This is a great travel guide for what to do in Brussels, where to eat and even recommended Brussels Hotels. It is our complete itinerary to visit Brussels with teens, with bonus things to do in Brussels for the Christmas and New Year season.
If you recall when we were seeking out help to choose our European Christmas vacation spot, everyone was great with input on some amazing places. In the end we selected Amsterdam for Christmas and Brussels for New Years! We shared with you a great Amsterdam itinerary and now it is time to provide you with what to do in Brussels. Keep on reading to see what we recommend you add to your Brussels itinerary.
Brussels Map of things to do, places to stay and where to eat!
Getting around Brussels
We arrived in Brussels by train at the central station (Brussels Midi) and found it very easy to get a taxi to our hotel. When it was time to depart, we flew back to Spain via the Brussels Airport, which was about a 25 minute taxi ride from the city center. We found the check-in system at the Brussels airport to be very well-organized and hassle free. Click here for more info about the airport.
It is very easy to get around Brussels. They offer a great public transportation system with full day and multi-day travel passes. We of course think it is the best deal to get the Brussels Card! This provides you free entrance to over 30 museums and discounts for many of the main attractions.
- Get around Brussels with the Brussels Card Choose a 24, 48 or 72-hour card
- Free admission to over 30 museums across the city
- Use your Brussels Card to enjoy discounts at a variety of shops and restaurants
- Free guide-book and city map
They even offer the Brussels card in combo with the Brussels metro or the hop on hop off bus. Click here to see pricing and options for the card.
What to do in Brussels All Year
When someone mentions Belgium to me, there are a few things which immediately pop into my mind. The European Union Headquarters, Belgian chocolate, Belgian waffles, cheeses and the Atomium. So, we tried to plan this trip to enjoy as much as we could with all things Belgium. If you are planning to visit Brussels, these are a few of our top things to do in Brussels with teens!
Time To Make Waffles!
We’ve all heard of Belgian waffles, most of us have even tasted them, but what could be more fun than making a bunch of them! We really enjoyed our Waffle Workshop and left with full bellies. It all stared with a meet up at the Grand Place, followed by a short walking tour, and a little history about waffles. Did you know there are different types of waffles, one is a street waffle and a Brussels Belgian waffle? They looks the same on the surface, but they are slightly different.
Liege Belgian Waffles (street waffles) have a coating with pearl sugar. The street waffle shops are often where you will see crowds of tourists buying the Liege waffles loaded with toppings and eating them with a small fork. This isn’t the local way of doing things. They are sweeter than traditional Brussels Belgian waffles and are typically purchased on the go and eaten plain by the locals.
If you do buy a waffle at one of the Liege shops, just ask them to make you a fresh hot waffle. You may need to wait, but it is worth it. It is the traditional Brussels waffle which is made with less sugar and found in restaurants, which is typically topped with fruits, cream and syrups.
Back to the waffle workshop
After our little lesson and street tour, it was into the workshop to make our own waffles. Just imagine the fun and knowing you get to eat unlimited amounts of waffles too! It was great fun and I would say if you just have one day in Brussels, this is a must do. The price for the tour is very affordable, the workshop is only 90 minutes and well worth it. They even gave us the Belgian waffle recipe!
If you want to book their Belgian waffle workshop, click here for more information about the workshop availability and prices.
Become a Chocolatier
As you know we love to do cooking classes when we travel, but when you combine it with chocolate it was a no-brainer. I am not sure which we enjoyed more the waffle workshop or this amazing chocolate making workshop. Belgian chocolate has been a major industry since the 19th century and we all know that you are in for a real treat when you have chocolate from Belgium. This chocolate workshop was very affordable, just a few hours of a rainy day, and great family fun.
There was no shortage of learning and fun in this class and we also met some really great people. We learned all about the tempering of chocolate and how to make ganache too. There was so much chocolate everywhere and we each made about 20 Belgian pralines and some creative chocolate mendiants too.
Confession: I always thought a praline was just a nut. Who knew it was a filled chocolate too?
We had so much fun making our chocolates, making a mess, and even making hot chocolate from scratch! We each walked out with a beautiful box full of chocolates to enjoy or give away as a gift.
Brussels Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus
Guess what? We had a 2 day pass for the bus with our Brussels city card (Click here to see pricing and options for the card). As you may know, we’ve enjoyed the Hop On Hop Off bus in many countries and feel it is a great way to see all of the main Brussels tourist attractions. It is especially nice when it is cold and rainy or just too hot. We really do love public transit too, but when we want to actually see the city while we moving from one place to another, this is the best option.
Visit the Atomium
Visit the most famous landmark building in Brussels, the Atomium! It was originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and is located on the Heysel Plateau, where the exhibition took place. It’s now a museum, but the appearance of the Atomium is unusual and unforgettable. It is a great chance to see this great building and explore unique artwork at the Brussels Art & Design Atomium Museum (ADAM).
Alan and I went inside over 20 years ago, but this go round we just hopped off the bus to explore the grounds and take a few pictures.
What’s the obsession with Pee?
Manneken Pis, meaning “Little man Pee” in Dutch, is a landmark small bronze sculpture in Brussels. It depicts a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was originally put in place in 1618 or 1619, but the current statue dates from 1965. The Manneken Pis is the best-known symbol of the people of Brussels. It also embodies their sense of humor (called zwanze in the Brussels’ dialect) and their independence of mind.
Jeanneke Pis is a modern fountain and statue in Brussels, which was intended to form a counterpoint to the city’s Manneken Pis, south of the Grand Place. It was commissioned by Denis-Adrien Debouvrie in 1985 and erected in 1987. The half-metre-high bronze statue depicts a little girl with her hair in short pigtails, squatting and urinating on a blue-grey limestone base.
Het Zinneke, sometimes wrongly called Zinneke Pis, is a statue in Brussels created in 1998. It represents a urinating dog, along the same lines as the Manneken Pis (a boy) and the Jeanneke Pis (a girl).
Touch Everard t’Serclaes’ Monument
Everard t’Serclaes, lord of Kruikenburg, was a citizen of Brussels, who was made famous by his recovery of that city from the Flemings. Today, Brussels natives and tourists passing by the corner of the Grand Place and the rue Charles Buls don’t miss a chance to touch t’Serclaes. It is customary to make a wish as you touch him too, the most honorable of which is “to hope to come back to Brussels.“ Read more about it.
There will be no shortage of chocolate shops for samples, but we also discovered a shop named Oil & Vinegar. Oh wow, this was over the top delicious and they have more samples than you can count. We tried various vinegars, oils and spices and of course walked out with a few purchases too. It is marked on our Brussels map, but it is located on a street behind the Bourse.
Brussels Street Art
There is so much street art to see in Brussels, of course much of it cartoons like Tin Tin. Here is a great article on the street art in Brussels as well as a very informative map below. There is also a comic book route and a street art spotting guide.
Brussels Vintage Clothes & Thrift Shopping
As we mentioned in our Amsterdam post, our teens are loving the thrift shop scene. Of course they were very excited to find a great place right in the city center. It was a used clothing store named Melting Pot Kilo Vintage Thrift Shop. Everything is sold by the kilo! The each found a few items, sweaters and shirts and we walked out with some happy teens and a very excited mom, as it was under 13€ in total!
Roam the Streets of Brussels
Our advice no matter where you travel, even in your own home town. Allow yourself to just roam around and don’t worry about where you are or where you are going. This is when we get to live in the moment and just absorb everything around us.
Brussels in a day!
If you just have one day in Brussels, I would suggest you do the waffle workshop, walk around the Grand Place, and take the Brussels sightseeing Hop On Hop Off bus. With the bus, you can just do the full loop of each route without even getting off! The audio guide is full of information and it is an easy tour to see so much. This quick Brussels itinerary will provide you with a great overview of the city in the most efficient way.
Christmas In Brussels Things To Do and New Years Too!
If you want an amazing backdrop for Christmas, we highly recommend you visit Brussels for the holidays. We arrived in Brussels on the 30th of December, planning to bring in the new year with big fireworks and have a little down-time for some city exploring. Little did we know, we were still going to get the full benefit of Christmas! It was Christmas everywhere and we were right in the heart of it for 5 nights. It was the Brussels Winter Wonders and it runs the full month of December and the first week of January. Score!
Christmas In Brussels Things To Do and New Years Too!
The Winter Wonders event takes place before and during the Christmas holidays, at the Grand Place in Brussels, around the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie, the Place Sainte-Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons.
Winter Wonders includes:
- A Christmas market with more than 200 chalets
- Fairground attractions (Ferris wheel, merry-go-rounds,…)
- A covered ice rink for skating (Place de la Monnaie)
- A Christmas tree and sound and light show on the Grand-Place and more
Christmas Tree and Amazing Light Show
Free light show at the Grand Place during the holiday season every night, on the half hour. The show is about 12 minutes, with music and synchronized lights on all of the buildings and the Christmas tree too. This year the music was a Sia compilation and we enjoyed it several times during our stay.
Brussels Christmas Markets
It seemed as though every corner we turned we happened upon a Brussels Christmas market. Of course we were staying right near the Grand Place, so it was Christmas everywhere. Who doesn’t love a good mulled wine, snacking on junk food while browsing all of the wares at the Christmas market? It is especially magical at night with all of the music and lights too.
There was even a small area across from our hotel offering covered ice skating at Place de la Monnaie. This was a happening place and surrounded by a few Christmas market booths with hot chocolate, soups, snacks, drinks and more.
It’s also near a couple of the shopping areas like The Mint, Anspach and the popular pedestrian shopping street of Rue Neuve or Nieuwstraat, which is the second most popular shopping area in Belgium. The ice rink was open daily from 12 noon until 9pm and it was covered, so the weather didn’t impact the experience. It was so cute they even had a separate small rink for the little ones.
Celebrate New Year’s Eve in Brussels
For over 70 years the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Brussels have been in the De Bourke area, just across from our hotel. In fact, this was the main reason I selected this very hotel. Wouldn’t you know it, there was street construction this year and they moved the fireworks out to the Atomium. The bonus was they were offering free public transport that night, but for the first time our family couldn’t agree on what to do.
Lars and I wanted to endure the crowds of thousands of people, in the cold rain, and head out to the Atomium. Alan and Anya wanted to walk over to the Grand Place. For the first time ever, our family went different ways for the new year. We all had a great time and it was special for each of us to have a wonderful time one on one with each kid. It was a very late night with all of us back to the hotel by about 2:30 am, but it was well worth it.
Brussels Attractions & Tours
If you are trying to figure out what to do in Brussels, there are also many organized tours for you to enjoy. From being active on walking or biking tour, to enjoying a food or wine. There is so much to do and Viator has so many great offers for you.
Brussels Food & Drink
During our 5 nights in Brussels we had a 1 bedroom apartment, so cooked in often. That said, there were so many great options right out our door as well. Much of what we enjoyed were light meals or pastries for breakfast.
It was so awesome having a stir fry place just a two-minute walk from our apartment named Thai Wok. I think we went there a few times, as it was so fresh and delicious. You can tell we miss having Asian food!
Give Us Burgers!
You know us, the burger lovers! After eating at Hard Rock in Amsterdam, we wanted one last go in Brussels, as it was located right at the Grand Place. We went at an off-time of day, but it was a very long wait for a table. I recommend getting their special VIP menu and service, to make you feel like a rock star! We had a 3-course meal, drinks and it was also amazing as there is no waiting for a table! Click here to see the great VIP deal.
We decided not to wait and ended up at another burger place named Manhattn’s Burgers. It was a pricey gourmet burger place, just next to the Bourse. Alan and Anya absolutely loved it and I thought it was good, but not spectacular.
Many people flock here for waffles, but what they are really best know for are the speculoos! It’s a crunchy biscuit with brown sugar, but the Dandoy speculoos come with cloves and cinnamon, with vanilla or coated with handmade chocolate. Read more here.
Great Pastries! Paul Bakery
This was just out the door of our hotel and we did stop in a few time for some fresh pastries and baked goods. Oh the bread was scrumptious, as well as the croissant, chocolate croissant and more!
We have a few other places listed on our map as well.
Where to Stay in Brussels Hotels & More
If you can target your search to the city center or the areas surrounding the Grand Place, that would be ideal. You would be able to walk to most of the main tourist attraction in Brussels and have plenty of food and entertainment options as well.
A Brussels Aparthotel
We stayed at the Adagio Grand Place and this was a 1 bedroom Aparthotel. That means it is basically a more spacious hotel room with a bedroom and a mini kitchen. It was actually very efficient and we got it all for free! Yep, we wanted to be smack in the heart of the city and the prices were crazy over the holidays, so we used our credit card points to pay for all 5 nights. Very well spent points for sure. Click here for their current pricing and availability.
A City Apartment!
Of course we always recommend an apartment for that extra space a family needs. It is often a more affordable option over a hotel. We often use Homeaway.com, check out their deals here.
These are the great tools we use to find self catering rentals, hotels, or house sits.
- Airbnb – If you are new to Airbnb and are looking to either rent a room or the entire place, use this code to receive a $29 USD discount on your first booking.
- House sitting – Stay in luxury homes worldwide free of charge
Brussels Marriott Hotel
If you prefer a hotel, this is a great location across from the Bourse and they have very nice rooms. We stayed just down the street and it was in a great location. Check their availability and prices now.
Additional Brussels Resources
- Brussels tourism site, more info here.
- If you plan to tour around Belgium, we have several posts with more things to do in Belgium with kids.
Free Brussels walking tours
Combine your visit to Brussels with a quick trip to Amsterdam too!
Here is our travel guide for Amsterdam at Christmas. It is just under two hours by train between these cities and the tickets are usually very affordable.
You may book your tickets online now!
Amsterdam Houseboat on the Canal
A few summers ago, we stayed a week on a houseboat and had a wonderful experience. Usually these are very centrally located and easy to just hop out and explore the city. One big bonus is you don’t have to deal with all of the steep apartment stairs! Read about our houseboat experience here.
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