The Belgian capital city of Brussels often seems to have a reputation as a stiff, business destination thanks to the international organizations that call it home. So when people visit, it’s usually as a brief stop on a greater journey across Western Europe. But the truth about Brussels is that it’s a pretty city that can easily entertain for days, not to mention a great place to start exploring Belgium. What’s more, the city is home to a truly unique atmosphere, making it a great pick for a city break.
If you’ve ever wondered what to do in Brussels in 2 days, then this Brussels itinerary will leave you confident in two things: Brussels has plenty of things to see and do, and it only takes 2 days or a weekend in Brussels to cover it all.
Best Time to Visit Brussels
If there’s one thing that Belgium is not particularly well known for, it’s good weather. The country is often covered with grey, cloudy skies and wet weather. It’s best to accept that there’s always a chance for rain when it comes to Brussels and Belgium. That being said, the summer months are when you have the best chance for sunny skies and warm weather.
However, this weather brings with it high levels of tourists, since this is Brussels’ peak season. Ultimately, the best time to visit Brussels is on either side of summer in the shoulder months of April – May and September – October. This time of year offers both comfortable outdoor temperatures and Belgium’s driest months.
Also worth considering is visiting the Belgian capital in the lead up to Christmas, as Brussels plays host to Christmas markets and the Winter Wonders event. Be sure to bring a warm jacket and scarf at this time of year as the city can get pretty chilly in winter.
How to Get Around Brussels
Even though it’s a national capital and major international centre in Europe, Brussels is a surprisingly compact place to visit. When visiting Brussels, you’ll find that the majority of its main attractions are centrally located in or around the city’s historic centre. Only a few landmarks, like the Atomium and Basilica of Sacré-Coeur, are beyond walking distance.
Walking is certainly the best way to go within the heart of Brussels. Beyond that though, you have the option to either really stretch your legs or make use of the city’s public transport network.
First, it’s worth mentioning the three main stations that act as entry and exit points into the city, each with a Flemish and French name. The three are Bruxelles-Midi / Brussel Zuid, Bruxelles Central / Brussel Centraal, and Bruxelles Nord / Brussel Noord. When flying into Brussels Airport – Zaventem, a train from the airport to one of these is the best and simplest way to get into the city.
As for getting around Brussels, the city is connected by metro lines, buses, and trams. There are various ticket types that work across these networks, but likely best for tourists is the MOBIB Basic card with individual, multi-trip, and 24h/48h/72h tickets available. Be warned, the traffic is often a cause for frustration for locals and those working in the city, so factor that into your decision making.
Recommendation: Another great way to get around the city and see all the popular tourist attractions, is on a hop-on hop-off bus. With 22 hop on hop off stops in total that are conveniently located around the city, you can travel to points of interest at your leisure or stay on board for the full tour circuit. To book your hop-on hop-off bus ticket click here.
Accommodation in Brussels
Popular among business travelers and holidaymakers, Brussels is perfectly equipped with accommodation options for all types of travelers. Working out where to stay in Brussels will likely mean picking something near the central attractions, bars, cafes, and restaurants.
It’s always nice to stay central so that you can freely walk places. And, as Brussels can make a good base for exploring more of Belgium with day trips, being close to one of the major train stations is also wise. With that in mind, the best places to stay in Brussels include central neighborhoods like the area around Grand Place, as well as Sablon and Saint Gery nearby.
For a special and luxurious stay in the heart of the city, look to the 5-star Hotel Metropole. Situated inside a historic Art Deco building, elegantly furnished rooms are reached via a grand marble staircase. Even with its vintage, internationally-inspired décor, the hotel has all the modern amenities one could need.
When location is important to you but you’re after a more mid-range option, then consider the easyHotel Brussels City Centre. With a streamlined, modern design, the hotel enjoys clean and fresh rooms as well as welcoming staff.
As for backpackers and those looking to save money, a great budget-friendly pick in Brussels is the Sleep Well Youth Hostel. Well within walking distance of Grand Place, this bright and colorful hostel has trendy rooms and common areas, great WiFi, and a popular free buffet breakfast.
For more accommodation options in Brussels check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 2-Day Brussels Itinerary
It may not seem like enough time to tackle a big ticket destination, but rest assured it’s definitely possible to see a lot of Brussels in 2 days. You’ll come away from your visit feeling like you’ve really had a chance to explore and learn what makes Brussels so special.
With our time here, the plan is to experience all the best things to do in Brussels in each of the city’s key neighborhoods. This means starting out in the historic centre of the city, with Lower Town and Upper Town, before moving to areas like the European Quarter, Quartier des Quais, then to the outer northern city limits.
However, before we get to our Brussels itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you don’t wanna get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
With that sorted, let’s jump right into what your 48 hours in Brussels can look like with this Brussels travel itinerary. Hopefully you’ll agree that it’s going to be a fun-filled couple of days!
Day 1 in Brussels
It only makes sense to start your first day right in the heart of the city, with the best places to visit in Brussels. This means heading straight into the Lower Town of Brussels’ city centre and soaking in many of the city’s highlights.
There’s no way you could start a city break to Brussels anywhere else. The Grand Place is the main square that lies at the core of Brussels’ Old Town, and it has several amazing buildings to admire. The architecture that lines this square has to be some of the best of Brussels, from the wonderfully Gothic Brussels City Hall to the elaborate façade of the Maison du Roi.
This square gets even more beautiful when it becomes home to a colossal flower carpet for a few days. In breathtaking patterns, the arrangement of flowers spans across the square in the most detailed and exquisite ways. The event only occurs every second year though, typically in August of even years, so you’ll have to make sure to time your visit to see it.
A short walk from Grand Place you’ll find one of Brussels’ most notorious and heavily debated attractions – the Manneken Pis. Despite the crowds it draws and its role in multiple local legends, many think the sight of this statue of a little boy peeing into the fountain feels underwhelming. At certain times of year, you’ll even find the boy dressed up in special costumes. A museum for these costumes can be found just up the road for those that are interested.
Manneken Pis is not alone either, with its siblings Jeanneke-Pis and Zinneke Pis scattered throughout the city centre. Whether you find this landmark cute or not, it’s clear that this historic fountain speaks to the Brussels sense of humor and shows that locals don’t take things too seriously.
Wandering the Lower Town
As with any good European old town, one of the best things to do in Brussels is to simply wander the city’s Lower Town. Made up of a network of meandering streets that feed into great big avenues, you’re never quite lost in Brussels, just maybe disoriented. Wandering gives you a chance to soak in the atmosphere of the city a little, while also spying some landmarks and creative street art, including that of local creation Tintin.
When strolling around Lower Town, at some point you may want to have a destination in mind. One safe choice is Boulevard Anspach, a great wide street that pierces the Old Town and for years has been transforming into a pedestrian zone. Along here you’ll find all sorts of things, from comic book shops to department stores, with restaurants and bars on the side streets.
Brussels Stock Exchange
Perhaps the most striking along all of Boulevard Anspach is The Bourse, Brussels’ beautiful stock exchange building. This grand old neoclassical building dates from 1873 and is unquestionably one of Brussels’ most beautiful. Although you can’t visit inside, it’s easy to appreciate from outside, and its steps are a popular place to people watch and meet up.
Coming to Brussels, there’s a good chance that you’re going to want to taste some of the sinful local treats. So why not start yourself off with some genuine Belgian frites for lunch. Head to Friterie Tabora, just a block from the Bourse, to try Belgian hot chips served with sauces like traditional mayonnaise or spicy Andalusian. They’re delicious no matter the season and are a meal you can walk with if need be.
Although much of the Old Town has survived without too many drastic changes, the same can’t be said for Place Sainte-Catherine and the city’s old fish market. Once a series of wharfs that reached deep into the city centre, only some fountains and seafood restaurants remain. In their place sits a square and marketplace that surround the imposing Church of Saint Catherine.
Among the many restaurants, beer cafes, and bars that now call this lively part of Brussels home, you’ll also find several historic towers. First there’s Tour Noire, a small stone tower that’s been swallowed up by modern buildings. Then there’s the free-standing bell-tower to the Church of Saint Catherine which looks quite out of place among apartments and businesses. Still though, this part of the city is lively in the evenings with people in bars, or at Christmastime when Christmas markets consume every free space.
Les Galeries Saint Hubert
The covered shopping arcade is a common feature of many European cities, but Les Galeries Saint Hubert has the claim of being the first. Today, you can still stroll down this dignified old arcade with its splendid architecture and light pouring in from above. Whether you visit for some window shopping, the cafes, the chocolate shops, or just to escape the rain, you won’t be disappointed.
Belgian Comic Strip Center
In Belgium, comics are a notable part of the culture and far more popular with the general public than in other places. Besides the many comic shops found all over Brussels, the Belgian Comic Strip Center celebrates comic strips and books. This is the home of Tintin, the Smurfs, and many more characters after all.
The museum delves into the history and artistic styles of comics, as well as showcasing celebrated comic artists. Beyond the museum, the wonderful building it is housed within is an Art Nouveau masterpiece designed by local architect Victor Horta. Even if you choose not to visit the museum, step inside the building’s lobby to admire the architecture and glass ceiling.
Quartier des Libertés
Before you put your feet up, why not head over to one last corner of the Brussels city centre and enjoy the Quartier des Libertes? Compared to much of the city you’ve explored so far, this is a decidedly more elegant, upmarket neighborhood with lots of extravagant buildings. More residential than anything else, it almost seems like you’ve taken a wrong turn and wound up in Paris.
Go for a stroll along Rue Royale and then over to the green and leafy Place de la Liberte square. Of the few landmarks in this area, the most notable is the Congress Column, which honors Belgium’s first constitution in 1830. At the foot of the column is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, commemorating soldiers killed in the line of duty.
To experience a Belgian beer café at the end of your day, make your way to the Delirium Café. Found in the city centre, this bar is popular with locals and tourists alike. Perhaps that’s because it offers an astounding 3,000+ different types of beer, including Delirium Tremens – the beer label it is named after. If trying some Belgian beers appeals to you, then this is surely the place to be. Note, it can get pretty busy, but it also has a number of different rooms so that you can find somewhere to sit.
Recommendation: If you are beer lover, make sure to check out this beerlicious guided tour to truly get a taste of some of the best beers in Brussels.
Day 2 in Brussels
Visiting Brussels is more than just seeing the most popular spots in the city centre. To get the most out of a visit to Brussels means venturing further, like into the European Quarter and even to the city limits. That’s what this day is all about.
Place du Petit Sablon
Sablon is one of the more endearing neighborhoods in central Brussels. At the heart of this neighborhood lies the Petit Sablon Square, an oasis of green among buildings and major roads. Situated on a slope, walking through the garden leads up to a fountain topped by the figures of Counts of Egmont and Hornes with their arms on one another’s shoulders. Besides the other statues of scholars, the park also has a view of the stately Egmont Palace.
Mont des Arts
If you‘re after an epic view of the city of Brussels, then you can’t miss the views from the Mont des Arts gardens. Situated within a greater complex of museums and institutions, this addition to the city in the 50s offers a great view of Lower Town. Walk the manicured gardens on the terrace before continuing along the staircase up the hill to Upper Town and a balcony with quite the panorama. Rumor has it that on clear days it’s possible to see past the Old Town and Grand Place all the way to the Atomium.
Rue du Musée
Between the Mont des Arts and the Royal Palace sits the interesting space along Rue du Musée. Here you’ll find several assorted sights that make for a visually interesting spot, if nothing else. At the centre of the area lies the Whirling Ear sculpture opposite a row of buildings each with their own wildly different architectural style. With multiple museums here, from the Museum of Musical Instruments to multiple fine art museums, this is the place to go if you’re in the mood for a good museum.
Another of the decadent Belgian treats you have to have while in Brussels is good old waffles. Whether dusted in sugar, draped in chocolate sauce, or something even more over the top, Belgian waffles are a win for anyone with a sweet tooth. Although there are fixed stores that sell waffles like Maison Dandoy, keep your eyes peeled for waffle trucks around Mont des Arts for a convenient pit stop.
Royal Palace of Brussels
Some people might not realize it, but Belgium still has a ruling monarchy and that means a royal palace to visit. In Brussels, the Royal Palace is just beyond the Old Town and European Quarter, and it’s home to the Belgian Royal Family. This huge and stately palace is quite the impressive sight from the outside. During summertime visitors are able to freely visit many of the lavish rooms inside. From the décor to the furnishings and artwork, the Palace is just as marvelous as you might expect, including works from Rodin and the incredible ceiling of the Mirror Room.
Parc du Cinquantenaire
Out across the European Quarter and past the many shiny new buildings of the European Union lies a real gem of Brussels. Whether you walk out to it or take the metro, the Parc du Cinquantenaire is worth the journey. Besides being a great big park from the 19th century, it’s also home to the massive Triumphal Arch that celebrated 50 years of Belgian independence. By the arch you’ll find even more museums, like the Art and History Museum and the Autoworld car museum.
Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur
Right across Brussels and even farther out in the neighborhood of Koekelberg lies the hilltop National Basilica of the Sacred Heart. With its elevated position, the basilica can often be seen in the distance, but only getting up close will do it justice. Only completed in 1969, this Catholic basilica features an unusual Art Deco design, although it pays homage to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in Paris. Oh, and it’s the fifth largest church in the world!
If the views of the city aren’t enough from the foot of the building, head up to the elevated gallery where you’ll be able to see right out across the city of Brussels. On a good day, you can even see as far as the neighboring city of Mechelen.
Last but not least, you can’t visit Brussels without seeing the unusual building that is the Atomium. Sitting right on the city limits, this popular attraction was constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and has since become a city icon. 102 metres high, this massive, shiny sculpture made of nine stainless steel spheres hides stairs, escalators, and a restaurant with one heck of a view.
Hopefully, you’ll now see just how much can be seen with 2 days in Brussels. Even with a weekend, you’ll be able to explore much of what Brussels has to offer and head home raving about the beautiful Belgian capital.
Recommendation: Have more than 2 days in Brussels? Visit two of Belgium’s most beautiful cities in a day on a guided tour to Bruges and Ghent. From the stunning Saint Bavo Cathedral to the serene Lake of Love, you will walk away with memorable impressions of these gorgeous Flemish cities. For more day trip suggestions from Brussels click here.