As the seat of the European Union and home of the NATO headquarters, Brussels is known worldwide as a centre of European politics but the city has much more to offer than just parliament buildings and bustling bureaucrats. Visitors to the Belgian capital will be greeted with fascinating history, delightful museums, delicious food, and of course, plenty of excellent beer.
In just 24 hours you can get a good feel for the city by visiting some of the top sites and exploring some of the neighborhoods outside of the main tourist hubs.
Central Brussels is quite compact making it easy to walk or take public transportation from place to place. All of the sites listed below are within a 30-minute walk of the Grand Place, Brussels’ magnificent main square.
Here’s how we recommend you spend 24 hours in Brussels.
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9 am – Begin the day with a perfect pastry
Start your day off right by popping by Charli, a delightful French bakery located minutes from the Grand Place in the lively Sainte-Catherine neighborhood. Opened in 2009 by young boulanger, Charles Reboulet, the bakery is chock full of delicious sourdough bread, buttery croissants (or couques as they’re known in Belgium), and luscious eclairs and tartes.
Order a cappuccino and a pastry (or two) and grab a seat for a great view of the bakers at work. They are true craftsmen, and it can be mesmerizing to watch them perfecting their trade…but do your best to pull yourself away so you can…
10 am – Take a free walking tour of the city
SANDEMANs partners with local guides to offer free tours of Brussels starting from the Grand Place. Look for the red SANDEMANs NEW Europe umbrella and/or t-shirts to find your guide. The tour is a great way to get your bearings, learn about the city’s history, and see some of the top sites including the town hall, stock exchange, St. Nicolas’ Church, the Royal Square, and more.
The guides are locals who offer their own perspective on Brussels and are usually happy to give advice on where to eat/drink/and visit after the tour concludes. The tour typically lasts between 2-2.5 hours and ends at the Mont des Arts. Note that the guides will happily accept tips at the end of the tour.
Another great option is to take a Brussels Express Walking Tour with Food Tastings. Click here for more information.
12 pm – Feast on Belgian seafood
Noordzee is an outstanding restaurant serving up oysters, fried seafood, and a variety of excellent fresh fish dishes. The team works directly with suppliers who practice sustainable fishing in Holland, Belgium, Ireland, and Denmark (Noordzee means “North Sea”).
There are two Noordzee locations in Brussels (plus one in Antwerp). For the full experience, I recommend checking out the original Saint Catherine location where you’ll find an oyster bar, a fishmonger (perfect if you are renting a flat), and a nice selection of wines to pair with the tasty cuisine. You can choose to eat in or take away.
1 pm – Visit two Brussels breweries – one modern and one historic
While Belgium is known for their Trappist beers (and you could certainly get your fill of Westvleteren, Rochefort, Orval, and more at places like Delirium or Poechenellekelder), why not get a feel for the brewing process at one of Brussels’ own breweries?
Head to Brussels Beer Project to discover a new wave of craft brewers making their mark on the beer scene with experimental and delicious tipples such as Jungle Joy Passion and Mango Dubbel, and Baby Lone Bread Bitter (brewed with recycled bread!).
Afterwards, take a trip back in time at Cantillon. Founded in 1900, this historic brasserie brews exclusively lambic beers and is the only lambic brewery still operating in Brussels. You can take a self guided tour where you’ll see their brewing equipment (much of which has been in use since Cantillon opened), the barrel rooms were the beers mature, and learn what it takes to produce their stellar sour brews.
The tour includes two samples of their beer and you’re welcome to purchase more beer for consumption on site or to take away.
3:30 pm – Explore the Musical Instrument Museum
Housed in a historic building (a former Old England department store) and chock-a-block with over 8,000 instruments from 16th century Flemish harpsichords to African slit drums, the MIM is a must visit for any music lover.
The museum is laid out over 4 floors, each of which has its own theme. Of particular note is the 1st floor which focuses on traditional musical instruments from around the globe and their purposes in society.
5 pm – Enjoy a sweet treat
Since Belgians tend to eat late and because walking, drinking beer, and visiting museums can really make you work up an appetite, we highly recommend a visit to Maison Dandoy for a sweet snack. While they are best known for their divine Speculoos cookies, my go-to is their waffles.
We highly recommend trying both the Brussels and Liege waffles to see which one you prefer – and then going back for seconds of your favorite style. Brussels waffles are light and airy with a crisp buttery exterior while the Liege waffles are dense, rich and studded with pearl sugar which caramelizes when the dough hits the iron.
While you have the option to add a variety of decadent toppings, I’d advise you to do as the Belgians do and eat your waffle plain or with a light sprinkle of powdered sugar.
There are various Maison Dandoy locations around town, but the one right off the Grand Place on Rue Charles Buls is very convenient and has a tea room in case you prefer to enjoy your waffle sitting down.
5:30 pm – Explore the Sablon Neighborhood & Marolles District
After a day of sightseeing, these lovely neighborhoods offer a welcome retreat from the tourist crowds. You’ll feel like a local as you wander the posh, café lined streets of upmarket Sablon and funky Marolles. Buy some chocolate (Pierre Marcolini, Wittamer and Frederic Blondeel are all great choices), stop for an aperitif, and enjoy the ambiance.
8 pm – Dinner at Peï & Meï
This husband and wife team (Pei & Mei means “Boy & Girl” in the local Brussels dialect) serves up delicious, creative dishes which showcase local ingredients. You’ll be well taken care of by Melissa (the Mei) in the dining room, while Gauthier’s (the Pei) efforts in the kitchen are sure to keep your taste buds entertained.
The restaurant is refined yet cozy, making it the perfect end to a busy day in Brussels.
Where to Stay in Brussels
There are boring business hotels aplenty in Brussels for all the visiting bureaucrats, but if you prefer something a little less cookie cutter, I’d highly recommend the 9Hotel Sablon. It’s a 34-room boutique property decorated in a sleek, modern style.
In the basement you’ll find a lovely wellbeing space equipped with a Finnish sauna, swimming pool, and hot tub – the perfect respite after a busy day of exploring. Click here for current prices.
Want more Brussels hotel options? Click here for a list of hotels in Brussels.
Day Trips from Brussels
Bruges is a gorgeous city that should not be missed on a trip to Belgium and best of all, it makes a great day trip from Brussels. This post has more details.
Another popular day trip from Brussels is to the World War I Battlefields of Flanders. Click here for prices and details.
Further reading: 12 Places in Belgium You Probably Don’t Know (But Should)
Where is Brussels
The city of Brussels is the capital of Belgium and is home to around 180,000 residents. It is located in central Belgium.
Getting to Brussels
Brussels can be easily reached from all over Europe and from the UK, it’s even possible to catch the London to Brussels Eurostar train which takes just two hours. There are up to ten services daily.
Brussels Airport is serviced by regular flights from throughout Europe, the UK and Ireland.
About the Author: Euro Travel Coach is a family run business focused on making travel dreams come true. Founder, Betsy Ball, has always had a passion for travel and trip planning and she loves sharing her knowledge of Europe with others. She founded Euro Travel Coach in 2016 and was joined by husband Greg and daughter Chelsea. They offer travel coaching services, custom itinerary planning and small-group guided tours to clients planning on visiting Europe. Follow Euro Travel Coach on Facebook.