Here’s my tip if you ever have a layover long enough to leave the airport and explore for a few hours: hit up the airport tourism booth and ask the person for a map of the town, and just have them highlight the must-see sights. That’s what I did last year in Copenhagen and this time when I was in Brussels for a ten-hour layover. Here’s my crash course tour Brussels based on the tourism lady’s suggestions:
I had lunch at this burger spot that had free wi-fi and cool murals all over the walls. Not to mention it encouraged adding your own graffiti to the bathroom walls (which were chalkboards). The Basique burger I ordered was humongous. There was also a burger on the menu that consisted of raw beef with a raw egg in the middle. After consulting with my mom, she informed me that this is steak tartare, and that she used to eat it because it’s actually good. No thank you!
I don’t know much about the history of this particular landmark, but it’s basically a small statue of a boy pissing. Oh, and they dress him up in random outfits. Apparently, he’s the pride and joy of Brussels.
Grand-Place Grote Markt
Finally, I was starting to like Brussels. Let’s just say that the train station where the airport shuttle drops you off is hardly charming or scenic – it’s almost dismal. But this main tourist square is beautiful. The buildings are an old, brown-beige stone color and are all complemented by the same red flowers. It looks really striking – the bright red petals contrast the stone buildings perfectly.
This is a pretty row of shops in a covered gallery. Too bad I had no money to shop at the moment!
Marche aux Poissons Vismet
Apparently this is the place to go for a good fish dinner. I wasn’t in the mood for a fish dinner, but wanted to check out the area anyways. The restaurants had the cutest neon-red lobster signs out front. I have to say that Brussels has some of the cutest shop-fronts I’ve seen.
I don’t know what Brussels’ obsession with pissing is, but this church literally has built-in stone urinals on the outer wall. I actually saw some guy pissing in them – literally pissing on the church.
Place de la Bourse Beursplein
I was trying to find this famous cafe I read about, Belle Epoch, but failed. However, I did see tons of police, helmets ready, and police cars. Not sure what was going on, but something was going on. I also saw St. Nicolaus Church in this area. It had this very simple, clean, limestone look from the outside, which I really liked.
As I was walking around, this jewelry store caught my eye – it was a really small shop, but had these beautiful Art Noveau-inspired rings. And the lady happened to accept credit cards, so I made a little impulse buy. Oops… But, in my defense, it is a really unique ring and it was my only souvenir purchase in Brussels.
Mont des Arts Kuntsberg
This is a more modern, artsy square. It’s also where the Museum of Musical Instruments is – a slender, elegant Art Nouveau building made mostly of glass windows with music-inspired designs and music-carved brass.
Rue des Sablons
Apparently this is the place to buy chocolate (according to the map/guide from the tourism booth lady). Not sure if I got to the right place exactly, but this street did have really cute boutique shops and is anchored by a pretty church.
At this point, I was exhausted and my body was giving out on me, so I just headed back to the shuttle, passing by the crazy art station, full of skateboarders, and Place V. Hortaplein, which is dominated by a tall, glass office building.