You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.
After a lovely weekend in London, it was time to head to the Continent for the remainder of our trip. First up: Brussels.
We took the Eurostar train from St. Pancras in London to Brussels Zuid/Midi, but first, we had to get from my cousin’s apartment to St. Pancras. We did this via the Tube, which conveniently let us off at Kings Cross Station, which conveniently provided us with the chance to see Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter fame.
When you take an international train out of St. Pancras, you actually “cross the border” (i.e. go through passport control) before you get on the train. I had no idea this would be the case until my cousin mentioned it, so we made sure to get there with plenty of time to have our passports checked. The waiting room for international trains is France, apparently, so I’m now the proud owner of an EU France stamp on my passport, despite the fact that I haven’t really been to France. The train does go through France to get to Brussels, so I was kind of there, but that doesn’t feel like it really counts to me.
Anyway, we eventually got to Brussels Zuid/Midi, and I instantly felt out of my element. On the train, all announcements had been made in English, French, and Dutch, but once we got to the platform, we were clearly in French and Dutch territory. French, Dutch, and German are all official languages of Belgium, but the languages used in practice seemed to depend highly upon which region you were in. Regardless, I only speak English and Spanish with any level of confidence (I know een beetje Nederlands, if you will (a little Dutch), but definitely not enough to get by in a place where people speak it as their first language. Or their second language. Or their language at all.), so being in a place where next to nothing was in a language I speak well was very overwhelming.
We needed to get to Brussels Centraal to get closer to our hotel. As far as we could understand, if you have one paid train ticket to get from Point A to Point B on a particular train line in Belgium, you’re free to get on another train line and take that train to Point C (at least, that’s how it worked for us on two occasions, one of which was when a conductor checked our ticket.). Knowing (or at least, being pretty sure that we knew) that, we got on the next intercity train headed towards Brussels Centraal (only a few minutes away) and found ourselves in the heart of the city.
We stayed at 9Hotel Central, which was steps away from Brussels Centraal. My traveling buddy’s grandmother was born and raised in Brussels and actually grew up in one of the buildings that is now the 9Hotel, which is why we ended up staying there. It was really nice – not in a ritzy way, but in more of a loft-chic sort of way. The location was fantastic as well. I’d definitely recommend it, even if your grandma didn’t grow up in the building.
After dropping off our bags, we trekked over to the European Parliament. It was the Monday after Easter, and that area of the city seemed to be pretty deserted, leading me to assume everyone had Easter Monday off. I know people had Easter Monday (and Good Friday) off in England–or at least that’s what my cousin said. At any rate, it was a lot less busy than I anticipated. We went to the Parlamentarium, a free museum that explains the history of the European Union and gives information about the current state of the EU and its member countries. It probably would’ve been a lot more impactful if I were an EU citizen, but it was still interesting to see. Parliament itself was certainly closed by the time we got there (and might’ve been closed regardless, due to the maybe holiday), so we only saw the outside of the building.
We headed back towards the center of the city via the Brussels Park, which I believe I described as feeling “European AF,” when I mentioned that I could use some food. Due to all the traveling we did on this trip, the whole “three meals a day” thing routinely went out the window, and we often would eat one or two meals and supplement with snacks throughout the day. There turned out to be a food truck selling waffles right outside the park, across from the Royal Palace, so we got a chocolate-covered waffle to split with some good views to go along with it: the first of many of our time in Belgium, both from a waffle and good views perspective.
After that, we continued our walk past our hotel to the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, which was basically right behind where we stayed. HOLY COW. It was STUNNING.
I could not believe I had never heard of this cathedral before (a theme that came up many times during our days in Belgium). It was an outrageously beautiful building with so much history and incredible detail. Why don’t people talk about this place more often??
Once we were done picking our jaws up off the floor at the cathedral, we started to head towards the Grand Place. Again, this is something I had never heard of prior to this trip, and though the name obviously implies that it’s something, you know, grand, I could not have possibly imagined just how grand it was.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME.
How is anything allowed to be this beautiful?!
I was obsessed.
For Christmas, I got two European guidebooks: the Rick Steves Belgium Guidebook and the Rick Steves Amsterdam & The Netherlands Guidebook. I’ll admit that when I got them I didn’t know how useful they’d be. After all, who needs a printed guidebook these days, when Yelp and TripAdvisor and Google Maps and Wikipedia exist? Couldn’t the combination of those things answer all my questions about where to eat, what to do, how to get there, and the history of what I was seeing?
Let me tell you, those guidebooks proved to be invaluable tools, and if there is ANYTHING I’d recommend everyone get before taking a trip to Europe, it’s a Rick Steves Guidebook. They were helpful for recommendations, of course, but where I found them to be more than worth their weight in gold was with the walking tours he includes. We were all about that Rick Steves walking tour lifestyle, starting with the first one we did through the Grand Place and surrounding areas in Brussels.
On this walk, we saw the Grand Place (obviously) and learned about the buildings that surround the square, the Galeries Royales St. Hubert, the Rue des Bouchers, The Bourse and Art Nouveau cafes, and included a little detour to see the (apparently famous, though once again, I had never heard of it) Manneken-Pis, a statue of a peeing little boy built in 1619. Really.
Rick Steves also included an optional “choco-crawl” during the Grand Place walking tour, which was definitely not optional since I was taking the walking tour. We went to five (!) different chocolate shops and bought something at all of them (see: I was taking the walking tour). During the choco-crawl, we went to Mary, Neuhaus (inventor of the Belgian praline – VERY different than the brown sugar pecan concoction I would call a praline, but no less delicious), Galler (who does not export, so we took plenty advantage of the opportunity to get their chocolate while we were in Belgium), Leonidas, and finished at Godiva. I’m pretty sure I spent at least 75 Euro on chocolate, and I have exactly zero regrets.
We got dinner of waffle sandwiches at Waffle Factory (recommended by Rick Steves, though we didn’t realize that until we had already ordered #winning) before going to Godiva for dessert, and then made our way back to the hotel to crash for the night.
I really enjoyed Brussels, despite, as you may have gathered, knowing next to nothing about it prior to visiting. I was blown away by the historic architecture (get ready for me to say that a hundred times in these trip recaps) and one million precent obsessed with the narrow, winding roads around the Grand Place. I would absolutely go back–after all, there are two more Rick Steves tours we didn’t have the chance to take! 😉
- 9Hotel Central (Rue du Colonies 10, Brussels). 5/5.
- Random waffle/ice cream truck outside the Royal Palace. 5/5
- Belgian Frit’n Toast (Rue de la Madeline 1-3, Brussels). Frites. 5/5
- Golden Bar (intersection of Rue des Chapeliers and Rue du Marché Fromages, Brussels). Beer. 4/5.
- Waffle Factory (Rue du Lombard 30, Brussels). Dinner of waffle sandwiches. 5/5.
- Godiva Grand Place (Grote Markt 21/22, Brussels). Dessert. 5/5.
- European Parliament
- Brussels Park
- Royal Palace
- St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral
- Grand Place, including
- Town Hall
- King’s House
- Guild halls
- Swan House
- Galeries Royales St. Hubert
- Rue des Bouchers
- The Bourse, including the nearby 13th-century convent ruins
- Place de la Bourse