I think Brussels was one of the first cities that Joe and I spoke about visiting once we knew we were moving to London. I’ve read a lot about this city over the last few years due to many people coming for music festivals and others for the beer 🙂 We had no excuse as to not book Brussels considering we had “free” tickets on Eurostar from a compensation voucher I received last year. We definitely feel that taking the train is the way to go whenever possible, there are so many perks over flying! Departure from central London = less commute time = earlier departure/arrival, arriving directly into destination city rather than an airport on the outskirts, more lenient security, many more time options, and usually less expensive. Why not, right?!
We arrived in Brussels around 9pm and headed straight to our Airbnb, which was seriously only 10 minutes from Brussels Central Station. We loved this place so much – it was a super cute & modern loft with exposed brick and great decor. I could have easily moved in! We wasted no time dropping off our stuff and heading out the door. This was one of the first times we actually arrived to a city on a Friday night with some time to spare, so we wanted to make the most of it. We walked around the corner and saw lots of people outside of a bar called Moeder Lambic. They had big wooden booths in the front and with only 1 left open, it was calling our name! Joe ordered us a bunch of different beers to try, and omg they were all so good! Some hoppy, some sour, some wheat – we liked them all. Maybe even a little too much as our quick drink turned into a 1am last call 🙂
We woke up early the next morning in search for some coffee & a snack. We walked around our neighborhood, Stalingrad, which was virtually dead at 8am on a Saturday. After some mindless walking, Joe started to get hangry and decided he wouldn’t be happy without a waffle for breakfast. Every article you read says that Maison Dandoy makes the best in Brussels, so we knew we had to have it. We were literally the first people there before the doors opened, but the crowd quickly drew and Joe made sure to hold his own as first in the queue. When the doors opened we entered into a confectionery heaven. There was an entire waffle and coffee bar section in addition to of a large glass case filled with all your bakery dreams. When ordering waffles in Belgium, you have a choice of either a Brussels waffle which is rectangular, lighter and crisper or a Leige waffle which has irregular edges, is denser, and has chunks of caramelized sugar in the dough. Unlike what we picture waffles as in the States, these are usually eaten by hand, sans toppings! Of course you can add nutella, strawberries and whipped cream should you desire, but we decided to do as the Belgians do and get plain Leige waffles. The ones we had from Maison Dandoy were amaaaaazing – warm, perfectly sweet, and doused in powdered sugar. I think Joe asked when we can get the next one before he was even finished his first….
We booked a free walking tour with Sandeman’s, which began bright and early at the center of La Grand-Place. I was stunned from the moment I stepped into the square. It seriously feels like you are transported back hundreds of years – the buildings are so unique to any city we’ve seen. Buildings covered in gold with very colourful facades adorn majority of this market square. It feels much more like a proper market square as it is not only huge (360 feet!), but the buildings are all very high, making you feel like a tiny ant when you are standing in the center. We quickly learned from our tour guide that Grand Place served as the commercial hub of Brussels and to no surprise, the spectacular architecture represents the social & political importance of the square during the 17th century. The blend of architecture and the heavily Baroque artistic style are unlike anything I’ve seen in Europe. Our tour guide also explained that Brussels built itself on being merchants & tradesman – this is where everyone came to sell or trade their goods, and the surrounding opulent guildhalls belonged to people like the baker, the brewer, and haberdasher. The larger, Gothic church looking building in the square is actually Brussels Town Hall. I could barely pay attention to our tour guide because I was so busy taking pictures of this beautiful place – no surprise that it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We continued along our walking tour to the next stop, Mannekin Pis, which literally translates to “little man pee” – and is basically a tiny statue of a boy peeing. Our tour guide told us the statue is famous for basically no reason, ha! There are a bunch of different stories that explain the statue’s significance, but no real truth. Regardless, this has become one of the most popular spots in Brussels and continues to be a favourite by not only tourists, but locals as well.
Our tour made stops at the Church of Notre Dame, St.Nicholas Church, Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert and the St.Michael and St.Gudula Cathedral. I had no idea that there was such a strong French influence in Belgium which I learned is due to the fact that the country was an aggregation of territories belonging to France and the Netherlands. French is actually spoken by the majority of citizens, and every street name is written in both French & Dutch. Pretty unique place if you ask me.
The next stop was Brussels Park, a huge green space in the middle of the bustling city. Although we went on a dreary day in March when absolutely no flowers were in bloom and the fountain was not yet turned on for the season, the park was still very pretty. The park is anchored by the Royal Palace, Parliament, and the U.S. Embassy. We also learned that Brussels is the seat of the European Union, which brings people from all over the continent to live & work in this city, making it one of the most diverse in the entire world.
The tour ended at Mont des Arts monument and garden, leaving us with a picture perfect view overlooking the city. We had worked up quite the appetite after walking around all morning, and decided we should be rewarded with, yup, you guessed it…FRITES! We journeyed to the Ixelles neighborhood to have what some say are one the best Belgian frites in the city at Frit Flagey. We knew we were in the right place when we saw a queue of about 20 people outside a tiny stand with a big french fry sign on it. What’s really cool about Belgium is that a lot of the pubs will let you bring in your fries to eat them, as long as you order a drink. So once we conquered the queue, we took our cones & array of dipping sauces over to Le Flagey’s to enjoy our first frites with a pint. Literally one of my fave combos to eat together… so, so good!
We walked back towards the center of city and made some pit stops at a few shops. The best being My Be Pop, a gourmet popcorn shop! We tried some really cool flavours like praline and tomato pesto. They were all so good it was hard to choose just one, but we wound up going home with a container of black olive flavour – I know it sounds weird but seriously delicious.
While we were walking back, it began to rain. Really hard. It put a damper (no pun intended) on our afternoon, so instead of getting soaked – we decided to head indoors. Keeping with the theme of the weekend, we thought it would be a great idea to have an afternoon tipple. And from what I’ve read, you can’t go to Brussels without visiting Delirium. This place has over 2,000 different types of beer available at your fingertips, so definitely a must try when visiting. The bartender suggested we try a Trappist beer, which are unique to Europe and brewed at Trappist monasteries by monks! We hung out in a booth and enjoyed the rainy afternoon from this little cool cafe.
After going back and relaxing at the flat for a bit, we decided to get a nice drink before our late dinner. We headed around the block to Les Cercle des Voyageurs where we were sat at a cozy table for two. This place seemed to have a travel theme, with old luggage and maps covering the walls. A super neat stop we were happy to stumble upon. But now it was time for the main event – our one dinner in Brussels, can you guess what we ate?
We went to dinner at Le Zinneke – a Belgian bistro serving traditional food in an intimate setting. They serve over 65 different mussel recipes, so I knew Joe would love to try this place. As usual, we went all out in trying local dishes and started with Stoemp with sausage. Holy moly, it was the best thing I’ve ever tasted. I know I probably say that pretty often on here, but I swear this was something I still bring up to Joe. Stoemp is basically glorified mashed potatoes – they are mixed with brussel sprouts, carrots, turnips, onions and possibly even some other veggies. We got ours topped with a delicious, crispy sausage to boot. The real winner of this dish is the sauce they served with it, basically a browned butter. Omg I am drooling just thinking about it! This dish is literally the definition of comfort food.
Next up were the mussels. We had so much trouble choosing because there were SOOOO many options. After much deliberation, we ended up with one with white wine, garlic, cream, and herbs and the other beer, carrots, ginger and bacon. Both were really good, I think Joe was in heaven. As if all of that food wasn’t enough, we ended the night with a waffle and whipped cream. A serious food coma ensued.
Of course we woke up the next morning and the weather was BEAUTIFUL! Always seems to happen on the day we have to leave 😦 But we took to the streets nice and early. I took a detour back through the Grand Place so I could snap some pics of the square and buildings in the sun. We perused a few stores and picked up some gifts at La Belgique Gormande. The chocolate here really is yummy. But we needed some real food and decided on Peck 47 for lunch. Again we were faced with a line out the door, but with time to kill, we didn’t mind waiting. We had our 3rd round of waffles – this time savory – mine cheddar chive and Joe’s with goat cheese and tomatoes. Peck is a super cute cafe with an eclectic menu, definitely worth checking out if you need a break from frites!
With another hour or so to spare, we knew there was only one way to end our trip. We realized that the day before we accidentally went to the wrong Delirium. Well not the wrong one, but apparently there are a few cafes and we accidentally went to a smaller one. Now we were on track to go to the main event. This place was HUGE with tons of different rooms and all kinds of cool vintage beer signs. We dabbled in another Trappist and chatted about how well Brussels treated us. It was such a clean and pretty city with super hospitable people and an impressive foodie culture. You can tell locals are really passionate about their city, and it’s easy to see why. Although we probably won’t make it back to Brussels, we would love to come back to Belgium. People rave about Brugge, so we’re definitely going to try and plan a trip there in the upcoming year.