Not many people know I used to live in Brussels, Belgium for two years, working as a translator for the European Union.
At the age of 24, I fell in love with the shabby city’s quirky energy, hidden behind a deceptively grey facade.
And a decade later, I still love Brussels, have lifelong friends there and go back to visit whenever I’m in Europe.
Sure, there are the naysayers who think the Belgian capital is as dull as dishwater. But I’m still often asked for advice from friends and family taking cheap flights over for the weekend.
Where should they go? How will they eat? Where will they drink? After 10 years, I’ve finally decided to write it all down.
Brussels is more than just the Atomium, you know. In fact, that weird molecular model doesn’t even make it on to my list.
The heart of historic Brussels, an ornate town hall surrounded by beautiful old buildings and brasseries.
Bizarre, touristy, free…and worth it for the waffles (see below). Sometimes they even dress the little guy up!
Grand and Petit Sablon
Two small squares filled with antique shops, Belgian cafés… plus some of the best chocolate in the world (see below).
Belgian Comic Strip Centre
A really cool museum for all ages, with lots of fun displays about the history of Hergé’s Tintin.
Get a tour of this place to see how you can brew beer in Brussels just by letting it sit in the open air (honestly).
A bit of a tram ride out of the city, but a microcosm of Belgium itself. From the outside, it looks like a dull little terraced house with nothing extraordinary happening at all. But inside, there Magritte sat, painting some of the most surrealist art the world had ever seen.
Happily, Brussels has a myriad of good restaurants. Amazingly, they actually seem to stay open. But let’s start with the most important thing…frites!
When I first visited Brussels, I was sitting outside this friterie on Place Jourdan, eating a cone of delicious chips, when a total stranger walked past and told me I was eating the best frites in town. He was right! I love ordering the pain mitraillette frites with homemade tartare sauce, then taking it all to one of the nearby bars and washing it down with a blanche beer!
Bar a Tapas
Very funky tapas place in the St. Gery area, surrounded by cool bars and Eurohipsters.
Delicious Mexican food, served near Place Luxembourg, in a whitewashed room with writing all over the walls. Oddly, also some of the best cheesecake I’ve ever had in the world!
All the food has beer in – even the salad. What more do you need to know? Near the Palais de Justice. The owner collects royal memorabilia.
A huge menu of delicious pitas, in the Sablon area – be warned this place gets busy at lunchtime!
Brasserie La Terrasse
When I finished the Brussels half marathon, this is where I went to recover. Classic Belgian food served on a pretty garden terrace near Parc du Cinquantenaire.
Maison des Crepes
A great pit stop after visiting the Grand Place to get tasty crepes, savoury and sweet, or my favourite, the salade de chevre chaud.
Just round the corner from the Manneken Pis, surrounded by tacky tourist shops, this waffle place has no business being so damn good. But they serve my favourite waffles in Brussels, piled high with fresh fruit and cream.
This chocolaterie on Place du Grand Sablon is my favourite chocolate shop in the world. In. The. World. Make sure you get some of the red hearts full of dark chocolate and cherry – exquisite!
Over the two years I lived in Belgium, I grew to love its strong, Trappist beers.
My favourites are Rochefort 10 and Westmalle Tripel. Other classy tipples include Chimay, Duvel and Mort Subite. At the lower end, Jupiler and Maes will keep you in cheap and cheerful beer all night.
If you come across Westvleteren 12, make sure to try it – it’s extremely rare and some people say it’s the best beer in the world. I’ve been lucky enough to try it twice in my life!
Note – no one drinks Stella. Don’t even try. It’s embarrassing. Drinking Hoegaarden is fine, although most people just ask for a blanche.
That said, here are three of my favourite drinking holes in Brussels.
Whether you like beer or not, you must go to Delirium, near the Grand Place. They serve more beers than anywhere else in the world – a minimum of 2,000 at any given time! Don’t be deceived by the fact it’s down the grotty Impasse de la Fidélité. Inside, it is a funky bar full of beer barrel tables and beer menus as thick as catalogues. Also check out Jeanneken Pis, the female version of the Manneken Pis, down the end of the alley.
A La Mort Subite
The name of this bar means “To Sudden Death” and there’s enough strong Belgian beer here to get you on your way. Personally, I have fond memories of taking my father here when he came to visit, mainly because it’s the only time I ever saw him get even the tiniest bit drunk. We stumbled home together. A really warm brasserie on Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potagères and a great place to make merry.
La Porte Noire
The first time I ever went to the Porte Noire, it was extremely difficult to find and seemed to literally just be an unmarked black door. Once we’d picked our way through the darkness, down the brick stairs, we discovered an underground tavern full of rare beers and a mediaeval vibe. Go find it!
Got another recommendation? Or maybe you have a question? Leave it in the comments below and I’ll get back to you!