12 HOUR LAYOVER IN BRUSSELS | TOP 5 EXPERIENCES
So you've got a decent layover in Brussels? Have enough time to get out of the airport for a few hours? Here are my votes for the best things to see, eat, and experience when you're on a "time budget."
1. Visit La Grand Place
This lively cobbled square is in the heart of Brussels and is considered one of the most stunning 17th century ensembles.
The majority of the buildings surrounding the square have touches of gold around columns, windows, and railings that add a dazzling flare not seen really anywhere else in European squares. Some of the historic buildings in the square include the town hall, the King's house (the Maison du Roi that is now the Brussels' museum), and Le Pigeon (literally meaning "pigeon" in English) where Victor Hugo lived during his exile in Belgium in 1852.
The square hosts artists selling their works, sometimes a market selling goods also pops up. Grab a beer and a snack at one of the cafe's around the square to people watch and take in the stunning architectural views.
2. Eat Belgian Waffles
I mean, this is a given. It is such a touristy thing to do, but they are so damn good. I have no specific recommendations on where to get them (because I ate several from different vendors and they were all delicious), but as you make your way to La Grand Place, you will find plenty of bakeries... and you will inevitably give in at some point and just get one, or three. There are also waffle topping options you never even though possible. Below you will find a montage of me taking pictures of large waffles, taking a picture with a large waffle, and eating some large waffles. Enjoy.
3. Sip (Drink) Belgian Beer
Brewing beer in Belgium dates back to at least the 12th century. Interestingly, the Catholic church would grant permission to local abbeys to brew and distribute beer as a means of raising funds. The alcohol content at the time was quite low, and methods have since evolved to what it is today.
Of additional interesting note, most beers are often bought and/or served in bottles, not cans. Many brands also typically present with their own uniquely shaped glass, just to add to the coolness. In 2016, UNESCO "inscribed Belgian beer culture on their list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity." So, make the difficult choice of picking from hundreds of beers on display while you're in Brussels, and, well, cheers!
4. Sample Belgian Chocolate
Belgium has been associated with chocolate as far back as the early 17th century. Hot chocolate had been the most popular form of chocolate for many upper and middle class people as large amounts of cocoa were being imported from Africa.
The praline was invented in Belgium in 1912! Classically, it's a soft-centered confection covered in a thin chocolate casing... can't go wrong. And while we didn't have much time to have a full Belgian chocolate experience, I would recommend booking a walking chocolate tour, or even better, a chocolate making class if you have a half a day to spare. I have read great things about both. And yes, those wrenches and other tools are all chocolate!
5. See the Mannekin Pis
The Mannekin Pis (literally translated from Dutch for "little pissing man") is, believe it or not, an iconic landmark for Brussels.
This little two foot tall bronze sculpture depicts a naked boy peeing into the fountain below. It was put into place around 1618, and is said to really embody the sense of humor of the people in Brussels.
The Maison du Roi (King's House) noted earlier that sits in La Grand Place, actually has a display of tiny suits and other pieces of the Mannekin's wardrobe that are used to dress him for special occasions.
I'll admit, he's a bit underwhelming, but it's just another one of those quirky symbols that is unique to this city. He's only a five minute walk to La Grand Place and right along the way, so you might as well.
And there you have it! Five ideas of how to spend a layover in the city of Brussels. Enjoy, and keep traveling!