Are you trying to make the most of one day in Brussels but you have no idea where to start? Don’t worry, I got you! In this article I will list the best things to do in Brussels if you only have 1 day. And some of these activities are even completely free!
I absolutely love Brussels and have been coming here ever since I was little. In just one day you will see the most beautiful historical buildings, find the cutest shops and eat the most delicious food. If you have a little more time on your hands make sure to check out these beautiful places in Belgium.
Brussels is the capital of Belgium and is part of both the Flemish Community as the French Community. Before the 18th century the main language that was spoken here was Dutch but ever since the foundation of the Kingdom of Belgium there has been a Frenchification of Brussels. The main language now spoken is French. But did you know that the biggest contributor to this language change wasn’t immigration from the French and Walloons to the area? It was mostly because of the Flemish inhabitants living there. The Dutch language was considered a language of poor social standing so more and more Flemish people switched to French.
Until this day this is still a thing in Belgium. Flemish people who try to look more fabulous and up their social standing by speaking French in public.
People of foreign origin make up nearly 70% of the population of Brussels and because of it’s international character a lot of people are also fluent in English.
How To Make The Most of One Day in Brussels
Visit the Grand Place – The Market Square of Brussels
The Grand Place is the central square of Brussels and also the most visited place in our capital. That’s why this should be your first stop on your day trip in Brussels. It’s a magnificent square surrounded by guild houses and here you’ll find the city’s Town Hall and the King’s House which now hosts the Brussels City Museum. The Grand Place was voted the most beautiful square in Europe in 2010 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A lot of festivities and cultural events are organised here such as a beautiful light show during the Christmas Period. But the most famous one has to be the Flower Carpet where every two years an enormous flower carpet is set up in the Grand Place for a few days.
Pay a visit to Manneken Pis
Only 5 minutes walking from the Grand Place, at the junction of Rue du Chêne and the Rue de l’Étuve you’ll find Manneken Pis, the most famous statue in Belgium. The statue here is actually a replica and the original can be found in the Brussels City Museum. The little statue has often been the subject of theft but luckily it was always recovered. Once it was broken into 11 pieces but they welded it back together and made a mold to recreate the bronzen statue.
There are several legends regarding Manneken Pis. The most famous one is the one about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts. They put the child in a basket and hung it in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.
Wander through the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert
Welcome to the oldest shopping arcade in Europe! The Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert was even built before the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan and The Passage in St Petersburg. The gallery is split into two sections and is divided in the middle by the Rue de Boucher. This little street is lined with restaurants and is one of the biggest tourist traps in entire Brussels. The only restaurant you should try here is “Aux armes de Bruxelles” and order the shrimp croquettes.
The Royal Gallery is the perfect place to do some window or real shopping during your day in Brussels. Here you’ll find some of the most beautiful stores such as:
- La Folie des Cadeaux – A magnificent toy store that you simply have to enter.
- Les Ecuadors – If you’re looking for unique jewellery you’ll love this shop.
- Maison Dandoy – Try their home made speculoos, it’s amazing!
- Delvaux – A luxury designer brand from Belgium, known for it’s beautiful handbags. You might want to check your credit card balance before entering :p.
Admire Brussels from the Mont des Arts
The Mont des Arts is a historic site in the centre of Brussels, including the Royal Library of Belgium, the National Archives of Belgium and a public garden. It offers one of the most beautiful viewpoints over the historic centre of Brussels from where you can admire the spire of the City Hall. And on a sunny day you can even see the Atomium and the Koekelberg basilica from here! These days the place is really popular with the locals. In the evening they will gather here for drinks which unfortunately also leads to a lot of empty bottles and cans laying around.
Go Antique Shopping at the Grand Sablon
If you’re visiting Brussels during the weekend you have to pass by the Grand Sablon. Every weekend there is the Sablon Antiques and Books Markets where you’ll find over 40 stalls selling artwork, porcelain and much more. Surrounding the square are antique stores, designer boutiques, hotels, restaurants, an auction house and well-known Belgian chocolatiers such as Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini and Godiva.
Take a look inside the Musical Instrument Museum
The Musical Instrument Museum is part of the Royal Museums for Art and History and internationally known for its collection of over 8,000 instruments. The museum’s collection presents Belgian musical history, European musical traditions, and non-European instruments. It is located in the former Old England department store which is a beautiful example of the Art Nouveau style.
On the top floor or the museum you’ll find a restaurant which is free to enter. Since April 2020 the restaurant is under renovation.
If you love beautiful architecture and you want to more beautiful examples of the Art Nouveau style you have to take a day trip to Antwerp!
Opening hours – 10am to 5pm, closed on Mondays
Entrance – €10
Tickets must be purchased in advance online due to the new Covid-19 regulations.
Let your inner child out at the Comic Art Museum
Do you want to take a journey through the world of the European Comic Strip? Then this is the perfect museum for you to visit on your one day in Brussels! Plus it’s one of the most fun museums to visit in Belgium! Besides being dedicated to the Comic Strip art the museum is also a brilliant example of Art Nouveau architecture.
With more than 700 comic strip authors, Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometre than any other country in the world! This wonderful place of imagination is home to some of the greatest such as Tintin, Spirou, Bob and Bobette, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Blake and Mortimer, Marsupilami, etc.
Opening hours – Wednesday to Sunday – 10am to 6pm
Entrance fee – €10.
Tickets must be purchased in advance online due to the new Covid-19 regulations.
If you can’t get enough of these Comic Strips you can also do the Comic Strip Walk in Brussels.
Admire the majestic Palace of Justice
The Palace of Justice is the most important court building in entire Belgium and has been under renovation for decades. At the end of World War II the Germans started a fire inside of the building which caused an insane amount of destruction. Because of this never ending renovation the scaffolding got so rusted and unsafe that the scaffolding itself is in need of renovation. Nevertheless it’s one of the most beautiful and well known landmarks of Brussels.
Visit the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg
The National Basilica of the Sacred Heart is located on top of a hill in Koekelberg and can be spotted from miles away. It’s architecture was inspired by the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in Paris and it is the largest building in Art Deco style in the world.
Behind the Basilica you’ll find the Parc Elisabeth which offers an amazing view over this majestic building. It’s the perfect place to relax a little and maybe even enjoy a pic nic.
You can reach the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart with line 2 or 6 of the Brussels Metro.
Watch the sunset at the Atomium
The Atomium was originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World Expo, also known as Expo 58, and is now a museum. The top sphere even hosts a restaurant which offers a panoramic view over Brussels. The Atomium depicts nine iron atoms in the shape of the body-centred cubic unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times. It wasn’t supposed to stand after the exhibition, but year after year it’s demolition was postponed until the city’s authorities decided to keep it.
You can easily reach the Atomium with line 6 of the Brussels metro.
Opening hours – The Atomium is open every single day (including holidays) from 10am to 6pm
Entrance fee – €16
Where to eat in Brussels on your one day trip
These are some of my favourite restaurants in Brussels!
Aux armes de Bruxelles – Located in the rue de Boucher and only 5 minutes walking from the Grand Place. Make sure to try the shrimp croquettes!
Cospaia – A stylish restaurant in walking distance of the Palace of Justice.
La Table de Mus – Delicious food at a decent price.
Where to stay in Brussels
Looking for a place to spend the night in Brussels? These are some of the most unique hotels to end your day in Brussels.
Hotel Metropole – An interior of stunning marble, alluring gold, royal red and sophisticated architecture that highlights the hotel’s wealth of history.
Royal Windsor – Located only a short walk from the major sites in Brussels. On the hotel’s roof top terrace guests can enjoy the gorgeous open Brussels skyline and an unbeatable view of the Town Hall building.
Vintage Hotel – The most spectacular feature is an experience named ‘glamping’: a vintage Airstream Caravan from 1958 parked in a courtyard of the hotel. Here guests can relive a nostalgic experience with the bonus perks of modernity.
Brussels is such a fun and unique city that I am sure you’ll wish you had more than just one day to explore. But often people tend to rush their visit in Belgium so hence this blog post. This way you’ll be able to see the most beautiful parts Brussels has to offer in the time span of just one day.
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Charlotte Lint is the founder of Charlies Wanderings.
Charlotte has traveled all over the world and is based in Belgium where she also owns her very own dental practice.
She is an expert on writing efficient travel guides and finding unique places to stay.
Every month she helps over 134.000 people discover the most beautiful places in the world through her detailed travel guides.