In my almost nine years of European travel, I had never actively or purposefully put Brussels on my list of places to visit – in my mind it just sounded boring; plus with a name that reminded me of a bitter vegetable.. nah.
BUT during the first half of March, I was invited by Accor Hotels to spend a long weekend in the much overlooked Belgian city. Since it was easily accessible via the Eurostar from London, I thought ‘why not?‘
It turns out Brussels can be a pretty fun weekend city break after all! So here are my city-break highlights:
This was the best ‘hidden gem’ of all! It’s basically the top floor of a parking complex located in the heart of Brussels. All you have to do is take the lift up and you’ll find a huge open space (well when I went there were almost no cars parked..) with amazing views of the city in all directions. For FREE!
It was cold and windy, but the overcast light made everything look magical:
Bisschopsstraat 1, 1000 Brussel, Belgium
(Between La Bourse and Place Sainte-Catherine, close to the “de Brouckere” square, Dansaert Street and St-Géry Halls)
A local acquaintance of mine recommended this restaurant and IT WAS SO GOOD!
It was low-key, warm, and very cosy and quaint. They had an open/exposed window into the kitchen and we were able to see the chef cooking and doing other things, like dusting sugar on a bunch of waffles to be served as dessert. Food is typical Belgian/French and too delicious:
Top left: A kind of apple tatin with super thin pastry, served with vanilla ice cream. Went to heaven.
Top right: Baked camembert with soft, boiled apple slices. Went to heaven.
Bottom left: ‘Onglet’ steak wit baked potatoes and some kind of delish vegetable puree. Went to heaven.
Bottom right: The prize dish. Slices of duck served with orange sauce and croquettes. I guess I died four times.
If you visit Brussels you MUST pay this restaurant a visit! Reena and I loved it so much that we tried to squeeze in a last-minute visit on our last day before our train departed but very sadly it didn’t quite work out.. That duck is DIVINE. AMAZING. MAGIC.
BRUSSELS VINTAGE MARKET
Occurring on the first Sunday of every month, this bustling vintage market takes place in the Halles Saint-Géry, spread over three floors (there is a basement level).
There were LOADS of vintage/second-hand gear you can sift through – if you’re patient enough. There were also some independent designers and artists selling their creations.
It was pretty busy and it kind of drained us in a mere 30 minutes, BUT I did manage to buy new blue leather tasselled handbag (I love tassels) downstairs for a mere €30, and a couple of nice rings for €5 each.
BRUSSELS VINTAGE MARKET
Every first Sunday of the month
Place Saint-Géry 1, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Such a pity it rained so much on our first day. But borrowed umbrellas from the hotel and spent the day out anyway!
There was a market
Especially loved the TinTin murals scattered all around the city and the many frites and waffle shops in all the most convenient corners, which were great for a mid-walk snack.
Of course, we had to see the icon of Brussels – the Manneken Pis. A bronze sculpture of a naked little boy peeing into the fountain’s basin. Admittedly I had never actually heard of it..
There was a small crowd of people taking turns to have their picture taken with him. I took this one photo and then went straight to get waffles!
By the way – the statue was unexpectedly small. For some reason I expected something more.. dramatic?? Oh well it was cute.
^Us at the the Grand Place (or Grote Markt) – the central square of the city
As you can see, it rained on our first night. For hours! We distracted ourselves with a little bar-hopping and beer-tasting until it got pretty late and we were exhausted! We stupidly (or rather because we were desperate and neither of us had data service on our phones) took the first taxi we saw on the street to transport us to our hotel.. and paid an extortionate amount (€15 for a 5 minute ride really).
THIS WAS AMAZING! When we first arrived at our hotel the staff kept mentioning ‘Atomium’ in their customary welcome smalltalk with us. I had no idea this bizarre work of architecture existed – even though it was built in 1958! It’s so quirky and cool, and makes me think it came from The Jetsons cartoon series..
Only a short ride on the subway from the city centre, the Atomium only became accessible to the public in 2006 following a long closure due to steady dilapidation from neglect, even after its extreme popularity at its opening in 1958 (when it was visited by millions of people from all over the globe!).
The entrance tickets were €12 per person. Each ‘ball’ now contains an exhibition and you can learn about the rise and fall (and re-birth) of the Atomium. The top ‘ball’ contains a restaurant! The ‘tubes’ contain connecting escalators and/or stairs. One down escalator was black with flashing colourful lights – obviously I LOVED IT.
I found the story of the Atomium FASCINATING. They have lots of information about architecture in Brussels – its influences and how it once tried to be the New York City of Europe (or something like that).
Square de l’Atomium
The Atomium is located in the Northern part of the city of Brussels, a 5 minute walk from the Heysel / Heizel metro station (line 6) and right opposite Mini-Europe.
PULLMAN BRUSSELS MIDI – THE PLACE TO STAY
I really have to say a big THANK YOU to the people at AccorHotels for picking this hotel for Reena and I. It really couldn’t have been more convenient – it felt luxurious to be arriving into the Eurostar terminal and then walking for something like two minutes before we were at the beautiful hotel lobby. It was perfect for a weekend break!
Our room had a bit of a retro yet modern feel to it. It was so spacious! Reena and I looked forward to coming back to this bed each night we were there.
Reena was particularly pleased witht he little welcome favours we received – wine gums.
“REAL WINE GUMS!!”
This was exclaimed repeatedly.. it was amusing.
^See that S-shaped piece of furniture in the lobby? We were OBSESSED WITH IT! It’s seriously THE most comfy sofa ever. We made time in our schedules to make sure we had 5 minutes every so often just to sit on it and daydream. The designer’s name is Walter Knoll and those chairs I think were by him too.
If you’re looking for a quick, convenient, and comfortable hotel, the Pullman Brussels Midi is definitely a good choice.
Pullman Brussels Midi Hotel
Place Victor Horta 1
But don’t eat at the restaurant – it’s pricey and not spectacular. Eat at Brasserie Ploegmans!
If you’re spending longer than a weekend, here are 15 things to do in Brussels.