It’s my 21st this week and as an early birthday present, my partner swept me away for a mid-week escape to Brussels. We had 72 hours to explore the city and took it as a personal challenge. Read on to find out exactly what we got up to during the trip!
@raethedeer In Brussels we visited grand place, and saw all the main sightseeing stuff. As well as trying the local beers! Bruges is good for a river-
— Rachel Louise ✨ (@RachHarrison95) May 19, 2017
Day 1: The Grand Place, Manneken Pis and Beer
On arrival, we realised what lovely weather we were going to have for the next few days, which instantly made us smile. It was so hot that we had to get changed as soon as we reached the hotel so that we could enjoy the sun more comfortably.
Warm summer days and evenings are best spent outdoors, so our first port of call was to visit The Grand Place. We had heard so many good things about the square and wanted to see for ourselves. The buildings surrounding the square were more beautiful than we expected them to be, and there were ample pubs and restaurants overlooking them. Much to our joy, we managed to find a space and enjoyed a couple of Affligem beers. As if it couldn’t get any prettier, every August, they apparently lay down a carpet of colourful flowers.
We then explored the city centre, while searching for the famous Manneken Pis sculpture. This was unintentional, but worked in our favour. Our original plan was to find the tourist attraction and then sit down for another few drinks while watching the sunset, but we accidentally took a detour. According to the map we looked at, the sculpture was very close to us and just a little further down. Rather than looking to our left, where it was, we went up a different road and ended up doing a big loop of the area. Eventually, we returned to the same map and noticed a crowd snapping photos of the sculpture. At the time we felt silly, but in hindsight, it was a hilarious experience that meant we got to see a lot more of the centre than we otherwise would have.
To top the day off, we crossed the cobbles and went for a few drinks in the charming gay district of the city, before getting a pizza to take away.
Day 2: Bruges Day Trip
It took 107 minutes for me to decide Bruges was a fairytale city and a must visit during our time in Belgium, thanks to the Colin Farrell film In Bruges. The medieval architecture and folklore, paired with canals and picturesque scenery, took my breath away.
Rather than booking an excursion, we opted to make our own way there and back so that we could explore in our own time. Luckily, it only cost €12 for a return because anyone under the age of 26 gets discounted train travel. The journey took about an hour and passed through Ghent, so we got to see some lovely sights on our way that made us even more excited.
On arrival, we saw a public footpath and decided to see where it led, rather than following the crowd of tourists straight into the city centre. Wandering around without a map is a good way to get away from the crowds, and as you will be able to see the belfry from almost anywhere, you can’t get lost. It turned out we were walking around Minnewater Park, and the lake of love. Rumour has it that if you take a stroll over the Minnewater Bridge with your partner, you’ll forever be in love (here’s hoping!).
The largest of Bruges’ two central squares, Grote Markt was full of character. There were horse-drawn carriages offering rides and 19th-century buildings at every angle. It was the perfect location for some mid-afternoon drinks, to top up our tans on the outdoor seating, and to wait for the next canal cruise to depart.
The tour lasted 30 minutes and was good value for money. It rivalled the gondolas in Venice and was a great way to see the city from a different perspective. The tour guide pointed out various attractions, history and trivia, flowing seamlessly from one language to the next in order to keep everyone informed, while we sat back and took photographs.
You cannot come to Belgium without trying the chocolate, so on our way back to the square, we popped into The Place To Be To Drink The Best Hot Chocolate. The self-acclaimed favourite was home to over 65 different drinking chocolates and even more actual chocolates. I opted for a basic one so that I could compare it to the others I had tasted, while my partner ordered some caramel wafer biscuits and a cold drink. I was oddly given a big mug of hot milk, rather than the chocolate goodness I was expecting. However, the colleague explained that I had to pour in the chocolate drops and mix everything myself. In the end, the hot chocolate was fairly nice, but I think I’ll stick to the usual method because it got quite sickly after a while and my hands were covered in chocolate.
Eventually, we built up the courage to tackle the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry. The 83m tall gothic bell tower took some serious energy to climb, but the panoramic views from the top made it all worthwhile. As the tower dates back to 1240, it was interesting to read about the history on each level and listen to the carillon. I feel like one trip to the top is enough though, and definitely could not handle a second attempt as my legs turned to jelly on the way back down. If you do want to give it a go, remember to take breaks and bring a drink.
We then had a well-deserved sit-down and tasted some fine Belgium beer, before getting the train back to Brussels. It would have been nice to find somewhere to eat there, but we thought it would be wiser to get back and eat somewhere local so we did not have to worry about missing the last train.
Day 3: Brussels Park, EU Parliament and Musée Royal Des Sciences Naturelles De Belgique
For our final day, we tried to squeeze in as much culture as we could. We began by strolling to the other side of the city centre to see the museum of natural sciences, stopping at Brussels Park and Parliament on the way for some lunch and a relaxing sit-down. Although the museum was a way away, it was nice to wander around and read about the dinosaurs. The numerous amounts of fossils and skeletons made us recall Night at the Museum. The highlights were seeing the Bernissart Iguanodon skeletons that were found inside a mine in the 19th century and looked incredibly realistic, and standing next to a leg bone that was about 5x the size of me.
On our way back, we noticed that the park was closed and security was on high alert, but we later found out that this was due to the imminent arrival of Donald Trump. Instead of getting the ice cream we had been craving and sitting on the grass, we continued on to The Grand Place and got ourselves some cold drinks. This was the perfect way to round off our trip, and we returned home feeling content, but tired.
We did a lot of walking over the 3 days we were in Belgium, averaging 20,000 steps daily, and I was ready for a much-needed rest by the time we left. Nonetheless, it was great to experience a new country and cross it off my bucket list. I would definitely recommend Brussels, and Bruges in particular which as beautiful in person as it was on the big screen.
Have you been to Brussels or Bruges? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments below!