It might not have the much hyped allure of Paris, the signature sophistication of Copenhagen, or the perceived cool factor of Berlin, but there’s something about Brussels.
The Belgian capital often flies under the radar when it comes to people’s must-visit European capital agendas, however the city has a certain charm that guide books can often fail to capture.
After spending a summer in Brussels as a college student I often get asked ‘is Brussels worth a visit?’
My immediate answer is ‘definitely,’ and that Brussels will always exceed your expectations; followed swiftly by the caveat that it comes into its own, however, when know someone on the ground who is willing to share their ‘Little Black Book’ of Brussels with you.
I recently returned to Brussels after many years, armed with the memories of my summer romance with the city and a significant travel asset, my cousin, who has been a resident for 10 years.
Read on for an insider’s guide to Brussels; how to get there, where to stay, what to see and do, and a choice selection of where eat and drink.
WHERE TO EAT
From Place du Flagey, take a leisurely stroll through Bois de la Cambre to La Refuge. Once you’ve arrived at La Refuge you might get the sense that you’ve left Brussels altogether and retreated to a ski lodge in the Alps, given its decor and location in the quiet suburb of Saint Job.
Snuggle up on a faux fur lined bench or take a seat outside in the sun soaked front patio and enjoy the early to late menu offering that spans from from chia pudding and OR coffee (see below), to small plates to share and cocktails.
668 chaussée de saint-job, 1180 uccle
Eat in or take breakfast, brunch and lunch to go from TICH, a bright and airy, Scandi-style plant based eatery come concept store.
Health obsessives will be overcome by the menu that includes vegan toasts and smoothie bowls and coffees made with homemade almond milk – plus you’ll only find organic coconut sugar on the tables if you like yours with a spoonful. You can also shop a curated selection of books, health foods, organic cosmetics and streetwear.
25 rue de namur, 1000 Brussels
Belgium may be the home of frites but the first ever fish and chip shop was established in Brussels in 2012 by two Dubliners.
Now there are two in the city, plus a third and fourth in Antwerp and London. Each serves their unique offering of fresh, sustainably-sourced fish encased in quirky flavoured tempura or panks breadcrumb batters served with an array of housemade sauces – think Lemon & Basil Tempura with Seaweed Salted Chips and Homemade Garlic Truffle.
Rue du Marche Aux Poulets 41, 1000 Brussels / Place de Londres 1 1000 Brussels
9 et Voisins
9 et Voisins is charming centrally located restaurant with a dimly lit, red brick walled interior and a traditional Belgian food offering.
Enjoy classics like Carbonnade Flamade, a sweet-sour beef and onion stew made with a Chimay beer sauce, and sausages and mash in a cosy, atmospheric setting. Take note, no credit cards accepted.
Rue Van Artevelde, 1000 Brussels
With a no reservations policy, any one of three Makisus in the city will always be busy as people queue up for their fix of “the sunny side of sushi.”
It’s worth the wait, however, as the Japanese restaurant offers creative takes on your usual sushi rolls, as well as a unique “create-your-own-maki process”.
With more than 30 fresh ingredients to choose from, there are over 3 million possibilities – you may need to pay a second visit.
5 Rue du Bailli, 1000 Bruxelles / 6 Rue de Flandre, 1000 Bruxelles / 361 Chaussée de Waterloo, 1060 St-Gilles
WHERE TO DRINK
From humble beginnings as a coffee roastery in a small Flanders town, the OR Coffee business has grown to include 4 espresso bars (2 in Ghent and 2 in Brussels), as well as a formidable wholesale customer database – so you can get your fix right across the city.
All the coffee shops sport the same cool industrial chic interiors and a mix of bar seating, communal tables and comfortable sofas.
Beyond coffee they offer loose-leaf tea, homemade sodas, cakes and pastries, breakfast or light lunch suggestions.
Rue A. Ortsstraat 9, 1000 Brussels / Place Jourdan 13a, 1040 Brussels (Etterbeek)
A La Bécasse
Hidden way in an alley way off La Grand Place, you won’t stumble across A La Bécasse (which translates as In The Snipe) unless you’re looking for it.
One of the oldest pubs in dowtown Brussels, this intimate bar offers a wide selection of Belgian beers, and they are specialists in traditional varieties like lambic, gueuze and kriek (cherry beer).
Rue de Tabora 11, 1000 Brussels
Life is Beautiful
Beginning life as a nomadic cocktail bar, Life is Beautiful built a fanbase and found a permanent home in 2016 on Rue Antoine Dansaert, the same fashionable street designer Dries Van Noten’s opened his first Brussels store.
You won’t find any bog standard cocktails on the drinks list here, but instead an entirely specialised menu of drinks concocted with fresh ingredients and homemade syrups, liqueurs, bitters.
Rue Antoine Dansaert 161, 1000 Bruxelles
This chic neighbourhood wine bar in Chatelain boasts good music, good vibes and, most importantly, a great wine list – mostly natural and organic.
There’s coffee, cocktails, craft beers and charcuterie on offer too, making this the perfect spot for an afternoon tipple between lunch and dinner.
393 chaussée de waterloo, 1050 ixelles
WHAT TO SEE + DO
Visit Parc du Cinquantenaire
A formidable green space in the heart of the EU quarter, one of many fine parks in the city, Parc du Cinquantenaire was built during the reign of Leopold II to commemorate fifty years of Belgian independence.
Take in the views and pay a visit to the three museums you’ll find by the arch: The Autoworld, an art museum and an army museum.
Explore Coundenberg Palace Underground Ruins
Recent works on the metro uncovered underground the ancient ruins of the Coundenberg Palace. Step below street level and into Brussels’ past as you explore the fascinating features of this subterrain museum, including Rue Isabelle and the old structures of the main buildings of the former palace of Brussels, which are now the foundations for today’s royal district.
Place des Palais 7, 1000 Brussels
Avenue Louise is the destination for shopping in the city. The promenade is flanked by a choice selection luxury designer and high-end highstreet store.
Kure is a favourite. A curated, mostly monochrome, edit of chic clothing that specialises in leather trousers.
Take a stroll to Chatelain and hop between independent fashion and lifestyle boutiques and food stores. Be sure to land at concept stores Hopono (there’re two), where you can shop cute laptop cases, quirky glassware, and lots of other wonderful things you never knew you needed.
In the larger store, there’s a section devoted to plants too – think coriander and kale scented candles and succulents that grow on your bathroom mirror.
No matter what day you visit Brussels there will be a local market for you to immerse yourself in the city’s culinary culture, the most famous of which takes place in Chatelain on Wednesdays.
Marché des Chasseurs Ardennais is on Fridays. A glass of cider and a crepe here is the perfect way to start off a weekend in Brussels.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the whole of Place Flagey is a marketplace, especially famous for flowers and vegetables.
On Sundays, the Jourdan market in the EU quarter is a gem. It’s currently under construction, due to continue until 2019, but despite this the “Best Frites in Brussels” at Maison Antoine are still selling like hot chips in the centre of the square, so a visit will never go to waste.
Venture Further Afield
Belgium may be small but it is diverse. If you’re staying for a long weekend, explore by train Antwerp and Ghent (the bigger cities), Bruges and Ypres (the historical ones), Ostend by the sea or the whole Ardennes countryside.
Part of the attraction of a trip to Brussels in its Central European location too. Cities in the Netherlands, France and Luxembourg are all within 2-3 hours by train.
WHERE TO STAY
Somewhere between a B&B and boutique-hotel, HAPPY Guesthouse is located in the heart of the historic center of Brussels.
Sophie and Benoit have decorated the space, consisting of 4 rooms spread over 4 levels, in an elegant Scandinavian style and pride themselves on their homemade breakfasts made with local produce.
Gasthuisstraat 27, 1000 Brussel
Situated uptown Brussels, this former art school has been transformed into a uber cool hotel jammed with Instagrammable features like a rooftop pool with a view and a hip industrial design.
This is a hub for creatives and young professionals who’ll appreciate the great coffee and WiFi as much as the Ms. Pac-Man in the Game Room.
132 Chaussée de Charleroi, 1060 Brussels
NH Brussels Bloom
A unique art-themed hotel situated in the lively Botanique area of the city, each of NH Brussels Bloom’s 305 rooms, some of the largest avaialable in the city, is decorated with hand-painted frescos, created by 287 different artists. The hotel even has its own waffle van – we know what we’re having for breakfast.
Rue Royale 250, 1210 Brussels
HOW TO GET THERE
Currently Ryanair, Aer Lingus, Lufthansa and SAS are offering flights from Dublin to Brussels.
There are two airports. You can get a train from Brussels International (Brussels Zaventem Airport) to Brussels Central Station every 10 minutes between 5am and midnight, 7 days a week. It takes about 18 minutes and costs €12.70.
The other airport, Charleroi, is in fact a whole other city in Belgium and requires an hour long shuttle bus journey to Brussels-Midi Station. A one way ticket costs around €16.75.
This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.