Two-Day Brussels Itinerary – Our First Visit

We came to like Brussels pretty much as soon as we hopped off the train from Luxembourg. Before even arriving in Belgium’s capital, we knew two days were not going to be enough to fit in all of the activities we wanted to do. And upon arrival, the lively city scene, beautiful architecture, delicious food, and abundance of unique attractions really solidified the notion that we would want to come back again to experience more. We often find that there’s too much so see in too little time while traveling, and that was definitely the case in Belgium. But here are the activities we fit into our two-day Brussels itinerary for our first visit to the city.

Brussels Itinerary

Day 1:

We had arrived in Brussels by train the night before and were eager to explore the city, so we headed out that morning with the intention of seeing as much as we could!

Parc du Cinquantenaire

Our first stop in Brussels was Parc du Cinquantenaire. We were staying not too far away and arrived around sunrise. This pretty park consists of green spaces and various paths leading up to Brussels’ iconic triumphal arch. The monument consists of three arches with intricate carvings and sculptures. Various events take place in this park throughout the year.

We walked some of the paths and watched the sun come up over the park as we waited for the Royal Military Museum to open.

Cost: Free

Reservation Required: No

Time: Around 30 minutes

Morning at the Cinquantenaire Arch
Morning at the Cinquantenaire Arch

Royal Military Museum

Just by the Cinquantenaire Arch is the Royal Military Museum. This huge museum contains many displays covering aviation, the Navy, various wars, and more. There are so many artifacts in this museum, from uniforms and photos to old planes and tanks. There really was so much to take in here!

In addition to the museum, visitors can climb the steps to the upper terraces around the arch to take in some pretty views over the surrounding areas of Brussels.

Cost: €12 per adult; also covered by the Brussels Card.

Reservation Required: No, but you can reserve online in advance if desired. Reserving in advance may be a good idea during peak season.

Time: We spent just over 2 hours here, but you’d need close to a half day if you want to take everything in at your leisure.

For more details on visiting the Royal Military Museum, check out our other post!

Planes inside the Royal Military Museum
Planes inside the Royal Military Museum

The Atomium

The Atomium is a large and very unique building resembling a molecule. It was built for the World’s Fair in the 1950s and has become a symbol of Brussels. Visitors can enter the structure to walk through the exhibits that provide information on the history and construction of the building and take in the views from the upper spheres. There’s even a restaurant up top if you’d like to enjoy the views for a little longer.

Cost: €16 per adult for the standard ticket; €12 with the Brussels Card add-on option.

Reservation Required: No but recommended to guarantee your spot and skip the ticket line.

Time: 1-2 hours

Read more about visiting the Atomium in our other post.

The iconic Atomium - one of the top attractions added to a Brussels itinerary
The iconic Atomium

Parc de Laeken

Near to the Atomium is Parc de Laeken. This is a lovely park with wide open green spaces, areas of large trees, some ponds, and statues/monuments. On the day we were there, there was some sort of running event going on. There were many people out taking part in the event or watching from the lawns near the paths, so the park was very busy, but it was nonetheless a beautiful place for a stroll.

Also in Parc de Laeken are the Serres Royales, or the Royal Greenhouses. These large glass domes contain pretty paths winding through royal gardens. These gardens, along with other notable buildings in the area, are operated and owned by the Monarchy and are therefore only open on occasion. They are typically open to visitors in the spring and early summer, so check the website for updates and ticket info if you’d like to visit. We were there in the fall and the greenhouses were not open for visits.

Cost: Free access to the park, €5 per adult for the Serres Royales

Reservation Required: Not for the park, yes for the Serres Royales

Time: 30 minutes – 1 hour, more if you intend to visit the Serres Royales

Looking over Parc de Laeken from the Atomium
Looking over Parc de Laeken from the Atomium

Notre-Dame de Laeken & Laeken Area

We left the park and soon found ourselves at the Notre-Dame de Laeken. This beautiful Gothic church was built in the 19th century and contains a Royal Crypt where some members of the Belgian royal family were laid to rest.

Visitors can walk through the church to admire the detail and architecture. Note that the Royal Crypt is only open several days per year for a few hours. The church itself is generally only open in the afternoon and may close for events, so check the website before your visit. The church wasn’t open when we visited, but we still enjoyed admiring its exterior as we made our way into the Laeken area.

We walked the streets of the Laeken area of Brussels for a little while as we made our way south towards Schaerbeek. Laeken is known for the various royal residences and parks, but we also found a large blend of cultures. As we explored, we found little markets selling goods from around the world, mosques, and restaurants offering a variety of international cuisines. As we neared the canal, the area became more industrial.

Cost: Free

Reservation Required: No

Time: About 30 minutes if you go in the Notre-Dame plus however long you want to spend exploring the Laeken area.

Notre-Dame de Laeken
Notre-Dame de Laeken

Schaerbeek Beer Museum

We took a quick tram ride from Laeken to Schaerbeek, where we then headed to the Schaerbeek Beer Museum. This little museum covers a bit about the production of beer and displays a ton of beer products, from bottles and glasses to pub signs and taps. Beer culture is huge in Belgium, so it was interesting to learn a bit about what goes into making it! The museum is small, but the informational pamphlet given to us provided extra info to go with the displays.

After making our way through the exhibit area, we headed into the beer hall space. A tasting of the Schaerbeekois beers brewed here is included in the museum visit and we were also given some snacks. We ended up staying a while and ordered a few different beers. The staff were so friendly and we enjoyed trying some of the selection there.

Cost: €5 per adult; also covered by the Brussels Card

Reservation Required: No

Time: 1 hour plus more if you want to hang out and try more beers

Displays at the Schaerbeek Beer Museum
Displays at the Schaerbeek Beer Museum
Beers and snacks after the museum
Beers and snacks after the museum

 

Day 2:

Comic Book Route

All around Brussels are murals of various comic book scenes, themes, and characters. Before heading out, we looked at the Comic Book Walls map and saved some of the ones we wanted to see that were close to areas we were exploring this day. So as we wandered about the city in between museums and such, we took a look at some of the nearby murals. We always love seeing street art when we travel and the comic aspect was quite unique!

Cost: Free

Reservation Required: No

Time: There’s not really a specific time as we just stopped to look at the murals as we made our way about the city. They are spread out around Brussels, but many are located around the city center. If you walked to see all the ones around the city center without other stops in between, it would probably take about an hour.

A cartoon depiction incorporating the famous Manneken Pis
A cartoon depiction incorporating the famous Manneken Pis

Parc de Bruxelles

Our first site of our second day in Brussels was the Parc De Bruxelles. This pretty park contains fountains, many paths winding through groves, benches, and sculptures. It was quite a nice spot for a morning stroll as we made our way to our next stop.

As we exited the park, we also walked by the Palais de Bruxelles, or the Royal Palace. The palace is also one of the royal buildings that can only be visited during several weeks of the year and was closed during our time in Belgium.

Cost: Free

Reservation Required: No

Time: 15-30 minutes

Autumn in Parc de Bruxelles
Autumn in Parc de Bruxelles
Outside the palace
Outside the palace

Church and Square of Sablon

Our next stop was another park – the Square of Petit Sablon. This small garden is quite picturesque with trimmed hedges, a beautiful fountain, and large trees surrounded by historic buildings. There were quite a few people taking photos there.

Just by the park is the Notre-Dame des Victoires au Sablon. This is another beautiful Gothic church built in the 15th century. The details are beautiful, from the intricate carvings in the entry to the stained-glass windows inside.

Cost: Free for both the park and a walk through the church

Reservation Required: No

Time: 30-45 minutes for both

The pretty Square of Petit Sablon
The pretty Square of Petit Sablon
Notre-Dame des Victoires au Sablon
Notre-Dame des Victoires au Sablon

Mont des Artes

We then made our way over to Mont des Artes. This famous space is known for its pretty landscaping and architecture. Many people come here to take in the views over the gardens and surrounding city. It is a popular place near sunset and is also sometimes lit up with multicolored lights after dark.

Cost: Free

Reservation Required: No

Time: 15-30 minutes

Looking over Mont des Artes
Looking over Mont des Artes

Choco-Story Museum

After Mont des Artes, we walked further into the heart of Brussels to get to Choco-Story. Belgium is well known for its chocolate, and Choco-Story covers the history of the cocoa bean, from its use in Mayan and Aztec civilization to the growth in its popularity in Europe; the various uses of cocoa; and how chocolate is made. The displays were interactive and entertaining and the audio guide was informative.

After making our way through the exhibits, we were able to sample some chocolate and watch a demonstration by a chocolatier. There is also a shop here if you want to buy any chocolate products.

Cost: €14 per adult; also covered by the Brussels Card. There are options to partake in a chocolate workshop for an extra cost.

Reservation Required: No, but highly recommended. Book tickets here.

Time: 1.5-2 hours

Unique chocolate molds in Choco-Story
Unique chocolate molds in Choco-Story

Manneken Pis

The streets around Choco-Story are lined with souvenir and chocolate shops, restaurants, etc. So. We walked around here a bit before heading to the Manneken Pis.

The Manneken Pis is an icon of Brussels. The fountain of a little boy peeing has been around since the 15th century and he is often dressed in different costumes when there is a notable event. While this fountain may be simple and seem a little strange, we’d say it’s worth stopping by if you’re in the area to see this quirky piece of Brussels culture and history.

Cost: Free

Reservation Required: No

Time: 5-10 minutes

The renowned Manneken Pis
The renowned Manneken Pis

Brussels City Museum

The Brussels City Museum is a great spot to visit if you want a look into some of Brussels’ history. The museum covers various topics, including art, architecture, development of the Grand-Place, more about the Manneken Pis, etc. There are a variety of interesting artifacts in the displays and the audio guide provides a good amount of information. The museum is also housed inside one of the beautiful Gothic buildings lining the Grand-Place.

Cost: €10 per adult, which includes access to the GardeRobe MannekenPis; also covered by the Brussels Card

Reservation Required: No, but you can buy tickets online in advance if desired.

Time: 1.5-2 hours

Old architectural details on display in the museum
Old architectural details on display in the museum

Grand-Place & City Center

After our time in the Brussels City Museum, we headed back out into the Grand-Place to enjoy the square a little more. It was really quite a busy area and the square and architecture around it were beautiful!

We strolled down various streets surrounding the Grand-Place, popping into various chocolate shops, souvenir stores, De Biertempel, and more. We took our time to take in the area and enjoyed the bustling city scene.

Cost: Free, unless you plan to do some shopping – have cash and card

Reservation Required: No

Time: You can enjoy the square in as little as 15 minutes. But we recommend walking the streets around the city center. We spent about an hour strolling around here.

Architecture surrounding the beautiful Grand-Place
Architecture surrounding the beautiful Grand-Place

Place Sainte-Catherine

We wandered through the downtown area, heading north towards Place Sainte-Catherine. Around this plaza and its surrounding area, you’ll find many restaurants, bars, shops and markets, and cafés. There are also other notable attractions, including the Banksy Museum and various other art galleries. We enjoyed strolling around this area and grabbed drinks and happy hour, then dinner here.

Église Sainte-Catherine, or Church of Saint Catherine, sits by the plaza. Visitors can enter the church free of charge if you’d like to see the interior. See hours here.

Cost: Free

Reservation Required: No

Time: However long you want to explore the area

Église Sainte-Catherine
Église Sainte-Catherine

Grand-Place (Again)

We returned to the Grand-Place as the sun began to set. With some delicious frites in hand, we found a spot on some steps and enjoyed our snack while watching the bustling square light up at dark. In our opinion, we found it to be somehow even more beautiful at dusk than it was earlier in the day! We were definitely glad we returned to see the plaza at nightfall.

There are various restaurants lining the Grand-Place if you’re looking for a pretty spot to have a meal. They’re generally a bit more on the expensive side though as you’re paying not just for the food, but also for the location.

The Grand-Place is so stunning at dusk
The Grand-Place is so stunning at dusk

Day 3:

Okay, we said two-day Brussels itinerary because we really spent only two full days exploring the city. However, on our third day, we took a day trip to Ghent and returned to Brussels before leaving for Antwerp the next morning. We didn’t really do much in Brussels on this day because we spent the whole day exploring Ghent.

Brussels is centrally located in Belgium, making it a great hub if you’re looking to take a day trip. There are so many great cities to explore that aren’t too far away. We chose Ghent, but also considered Bruges, Dinant, Liége, and Ypres. People also frequently make day trips to Antwerp (where we headed the next day) and even Luxembourg (where we had been in the days prior).

Exploring Ghent by boat
Exploring Ghent by boat

Notes on Our Two-Day Brussels Itinerary

Here are some things about our Brussels itinerary that we want to note.

First, the times mentioned for the activities above can vary a bit depending on the lines to get into the attraction. Booking tickets in advance when possible can save you a lot of time. And even with pre-booked tickets, you still may have to wait in line with others who have also done so.

When we visited in mid-October, crowds were not as bad as they are in the high season. But we still encountered lines at popular spots like the Atomium and crowds at sites like the Manneken Pis. We did find it to be significantly less busy than other cities we visited on this trip, like Paris and Amsterdam.

We also made sure to leave plenty of extra time to try Belgian food and beers in our Brussels itinerary!
We also made sure to leave plenty of extra time to try Belgian food and beers in our Brussels itinerary!

The Brussels Card covers entrance to many of the city’s highlights, so it may be worth checking out if you plan to spend a couple days here. We purchased the 48-hour pass with the Atomium add-on and it saved us money on the attractions we went to see. Learn more about the passes here.

There are many additional amazing attractions in Brussels, like the Royal Art and History Museum, the Parlamentarium, and others. We didn’t have time to fit it all in on this trip, but we’ll definitely be back to experience more!

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