Brussels is one of those cities that you’ve heard about, but it never is really on your list of places to visit. At least this was true for me. With the exception of waffles and fries, I didn’t really know much about the European city. But when a flight deal calls, I come running!
I found a flight from Addis Ababa to Brussels for about $370 and saw I could catch a train to Paris and Amsterdam from the centralized location and booked it back in March. My experience flying Turkish Airlines back in February was pleasant, so I wasn’t worried about the experience. And the added long layovers were appealing as it would allow us to visit another city in the process.
We arrived in Brussels around 9pm and took a taxi from the airport. This ran us about 50€ so if can get to the city by train, it will definitely be cheaper. We were tired and didn’t feel like navigating the train system at night, so I opted to just pay the money. We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton, checked in and were on our way to bed shortly thereafter.
The next morning, we grabbed our breakfast and headed out to explore the city. Not really knowing where to go, we just wandered around for 20 minutes and eventually found our way to a bus stop and caught the first bus that came. Lucky us, we ended up near the Grand Palace and got off to explore and find the City Sightseeing Bus Stop. To our amazement, we stumbled upon the Musical Instruments Museum. This museum housed over 8,000 musical instruments from all over the world. They have guided tours daily, but only in French, but you can purchase the audio guide for an additional 2€ and you’re able to listen to the different musical instruments being played. They even had some singing and chanting playing from Mexico and China respectively.
We wandered around this place, amazed at the different instruments, the progression of the instruments we know of today, and the different sounds and histories we discovered. There was even a section where we were able to play around with a few of them. The tickets were only 10€ for adults and children 12 and under are free!
While we were in the museum, we noticed the City Sightseeing bus pass by, so after we were finished exploring musical instruments, we walked across the street and caught the bus. In every city we go, we catch a sightseeing tour bus. It is an excellent way to see the major sights of the city in one swoop. Plus, it’s a pretty inexpensive way to get around the city. Our tickets were only 25€ for the both of us, you can hop off and on for a full day and discover new things you might miss if you’re only focusing on visiting a few select sights. Plus if you’re visiting more than one city, you get a 10% discount on your next ticket.
In Brussels, the tour bus had two lines. On the red line, you can see the best of Brussels, the sights the city is best known for, and have direct stops at some of the city’s most amazing museums and architecture. On the blue line, it takes you to the outside of the city and you can visit Atomium, the atom-like structure built for the 1958 World’s Fair, a miniature sized Europe (sort of like Disneyland with no Mickey or rides), and drive past lush gardens.
We took both lines and ended up in some awesome parts of the city. We got off a few times and explored the fisherman’s market area, where I got some amazing seafood, listened to a live brass band, and watched an outdoor basketball game. We also learned some amazing facts about the city. None of which I remember accurately enough to share with all of you, but trust my word – the city has a pretty fascinating history.
I think the one fact that I learned about the fries, or frites, is that while they originated in Belgium, people started calling them french fries because someone started referring to them by the word that means “to french, or cut into sticks” and that’s how they became known as french fries to the rest of the world. They are also fried twice, which makes them soft and creamy on the inside and crisp on the outside. Yum!
During our time here, we also rented bikes. Brussels is a very bike-friendly city and there were Villo! kiosks all over the place. The process to rent was (kinda) simple and we were on our way once we figured everything out. There are also bike kiosks within a mile of one another, so it’s easy to return them once you’re done. The rental was only 1.50€ for the day (with a 150€ hold on your credit card) so it’s a cheap and easy way to get around the city. I was super nervous with the boy riding in the busy street with me, but he handled it like a pro. I will say though, Brussels is full of cobble stoned streets that are up hill, a dangerous combination for someone as out of shape as I. But I worked it out and ended up having a little fun in the process.
Brussels is a safe, kid-friendly city that I would recommend to anyone. We were comfortable walking around the city all times of the day and it helped that sunset was at 10pm every day we were here, making for more time to explore. It was unseasonably chilly, so make sure you double check the weather before coming. I didn’t expect it to be so cold and brought mostly dresses and shorts. Hello…summer?!?!
Also, be mindful that on Sundays a lot of things are closed until the evenings. We were happy that we explored most of the city on Saturday because Sunday morning we went riding around and found that most of the places were closed for business. However, on Sundays there are a lot of social gatherings happening in the parks and green spaces, so you’re to stumble upon a dance party, street performers, and a pop-up beer garden.
We found ourselves in the middle of a dance rave at Parc de Bruxelles (or Warandepark). We rode our bikes from Mont de Artes and found the park across from the Royal Palace of Brussels. This place was happening and we were curious as to what we would find in there. There were jugglers, a happening dance party, and people just sitting around drinking beer and cocktails while the children ran around in circles. If we had time, I would have loved to just sit around and people watch.
There is so much more to Brussels than I expected. I honestly thought it was just beer, waffles, and chocolate (and I was completely okay with that). We found museums to explore, tons of food places to eat, and loads of green spaces where we could bike around, relax on a lazy day, and listen to live music being played. Brussels is a great place to explore for a few days, easy to get around on the busses and trams, and totally worth visiting at least once in your life.
If you’re looking for more activities for the kiddos, there is the Brussels Waffle Workshop is a great place. Here, you can learn to make these famous waffles yourself. The workshops run regularly daily and you can go through the whole process from mixing to eating in about 90 minutes. I wanted to go, but the boy protested and wanted to just eat them rather than learn how to cook them. We only rode past the Parc du Cinquantenaire and Brussel’s Arc de Triomphe, both on bikes and the bus. If you have young ones, it’s a great place to let them run around. The Arc de Triumphe houses the Royal Museum of the Army and Military History and I hear you can take the elevator to the top for a panoramic view of Brussels.
We weren’t able to catch these places, but I hear that they are a must-see for Brussels, especially traveling with kids. If we’re ever back in this part of the world, we will definitely explore more and possibly even take a trip to the medieval town of Bruges. If Belgium was never on your list, I would suggest giving it a try. It might surprise you. I know we were!
This post was all about our sight-seeing experience. If you’re interested in hearing about the food we ate (and we ate a lot) check out our previous post here.