art pieces.
Keep in mind that the city has yet another museum hosting Magritte’s ouvres, should you want to see more from the artist. The René Magritte Museum is located north-west of the centre, on Rue Esseghem.
Practical info for the Magritte Museum
Address: Rue de la Régence 3, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Prices: Adults € 10.00; Seniors (65+) € 8.00. For other prices check website
Opening times: Monday – Friday: 10am – 5pm Weekends: 11am – 6pm
If you visit on the first Wednesday of the month, the entrance to all the museums that are part of the Royal Museums complex is free after 1pm.
Dedicate as much time as you wish to visiting the museums. Most of them close at 5pm therefore, if you had started your day bright and early, you should have enough time to thoroughly visit at least three.
- Close-by is the Musical Instruments Museum, on Rue Montagne de la Cour, should you wish to try technologically-advanced infrared headphones. It costs €10 per person (full price).
- If it’s a nice sunny day and you would rather stay outdoors and save money, lazily stroll in nearby Park of Brussels. It can be a bit underwhelming but you may decide to go grab some food (read below) and have a nice picnic here.
- Walk 10 minutes towards the Palais de Justice, take the free elevator down to the Marolles neighborhood and go explore the flea market in Place du Jeu de Balle. It closes at 2pm.
It’s food o’clock
No matter which option you’ve chosen, you may have worked up an appetite by now. Walk your way back to the Grand-Place and stop at any of the bakeries or chocolate shops you will encounter along the way.
When it comes to chocolate, our personal favourite is Pierre Marcolini. The closest shop you will find in the area is located on Galerie de la Reine, 21.
As for pastries, one of the most beloved places by tourists is Maison Dandoy: try their speculoos range. Maison Dandoy has three boutiques in Brussels: one, on Rue Charles Buls, serves tea and waffles as well.
Once you’ve loaded your bags with pastries and biscuits, go grab your savoury treat at Fritland, near the Bourse de Bruxelles (Brussels stock exchange). Their menus offer many (fried) options but there’s only one thing you should really try: the mitraillette. Literally “small machine gun”, the mitraillette is a giant sandwich loaded with meat and sauce of your choice, salad, onions and frites (don’t call them French fries!). They have outdoor seating.
More statues and Delirium Cafe
Next stop is Het Zinneke, best known as Zinneke Pis, the statue of a peeing dog created in 1998 by Tom Frantzen. It is located on the corner between Rue du Vieux Marché aux Grains and Rue des Chartreux.
Keep the theme going and walk eastward to Impasse de la Fidelite. Take yet another picture of a peeing figure: this time is a girl, Jeanneke Pis. The statue has been squatting and urinating since 1987.
It’s time for a drink now. Few metres away from Jeanneke, it’s one of Brussels most famous bars, Delirium (you may probably recognize its symbol: a pink elephant!). Youngsters gather outside the cafe, in the small alley, to drink good beers and be loud.
Two minutes away on foot is what our Rough Guides describes as a good alternative to more touristic Delirium, the Théâtre Royal de Toone.
Belgian cuisine for dinner
If the booze have made you hungry, head over to Rue du Lombard at number 25. Here’s a small restaurant called Nuetnigenough serving hearty Belgian food and excellent beers with which they also cook their dishes. Reasonable prices and cheerful atmosphere are on the menu as well.
Ready for your second day in Brussels? The following itinerary only includes the Parlamentarium, the Atomium, the Cinquantenaire Park and a restaurant where to grab dinner. However, we will also list alternative options should you be visiting with kids, or else. Oh, quite obviously, you won’t be walking your way to the Atomium, rather you’ll be taking public transports (more details below).
Start your day (not on Mondays) with a must-visit place (especially if you are a European citizen): the Parlamentarium. The building is separate from the main central glass-and-steel structure, known as the Spaak Building.
The multimedia guide will take you through a journey that will help you understand more about Europe as a political institution, how the European Parliament works, who are your country’s representatives and what they’re doing (or not doing, for that matter!).
Practical info for the Parlamentarium
Address: Place du Luxembourg 100, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium
Opening times: Monday: 1pm – 6pm; Tuesday to Friday: 9am – 6pm; Saturday-Sunday: 10am – 6pm
The visit is free of charge and will take approximately 90 minutes.
Bring your ID and be ready for airport-style security checks.
Fifteen minutes away on foot is Parc du Cinquantenaire. The park features Le Cinquantenaire, a grandiose monument which, as the name suggests, was erected by King Leopold II in 1880 to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Belgian state. It now houses three museums.
If you are fortunate enough and sunny spells are coming your way, make the most of the outdoors and visit other green spaces around Brussels. Here‘s a complete list. (Website only in French and Dutch).
It’s time to jump on the metro and reach the Atomium. The closest stop is Heizel (line 6). It takes about 30 minutes from the city centre.
The Atomium – a model of a molecule expanded 165 billion times and built for the 1958 World’s Fair held in Brussels – may not have stolen the show to the Manneken-Pis and the Grand-Place but it’s still worth a visit.
There’s an elevator that takes you to the top sphere and escalators connecting the lower spheres. Aside from some good views over the city, the attraction offers a cafe and a restaurant. We did not “climb” to the top but here‘s some info on prices and opening times, should you wish to visit the curious installation.
Around the area there are a few options for those of you who may be travelling with kids and would rather avoid the centre. Next to the Atomium there are in fact a couple of places you may want to check out and possibly decide to spend the rest of the day here:
- Mini Europe
- The Planetarium
Brussels simply LOVES comics. So much so that there’s even a museum dedicated to the art of the comic books, the Belgian Comic Strip Centre on Rue des Sables. If you prefer heading back into town, you may want to pay a visit to the centre.
If the weather holds and you instead feel in the mood for a treasure hunt, why not going for a DIY graffiti tour? Have a look at all the major artists and their works here. At this link you will also find a useful map with all the street art works listed. Good hunt!
And it doesn’t finish here: if you appreciate street art and are also a comic strip fanatic, keep in mind that there are many comics-inspired graffitis about town taking up entire walls. Read the complete list here.
Moules et frites dinner
You would be somewhat rude if you weren’t to try the national dish before leaving Brussels.
Mussels and (twice-fried) fries may sound like a weird and possibly unappealing combination. And it maybe is. But it tastes good. You can try and see if you like it yourself at Au Vieux Bruxelles. The cozy restaurant has been serving Belgian specialties since 1882. They have over ten different versions of mussels (from the more traditional ones cooked with wine or beer, to the more exotic option on the menu with red curry sauce and coconut milk).
A little note for all the gluttons out there
For those of you who are planning on visiting Brussels from early 2020 on, the Tram Experience is back: you can jump aboard a 1960s tram and try amazing dishes by renowned chefs. Read more about it here.
Brussels loves Tintin
As a final note, we could not have concluded the post without mentioning TinTin. Created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, “The Adventures of Tintin”, who is a Belgian reporter assisted by his loyal dog Milou, are indeed a national favourite. Murales and souvenirs with the beloved characters abound.