Is it possible to soak up a city in a fleeting 1 night/weekend away? I’d say you can definitely have a jolly good crack at it. A few weeks ago hubby and I ended up with one of those rare weekends when both of us are entirely free of work or other commitments. The original plan was to head up to Alton Towers to enjoy what British Summertime we could mid-August and then stay over for a day of walking in the Peak District. But with the anticipation of dismal weather we decided on a last minute city break to Brussels via the Eurostar. Heat, I think we were drawn to the prospect of heat.
If you haven’t yet travelled by Eurostar I would without question recommend it, due largely in part to their amazing staff. Extremely polite, knowledgable and awesomely multilingual, you can always expect a high standard of service (even in times of disruption, but we’ll get on to that later). The journey from London Kings Cross to Brussels Midi is only just over 2 hours with a few short stops in Ashford (UK) and Lille (France).
We stayed at Be Manos which was a short 10 minute walk from the station. Our room was already ready when we arrived around 10am local time, so we were able to check in straight away instead of having to leave our bags and come back. The staff were great and very happy to converse in English which is brilliant since my French still requires MUCH work. The room was also a very decent size with a brilliant bathroom! I would however not recommend them if you aren’t travelling alone or are a very private bathroom person as this is definitely not the place to bring a new love interest. Let’s just say that the bathroom door is more like a glass divider so you have to be pretty comfortable with your other half and all manners of their bathrooms affairs.
Brussels is one of those ‘within walking distance’ sorts of cities which I always love. We didn’t have a very set itinerary but just an idea of a few things we’d like to see, do and eat. Here’s a quick run down of what we managed to get up to.
We actually stumbled across this city landmark en route to the Grand Place. Yes, it is a statue of a little boy taking a piss, but city landmarks are city landmarks and you’ll often find him dressed in a variety of different outfits on different days.
Grand Place Market Square
Surrounded on all four sides by some beautiful architecture it’s a good place to start your journey with a tourist office if needed and the Brussels City Museum. On a sunny day you’ll probably spot a few weddings too. I think we had 3 on the Saturday.
Relive a bit of your childhood or just come and enjoy some retro cartoon art at the Tintin Boutique. You can buy a range of memorabilia from this Belgian classic as well as the books themselves. I bought a few cover art postcards which will look great framed and wall mounted.
Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
If you have a sweet tooth take a stroll through Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert as it houses not only a grand glass ceiling, but also a multitude of chocolate and dessert boutique shops such as Neuhaus, Godiva and Belgique Gourmande.
St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral
The cathedral’s highlight is definitely the organ whose pipes seem to be suspended in mid air over the arches. Quite a thing of beauty. I did notice as well that you could go down into the crypt (possibly with a small donation) but neither hubby nor I really fancied it at the time.
Lunch: Brasserie de la Ville
Hunger took over and we found ourselves at little lunch place with art deco and Tintin inspired canvas prints on the walls. I use the word little in jest since they came up with some pretty sizeable portions. I can’t remember what it was called but I had some kind of Belgium beef stew with frites and hubby had some enormous meat balls. Tasty and extremely filling. We were happy.
Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate
As cliche as it sounds, you really can’t come to Belgium without indulging in some amount of chocolate. Did I not already mention the waffle that was scoffed on the way to the Grand Place? The museum itself is quite small and spread over 3 floors giving you a bit of history on the birth of chocolate production in Belgium. But for €6 entry you also get a live chocolate demonstration and plenty of free samples to try out. Our chocolatier was very entertaining and graciously made the presentation in both English and French.
We’d been up since 4am, so by this point it was time to head back to the hotel for a late afternoon nap before heading out for dinner.
After quite a heavy lunch we weren’t really after a big evening meal. Fork was great since it had a very small but interesting menu of light meal options. I opted for the goat’s cheese and broccoli tart which came with salad and soup. One word of warning, the food is lovely but the service is slow. Like real slow. Not necessarily not on purpose, but I think it naturally had a slower pace and vibe. Hubby and I chatted lots over wine and an empty stomach whilst we waited so I was pretty merry by the time we got round to paying the bill.
Place Ste Catherine
To stretch our legs post meal we wondered around the Place Ste Catherine area which was still bustling with people in the cool summer evening. It looked like there were plenty of seafood restaurants in this area, although possibly fairly touristy ones. If you do end up there, try and find a dinky little red van which sells amazing Mojitos for just €5. There are plenty of spots to park yourself for a drink and a chat.
We hadn’t taken the breakfast option at the hotel which was a bit steep at €20pp. Sunday always seems like it’s going to be a little tricky when you’re in a foreign city, but right opposite the hotel was an open restaurant with a €7pp breakfast buffet! What a win! Ok so it wasn’t the greatest meal on earth, but they had a decent array of the usual suspects; eggs, cheese, pastry, cereal and even new bottles of water you could take for your journey.
Located a little further north, we hoped on the Metro for a short 30 minute ride completely unaware of what we were going to see. Originally constructed for the 1958 World Fair, it now stands as a renovated landmark housing a very decent view of the city as well as several exhibitions. Although there is a lift, some stairway navigation is required. We also got there just before 10 after which the queues for the tickets/lift started to really build.
Lunch: Le Zenneke
On a hunt for mussels, Le Zenneke came highly recommended. If you get there on a sunny day, do not be fooled by the completely empty front room. That’s simply because everyone is out back dining al fresco style. They have well over 60 different mussel dishes to choose from. I’m pretty sure whatever you get will be absolutely delicious. At one pot per person plus some frites on the side you don’t really need any appetizers and it was well worth the cost albeit a little on the steep side at around €25 a dish.
Post lunch we jumped back on the metro towards the Grand Place for a bit more meandering through the streets. The weather had been brilliant the entire weekend right up until that point but it started to pour as we got back to the hotel. Luckily they were happy to oblige us with a shuttle to the train station and back towards London we headed.
I thought I’d add a little extra note regarding Eurostar disruption. Due to stowaway migrants on another train, one of the two tunnels had to be shut which meant traffic could only travel in one direction at a time. Our total delay was only about an hour and the Eurostar staff very graciously supplied us with beverages while we waited. So just be aware that (at the time of writing this post) there is a small chance you may experience some delays as it is currently an ongoing issue effecting all modes of transport heading through the tunnels.
Other than that, Brussels is a wonderful place for a quick getaway. It’s a beautiful city with lots to offer. I’m sure we’ll make another trip back at some point in the future for more city adventures.