Brussels in One Day: All the Best Things to Do & See
Brussels is an interesting city: on the hand it might seem a little dirty at times, but on the other hand it has a beautiful charming city center.
If you are wondering what to do in Brussels, continue reading for a guide with my best tips for things to do and see, where to eat, and how to get there!
Map of Brussels
What to See in Brussels in One Day
The Atomium is a very nice place to start your one day in Brussels for several reasons. It’s located outside of the city center, so you can start your day here and then work your way back in. It also will give you a beautiful panoramic view, which is always a nice way to begin or end a day trip!
Nicknamed the Eiffel Tower of Belgium, the 102-meter high building was constructed in 1957 for the World Exhibition, similar to its Parisian counterpart in 1889.
Inside of the Atomium, you can enjoy the fascinating expositions about the construction of the building. On your journey getting there, you will, depending on your route, of course, drive past the Castle of Laeken, an impressive building and the home of the Belgian king and his family.
Grote Markt (Grand Square)
Grand with a capital G. Belgians definitely know how to build impressive Grand Squares. Previously, I had been stunned by those of Bruges and Ghent and this one didn’t disappoint either.
The most striking building (even though it has plenty of competitors) is, without a doubt, the Town Hall. I remember that a few years ago, there used to be very impressive light shows every evening during the Christmas season, but I’m not sure if this is still the case today.
On the square, most buildings have Gothic architecture, which is something I personally find very beautiful. To me it seems to hint of a dark history… or something like that.
Bonus: In the street towards De Beurs you can find countless bonbon shops. You should obviously visit all of them.
Manneken Pis is definitely one of the most over-hyped tourist attractions in the world, but oh well. It’s a tiny, naked guy peeing! It’s famous throughout the world and it is located in Brussels. That’s why you should still visit it.
Thank God, Manneken Pis, in contrast to a certain half-fish/half-woman creature in a Scandinavian country, can be found in the city center itself. From de Grote Markt, it’s only a five minute walk.
Near Manneken Pis, you can find “a Manneken” I like a lot more: Tintin. I always used to be more of a Guust Flater and Suske & Wiske fan when it came to Belgian comic books, but the gigantic colorful fresco, next to the fountain of the urinating boy, is very cool to see.
Not only does it remind you of a part of the cultural heritage of Belgium, it is also very nice to see the contrast between this fresco and all the old and beautiful buildings around it. (Now you can all guess what my personal bond with Tintin is! *hint* Google *hint*)
De Beurs (The Stock Exchange)
Even though it was closed during my stay in Brussels, I was very impressed by the Stock Exchange (called De Beurs) and its pillars and statues of lions. It almost looks Roman, which I didn’t think fit with Belgium and therefore found fascinating.
De Beurs is actually no longer a working stock exchange ever since a fire 20 years ago. A pity because given the magnitude of the building, it would be quite suitable if the financial future of the country was decided there.
But oh well! In the future, the building should house a rooftop bar. By the way, the area around De Beurs is great for shopping.
The Royal Saint Hubert Gallery
What more can a tourist ask for than a luxuriant, indoor shopping street decorated with golden ornaments that immediately makes you feel like you are shopping with Princess Sisi herself? Nothing, I can tell you that.
I felt like a kid in a candy store. The marble walls, the expensive brands… I loved it and so did my family. With a nostalgic sigh, they told me that the gallery reminded them of Naples.
I, on the other hand, was reminded of Milan. The gallery is a wonderful place to shelter from the rain, to window shop, and to marvel at the architecture. Truly royal!
Turn left halfway through the gallery and you end up in a street full of restaurants. My personal rule is that whenever a waiter approaches me on the street, I will definitely NOT eat at that restaurant. I like to decide where to eat by myself and to do so in peace.
However, it is definitely nice to walk through it and look around. Even though it is very touristy, it still makes you feel like you’re walking through an old, narrow passage and all those restaurants and terraces do seem cozy. Personally, I wouldn’t dine here, because I suspect that their food isn’t great. They all pretty much sell the same pricey paella.
Tours for Brussels
If you’d like to include a tour during your one day in Brussels, try these:
- Brussels Chocolate Tasting Tour
- Small Group Walking Tour of Brussels
- Private Brussels Tour with a Local
- Brussels: 3-Hour Guided Art Nouveau Tour
Where to Stay in Brussels
If you’re looking to extend your one day in Brussels, here are some tips on where to stay!
Bed & Breakfast All in One
The rooms at Bed & Breakfast All-in One are all decorated in a unique way. The hotel is located close to de Nieuwstraat, at the edge of the city center. In summer, you can enjoy the sunshine on the terrace of the hotel. Breakfast can be booked. Check current prices here.
How to Get to Brussels
Brussels by Car
From Utrecht, Brussels is about two hours away, depending on the traffic. The distance is 170 kilometers.
Please note that since 1 January 2018 a low emission zone has been in force in the Brussels-Capital Region, which means that certain cars are no longer allowed to drive in this zone.
Check here exactly what this means. Part of the center of Brussels is car-free. Read here all about parking in Brussels.
Brussels by Train
You can take the intercity train to Brussels from five places: Amsterdam, Schiphol, Rotterdam, Breda and The Hague.
With the Thalys you can be from Amsterdam to Brussels in less than two hours. Not only the Thalys is an option, but the Eurostar has recently become one. For more information, visit the NS International website.
Brussels by Bus
Save money and time is no objection? Then the bus is still the most economical option. Take Flixbus to Brussels from a large number of Dutch cities from a few euros for a one-way trip (if you book on time).
What are your tips for what to do during a day in Brussels?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe and Tiqets for specific attraction deals.