Having never visited Belgium before, when we began to plan out our trip to the Bruges Christmas markets, we decided to make our long weekend a two-location event and have a whirlwind one-night stay in Brussels.
I’d heard people say that Brussels is sadly considered the most boring capital in Europe, so I wasn’t hugely excited about visiting the city, but I decided I wanted to at least give it a chance! With that in mind, I did a little a research and came up with what I thought might be some of the sights worth seeing during our short sojourn.
My first impression of Brussels was that the city appeared quite dated and grey (to be fair, this was December!) but as we explored the city we uncovered some of its highlights – including the absolutely beautiful Grand Place.
You enter the large cobblestoned square through one of six tight little alleyways, coming face-to-face with the opulent gothic buildings, complete with gilded statues. Grand Place is home to the City Hall, mansions and the old guild halls and really shouldn’t be missed, however long you spend in Brussels.
After taking in that opulence we decided to walk the streets around Grand Place, slowly heading towards the famous Galeries St-Hubert. We’d hoped to squeeze in as many sights as we could during this whirlwind visit, but in the end, one of them actually made its way to us!
A Manneken Pis Parade
Manneken Pis is probably Brussels’ most famous statue, which is of a boy going for a pee. We’d heard that it’s often dressed up by locals in costumes relevant to special events, but we didn’t expect to find it dressed up at St Nicholas (we think) and being pushed around the main shopping streets in a Parade.
We really had no idea what was going on, but got into the spirit watching the parade pass us by. It was an odd affair, with the Manneken Pis leading the way, then followed by a brass band, lots of costumes, giant wooden puppets dancing around and then a large train of people handing out sweets and oranges to the passers by. I’m sure there’s a story to tell here, so if you know more about these parades please do let us know!
Chocolate heaven at Galleries St-Hubert
After that bit of excitement we finally made our way over to Galleries St-Hubert. This was Europe’s first ever covered shopping arcade, and is made up of three separate galleries with glass roofs. They were beautiful to explore, especially with the Christmas decorations up, but I’m sure their classic style looks gorgeous all year round.
We’d headed here to check out some of Brussels’ renowned chocolatiers and patisseries and were not disappointed, although we did feel a bit poor after we couldn’t stop ourselves buying so much delicious Belgian chocolate (oh, and having an amazing hot chocolate at the Neuhaus cafe).
Our short city break to Brussels was very much a ‘taster’ (not just of chocolate I’ll have you know), but I think wandering a city’s streets is one of the best ways to get a feel for somewhere. We hardly scratched the surface of what it has to offer, but we enjoyed spending our first day here simply taking in the sights and smells of Grand Place and Illot Sacre.
Have you visited Brussels before? What were your first thoughts of this city, and where did you decide to explore first?