Digressing from China a bit… After a two and half hour train ride in the tunnel that connects England to mainland Europe, I eventually found myself walking through Brussels, Belgium. Cobblestone side streets directed me towards the cheap and highly recommended Hostel Louise. Since the hostel is located about 2-2.5 miles from the city center, each day required a leisurely stroll through many different parts of the city during my three day visit (July 14th-16th). Aimlessly meandering through Brussels is the best way to experience the city. Powering through the tourist-saturated areas (e.g the Grand Place, Mannequin Pis, and the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral) is exhausting. Don’t visit Brussels in July if you crave a more homely and uninterrupted experience.
Brussels is a fairly pricey city similar to London’s expensive tastes, but thankfully a thin wallet doesn’t completely prevent the common traveler from experiencing its appeal. I can’t exactly place my finger on why, but Brussels has a charm to it that I found different from the other places I visited in mainland Europe. It has the small town feel of Florence and the relaxed atmosphere of Barcelona while having the same “attitude” as Paris. The common houses and streets are simple, but elegant in a sort of minimalistic way.
Belgian waffle street stands near the Mannequin Pis are a must as are the homemade french fry stands around the Grand Place. Make sure to purchase the best sea salt chocolate ever from the Mannequin Pis Chocolate Shop as well. For beer connoisseurs, multiple shops around the Grand Place give you an incredible selection of Belgian and other European beers that put American tap-houses to shame. Smoky stouts, flavorful light beer (yea, I was surprised it exists too), rich IPAs, and more are offered to those willing to spend a pretty penny. Out of respect for my budget limitations, I made pasta in my hostel each day so I can’t give any real recommendations as far as fine dining restaurants go, but a superabundance of nice restaurants throughout Brussels reward curious taste buds and empty stomachs.
Again, similar to London, Brussels will be another stop for the future when I have more money and time to travel around the outer area of the city. The locals I talked to informed me that the Brussels’ experience is enhanced when you find yourself in the quieter, surrounding areas of the city.
Locations visited: Cambre Abbey Park, Parc du Petit Sablon, Englise Notre Dame, Justitiepalais, Infantry Memorial, Place du Grand Sablon, Mannequin Pis, Grand Place (includes Hotel de Ville, Maidon du Roi, and Maison des Brasseurs), Bourse, Jeanneke Pis, Belgian Comic Strip Art Museum, Congress Column, St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, Brussels Park, and the Royal Palace of Brussels.
Highlights: Brussels just felt like such a classic city. I encourage anyone to just take a full day and wander. Don’t go near any main attractions and just keep walking. Don’t have any plan and if you have a map application on your phone, don’t even worry about knowing where you are. This isn’t the greatest travel advice, but wandering around random streets and areas in Brussels is a really cool experience.
Favorite memory: While I lounged in the square of Grand Place, two young children from Spain who were there for some mission or school trip sat down and talked to me about their lives. Their English was surprisingly good and we chatted for a good 30 minutes before their teacher pulled them away to walk to their next destination.
Favorite food: I mainly cooked my meals to save money, but to this day, the homemade Belgian french fries were definitely the greatest french fries I have ever eaten. Mayonnaise with french fries is better than ketchup; there, I said it.
What I want to do and where I want to visit when I return: Some of these things were too far out of the way or too expensive.
- Walk through the Foret des Soignes and the Bois de la Cambre
- Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History
- Cinquantenaire Park
- Royal Greenhouses of Laeken
- Fine-dining and more exposure to Belgian food
Total money spent: €50. (~€120 including hostel lodging)