A perfect day in The Capital of Europe probably should include all the “usual suspects.” If you’re only going to get one crack at the town for a while, you may as well enjoy them. Thousands of tourists come here every day and in the high season the city can become very crowded and quite humid for Europe. Any day in Brussels should be spent armed with the holy trinity – a camera, an umbrella and sunglasses. You may laugh, but pack at least these three items and you’ll thank me later.
One final piece of advice: while the sightseeing bus tours are popular, the Brussels bus company (STIB/MIVB) will sell you a ticket valid for the entire bus network, local trains, trams and metro (subway) for a very low price: €18 will cover all your travel for three days straight. That includes getting you back to the airport.
One not to miss is the Hotel de Ville (town hall). A fascinating example of Gothic architecture, a trip around the interior is low-cost and highly recommended, while occupying the entire east end of the Grand Place, La Maison des Ducs de Brabant is actually six former guild houses.
Over on the south side, facing the Hotel de Ville, is La Maison du Roi. Not the house of the King of Belgium but rather the offices doing the admin for the Duchy of Brabant. When Charles, Duke of Brabant, became King of Spain, the house was renamed.
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There’s at least a day’s worth of sightseeing in the Grand Place alone but as we’re showing you round in a day, we’ll move on. Hungry yet?
You could try Le Roy d’Espagne (the King of Spain) – yep, it’s King Charles again. This building was once the bakers’ guild house. If you’re in the mood for loud music and bouncers on the door, there’s the Hard Rock Brussels. If that isn’t cool enough, why not try a little bar just off the side of the Grand Place called Le Cercueil? The name means ‘coffin’ in French, which should give you a clue what to expect.
What about the Manneken Pis? Well, here goes with the whistle-stop tour of things urinating in public. First, for ease of walking, leave the Grand Place via the small lane to the left of the La Maison du Roi, rue Chair et Pain. Cross the rue de Marché aux Herbes and in about 300m, turn left onto the rue des Bouchers. Your first right turn is Impasse de la Fidélité, where you’ll find Jeanneke Pis. As you may guess, she’s a female version of Brussels’ most famous son.
Retrace your steps back to the Grand Place and head for the street at the left side of the Hotel de Ville, rue Charles Buls. Just on your left, there’s the Statue of Everard ‘t Serclaes. Continue on this road, crossing the rue du Lombard onto the rue de l’Etuve. Keep going for around 200m to the crossroads with the rue de Chêne, where you will find the Manneken Pis. We’re not finished yet. Walk back the way you came down rue de l’Etuve and turn left onto rue du Lombard. Keep going along for about 450m (it will become rue des Riches Claires) then turn right onto rue Saint Christophe. At the end of this street is the Zinneke Pis.
Leaving the Grand Place, take the rue de Vieux Marché aux Grains, across rue Saint-Catherine and walk along the side of Place Saint-Catherine. There are many tempting places to eat seafood here. Yes, it’s touristy but locals eat here, too. Keep going a little further and you’ll reach De Brouckère Metro station. Take Metro 1 (Stockel) or Metro 5 (Hermann-Debroux) and go 5 stops, getting off at Schuman.
From the Schuman roundabout, take rue Archimède and follow it right to the end (about 400m). This will bring you to Square Ambiorix, well worth a detour.
I mention public transport a lot but taxis are plentiful in Brussels if your budget allows. Be warned, however, that they are eye-wateringly expensive, particularly after dark. Driving is not recommended. Everything you’ve heard is true.