Visiting the beautiful city of Brussels in just one weekend can be quite the task to undertake- there is just so much to do! When traveling on a budget, it is important to ensure you get the most out of the dollars you spend, while being cautious not to go overboard. After my trip to Brussels, I have found a great way to see a TON of the city while keeping my spending to a minimum. Here is my budget friendly guide to a weekend in Brussels.
Day 1: Brussels on the Surface
Explore Grand Place
Grand Place (also called Grote Markt) is basically the main square of Brussels. It is a big open space, surrounded by a variety of historic buildings, that has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, you’ll find old guildhouses and the town hall. This is also the location of the Museum of the City of Brussels. The architecture in this square has so much variety and detail you will be more fascinated with every turn of your head. Grand Place is an absolute must on any Brussels itinerary, so it’s a great place to start out your weekend in Brussels.
Travel Tip: Every two years, in August, a gigantic “carpet” of flowers is displayed in this square. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll catch this incredible scene when you visit!
Take a Free Walking Tour
I have found one of the best ways to orient yourself in a new city is to take a free walking tour. These tours can be an incredibly informative and entertaining way to see a new place. There are a few different companies that run free walking tours in Brussels. If you’re not quite sure about your arrival time into Brussels, you can always just go to Grand Place and you are sure to see someone advertising for free tours. Usually, you can just join the next tour there. I recommend going with Sandeman’s Tours. And if you can get on Fraser’s tour, you are basically guaranteed a good time. You can reserve a spot for a tour online, or try to find a representative (look for a giant red umbrella) in Grand Place.
Check out the Street Art
Brussels takes street art to a whole new level. With the title of “Comic Strip Capital,” Brussels has actually commissioned several local comic strip artists to spruce up many of the bare wall spaces throughout the city. As you walk, you will notice more and more fun and colorful comics. You can even find some of the famous comics that got their start in Belgium, like Tintin. A list of these comic street art pieces can be found on the Visit Brussels website, as well as where you can find them.
See The Manneken Pis
The Manneken Pis statue is a huge icon of the city of Brussels. No really…it’s a pretty big deal. If you have yet to hear of this statue it may surprise you to find that it is of a little boy peeing. Initally made of stone, the statue dates back to the 15th century. It was re-made in bronze in 1619, due to the fondness the Belgian people had for the statue. While it may seem a bit shocking to see a statue peeing, it actually makes sense if you understand the history. The district in which the statue is found was actually once the market area for urine. The ammonia in urine was used in the leather making process, and so many poor people would come here to sell their urine to leather workers.
Travel Tip: If you happen to be very lucky, you may catch the Manneken Pis on a day where it is hooked up to a beer keg. That’s right! Grab a pint and line up to fill your glass with beer peed out by a statue!
Day 2: Get to know Brussels
Get Your Brussels Card
For days 2 and 3 of your weekend in Brussels, you will want to invest in a Brussels Card. There are several different kinds of cards you can get, but for the weekend I recommend getting the 48 hour card with the STIB/MIVB (public transportation) option. At an overall cost of €46, this card includes free access to over 30 museums throughout the city, free use of public transport, and discounts for area attractions, shops, restaurants, and more. The best option is to purchase your card online, that way you can either print it out or download it onto your smartphone, and will have it all ready when you reach Brussels.
Travel Tip: Without the Brussels Card, this weekend guide will end up costing you more than your investment, meaning you will save money by buying your Brussels card. The card will activate after its first use, and your 48 hours will begin at that point.
See The Atomium
Another important icon of the city of Brussels is the Atomium. This unique building was constructed for the 1958 Brussel’s World Fair. Inspired by the Atomic Age (a time when people were getting really amped about atomic power sources), the building is an example of 9 atoms joined together to make an iron crystal, magnified 65 billion times. Visitors can also go inside some of the spheres for views over the city of Brussels. The Atomium is located outside of the city center, but is easy to access via the metro.
Travel Tip: I recommend going right at opening, if you want to go inside the Atomium. This attraction gets busy!
Museum of Belgian Brewers
In Belgium, they take their beer and its brewing process very seriously. In fact, beer is one of the main things that Belgium is known for. With your Brussels card activated, you can get a chance to learn more about Belgian beers at the Museum of Belgian Brewers. Located in the Grand Place, this museum will teach you all about the beer brewing process both in a modern sense, and how it was brewed back in the 1800s.
Museum of the City of Brussels
It’s time to learn even more about Brussels. This museum is all about the history of Brussels, and is located inside one of the gorgeous Neo-Gothic buildings in Grand Place. If the museum itself isn’t interesting enough for you, the interior of the building is sure to satisfy you. Inside, you will find beautiful stained glass windows, sculptures, artifacts, paintings, and gigantic tapestries dating from the 1500’s until now. You’ll also find the original Manneken Pis statue from the 15th century.
You’ve learned about Belgian beer, now it’s time to sweeten things up by learning about Belgian chocolate! Belgium has been making chocolate since 1635 and has definitely perfected the craft. The country is credited to have been the inventors of the praline and chocolate truffle. You will learn all about the history of chocolate and how the cocoa bean made its way to Europe. Watch chocolate-making demonstrations and have plenty of free samples.
GardeRobe Manneken Pis
Remember that statue of a little boy peeing? I wasn’t kidding about it being a big deal. So big, in fact, that this statue has almost 1000 different costumes. The statue has a schedule of 130 different occasions throughout the year in which it is dressed in costume. The city of Brussels even has an officially appointed statue dresser. The GardeRobe Manneken Pis is a small museum in which you can view many of the statue’s costumes. You’ll be delighted to find costumes representing many countries of the world, as well as many other iconic outfits!
Day 3: Beyond the Brussels Basics
This is easily one of the coolest museums in Brussels. Here, you can spend an hour or so underground discovering the remains of the former Palace of Brussels, Coudenberg Palace. Dating back to the 12th century, this palace once served as a home for Charles V. In 1731, a fire destroyed half the palace and a new palace was ordered to be built in a new area. Today you can see what remains of the palace’s cellars, chapel, banquet hall, and neighboring Hoogstraeten House. There is also a museum of different artifacts discovered during archaeological investigations of Coudenberg.
Located next to the current Palace of Brussels, the BELvue Museum is the place to go to learn more about the history of Belgium. You can discover how Belgium was founded, and the important roles that things like democracy and language have played in Belgian history. Audio guides are provided to help guide you through each exhibit as well.
Musical Instruments Museum
Are you a music lover? You’ve got to check out the Musical Instruments Museum! One of Brussels’ most popular museums, this place has an amazing collection of different musical instruments on display. In fact, its one of the largest collections of musical instruments in the world! Visitors are provided audio guides which allow you to hear how many of the different instruments sound- and trust me, you’ll stumble across lots of new instruments you have never heard before!
Travel Tip: Your Brussels Card includes a free coffee when you order a meal at the Restaurant du MIM. If you happen to be hungry, this could be an option for you.
Two Great Views
If you happen to catch Brussels on a clear day, you may be interested in seeing some lovely views of the city. The first can be found as you exit the Musical Instruments Museum. If you turn right, and head toward the Mont des Arts Garden, you will find yourself at the top of the gardens, looking out over the city of Brussels. This is one of the best views of Brussels, especially when all the lovely garden flowers are in bloom!
A second great view is only a short walk away. Make your way to the Palace of Justice. As you come to the Palace, head to the right and you will find a scenic overlook. You can see over the top of Brussels and take in all the notable buildings across the city. This is a great place to just have a seat for a bit and take in the view.
This well-preserved city gate from 14th century Brussels has served many purposes through its life. First built to help defend the city of Brussels, Halle Gate has also served as a prison, a grain storing facility, a customs house, and a church. Today, it is another really interesting museum you can visit. It includes exhibits about the building’s history, as well as how the city of Brussels defended itself in the Middle Ages.
Travel Tip: Halle Gate is located on the outskirts of Brussels, but you can get there via tram line 4 (from Grand Place) or the subway line 2 (from the Palace of Brussels).
Belgian Comic Strip Center
Didn’t get enough of Belgium’s great comics yet? This museum will help you explore more about the role of comic art in Belgium, and the creators behind the art. Learn more about the invention of the comic strip, animation, and about some of Belgium’s most popular comics, like Tintin and the Smurfs!
Budget Friendly Eats
There are plenty of ways to save your euros while eating during your weekend in Brussels! With so many snacks and street foods to choose from, you can easily save money while filling your belly. Avoiding sit-down restaurants around Grand Place and not partaking heavy drinking will also help you save. Here are just a few suggestions for budget-friendly eats:
Belgium is known for its fries (called frites – pronounced “freets”. Don’t be an idiot like me and try to say “free-tes”). They are different from other fries because these bad boys are a deep fried twice. *drooool*
Fritland is one of the best places you can try real, authentic Belgian frites. An order of frites with one sauce and a soft drink will only cost you €5,80. I had this little meal twice in Brussels, and I couldn’t finish all the frites either time! There are lots of different sauces you can try with your frites, and you are welcome to try more than one! Me? I was born and raised on ketchup and that’s all I need for my fries!
Travel Tip: Your Brussels Card includes 1 free dipping sauce from Fritland. Take advantage of that.
Another Travel Tip: The lines at Fritland can get super long! Try going around times that are not typical meal times. Also try ordering inside for a shorter wait time. Either way, the wait is SO worth it!
Like, Any Waffle Place
It’s hard to wander around Brussels and not stumble across somewhere selling waffles. I went to Brussels with a mission to find the best waffle in the city, but to be honest, I was just as satisfied with my €5 waffle from the prestigious Maison Dandoy, as I was with my €1,50 waffle from the small place down the street. If you’re hungry and short on cash, waffles are 100% the way to go. And with so many options for toppings, it’s hard to get sick of them!
Travel Tip: Look for my Brussels Waffle Guide coming soon!
Soup in the City
If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, check out Soup in the City. Their menu changes every day, offering soups, sandwiches, salads, wraps, and foods of that variety. You can fill up on a warm soup for as little as €4, or pair it with a sandwich for under €8. Soup in the City is only open from 11am to 3pm during weekdays, so keep that in mind when planning your meals for the day.
Trip Advisor Cheap Eats
Still looking for more budget-friendly eating options? Check out this super helpful section in Trip Advisor dedicated to cheap eats in Brussels.
Budget Friendly Accommodation
Jacques Brel Youth Hostel
If you need your precious peace and quiet while you sleep, check out Jacques Brel Youth Hostel.
2Go4 Quality Hostel
If you want something a little more in the city center, try 2Go4 Quality Hostel.
Have you been to Brussels? What was your favorite thing to do there?
*Note: Thanks to Visit.Brussels for providing me with a complimentary Brussels Card. As always, all opinions expressed are 100% my own. This page contains affiliate links.