Local's guide to Brussels: best things to see and do
Brussels: it's not all beer, mussels, chips, waffles and chocolate. But that's a good start. We show you 10 fun things to do in Brussels that you shouldn't miss.
1. Take a comic tour
You may not be aware, but Brussels is known for its comic history. Comic culture is so strong here that there is an entire museum dedicated to the art: The Belgian Comic Strip Centre (open every day from 10am - 6pm), where you can explore the invention and history of the comic, as well as a section devoted to Hergé, the artist who conjured one of Belgian's most famous exports: Tintin. But one of the most unusual Brussels tourist attractions is the comic strip murals displayed on walls across the city. Create your own personalised adventure by downloading the free PDF and start exploring.
2. Musical Instruments Museum
The Musical Instruments Museum (MIM) is one of the most stunning places to visit in Brussels. Once you’ve admired the Art Nouveau architecture inside and out, toured the fascinating collections of instruments from around the world or caught a performance in the beautiful concert hall (see the online calendar for upcoming events), head up to the rooftop terrace to gaze across the city. For a streetside view, look in front of the building for a hidden terrace on your way out of the museum. It’s a lovely place to sit and contemplate the building or just watch people passing by. Tip: if you have a smartphone with a QR reader you can scan the bar code and listen to the MIM’s ‘instrument of the month’ recording.
3. Shop and sample in Le Sablon
Le Sablon is Brussels’ antique shopping area and comes with its fair share of characterful eateries and bars. Stop by Le Perroquet, an Art Nouveau bar and restaurant that serves up a long list of quick and tasty pitta breads filled with all kind of ingredients. There is a small flea market with amazing antiques next to the church here every Saturday and Sunday morning. And if you're wondering what to in Brussels on a weekend, there's no better answer than popping into the many chocolate shops in the area for a free taste! Doing Brussels on a budget? Take a look at our guide to saving money in the Belgian capital...
Perroquet opening times: Mon: midday-11.30pm; Tue & Wed: midday-midnight; Thu to Sat: midday-1am; Sun: midday-11.30pm.
4. Go local at Café Belga
Belga is the perfect café to blend in with both expats and locals, as everyone in Brussels knows this place. Open all day, you can go for breakfast, brunch or lunch, coffee in the late afternoon, an aperitif before dinner or a drink late at night. Located at Place Flagey (a melting pot of all cultures and classes), this big, busy bar has good music and a jovial atmosphere. It can get crowded but you can always lose yourself in the views: look over the nearby lakes from Belga’s big windows or its terrace. It’s a little way from the city centre but absolutely worth visiting if you want to go beyond the usual Brussels sightseeing and experience real local life.
Eat fries at Flagey
If you want to get the most from your visit to Brussels then eating some hot and delicious Belgian fries should definitely be on your list of things to do. Place Flagey is also a great place for potato snacks, with numerous vendors and a bewildering choice of sauces but Frit Flagey is often considered to be home to the best frites in Brussels. Belgian fries are fried twice in animal fat (apologies to any vegetarians), which makes them crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Weather permitting, devour your fries Belgian-style in the street or at the side of the lakes across from the square.
6. Beer at Moeder Lambic
Don't fall into a tourist trap when looking for the best beer in Brussels: Moeder Lambic is your bar. Ask the waiters for help if you don’t know what to order as they do a great job making recommendations. They have Belgian as well as international beers to go with the food they serve, including quiches, breads with numerous lovely toppings, cheeses, salads and more. There are two Moeder Lambics in Brussels, one on Place Fontainas and the original on Rue de Savoie (open until 3am every day), so check out both if you’re thirsty!
7. Explore Sainte Catherine & Antoine Dansaert
It's hard to resist the friendly, alternative vibe of this centrally-located quarter that combines a flavour of real city living with a handy proximity to all the main tourist attractions in Brussels. From inspired haute couture studios to vintage second-hand shops, specialist fish restaurants, cosy terraces or typical Belgian bars, you get it all here. And if you can't bear to leave at the end of the day, Hotel Cafe Pacific puts you in the heart of the action by St Catherine's Square, with hearty breakfasts in the cafe downstairs to boot.
8. Dine at Fin de Siècle
Lapin à la Kriek (rabbit in cherry beer sauce), jamboneau à la moutarde (knuckle in mustard sauce), and carbonade (meat stew) are just a few of the specialties that await on the daily blackboard menu at Fin de Siècle, one of the finest Brussels restaurants around. For dessert, don’t miss the tiramisu au speculoos (tiramisu with a typical Belgian cookie), which is a great way to round off a meal here. The wooden furniture, long sharing tables and friendly staff make this one of the most pleasant places in town, but there no reservations so try to go early or late to get a spot. Located on Rue de Chartreux.
9. Cosy up in Café Merlo
Café Merlo is one of the best examples of a typical Flemish café-bar in the city, which is actually a rare find in Brussels. On cold days, snuggle up inside by the long wooden bar, on warm days relax outside on their lovely terrace. Order a ‘Belgo’ from the tap and try to come on a Tuesday evening to catch one of the great live gigs here.
10. Dance at Madame Moustache
Madame Moustache is something of a local's favourite place to go out in Brussels as they have a really broad selection of music and it's free on weekdays (€5-7 at weekends). The waiters have been known to wear sailor outfits, there's old-school music hall decor and themed nights from swing dancing to electro to disco and funk. They sometimes have live music, so check their monthly programme to see what’s in store. If dancing’s not your thing there’s a smoking room and table football.
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*Published October 2016. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.