We flew to Brussels direct from Gdańsk on literally the cheapest flight I’ve ever been on. £6.69. I paid more to get the tram to Edinburgh Airport than I did for this flight; at that price, I don’t even mind if I don’t get a seat. How Wizz Air can possibly make a profit I have no idea, but I’m not complaining.
One negative point about the ultra-cheap flight is that it flys into Brussels’ smaller, low-cost airport to the south. Calling the airport in Charleroi “Brussels South Charleroi” is outrageously misleading in my opinion, given that it’s almost 50km south of Brussels, and is in fact closer to France than it is to Brussels. But no matter, we took the shuttle bus to Brussels south railway station, Gare du Midi, and from there walked to our hotel in the city centre.
The hotel we stayed in was an ibis - usually, we stay away from chain hotels when travelling as they tend to not have the same character as local independent hotels and hostels, but the ibis had a great deal when we stayed, and we were going for as low-cost as possible this trip. The hotel was okay, the room was tiny despite an “upgrade” to a superior room, but the location was excellent and for the price we got, we couldn’t complain.
We ended up in Brussels in the early evening, so we headed straight out to wander around the city at night and get our bearings. We found ourselves in Grand Place, and decided to visit the Hard Rock Café in the southern corner (we’d be lying to ourselves if we said we weren’t going to visit at some point anyway). We had a nice relaxing night, although the Local burger in the Hard Rock was nowhere near as good as the one we’d just had in Gdańsk.
The next morning we woke up early and wandered back to Grand Place for the free walking tour, stopping at McDonald’s for breakfast (usually we’re much better at eating local food, not that you’d be able to tell from our time in Belgium so far). The tour started out in Grand Place, with our guide explaining the history of the square as the founding point of Brussels. She then walked us throughout the labyrinthine streets of the Belgian capital, pointing out many sights which we would have probably otherwise have missed.
As part of the tour, we visited the incredibly underwhelming Mannekin Pis; the famous fountain depicting a naked urinating toddler. I would say that this is the second most disappointing tourist attraction I’ve ever visited (after the Mona Lisa, in the Louvre, Paris).
While we were on the tour, our guide pointed out some interesting murals painted on the side of some of the buildings around the city. She explained that, in 1991, the city of Brussels started a project to commemorate the rich history of comic book artists by painting comic book murals on empty walls and advertising spaces across the city. You can buy an official map for 1EUR at the tourist information centre in Grand Place.
The walking tour also took us to all of the major attractions around the city, including the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert shopping arcade, Brussels Stock Exchange, the St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, and the Royal Palace of Brussels.
After the tour, we figured it was about time we experienced some actual Belgian food, so we took some recommendations from our tour guide and tried some Belgian waffles (both Liege and Brussels style), as well as some inauthentic tourist-trap Belgian frites. They weren’t that nice, but the waffles were heaven. It took a lot of willpower not to double my bodyweight via waffle consumption. I’m proud of myself for that.
Later that night, we tried another Belgian delight; beer. We walked down to the world-famous Delirium complex (much bigger than I thought it would be) for some of their internationally-renowned Tremens. I have to admit, after the first few beers the night got a little hazy. We ended up doing shots in a tequila bar with some locals, but beyond that I have little recollection. I paid for it the next morning though (see: hangover).
On our last day in Brussels, we took a slow walk around the city (seriously, I thought I was going to die from my tequila-and-Tremens-induced hangover), and visited the Botanical Gardens. They were uninspiring compared with other gardens that we’ve visited in the past, although it still made for a nice walk to clear our heads. After that, we decided to revisit the comic murals around the city, first by heading back to Grand Place to buy a map (there are free maps online, but I prefer paper maps while travelling for that full tourist experience). We didn’t quite manage to see all of the murals, but we did find all of the city center paintings (including one inside a pub, that was a tricky one), as well as the Mannekin Pis-inspired statues Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke Pis, depicting a urinating girl and urinating dog respectively.
All in all, our time in Brussels was a great experience. We overpaid for a lot of things, and compared with Gdańsk it was incredibly expensive, but what else did we expect, visiting the capital of Europe? I will definitely return to Belgium in the near future - for such a small country, there are so many places I’d like to visit, particularly Bruges and Antwerp. And if nothing else, I’d return for the beer and waffles many times over.
This post is part 2 of 2 of a trip I took in March 2016. The previous section can be found here.
We returned from Belgium on the evening of March 21st, 2016. The morning after, the terror attacks in Brussels occurred. I have deliberately not mentioned these attacks or allowed them to influence this article, however the senseless nature of the bombings coupled with the close proximity of our visit has sobered our memories of Belgium. I do not want to discourage, or be discouraged from, travelling to Belgium or Brussels, which is why I have omitted the attacks from this piece.