We moved to Belgium exactly 9 months ago today in September 2020 after a year and a half of chasing our dreams in New Zealand. The move happened dab smack in the middle of the COVID-19 global pandemic and it was a super weird time to move around the world. We showed up with just a few bags, quarantined in an AirBnB, signed a lease on a beautiful 1913 apartment, moved to another AirBnB to wait until we could move in which was so disgusting we moved to an apartment-hotel and then...finally moved in six weeks after landing.
Once we were settled, we finally had time explore the city a bit and now I've compiled ten ideas for things to do in this quirky city to aid your trip planning!
Belgium is tucked right between France and Germany and just above Luxembourg. It's a small country, often overlooked by travelers, but poses immense importance to Europe as most European institutions are actually headquartered in Brussels.
1. Spot the famous sculpture of Mannekin Pis
It just so happens that Brussels' most famous icon is a tiny little bronze statue of a boy pissing into a fountain. The original statue was designed by Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder in 1618/19, which now lives safely in the Brussels City Museum; the current statue on the fountain is a replica from 1965.
It's just one of those things you have to see, and luckily, it's right beside the Grand Place/Grote Markt so it's easy to witness the tiny peeing boy!
You should also make time to try and find the much lesser known sibling: Jeanneke Pis, aka the pissing girl. It was added nearby in 1987 to counter Mannekin Pis. Because why not?!
2. Eat the famous frites of Belgium (and chocolate and waffles, too)
Belgium is widely known for its food; namely fries, waffles and chocolate. Luckily, Brussels is simply bursting with places to sample all these delicacies, with most of them claiming to be the 'best' available!
3. Wander through the Grand Place/Grote Markt
Known as one of the most beautiful city squares in Europe, this opulently and elegantly designed Grand Place/Grote Markt is quite breathtaking. Most of the surrounding buildings - which include the town hall, some hotels and plenty of restaurants - are adorned with gold.
This square is buzzing and vibrant; the heart of Brussels where you can always find good food and good company and, if you're lucky, some live music to accompany you.
4. Enjoy the outdoors in Parc Cinquantenaire
We love this massive park in Etterbeek. In every season, the trees are stunning - particularly in fall with all the autumnal colours and spring with the abundance of blossoms - and there's plenty of space to walk, picnic, exercise or just sit and wile away the day.
At the end of the park, the iconic Arcades du Cinquantenaire or Triumphal Arch sits majestically to welcome visitors. There are also a number of museums inside the park, including AutoWorld, the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and, a particular favourite, the Museum of Art & History.
5. Explore the hidden beauty of Abbaye de la Cambre
This little oasis is just outside central Brussels, providing beautiful walking paths, benches with lush views and grounds to explore. We went in the winter and it was so peaceful covered in snow.
6. Feel tiny underneath the Atomium
Built for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, the Atomium is one of the most recognized structures of the city, replicating the nine iron atoms of an iron crystal.
You can take the elevator up to one of the 'atoms' to visit the museum and restaurant in the sky.
7. Go for a walk in Park van Tervuren
Home to the AfricaMuseum, the grounds of Park van Tervuren are sprawling with forests, lakes, rivers and plenty of open space. Bring a picnic or go on a long wander - this place is especially beautiful in the fall.
8. Explore the abandoned Museums of the Far East
Once a sprawling complex of oriental museums and exquisite architecture, the museums have been closed for years. In the spring time, the grounds come to life with cherry blossoms and are well worth exploring.
9. Visit the Royal Palace
Open every summer to visitors, the Royal Palace in the heart of the city is surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens and cobblestoned streets.
10. Wander through Hallerbos Forest
Just a half hour drive outside Brussels, the Hallerbos Forest is famous for bursting into a beautiful display of bluebells for a few weeks every spring. The forest floor turns bright blue and visitors are invited (for free!) to wander the paths between the flowers to welcome the new season.