One of the things that I like the most about Brussels is that it’s truly a budget friendly city. You can see pretty much everything interesting with on a tight budget – you’ll be paying only for transport but if you want, feel free to use your own legs – Brussels is a very compact city.
Even their famous chocolate can be bought for less than in expensive chocolate shops! But first things first. Follow me on this frugal but not cheap journey through this beautiful city and have fun!
What to see in Brussels in 1 day
Grand Place / Grote Markt
Yeah, obvious stuff. The first stop on every traveller’s list. But it’s free to see and there’s some nice architecture around to look at. Also, it’s right in the centre of the city close to other attractions like Manneken (& Jeanneken) Pis or Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert. Just avoid all tourist traps around like souvenir shops and cafes and also look after your things to not giving waiting thieves unnecessary chances.
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this beautiful Roman Catholic cathedral which is 114 metres tall from the outside and built in French and Brabantian Gothic style. Also, it’s located on the Treurenberg hill with some nice green space in front of the church where you can sit down for a while on a sunny day and catch some nice views of the city going by.
Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert
Don’t feel intimidated by its expensive looks if you’re on a shoestring budget – you can still go there for a little window shopping and not spend a cent. If nothing else, this glazed, luxury shopping arcade is worth checking as a place, where the history of film was being written – it’s there where Lumière brothers were publicly showing their first moving pictures in Belgium in March 1896. For a better idea what to expect in the galleries, check this great virtual photographic tour (together with other places in Brussels).
Manneken Pis & Jeanneken Pis
Everyone knows about the little pissing boy statue and there will be always many people complaining about its size. But you know what? It wasn’t that horrible touristic experience that I was expecting – it was actually quite easy to get to the statue relatively quickly even though the place is obviously almost always crowded and thanks to the position of the statue above our heads it’s quite easy to make a nice picture with it in the background. So I can’t say anything negative about this landmark really even though it’s a purely tourist thing.
Just avoid the stalls selling overprices waffles around (as well as any souvenir shops). Also, there’s a great topical mural around the corner which is, in my opinion, worth taking a picture at least as much as the statue. At last, pay some respect to gender equality and to boy’s little sister Jeanneken Pis which is in a little different direction from the Grand Place (look for the famous Brussels’ beer pub Delirium cafe and head to the end of the street – pissing space invader will guide you), although this little girl isn’t that easy to approach.
European Parliament & Parc du Cinquantenaire
Avoid European Parliament in case you’re allergic to ties and suits. Just joking. While bureaucratic buildings may be daunting for some, Parc du Cinquantenaire with its characteristic U-shape complex is a nice green oasis where you can stretch your feet on the ground and just enjoy the moment.
If your budget is tight skip the journey inside the Atomium and take a selfie only from outside (like all the others do). Tram or underground is the best way to get here while on your way back to the centre you may appreciate a nice walk to the south through a large adjacent park. In case you get tired the closest tram stop is surely just around a corner.
Comic strip murals
Did you know that many famous comics such as The Smurfs, Tin tin or Lucky Luke originated in Belgium? For this Brussels pays lots of respect to its comic legacy and it can be seen pretty much around the city.
Matongé – African Quartier
This is something I didn’t find in any guide book and it’s probably not the first thing on tourists’ lists. But if you’d like to see something a bit more exotic in the centre of Brussels, head to the African neighbour hidden right next to Porte de Namur. You’ll feel like you’re not in Brussels at all!
Palais de Justice is a great vantage point overlooking Brussels. Take a glass elevator from Marolles to the top of the bridge and let your mind wander for a moment.
What to eat in Brussels
Absolutely a must do! The only exception is that you’re allergic to refined sugar, it’s against your religious and/pr personal beliefs or you’re just not that into sweets. But I say you, these waffles ROCK and I have never eaten a better one in my life (and as they are pretty popular in my hometown Bratislava in numerous stalls and bistros, trust me, I’ve eaten a decent amount of them in my childhood). But man, these waffles are total heaven in mouth – nicely warm if they are freshly made, lightly crunchy on the outside with heavenly smell (sweet but not too intense, it just smells like you’d like your home to smell) and in the inside… god, so incredibly fluffy and soft, no hint of denseness caused by fat or dough. Just pure pleasure that you won’t forget for a while.
Do you consider yourself a chocoholic? Good, then listen carefully. There’s no need to spend the half of your budget in those swanky, pricey chocolate boutiques around the centre. If you want reasonably priced, but still the highest quality chocolate, head to… Carrefour. Or any other supermarket that sells brands like Dolfin. Their chocolates are really great, delicate and in many flavours, don’t cost a fortune and are easily available in ordinary supermarkets. One more tip for those who are super savvy and frugal to the max like me – this is solely my subjective feeling but I had also one Carrefour branded chocolate bar with higher amount of cocoa mass and it tasted really great, too (considering it was the shop’s own brand and not a fancy product). Try them out, just read the labels to know what you’re getting.
I don’t drink alcohol nowadays but if I were, I would apply the same tip as with chocolate. This might be pretty obvious but it’s still worth repeating – if you’re after nice quality without paying much, buy that famous beer from supermarkets instead of sitting in bars – my younger, alcohol consuming me would be blown off by prices we found at Carrefour. Small Stella for 50 cents? That sounds like a hell of a hangover on the next day!
How to get around in Brussels
The best way to explore this chic city is really to use just your feet. As I said, Brussels is very compact and by strolling around you can enjoy its spirit and get a sense of its pace.
Trams & Underground
Both trams and underground are pretty efficient way to get to the farther places like Sacre Coeur Basilica (don’t mistake with the one in Paris) or Atomium. A single journey costs €1.70 and generally trams and underground are clean and well looked after. To be honest, the Brussels’ tram system has been one of my most favourite transports in Europe.
If you want to take your trip a little further, make sure you regularly check www.thalys.com for great discounts on their high speed railway to other European cities. In the end of March 2014 we had a chance to book one way trip from Brussels to Amsterdam for only 15€! Normal price can be from 55€ so this is a great way how you can save a really nice bunch and extend your trip to another cool city.