If you only had 24 hours to travel, where would you go?
While in Europe, I chose “Brussels”. Small city, fun city, interesting city, tricky city. The reason I chose that city was to have a taste spicy enough just to let me decide whether I would go back one day… Or not. (And also, because the flights were cheaper).
In my opinion, the city is big enough to make you want to see more, and small enough to get you to see enough in 24 hours. This statement is made in comparison to other European cities where I’ve been, such as Paris, Rome, Geneva, and London.
So if you ever happen to have 24 free hours while in Europe and want to take a jump and try out a new city, go to Brussels, and I’m pretty sure you’d be able to do one of these 10 things (I did all 10, y’all):
1.Free City Tour
A lot of European cities have the concept of “free city tours”, which I like a lot. It’s a good option for tourists to have a bit of a historical background of the city they’re visiting, and this with no commitment (financial and time-related, that is). If you love the tour, stick around til the end. If you get bored, feel free to leave. And if you stick til the end because you find it interesting, you’re welcome to give a tip to the tour guide at the end, with no obligations. Do it… if the spirit moves you:)
Tip: free city tours usually last for 1h to 1h30. They are walking tours, have fixed departure times and are also available in multiple languages. Before traveling, find out, in your destination city tourism website, where the gathering points for the free tours are. In Brussels, a lot of tour groups gathered at the market place.
2. The Atomium
The Atomium is a 102 m tall building shaped as a molecule made of several circular atoms connected by chemical bonds (well, in this case, physical bonds). It was built in 1958 as part of a scientif Expo (Expo 58) in Brussels. Now, the Atomium is a museum; the top sphere of which includes a restaurant with a panoramic view of Brussels. You could simply stand outside and take a picture around the molecule (which I did), but if you’d like to go in, there is a fee. Interestingly, access to the attraction is sold alongside with access to the Mini-Europe attraction, which might turn out to be a great combo deal for you:
Atomium + Mini – Europe: € 24,70 (adults) and € 16,60 (<12y) € 21,80 (12-18y) for children.
Tip: a good trip to the museum takes “at least” an hour. If you plan on visiting this museum, consider that in allocating your time available for the different attractions you want to see. Also, the Atomium is about 35 mns from the city center, one way, by metro. With that said, it would take you 1h10 mns to go from and to the city. Take this into consideration when making your plans.
Mini-Europe is rather an interesting concept. It is a miniature park that displays the landmarks of Europe, as well as cities and the most important buildings in the continent. It is located just above the Atomium, so you can easily tackle both attractions at once.
Tip: you can purchase a combo ticket that gives you access to both the Atomium and Mini-Europe. There is also a restaurant around if you want to grab a quick bite, and a movie theater if you feel like being entertained by the latest releases. Very practical for an afternoon out alone, with a friend, or as a family.
4. Brussels’ Market Place
The market place is located in the city center, and is a hub for all tourists. It’s also one of the most active points on the weekends (daytime), and you can easily access all the remaining attractions listed in this article by walking up, down and around the market place.
Tip: anytime is a good time to go there, and there are usually a lot of tourists early in the morning and in the afternoon! If you want to take a free guided tour, make sure to get there early and join a group that speaks your language!
5. Belgian Fries for Lunch
I have a philosophy: just like you can’t go to France and not have French fries, you can’t go to Belgium and not have Belgian fries. This is simply unacceptable. ^_^
I had my first Belgian fries experience at Belgian Frites. I received a generous and delectable portion for less than 5 euros, and my heart (and mouth) were at peace (you know how I feel about food). I also learned that the difference between French fries and Belgian fries was in the cut!
Tip: this is a sample medium portion, and it was sufficient to keep me full for the afternoon (and I’m a food lover). You can choose to add other sauces and dressings to your serving, at an additional cost.
6. Belgian Beer Museum
Did you know that the average Belgian drinks about 84 liters of beer per year. Yup.
I never realized that Belgium was so big on beers until I went to the Belgian Beer Museum in Brussels, located in the Market Place. For only 5 euros, you get to learn about the beer making process, different types of beers used for different occasions, history of beer, and on top of that, you get a free beer glass (you can even choose which type you want).
I felt so enlightened to learn about the different types of beers (thirst quenching and degustation beers), to learn that specific beers are served in specific glasses, and to even realize that some beers are made for specific occasions (like Christmas, for instance).
Tip: the museum is pretty small, and if at the end of your visit you want to sit down inside to sip your beer, then I recommend getting there early, perhaps before 10. Otherwise, there’s a 50/50 chance that you won’t get a seat. But if you don’t mind standing up while sipping, then that’s great!
7. A Belgian Waffles’ Treat
Again, back to my philosophy: just like you can’t go to France and not have French crêpes, you also can’t go to Belgium and not have Belgian waffles. This is simply unacceptable. All along the market place, there is a wide variety of sellers. You can get them for as little as 1 euro, and you get to choose your toppings (additional cost).
Tip: I saw some tourists buying humongous waffles (with 4-5 toppings), and I also saw some locals purchasing a plain waffle. So, it all depends on your budget and the experience you want to have.
8. The Manneken Pis
Going to Brussels, I told myself: “If I don’t see anything, I want to see the Atomium and the Manneken Pis”. And as I was kindly led along the Market Place by two tourists sensitive to my plight and supportive of my desire to fulfill the second part of my goal, I finally encountered… The Manneken Pis: he’s a little boy.
A little boy, but an iconic landmark sculpture in Brussels. The scuplture depicts a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin.
Historically, it was the first fountain that played an essential role in the distribution of drinking water in Brussels since the 15th century. The sculpture also survived the bombing of Brussels in 1695. The Manneken Pis was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619.
It is said that Manne (can I just call him Manne – reads “Manu”, I find him so adorable…) has more than 900 suits in his wardrobe, and before each suit is officialized, there is a full ceremony. He is dressed about 130 times per year, and you better believe there is an official calendar that dictates (ahead of time) when he should be dressed. You can find out more about his wardrobe and costumes here. So, next time someone tells you you have too many clothes, just send them the link to this article and let them know that the Manneken Pis, Manne, has more than 900. Case closed.
Tip: Manne is a VIP, and it might be difficult for you to get a nice clean shot with him, when you go there, simply because there are a lot of other tourists. So you have to be pretty strategic!
9. Tintin Museum (aka Hergé Museum)
If you are a huge fan of cartoons like I am, you’ll love visiting the Tintin Museum. You know, I grew up watching Tintin and Milou’s adventures all my childhood and early teenage years (well, at least til I entered medical school), and I only discovered that Tintin was Belgian when I went to Brussels. Quite an eye-opening trip! If you have a few minutes to spare, stop by, and if not, just pick up some souvenirs!
Tip: there is a small fee that you have to pay to access the museum.
10. MOOF Museum (Museum Of Original Figurines)
This one is also a must for anyone who is a die-hard (or die-soft) fan of cartoons! This museum features original figurines of cartoons like The Smurfs, Asterix and Obelix, Tintin, and so many more! I was overwhelmed being there, it felt like childhood again. I’d definitely recommend this.
Tip: there is a small fee that you have to pay to access the museum.
One attraction I’d definitely love to see when I go back “someday”: The Musical Instruments Museum:
After everything had been seen, done, eaten and drank, I hopped back on the train to the airport, and guess what: I wasn’t even late for my flight! 🙂
Linking back to Faraway Flies!