What do Audrey Hepburn and Jean-Claude Van Damme have in common? Brussels. These two artists were born in the comic city of Europe. With so much to see, is 1 day in Brussels enough to explore the city?
Well, the truth is 1 day in Brussels is enough to explore the highlights of the city which are:
- Royal Gallery of St Hubert
- Grand Palace
- Manneken Pis
- Royal Palace
- Parc du Cincquantenaire
which are within walking distance from each other, except for Atomium.
Do you want to know more? Let’s find out in our self-guided walkable guide to 1 day in Brussels.
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Where is Brussels?
Brussels lies in the heartland of the Brabantian Plateau and shares borders with France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The city has an oceanic climate with warm summers and cool winters.
For first-timers, the Central Quarter contains the ruins of the city’s 13th-century first walls of Brussels and the Grand Palace which is Brussels’ only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The City of Brussels is the historical center of the Brussels-Capital Region and the administrative center of the European Union as the city is at the cultural, economic, and geographical crossroads in Europe.
Brussels is also home to waffles, chocolate, french fries, beers, and Brussels sprouts. Godiva and Leonidas both originated in Brussels. Make sure to try the unofficial national dish of Belgium, the moules-frites, waterzooi, and lacquements.
The earliest known settlements are from the Neolithic period which can be found in Sonian Forest on the southeast edge of Brussels. The local legend mentions the founding of Brussels in 580 AD with the construction of a chapel along River Senne.
However, the city’s founder was credited to Charles, the Duke of Lower Lotharingia in 979 AD. By the time the city’s first walls were built in the 13th century, Brussels experienced significant growth which required a second set of fortifications. The ruins of these walls can be seen today.
By the 16th century, Brussels was part of the Habsburg Empire; by the 17th century, Brussels was the center of the empire’s lace industry. In the early 18th century, Brussels became part of the Austrian Netherlands and by the end of the 18th century, the city is under French rule.
After World War I, Brussels underwent modernization with the development of railway lines and stations. Today, the city is one of eight European Capital of Culture and is a venue for international events.
Since Belgium is part of the European Union, citizens of the union have the right of entry and residence for a short-term stay of 3 months. They would need to present their national identification or passport. European Union citizens who are in Belgium for less than 3 months would need to report their presence to the municipal authority within 10 working days after their arrival.
Third-country nationals from Bhutan, China, Chile, Russia, and Yemen require a visa before arrival. Citizens from Australia, American Samoa, the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand, and South Korea have to apply for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization for Visa-Waiver countries.
To determine if you require a visa to enter Belgium, click the link below.
How Do You Get Around Brussels
With a small city center, getting around Brussels on foot is the best option. Just like in any other city, traffic congestion is bad, and driving a car is not viable. Thankfully, Brussels has an excellent public transportation system.
However, the city’s multilingual signage and complex ticketing systems can be confusing for a first-timer, so we have listed your best options when exploring the city. As Brussels is divided into the French-speaking region of Wallonia and the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, the first thing you would need is the Brussels City Card.
Brussels City Card
The Brussels City Card is a must-have as it gives you access to 49 museums, a skip-the-line entry ticket to Atomium, and Comic Strip Center, and discounts on tourist attractions, restaurants, bars, and shops. A full-color pocket guidebook and a city and museum map are also provided.
The best way to get around Brussels City Center is by walking. Join the City Highlights Walking Tour or the Walking Tour with Belgian Lunch, Chocolate, and Beer to discover hidden bars.
The second best way to get around Brussels is using the metro which has 6 lines. The metro is also the fastest way to travel inter-city. The metro uses contactless payment which means you simply tap your credit or debit card, smartphone, or smartwatch.
On weekdays, the trains run from 5.30 am to midnight, and on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the trains start from 6 am to midnight. A single paper ticket is €2.60 ($2.60) and is valid for 1 hour on all metro, tram, and bus lines. The fare when using the contactless payment is €2.10 ($2.10)
If there is one thing you must do in Brussels, it is to hop on a tram. The trams in Brussels are powered by renewable energy and are easy to find. The trick is to purchase the ticket from the driver at the front and keep your eyes open for your stop.
To get off, press a button near your seat and the tram will stop to let you off. Also, the police usually patrol the trams and if you are found without a ticket, you can get a fine of €100 ($100).
Another fast way to get around the city is by cycling. Brussels is known as a city that loves bicycles with plenty of bicycle lanes. Join a bicycle-guided tour as you cycle through famous landmarks and hidden gems of the city.
The Brussels Airport Train runs every 10 minutes from 5 am to midnight and costs €24 ($24) and takes about 20 minutes to reach the city. If you are traveling in a private group of 3 people, you choose a private transfer from the airport to the city center. Alternatively, the easiest option would be to book your airport transfer before arrival.
Is 1 day in Brussels enough?
Yes, 1 day in Brussels is enough to visit the major tourist sites. The plus point is that the city center is walkable, which means you can cover several sites within a short time. If you are on a longer trip, you can take a day trip to Bruges and spend time at its 3 must-visit sites.
Royal Gallery of St Hubert
Our first stop for our 1 day in Brussels was the Royal Gallery of St Hubert. This shopping complex comprises 3 galleries, the King’s Gallery, the Queen’s Gallery, and the Prince’s Gallery.
As you walk along the gallery, it may seem familiar. The narrow passageway reminds you of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Interestingly, the Royal Gallery of St Hubert precedes the gallery in Milan.
You can find brand names such as Longchamp, Godiva, Delvaux, and Taverne du Passage, the gallery’s oldest restaurant set in timeless art deco and serves both French and Belgian cuisine.
Our second stop for our 1 day in Brussels was the Grand Palace of Brussels. This palace is about 110 meters or a quick 1-minute walk from the Royal Gallery of St Hubert. The Grand Square is considered one of the most beautiful in the world and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.
The famous landmarks here include the Brussels Town Hall, the King’s House which is now the Brussels City Museum, the House of the Dukes of Brabant, and the L’Arbre d’Or which translates to the Golden Tree which houses the Corporation of Brewers.
Various events are held here throughout the year. These events include the Belgian Beer Weekend, the Flower Carpet, and Ommegang which take place in summer. Belgium’s New Year’s countdown is also held at this square.
Why is the Grand Palace important to Belgium?
The Grand Palace is important to Belgium as it is the location of the city’s town hall, and marketplace, and is the city’s iconic landmark. The square is also Brussels’ political and economical powerhouse as most businesses and corporate headquarters are based here.
Our third stop for our 1 day in Brussels was the Manneken Pis statue. This statue is about 300 meters or a 5-minute walk from the Grand Palace. This bronze statue depicts a boy urinating in the fountain’s basin.
There are several legends associated with this statue with the most famous involving the Duke of Leuven. The story goes that the troops of this 2-year-old Lord were battling against the Lord of Grimbergen.
To give strength and courage to the troops, the baby lord was hung in his basket on a large oak tree that overlooked the battlefield. Just when the infant lord’s troops were sure of losing, the infant lord stood up and urinated onto the enemy troops, thus winning the battle.
This statue is decorated and has about 1,000 pieces of wardrobe given by visiting heads of state and presidents. Look out for Jeanneke Pis, the equivalent of Manneken Pis.
There is no entrance fee to visit the statue. However, the statue is rather tiny and attracts huge crowds daily.
How many pee statues are there in Brussels?
There are 3 peeing statues in Brussels. These are Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis, and Zinneke Pis.
Royal Palace of Brussels
Our fourth stop for our 1 day in Brussels was the Royal Palace of Brussels. Although this palace is not a royal residence, it is where the King exercises his authority as the Head of State.
While the Castle of Laeken is the monarch’s official residence, the Royal Palace remains the administrative residence and workplace of the monarch. The grounds on which the palace sits were once part of Coudenberg Palace, an ancient palatial complex that dates back to the Middle Ages.
Brussels Park is in front of the palace. When the king is in the palace, the Honor Guard stands in front of the palace. The flag is hoisted at the central building if the king is in the country. The palace is open to the public every summer from July to September, a tradition that was established in 1965.
Parc du Cinquantenaire
Our fifth stop for our 1 day in Brussels was the Parc du Cinquantenaire or Park of the Fiftieth Anniversary. The Cinquantenaire Arcade is a memorial arcade that was built to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Brussels Revolution.
Several sculptures depict the provinces of Belgium. At the top of the arch is the Brabant Raising the National Flag, a statue glorifying Belgium’s independence with the year of independence in Roman numerals.
There are three museums within the park. They are the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, the Art & History Museum, and the Autoworld Museum. Other landmarks include the Great Mosque of Brussels, the Temple of Human Passions, and the Monument to the Belgian Pioneers in Congo.
Our sixth and last stop for our 1 day in Brussels was the Atomium. The Atomium is about 6 miles or a 15-minute drive from Parc du Cinquantenaire. This sculpture was built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair and is an iron unit cell magnified 165 billion times.
Interestingly, the name Atomium comes from the combined words of atom and aluminum, the two materials from which the spheres were made. Since its opening, only six of the nine spheres are open to the public.
Why is the Atomium famous?
The Atomium is famous for being a unique event venue and the symbol of Brussels and Belgium. Although it was meant to be a temporary structure and was designed to last six months, the structure was so popular that its destruction was postponed until the authorities decided to maintain it as a permanent structure.
Does Atomium light up at night?
Yes, the Atomium does light up at night although the timings on when it lights up vary according to the season. Purchase the Atomium Entry Ticket that takes you through the Design Museum and enjoy Belgian delights at the Atomium Restaurant which is 95 meters above the ground.
What is the Atomium used for today?
Today, the Atomium is a museum, an art center, and a science center. It remains one of Brussel’s most iconic landmarks and a popular tourist attraction.
Day Trip: Bruges
If you have more than 1 day in Brussels, why not make the most of the trip and take a day trip to Bruges. This historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often described as the Venice of the North due to its canals.
Belfry of Bruges
The first in our day trip to Bruges is the Belfry of Bruges. This medieval bell tower is a symbolic icon in Bruges as it once housed the treasury and served as a watchtower for spotting fires and impending danger.
In the past, the bells in the tower regulated the lives of the people. From work hours to religious events. Today, the tower has 47 bells with the heaviest weighing 11,000 pounds. To get a panoramic view of the city, walk up the narrow and steep stairs.
The second in our day trip to Bruges is Market Square. The Markt is the heart of the city with the Belfry of Bruges dominating the skyline. This pedestrian-friendly market square is one place where you can stop and admire the beautiful homes.
Look out for the Bouchoute House which is the oldest house on the square. The house’s iconic magnetic compass shows the direction of the wind. The weather vane is a golden metal flag on the roof that connects to the needle of the giant compass.
Canals of Bruges
The third in our day trip to Bruges is the canals of Bruges. These canals are the lifeline of Bruges and give you a view of Bruges from the water. The oldest canal is the Brugge-Zeebrugge Canal or Boudewijn Canal which was built to connect Bruges to the North Sea.
The most beautiful canal is the Groenerei. Take a photo of the arched bridge surrounded by greenery. The morning mist adds a magical vibe to this canal.
Join a Private Tour with the Locals, a Private Historical Highlights Walking Tour, a Guided Rickshaw Tour, or a Boat Cruise and Walking Tour of Bruges where you can discover secret gardens, and romantic bridges, and take photos of the Quay of the Rosary.
What are the best places to stay in Brussels?
These are our choices for the best places to stay in Brussels. We have chosen the hotels within the city center that are close and walkable to the major tourist sites in Brussels.
Our first choice for 1 day in Brussels is the Warwick Brussels Grand Palace. This 267-room hotel is nestled among the cobbled streets of Brussels. All rooms have warm wood and stylish furnishings that add a sense of luxury.
This hotel is a short walk to the Grand Palace, the Manneken and Jeanneke Pis, the Guild Houses, and the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. The hotel is near the Brussels Central Station and the Metro Gare Centrale station.
Guests loved that the hotel staff was sweet and friendly. Other reviewers loved the hotel’s central location, which was also nice and clean. Guests also loved the large comfortable beds and the lovely rooftop bar.
Our second choice for 1 day in Brussels is the Hilton Brussels Grand Palace. This 236-room hotel is also next to the Brussels Central Station in the heart of the city. All rooms have city views, free WiFi, and a minibar.
Guests loved the central location of the hotel, the excellent breakfast choices where you can make your Belgian waffles, and the comfortable beds. Guests also loved the welcoming staff and the spacious rooms.
Our third choice for 1 day in Brussels is Steigenberger Wiltcher’s. This 267-room hotel located on Avenue Louise exudes luxury and elegance. The rooms are simple and with a gray and dusky color scheme, the vibe is calm and tranquil.
All rooms come with oversized pillows, free WiFi, and plenty of storage space while the higher-category rooms come with a Nespresso machine. While all rooms are spacious, the Royal Suite takes the cake with a large dining area, a full kitchen, and a living room with a gas fireplace.
Guests loved the comfortable beds, the luxurious bathrooms, the helpful staff, and the clean rooms. Other reviewers loved the superb breakfast, the excellent location, and the architecture of the building. Guests also loved that the interior of the hotel was quiet despite being in a central location.
Our fourth choice for 1 day in Brussels is The Dominican. This 150-room hotel was once a monastery where the Dominican friars could be represented. All rooms come with an in-room safe, hairdryer, a Nespresso machine, and free WiFi.
Guests loved the friendly staff, the beautiful bar, and the lovely, quiet, and comfortable rooms. Guests also loved the excellent location and the spacious rooms and the easy accessibility of the hotel to public transportation and tourist sites.
Our fifth and last choice for 1 day in Brussels is the Radisson Collection Hotel. This 282-room hotel is refurbished with luxurious bedding and refined color palette to create a sense of serenity and calm.
Guests loved the excellent location, the comfortable beds, the helpful staff, and the clean and spacious rooms. Other reviewers loved the fact that there were plenty of restaurants and food choices nearby the hotel.
Guests also loved the quick check-in and check-out as well as the amazing breakfast. Guests also loved the Executive Lounge which always had snacks and drinks.
Frequently Asked Questions on Brussels
Yes, you can walk everywhere in Brussels as the city center is small and the major tourist sites are within walking distance from each other. You can use our guide and begin at the Royal Gallery of St Hubert and end at Parc du Cinquantenaire.
Or, you could join the City Highlights Walking Tour with Food Tasting where you can see the Grand Palace, the Royal Gallery of St Hubert, and the majestic stock exchange building while enjoying delicious Belgian waffles, chocolate, and beer.
Six museums are always free in Brussels. These are the Wiertz Museum, the Maison des Arts, ISELP, the Meunier Museum, the Parlamentarium, and the House of European History.
The museums which have free entry on the first Sunday of the month are GardeRobe Mannekin Pis, Erasmus House, Brussels Museum of the Resistance, Belgium Musem of Freemasonry, the Fashion & Lace Museum, and the Brussels City Museum.
Belgium’s official language is Dutch and French, and more than a third of the population speaks English. So, yes, you can get by in Brussels in English. You may find English speakers at popular tourist sites and those working in the tourism sector.
“Bonjour” is how you say hello in Brussels. French is one of the official languages of Brussels, so knowing basic French is applicable when in Brussels. Other useful phrases are “merci” for thank you, “au revoir” for goodbye, and “vous parlez anglais?” for do you speak English?
Euro (€) is used in Brussels. It would be best to exchange your dollars and pounds for euros as foreign currency is not always accepted at restaurants, bars, and accommodations.
The coldest month in Brussels is January where the average low is 35°F and the average high is 42°F. The winter months from November to March are quiet as the crowds have thinned after the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
Winters are the best times to visit the museums and are perfect for those planning a low-budget trip to the city. And, the best part would be sipping a steaming cup of hot chocolate as snow envelopes the city.
The best months to visit Belgium are during the spring months of March to May and the summer months of June to August. In spring the weather changes from mild to hot with very little rain. Look out for blooming flowers and join in the Easter parades and egg hunts.
The summer months of June to August not only bring in the best weather and also the largest crowds. With large crowds everywhere you go, you can expect higher prices for accommodation and flights. The Brussels International Fim Festival happens in the summer.
The autumn months are perfect for those who prefer to visit during the cooler months. The large crowds of summer are slowly diminishing as the weather changes from warm and pleasant to rainy and windy. The Belgian Beer Weekend and the Brussels Comic Strip Festival happen during these months.
Yes, Uber is available in Brussels. Uber in Brussels is unique because when you call for an Uber, a regular taxi will pick you up. This is because Uber is integrating its platform to comply with local regulations.
Yes, it is. The city is not only home to beautiful squares and street art, but it is also home to the best waffles, chocolate, and beer. Here’s why we think you must visit Brussels at least once in your lifetime.
1) Belgian chocolate and waffles. Need we say more? Belgian waffles are known all over the world and having these scrumptious waffles in Belgium makes eating them even sweeter. And, don’t get me started on its chocolate. Learn how to make the best chocolates from the chocolate masters in Brussels.
2) Comic Strip Route. Did you know that Tin Tin was born in Brussels? Yes, he and other famous characters such as Lucky Luke, and Marsupilami were created in Brussels. Take the comic strip route and have fun figuring out the comic characters.
3) Off the beaten path. While tourists flock to Amsterdam, Paris, and Rome, Brussels is often skipped. This means that there are lesser crowds here than anywhere else in Europe.
4) Well connected. Being the capital city, Brussels easily connects to Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp. Because of their connectivity, these cities make the perfect day trip from Brussels.
5) History. With a history that dates back to 979 AD, Brussels’ history is linked to Western Europe. From its earliest stone age settlements to the founding and fortification of the city’s gates, Brussels’ legacy is seen in its diverse architecture.
Brussels is a lively city with landscaped parks, quirky symbols, and home to a thriving jazz scene. Whether you are in spending 1 day in Brussels, plan a stopover to this city and enjoy its food, people, and scenery.