I don’t know about you, but I was on the edge of my seat while watching the Belgium vs. USA World Cup game last week. Before the game started, a number of my friends texted me with questions on who I’d be rooting for since both countries share a special place in my heart. Born and raised in the US, I was quickly reminded that, in comparison, I had only lived in Belgium for less than 5 months last year, but that’s got to be enough time to fall in love with a country, right? It only came naturally that I began cursing Belgium in favor of the US team. Guess I really am an American at heart. I mean, Tim Howard, though. Need I say more? Either way, I couldn’t be too upset because “my” team still technically advanced…if only for a few more days until Argentina knocked them out.
Today, I’m here to tell you why Brussels, Belgium is such a gem. Situated in such a small country, it’s surprisingly got a lot of spunk. Even though I lived only an hour train ride away from Brussels, I didn’t take advantage of the country’s capital until the last 5 days I was there before boarding that plane back to the US. I really only used the city as the “layover destination” to get me from point A to point B. Thankfully, my friends, Katie & Barbara, visited me for a few days, which meant I had to learn how to be a tour guide of Brussels. Had they not visited me, I would’ve never realized how fun and charming the city is…which was one of the main reasons that made me eager to revisit it this past May.
So where have I been and what do I have to say about these places?
Delirium Cafe – Known for its extensive beer list from around the world (over 2,000). You can spot an American in there from a mile away, which means that you typically won’t find yourself surrounded by many locals. My two absolute favorite beers are Kasteel Rouge (8%) & Montagnarde (9%). For a girl who only weighs 105 lbs (47.6 kg), these two beers guarantee to have me feeling a nice buzz in no time.
Coaster – God, this place is in the top three for making the best cocktails I’ve ever had. The other two locations are in Dresden, Germany and Charlotte, NC USA. It’s got an excellent hipstery environment. I’ve visited this place a few times, courtesy of my Belgian friend, without running into any tourists. It’s a cramped place and a bit more difficult to find, but certainly well worth the wait. Make sure to check out their Facebook page to see what deals are going the night you visit.
Le Marmiton – It’s a little on the pricier side, setting you back at around €35 or $50 per person. With that being said, what I had was a delicious three course meal with bottled water, red wine, and white wine. If memory serves me right, I had ardenne ham, chicken, and lemon sorbet. All were delicious and the service is superb. Located in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert near the Grand Place, this restaurant attracts a decent amount of tourists and locals alike.
Sushi Shop – One thing I immediately noticed studying abroad was the slim selection of sushi restaurants in Europe. I went here to meet up with one of my Belgian roommates from the semester before studying abroad (I lived in the international community at Clemson). This is her go-to spot. Apparently, there’s a location in NYC, but I had never been. I ordered the “Cool Mix” which consists of 6 california rolls, 6 maki spicy tuna rolls, and 6 shrimp rolls. This delicious mix will set you back €14,90 or around $22, which is the normal price for a standard sushi restaurant in the US. Brussels has multiple locations for you to choose.
AJi – All you can eat sushi for €20 or $28.50. You get 6 flavorful dumplings and then all-you-can-eat sushi. Warning: if you order too many rolls and cannot finish them, it’s an extra €1 per piece of sushi! Also, it’s typically closed on Wednesdays. The service is very helpful to explain any questions you may have about the menu.
Rue des Bouchers – A street that thrives on trapping tourists with their inexpensive deals. They have men standing outside each restaurant inviting you to come in with their deals that can beat their neighboring counterparts. I actually like these places because you can get decent mussels for around €10 or $14. At that price, you can get a starter of your choice (smoked salmon, salad, etc.), mussels and fries, a Belgian waffle, and a complimentary Belgian beer (usually a Jupiler, an inexpensive Belgian beer). Not a fan of the fries or the waffle, but the others are fine, especially at that price. You can’t leave Brussels without having their mussels 😉
Stella Artois – I had waterzooi, a Belgian stew. At around €15 for this dish, you can try it too. It wasn’t as memorable as other dishes that I’ve had, but the cute waiter made the visit worth it. While you’re at it, you’ve got to order the famous Stella Artois beer that beer lovers seem to love worldwide (it’s not a personal favorite of mine, though).
Danish Tavern – I would never go back here again. The service was below subpar and pricy for what they have to offer. I had chicken, veggies, and rice. The only reason why I even went here was because it was my first day in Brussels and all the girls were starving for anything close to the hotel after an 8.5 hour flight.
Neuhaus – It’s a luxury chocolate shop that lets you sample select pralines. Not a single one will disappoint you and you simply can’t leave without getting some truffles, too! Want to visit the first ever Neuhaus shop? It’s located in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert.
Leonidas – It’s another luxury chocolate shop. You can get a generous gift box full of pralines for under €20.
Godiva – Did you know that Godiva was a Belgian chocolate company? Pretty standard place as you can get these chocolates in your local grocery store.
Delhaize – It’s a Belgian grocery store known as Food Lion in the United States. Before you judge, let me tell you that they have good Belgian chocolate too! My absolute favorite happens to be the affordable Côte d’Or brand that all Belgians keep stocked up in their homes because it’s also that good.
Grand Place – You simply cannot visit Brussels and not see the Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the most beautiful city centres I’ve seen, especially at nighttime when all the surrounding buildings are lit up in changing colors.
Town Hall – Located in the Grand Place, you’ll quickly notice that the building is not symmetrical. You might get told that the architect committed suicide after realizing the belfry was not in the middle, but that’s just a legend. It would’ve been pretty shameful if that seemingly lack of precision was actually made on accident.
Les Galeries de Saint Hubert – Want to see something GORGEOUS? Visit this place, the oldest shopping arcade in the world. It holds a number of luxury boutiques, chocolate shops, and restaurants.
Palais de Justice – This building is one of my absolute favorites in Brussels. Its architecture is awe-inspiring and boasts spectacular views of the city. If you go on the bridge that attaches to a full glass elevator, jump on it and it will bounce like crazy. It’s both a scary and cool feeling.
Jardin du Petit Sablon – I love this quaint garden so much. You’ll be happy you visited, especially when the tulips are in full bloom. It’s also on the way to the top of the hill where the Palais de Justice is situated.
Parc Léopold – Simply beautiful park. You’ll see friends and family alike enjoying the scenery. Between everyone’s picnics entailing fresh baguettes and crisp, cold beer, you’ll want to join in, too. Locals also love to jog around here. I don’t blame them.
Belgian Comic Strip Center – I went here for a field trip to learn to engage in the Belgian culture. Cute museum, but I would have never willingly entered on my free time. Unlike me, if you’re into comics, then you’d have a ball.
European Union – Want to learn more about the EU and how it operates? Visit this place for FREE. Unfortunately, I never entered inside because it was closed by the time I got there, but it looks pretty swanky from the exterior.
Now, I haven’t posted every single destination I’ve visited in Brussels, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment. Remember, I’ll be posting another post about Brussels in the future from the experiences I had in May 2014.