When we arrive in Netherlands, we still had one more day on our Eurail pass, so we made a day trip out to Brussels and tried to hit all the main points. To be honest we were underwhelmed despite our love for all the “must eats” in Brussels: waffles, fries, chocolates, and mussels – but none of them were particularly good here. Granted, it could be the restaurants we chose or bad timing, but here’s the rundown on our day in Brussels.
Fries are just Fries in Belgium
We went straight from the Central Station to Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, pausing to admire the many chocolate shop windows and listen to an amazing street singer just outside the gallery. We circled around the Christmas market that wrapped the Bourse de Bruxelles and grabbed some fries with andalouse sauce from Fritland (decent but expensive for what it is), then walked through the Grand Place, which was definitely impressive, but also packed with tourists. This is a good spot to pick up a free walking tour though; several guides milled around here with their signature umbrellas. We struggled photographing and filming the square with all the people and the sheer size of the buildings, so we quickly moved on to my favorite thing: chocolate.
Find happiness in chocolates
There’s no end to your choices of chocolate shops in Brussels! We tried Corné Port Royal Bruxelles centre, this location happens to be next to 3 other chocolate shops (self guided chocolate tour anyone?). We entered the shop and instantly felt warmer; golden yellow walls, glorious chocolate truffles neatly lined on display, and the shopkeeper chatting amicably with customers. While there were only a couple customers before us, he apologized for the wait and had us pick out complimentary chocolates. He seemed so eager to accommodate that I felt like I was at some sort of chocolate spa being pampered! After we made our choices for purchase, he again gave us a couple more free chocolates. I looked at Carl like, “watch out, this guy’s about to be my new best friend”. Every single chocolate turned out divine. Try any of the ones with praline in it for that delightful crisp!
the peeing statue is on a street of waffles
Next on our list we had waffles to try, so we headed down Rue de l’Etuve towards Mannekin pis, who was dressed as a blind man for Braille Day. It was a bit comical to see the mass of people surrounding such a tiny statue tucked into a corner. Along Rue de l’Etuve you’ll find waffles, waffles, waffles, and souvenirs. Not having much else to go on, we tried to peek at their waffle stacks to see which looked the freshest, but all the shops had stacks of already made waffles sitting, so we simply walked into a shop and grabbed a waffle with chocolate. Luckily the waffle was served warm and the chocolate sauce was excellent and not too sweet.
Onwards and upwards
Walking North, we made our way to the Botanical Garden, a beautiful outdoor space in the middle of a very urban block. The garden is below street level, which allowed us to admire the design of manicured hedges as we approached from above. There were some spectacular statues of winged angels and snarling beasts. It was quiet that afternoon and we had it mostly to ourselves. We walked through the Botanique, but there wasn’t much to see inside and the cafe side smelled like cigarettes; it’s more impressive from the outside.
Dusk started to fall so we took a tram up to the Atomium and snapped a couple quick photos. I wanted to explore the surrounding Parc d’Osseghem Laeken but it was getting too dark so we headed back into the city center in search of some mussels, a Brussels winter specialty, for dinner.
too many mussels in Brussels
We wanted to try Mer du Nord, but the store front was closed when we arrived. Fortunately they had a stall right outside at the Christmas market, sans mussels, but their fresh oysters Oleron and gillardeau were both delicious and zero brine. After shooting those we warmed up with a bowl of their lobster soup.
Still in search of mussels, we headed over to Chez Leon, a long standing restaurant. Sadly it was a let down, the moules à l’escargot gratiné was under-seasoned and the restaurant was very touristy. The best thing there was my Grimbergen brown beer, which was unexpectedly fruity. And as the story goes, that night I went to bed with a stomachache that lasted through the following day.
Brussels: Our Verdict
Overall we were fairly disappointed with Brussels; the food just didn’t hit the mark and the city felt extremely touristy. Perhaps we missed the true highlights, if you have any suggestions please let us know in the comments section!
Getting Around Brussels
We took the tram while in the city and the ticket machines only take coins and card, and unfortunately our Visa card didn’t work.
Fritland, fritlandbrussels.be/en, Rue Henri Maus 49, $ – Popular spot to get fries, we didn’t find it particularly special.
Grand Place, 1000 Brussels – Stunning square where you can see City Hall and museums
Waffles along Rue de l’Etuve, near Manneken Pis, $ – Multiple shops, all priced about the same and same quality. Lots of them will continuously make waffles and have them sitting and ready, so the trick is to look for one with a high turnover rate so you’ll get the freshest waffle possible.
Corné Port Royal Bruxelles centre, corneportroyal.com/en.htm, Rue de la Madeleine 9, $$ – Multiple locations, we really appreciated the friendly service we got at this store, we didn’t have to wait long but the guy still gave us complimentary chocolate for “making us wait”, and gave us more freebies with our order.
Botanical Garden of Brussels, environnement.brussels/fiche/jardin-botanique, Boulevard Saint-Lazare, 1210, Free – Small beautiful garden outside even in the winter, inside the building there are paid bathrooms
Noordzee – Mer du Nord, noordzeemerdunord.be, Rue Sainte-Catherine 45, $$-$$$ – Try their fresh oysters, when we visited the shop itself was closed but they had a stand in the nearby Christmas market.
Chez Leon, chezleon.be/en, Rue des Bouchers 18, $$ – Don’t really recommend, the food was very bland and it felt very touristy, I felt unwell from our dinner, might have just been the quantity of mussels consumed.