10 hours in Brussels: how to spend a day in the Art Nouveau capital

Heading to the European continent for a day might seem like an odd thought, but with a Eurostar ticket in hand, this can be pretty easy to do. In just two hours, you can whizz from London St Pancras International to Bruxelles-Midi station, pulling in just before 10am local time if you opt for the first train of the day. Armed with only your passport, train ticket and purse, here’s how to make the most of a day trip to Brussels.

Grand Place, Brussels. Image: iStock/TomasSereda

10am: As you step off at Bruxelles-Midi, make a beeline for the local terminals. It’s very easy to get to Bruxelles-Central: there’s a four-minute train service taking you directly to the station, or you can hop on the Metro headed to De Broukeer station. Change here or emerge into the city’s streets for a 10-minute stroll towards the centre.

10.30am: With only a day to experience the city, you’ll want to take in as many of the main attractions as possible. Make like an archetypal tourist and board a sightseeing bus – you’ll be able to pack in the city’s landmarks within an hour or two, transferred easily between each one, all the while learning about the culture and history of this Art Nouveau capital. There are two bus stops for the City Sightseeing bus – one for each line, and both within a few minutes’ walk from Central station.

11.15am: Hop off the bus at the EU Parliament to wander around the nerve centre of the European Union. As well as learning about its intriguing history at the Visitor Centre, you can check out three original pieces of the Berlin Wall, which were originally displayed in Place du Luxembourg in 2009 as part of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, and are now peppered around the Parliament’s grounds.

The Atomium, Brussels. Image: iStock/Gogosvm

12.30pm: Jump back on the sightseeing bus and head towards the centre. There, take some time to stroll around the gorgeous, gold-gilded buildings and Town Hall in Grand Place, before stopping to refuel. Brussels’ scrumptious chocolates are renowned, but mussels are also a delicacy here – dine al fresco, so you can watch the world go by, or venture into a cosy pub with an open fireplace.

2pm: Grab a bus, taxi or metro ride a little out of the centre to the Atomium, a grand 102-metre structure of nine spheres that represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. You can ascend this structure for fabulous panoramic views of Brussels, before descending to the lower floors to learn a little more about the structure’s history.

3.30pm: By mid-afternoon, it is definitely time for another pit stop. The city abounds with waffle shops and chocolatiers – the sweet scent tempts from every street corner, enticing even those of the hardiest wills. Seek out a light and fluffy waffle topped with Belgian chocolate, or spend some time popping in and out of various pâtisseries, creating a bespoke sweet picnic of your favourite treats to enjoy in one of the city’s glorious parks.

Belgian waffles. Image: iStock/GoodLifeStudio

In colder weather, head to one of the many beer houses that line the street. Poechenellekelder bar is kitsch and atmospherically lit, with puppets, musical instruments and mannequins hanging from the ceiling. Each beer (and there are loads!) comes with its own uniquely styled glass, and the staff offer true Belgian hospitality.

5pm: A trip to Brussels would be incomplete without a visit to the amusing Mannekin Pis statue. Adjacent to the Grand Place, the statue embodies the city’s sense of humour, with many legends surrounding the story of the urinating boy. In recent years, a girl and dog versions of the statue have even been erected in the city.

5.30pm: The city is abundant with Horta-designed buildings, which appear to have popped out of a fairy-tale book, especially at night. Take a stroll down the cobblestone roads, brought to life by their overhanging street lights, to admire the romantic and grandiose Art Nouveau buildings.

Grand Place by night, Brussels. Image: iStock/Juergen Sack

6pm: Although your stomach may still be swimming with sweet treats, take the chance to sample Brussels’ salty frites before you head home. Food truck-style windows open up on the sides of restaurants, selling takeaway cones that are great to eat while on the go, but take the time to sit down for a meal with a side of famous chips and a cold locally-brewed beer.

7.15pm: As the day draws to a close, make your way back to Bruxelles-Midi station with plenty of time to check in. There are pedal charging stations here, so you can work off all the food you’ve quaffed as you recharge your phone, before a leisurely game of table football while you wait to board your train. The last service of the day heads off around 8.20pm, so you can be back in bed before the evening is over.

Words by Tamsin Salfrais

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