3 days in Brussels is the perfect length of time to spend in this quaint city, filled with Gothic architecture and winding streets. Brussels is the administrative centre of the European Union, and weekends here are usually comparatively affordable as the hotels empty of diplomats and politicians who visit during the working week. This 3 day itinerary will help you figure out what to do in Brussels, hitting all the highlights like the Mannekin Pis, chocolate museums and breweries and bars.
3 days in Brussels | Day 1: Belgian classics
Start your long weekend in Brussels with an exploration around Gare Centraal, or Central Station. The area is a great place to base yourself for your 3 days in Brussels, with accommodation options ranging from the chic 9 Hotel Central, a boutique hotel with loft-style spaces, exposed beams and bare brick walls (great value for money!), to the stylish Le Dixseptieme with suites boasting open fireplaces and an inner courtyard in a 17th century restored building.
The nearby Museum of Chocolate will please any with a sweet tooth or an interest in the finer details of chocolate making and its history. There’s also an ongoing tasting session where you can sample all the flavours of Belgian chocolate. If you’d like to sample more of Brussels’ chocolate offerings, sign up for a walking tour and workshop.
After you’ve had your fill, pay your respects to the golden statue of Mother Mary at the Brussels Cathedral, itself an attraction all by itself. If you’re there on a Sunday, there is a carillon by the Royal Eijsbouts foundry which is a magical experience.
Stop for lunch at the Market Place, which offers everything a discerning foodie could wish for. There’s also Bij Chez Papy, where you can request fries cooked any way to your liking – extra crunchy, double fried, topped with jalapenos, cheese, peppers – anything goes here.
After lunch, load up on some Belgian chocolates and other souvenirs in the streets around Gare Central. The Galeries St Hubert is also located here, a 19th century arcade decorated with bas relief and chandeliers, with light pouring through the skylight. Here you’ll find truffles, delicate lace, boutiques selling designer clothes and antiques.
I wander wherever my feet takes me – past the tourist crowds and into twisting, tiny laneways, past renaissance buildings and underneath fairy-flossed cathedrals and arches and shop windows filled with chocolate fountains and treasures of beribboned, glossy cocoa.
Once you’re done shopping, drop by the Aroma Café to fuel up on Belgian waffles, topped with anything from icing sugar to bananas, melted chocolate, cream, Nutella or strawberries. For those with less of a hankering for sweets, there is also hot bagels and filled baguette sandwiches.
At night, visit the heart of Brussels, the Grand Place, lit up and glowing in the dark and admire the gorgeous architecture. From here, take a slow walk to L’Ogenblik, a bistro with lace curtains, marble topped tables and wrought iron lamps casting a golden glow onto the restaurant’s punters. The meals here can be expensive, but worth it for classic French cuisine. After dinner, join the raucous crowds at Delirium next door, an underground smoky pub with over 2,000 beers and ales, and pink elephants stencilled on the ceilings. If you’re a beer fan, there are some excellent beer tasting tours on offer.
3 Days in Brussels | Day 2: Eclectic finds
If you’re wondering what to do in Brussels beyond eating chocolate and mussels and drinking beer, you’re missing out on one of the great joys of this little city. The chaos of the Marolles Flea Market, located at the Place du Jeu-de-Balle is a fun and fantastic place, especially on the weekends. First established in 1919 and open on daily, there’s plenty of great buys to be had here if you are willing to bargain hard. There are antiques and second hand goods for sale here, as well as street food stalls.
Once you’re done shopping at the flea market, head to L’Idiot du Village for lunch (make a reservation!). The menu here changes with the seasons and if you’re in a hurry you can also do takeaway.
If you’re a Tintin fan, take a Tintin tour to the Hergé Museum and stop by La Fleur en Papier Dore on Rue des Alexiens, Brussels’ oldest bar and the favourite watering hole of the cartoonist himself. Other stops for Tintin fans include the lifesize mural at Market Place and Stockel, which depicts all 140 characters from the books.
In the afternoon, check out the most famous statue of Brussels, and a symbol of the city – the Mannekin Pis, a small bronze fountain sculpture of a little boy urinating. Located near Brussels’ Town Hall and close to the Grand Place, the statue often draws giggles from the crowd.
No trip to Brussels can be considered complete without tucking into a pot of steaming moules, or mussels. The classic sauce is a creamy white wine, but there are other options like sauces made from beer, or a tomato ratatouille to choose from. Pots of mussels are usually served with a side of fries and the best place to try this is at a local favourite, Le Volle Gas, which also offers a great range of Belgium beers to wash your mussels down with.
3 days in Brussels | Day 3: Museum Day
On your third and last day in Brussels, explore some of the city’s museums, like the Musée du Costume et de la Dentelle, showcasing lace making, one of Flanders’ finest exports. Bobbin lace was created in nearby Bruges and needlepoint lace from Brussels was one of the city’s best known commodities in the 19th century.
Needlepoint not your cup of tea? For those more musically inclined there is the Musical Instrument Museum, housed in the beautifully restored Old England department store, an art nouveau building from the late 19th century. Train lovers can check out Train World, which takes you through the history of railway building in Europe. Interactive and engaging, the exhibits here are perfect both for children and the inner child in all of us.
In the afternoon, explore the Atomium, originally built for Brussels’ World Fair in 1958. The building is formed by nine stainless steel clad spheres, each interconnected to form the unit cell of an iron crystal. One of its spheres is now a museum detailing the history of this iconic building.
Wrap up your 3 days in Brussels with a celebratory dinner at Le Pigeon Noir, in the Uccle area. A little further away from Brussels’ centre, Le Pigeon Noir serves traditional cuisine, specialising in pigeon. There are only 20 seats, so book ahead.