With Brussels being only a couple of hours from London on the Eurostar, it’s a great place to visit for a short break or even for the day! So what can you do in 24 hours in Brussels? I found out for myself with a whirlwind visit to this lovely city.
Hot Chocolate at Wittamer, Sablon
Having checked-in to our hotel, we headed straight out to explore and soon we were walking down quaint cobbled streets, passing beautiful historic buildings, quirky shops and a lovely park in Sablon.
The area is known for its night life, restaurants and surrealism and is many people’s favourite part of the city but I had one thing on my mind… hot chocolate! Not just any old hot chocolate but a Wittamer hot chocolate. I’d been told by a few people that this was the very best in town. I knew it was on the Place du Grand Sablon and had a bright pink awning, which made it very easy to find.
As I stared in through the shop window my heart did a somersault as my eyes beheld the exquisite cakes and pastries on display. I managed to tear myself away and we made our way upstairs to the charming café with its beamed ceilings, dramatic chandelier and oodles of character. Having ordered our drinks, we soaked up the atmosphere. A sense of serenity filled the air as everyone in the room indulged themselves in their favourite Wittamer treat. A couple sitting opposite, in unison, each picked up a white jug and slowly poured melted chocolate all over a delicious looking ice-cream creation decorated with an over-sized macaron. Then in front of us appeared our drinks, with a couple of Wittamer chocolates each and a large dollop of Chantilly cream. They tasted as good as they looked!
The Grand Place (or Grote Markt in Dutch)
From Le Sablon we walked on through more cobbled streets and I caught my fi rst glimpse of the Grand Place, Brussels’ main square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and reputed to be the most beautiful square in Europe. I had high expectations. As I turned the corner I caught my breath. Beautiful is not quite the right word… awe-inspiring, breath-taking, stunning… neither my words or my pictures do it justice. Every building that opened onto the square was an absolute gem. Grand and imposing with the most intricate of decorative adornment, these buildings almost sent me into a blind panic, as I wanted to capture it all in my camera, but in which direction to point it first? In the middle of the square a huge Christmas tree added to festive atmosphere.
Throughout the weekend we walked into this square a number of times and each time I gazed at the square not quite believing what I was seeing. What’s more I know it will have that same effect on me when I return and return I will.
The Christmas Markets
Each December a number of squares in Brussels are home to the famous Christmas Markets and should you visit at this time of year they are well worth checking out.
Though crowded there is a wonderful atmosphere and plenty of arts and crafts to buy and food and drink to tempt you. I was delighted that my visit coincided with the festive season and we had plenty of time to explore the stalls and enjoy the entertainment. In 2015 they will be held in the Grand-Place, Bourse, Place Sainte-Catherine and Marché aux Poissons from 27th November to 3rd January. For more information visit Winter Wonders website.
‘Keep on Toasting’ Gourmet Street Food in Brussels
We were enjoying simply wandering around so much that when we stumbled across the food truck ‘Keep on Toasting‘, rather than have a sit down meal, we decided to try our luck with these, reputedly excellent, gourmet version of the traditional Belgium, Croque-Monsieur. We soon got chatting to the man behind the counter, chef Jean-Baptiste. I tried the Croq’ November (semi-soft cheese, bacon pieces, celeriac and parsley) – it went down a treat. The melted cheese was deliciously gooey, and the combination of taste and textures with the perfectly toasted spelt bread, really hit the spot.
As I munched away Jean-Baptiste explained that having trained for two years at cookery school, followed by five years hands-on experience working with different chefs, he wanted to start his own business. While there were plenty of other food trucks around these were, more often than not, of the deep fat frying variety producing poor quality food. He wanted to offer the people of Brussels a healthier, higher quality alternative.
Croque-monsieur is an extremely well established Belgium snack but it rarely varies from the traditional cheese and ham filling. Jean-Baptiste took this popular dish to another level. Using taste combinations and ideas he had gathered over the last seven years, he developed a unique range of delicious toasties. He chose to concentrate on producing just this one type of snack, so that he could work within the confines of the truck and still produce something really good to the high standard he desired. Through the year the menu changes with the seasons but you’ll always find four types of toasty available including a veggie option, costing €4 to €5 each.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
The next day, after an extremely filling breakfast from the huge variety of dishes on offer from our hotel, we re-traced some of our steps and sort out an arcade that I’d been told was well worth visiting, Galeries Royales, just around the corner from the Grand Place. Opened in the 1840s the arcade has been home to some 70 luxury boutiques including jewellers, fashion designers and the finest Belgium Chocolatiers ever since. In addition you’ll find theatres, a cinema and an art gallery as well as private residences. It’s the perfect place to explore on a rainy day but well worth popping by whatever the weather.
Out of all the chocolate shops here we found Le Belgique Gourmande the most welcoming. The staff were very helpful and were handing out plenty of delicious free samples.
Before we knew it, it was nearly time to leave but not before sampling a glass or two of the beer that Belgium is so famous for on Rue des Brasseurs by the Grand Place. Somewhere so close to the most popular square in town is usually not the best place for a bite to eat or a drink but a particular bar had caught our eye and even though it was just a few yards from the Grand Place we decided to give Au Brasseurs a go. I think it was the parasol covered in pink elephants and a promise of a glass of Delirium that swung it for us.
As we stepped inside we immediately felt at home in this colourful down-to-earth pub that I could imagine locals enjoying as much as the tourists. Although they had a long list of beers
to choose from, how could we say no to a glass of Delirium and very good it was too.
After a little more window shopping we popped back to the same bar. This time instead of selecting a beer by its name, we went for the shape of the glass! Kwak is served in a unique fluted glass with a round bottom, designed so that a coachman, who couldn’t leave his horses to enter an inn, could easily hold the glass while still wearing thick gloves. Once again this proved to be a perfect selection process as another fine beer slipped down our throats.
I really would love to go back one day to this very bar for a little more beer research work plus we hadn’t even scraped the surface when it comes to Belgium cuisine so a return visit is inevitable.
I found Brussels the perfect place for a weekend break and, while it may not be as pretty as Bruges or as cool as Antwerp, I can’t imagine anything, anywhere in Belgium (or even Europe) beating the splendour of Brussels’ Grand Place.
For more information about short breaks from the UK to Brussels please visit our website, GreatEscapes.co.uk.