4 Alternative Things to Do on a Weekend in Brussels
From climbing to the top of a multi-storey car park to spending a night in the museum, Jem Collins discovers the unsung hotspots of the Belgian capital.
For a city so small — you could fit it into London almost ten times — it can seem like your Brussels holiday plans are written as soon as you book your tickets. Surrealist favourites such as the Manneken Pis and the Atomium building dominate the agenda, and with good reason. But a forgotten plus of tiny cities is that everything is right on top of each other — meaning there’s plenty of time to seek out lesser known adventures, says Jem Collins.
Designed by the renowned Dutch duo FG Stijl and architect Bart Lens, make the fabulous The Dominican hotel your base for the short break.
EXPLORE THE BARS IN THE UNIVERSITY DISTRICT
Photo Credit: Le Bar d’ixelles
You’ve probably already heard great things about Delirium and its 2000 different types of beer — and it’s true that no trip to Belgium would be complete without it. But even on the briefest of breaks you’ll usually have at least two evenings to play with, so take the plunge and head a little out of town.
The university district in the South-East region of Ixelles is a great choice for both foodies and those wanting to party into the small hours, all with a laid back feel that isn’t too crazy.
Sandwiched between the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Vrjie Universiteit, you’ll find a cluster of bars and restaurants on the junction of the Avenue de la Couronne, Avenue de l’ Université and Chaussée de Boondeal.
Le Bar d’Ixelles and the 77 Bar are both great options, but make sure to find time for El Café. Small enough not to be intimidating, but big enough for a party, its modern, relaxed atmosphere gives way to a packed — but friendly — dancefloor in the evenings. Be prepared for the long haul though — you can order Tex-Mex style dishes right up to 11 p.m. before things really get going. Arrive early though to take advantage of some amazing cocktails during happy hour.
While the city’s so-called ‘night buses’ actually tend to wrap-up quite early, Brussels is fairly small, so a taxi home shouldn’t break the bank either.
AN AERIAL VIEW AT THE TOP OF A CAR PARK
While Belgium may be world-renowned for its chocolate and beer, skyscrapers aren’t really on the agenda. In fact, Brussels’ tallest building would fit into London’s Shard twice over. So perhaps it’s no surprise we rarely think about the city from above. Conversely though, getting an aerial view is surprisingly easy if you know how, and it won’t cost a single penny.
If you’re spending a day in the city centre, make the InterParking multi-storey carpark one of your stop-offs. A few minutes’ walk from the De Brouckere Metro stop and the Church of Saint Catherine, Parking De Brouckere doesn’t look like much, but taking a lift straight to the top will.
The open-air top level gives an unrivalled 360-degree view of the city from above, which is guaranteed to change your perspectives. For one, I’d never truly realised how tightly built Brussels is. To say the city only 160 square kilometres probably means very little — but seeing the dense mash-up of decorative art nouveau, ’60s concrete blocks and, of course, the European parliament, really hammers home just how multi-textured the capital is.
SPEND A NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
Photo credit: Brussels Museums Facebook page
From Tin-Tin to chocolate, there’s a museum in Brussels covering almost every interest imaginable, from the surreal to the traditional.
With 30 different options in the capital alone, it can be difficult to know where to turn next. Time your visit right though, and you can also turn your culture spree into a late night extravaganza.
One night every March the city plays host to Museum Night Fever, giving access to more than 20 museums, each putting on a host of extra workshops, videos, fashion shows, DJs and installations. More than 15,500 people joined in with the fun in previous years, experiencing everything from painting workshops and exhibits on potatoes to performances from musical acrobatics.
Not only can you use your wristband to gain entrance to another museum for free the next day, there’s also a free shuttle bus throughout the evening — as well as an after party to help you wind down from all that culture.
TAKE A DAY TRIP OUT OF BRUSSELS
Small capital, small country. Belgium as a whole is easily drive-able in a day (renting a car is easy from Brussels) and it’s easy to forget how close other towns and cities are.
Even if you’re not up for driving, train fares are incredibly reasonable and reliable. You can comfortably spend the morning experiencing a different side to the country, while still having time to do some sightseeing in the capital itself during the afternoon.
Leuven, about 25 kilometres east of Brussels, is the ideal spot for a day trip. Located in the Dutch speaking area of the country and home to some 25,000 students, it’s the perfect mix of old traditions and a modern, welcoming atmosphere.
Built in the mid 15th century, the Gothic Town Hall is the town’s unmistakable focal point. Right on the Grote Markt, or main square, its stunningly intricate, lace-like detailing is truly a sight to behold.
A short walk from the city centre, you’ll find Groot Begijnhof van Leuven, a perfectly preserved historical quarter, now home to some of the thousands of students in the city. Originally built in the 13th century as a beguinage, or a community for unmarried religious women, its traditional sandstone and redbrick houses almost feel like a town within a city and its green space is the perfect antidote to Brussels’ urban landscape.
There’s more than just history to Leuven though and foodies will be spoilt for choice with the treats dotted amongst the city’s street markets. From meat and fresh produce to cakes and other sweet treats, you’ll find some of the finest Belgian offerings.
If you’re looking for something a bit more warming though, the town’s array of cafés, like Koffie Onan, are the perfect place to enjoy a speculoos hot chocolate, as well as sit back and reflect on your trip.
And after all, for explorers out there, what could be better than managing to turn one city break into two?
Originally published at www.travioor.com.