48 Hours: Brussels

Belgium's capital is easy to reach and explore, and full of cultural, gastronomic and architectural treats.

Click here for 48 Hours in Brussels map

Travel essentials

Why go now?

There are always reasons to be enticed by the Belgian capital, but the end of this month presents an added chance to immerse yourself in some culture. On 26 February, Museum Night Fever ( museumnightfever.be) hits the city, and 19 of the main museums will open from 7pm until 1am – with guided tours, workshops and entertainment, plus shuttle buses to take you from one venue to another. And if you still have the energy, there will be an afterparty at Bozar (1), the lively arts centre on Rue Ravenstein. Everything is covered by a single ticket, available in advance for €8 from participating museums or online from bozar.be, or for €12 on the night.

Touch down

Eurostar (08432 186 186; eurostar.com) has nine daily trains to Brussels Midi station (2), taking less than two hours from London St Pancras and even less from Ebbsfleet, from £69 return.

BMI (0844 8484 888; flybmi.com) and its partner Brussels Airlines (00 32 2 723 2345; brusselsairlines.com) flies from Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Heathrow, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle; British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) from Heathrow; and Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) from Manchester and Southampton. Trains depart frequently from the airport station and stop at both Midi and Central (3) stations; the journey takes 20 to 30 minutes, and costs €5.10 one way.

Get your bearings

Central Brussels consists of the lower town, whose focal point is the Grand'-Place (4), and the upper town containing the royal palace (5), parliament (6) and other state institutions. The tourist office (7) is in the lower town at 2-4 Rue Royale (00 32 2 563 6399; biponline.be) and opens 10am-6pm daily. Here you can buy a Brussels Card, ( brusselscard.be) affording entry to more than 30 of the city's museums, unlimited travel by bus, metro and tram, and discounts at a number of shops, restaurants and attractions. The card costs €24 for 24 hours or €34 for 48 hours. Central Brussels is enclosed within the inner ring road, outside which are a number of suburbs, including the European quarter where all the main EU buildings are located. Two official languages are spoken in Brussels, French and Flemish; street names are given here in their French version.

Check in

Odette en Ville (8) is a chic boutique hotel tucked away at 25 Rue du Chatelain, a quiet street off Avenue Louise (00 32 2 640 2626; chez-odette.com) within easy reach of trams to the city centre; doubles from €250, with an extra €25 for breakfast.

The friendly, family-run Vintage Hotel (9) at Rue Dejoncker 45 (00 32 2 533 9980; vintagehotel.be) is a recent addition to the hotel scene, decorated in homage to the 1960s and 70s. Doubles from €90, including breakfast.

In the Marolles district, the pleasant, well-located Hotel Galia (10) at 15-16 Place du Jeu de Balle (00 32 2 502 4243; hotelgalia.com) has doubles from €75, including breakfast.

Day one

Take a ride

Like many other cities, Brussels has installed ranks of bicycles for residents and visitors to hire for short periods; given the compact nature of the city, they provide an ideal way to explore. The Villo bikes ( villo.be) are yellow, and can be found in 180 locations around the city. Buy a one-day card for €1.50 at any terminal with a card reader, then follow the instructions to take your bike from the stand. The first half-hour is free, the next costs €0.50, and charges increase the longer you keep the bike.

Window shopping

For the traditional Brussels souvenir, chocolate, head to the Place du Grand Sablon (11), where all the tastiest names – Leonidas, Wittamer, Neuhaus and, most luxurious, Pierre Marcolini – are found.

Every weekend a market held in front of the church sells bric-a-brac and antiques. For design head to Rue Antoine Dansaert, which has become the centre of the Brussels fashion industry. Among the stores to seek out is Stijl (12) at number 74, showcasing a number of cutting-edge designers. Normal shopping hours are 10am-7pm.

Lunch on the run

At the bottom end of Rue Dansaert is the original branch of the now world-wide chain, Le Pain Quotidien (13), serving soups, sandwiches and salads, a tiny place that is often crammed with people. An alternative is Via Via (14) on the Quai à la Houille, where the dish of the day costs €9.50.

Cultural afternoon

Brussels was the adopted home of René Magritte, who came to study here at the age of 18, and remained in the city for much of his life. More than 200 of his paintings, drawings and sculptures are on display in the Magritte Museum (15), in a striking neo-classical building on Place Royale (00 32 2 508 3211; musee-magritte-museum.be; open 10am-5pm daily except Monday; Tuesdays and Wednesdays to 8pm; admission €8).

To find out about Magritte in more domestic surroundings, take tram number 94 from outside the museum to the suburb of Jette and visit the house at 135 Rue Esseghem (00 32 2 428 2626; magrittemuseum.be) where he lived for more than two decades with his wife Georgette, and where he had a studio.

The walls of the sitting room are painted in the sky blue colour that appears in many of Magritte's works, and many features of the rooms, including doors, windows and a fireplace, feature in his paintings.

The house opens from Wednesday to Sunday 10am-6pm, admission €7.

An aperitif

The Flat (16) at 12 Rue de la Pépinière, is a sort of home-from-home – at least in the sense that this is a bar where you can drink in rooms furnished like an apartment – so if you like to sup your cocktails in the kitchen or the bathroom, this is the place to go. If you prefer a Belgian beer, L'Ultime Atome (17), in the lively surroundings of Rue Saint-Boniface, is always a good choice.

Dining with the locals

The Bozar Brasserie (1) (00 32 2 503 00 00; bozar.be), which opened just before Christmas, is currently the place to eat, so reservations are recommended. The chef is David Martin, well-known in the city for his Michelin-starred restaurant, La Paix, in the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht. His new brasserie is on Rue Ravenstein in the extravagant Bozar building, formerly the Palais des Beaux-Arts. It opens noon-11pm daily.

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

Perched on a small hill, the gothic Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudule (18) would once have dominated the medieval skyline. Building began in the early 13th century and was finished over the course of 300 years. A restoration completed some 10 years ago shows off the beautiful stone carvings and elaborate wooden pulpit inside.

Out to brunch

Brunch has become very popular in Brussels; one of the most copious spreads is offered in the cafe at the Bla Bla Gallery (19) on Rue des Capucins (00 32 2 503 5918; blablagallery.com). Stick to traditional breakfast dishes and pay €15.50 for your meal, or add in a hot dish, salad and dessert for €22.50.

Take a hike

This tour explores Brussels' eclectic mix of architecture. The Art Nouveau movement began here, and several fine buildings from this period remain. Start at Merode metro station (20), and look first at the Maison Cauchie (21), a block away to your left. This was designed by Paul Cauchie, an important Art Nouveau architect, and the facade of the tall, thin building is covered with sgraffiti: figures which are carved into the stone, but appear to have been painted. If you are visiting on the first weekend of the month you will be able to get inside; the house opens 10am-1pm and 2-5.30pm, admission €5.

From here, walk across the Cinquantenaire Park, laid out in 1880 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence. On either side of the main avenue are museums, devoted to Art and History (22), and to the Army (23). In the far corner of the park, a small pavilion (24) designed by Victor Horta, one of the main exponents of the Art Nouveau movement, is being restored.

Leave the park by the exit nearest to the Pavilion and head down to Square Ambiorix (25). On the north side is one of the most striking buildings in Brussels, the house built for the artist Georges Saint-Cyr. Although the ground floor is temporarily shrouded in scaffolding, you can still admire the elaborate tracery and wrought ironwork around the upper window.

Further down on Avenue Palmerston is Horta's Hotel van Eetvelde (26), whose facade, with its industrial-style steel and glass exterior, was revolutionary when it was built in 1895.

Walk south and west, through Brussels Park, designed in the 18th century in a formal French style, with the elegant facades of the Royal Palace (5) and the Belgian Parliament (6) facing each other.

Finish at another Art Nouveau building, once the Old England department store, now the Musical Instruments Museum (27) (00 32 2 545 0130; mim.be; 9.30am-5pm Tuesday-Friday, from 10am at weekends; €5).

Take a view

The Rooftop Café inside the Musical Instruments Museum (27) has a great view over the city centre. For a different perspective, take metro line 6 to Heysel (€1.70) and exit at the Atomium (28), a silvery representation of an iron molecule – a landmark on the Brussels skyline and also the best place from which to get a view of the city. Five of its nine spheres are open to the public, and the panoramic view can be seen from the highest one. Others contain a permanent exhibition about the 1958 World's Fair, for which the Atomium was built, as well as temporary exhibits. Open 10am-6pm, €11.

A walk in the park

Stretching out beyond the Atomium is an area of parkland. At its heart is the Parc de Laeken, a pleasant space which contains the residence of the royal family as well as a Japanese pagoda and Chinese pavilion. Several metro stations along the edge of the park are on line 6, which will take you back to the city centre.

Suggested Topics
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own