Traveling to Europe during the holidays is always a magical experience. Between winter markets, dustings of snow down historical alleyways, and all sorts of seasonal culinary specialities, there really are endless excuses for journeying across the pond in December. A city that I have managed to get to know quite well over the years, thanks to a program in university, is Brussels. And fortunately, schedules finally aligned with my mother and I, that we were able to travel around the holiday season together. I was so excited to show her my old stomping grounds, including watering holes like Delirium Cafe and Madame Moustache, a small but amazing sandwich shop that I still don’t know the name of where I ate literally three times a week, and the architectural beauties of the city from the Galerie St. Royal, Grand Place, and several churches – one that was even host to a royal wedding.
The thing about a quick trip to Europe is that you need to stay centrally. While this might be a splurge up front, it saves you tons of time, allowing you to see more during your brief journey. We were lucky to be able to snag ourselves a room at the Hotel Amigo – a Rocco Forte property, right next to Grand Place. We didn’t know when we booked, but the hotel ended up being home to many dignitaries during a meeting at the EU Parliament. We obviously became quickly aware upon our arrival as we were greeted by the Politie along with the bellman, but this didn’t disrupt our stay in the least. A few other celebrity sightings ensued during our stay, further solidifying we made the right decision when booking for our quick trip. Because everyone deserves a little luxury every now and then, amiright?!
Our plans for the weekend were as follows: drop our bags in our room and explore Brussels ’til we dropped on Day 1, book a train for a quick day trip to Paris on Day 2, do a half day in Brugge on Day 3, and sleep like babies on the plane home the following morning. Aggressive, I know, but when you can only take so much time off, you work to pack everything in. My mom says it’s a ‘marathon and a sprint’ all at the same time. She got used to this pace of travel on our last trip to Scotland, so when I invited her, I swear she knew what she was getting into.
After dropping our bags in our gorgeous suite, and doing a quick refresh, we were ready to hit the cobblestone streets running. We started by grabbing a quick lunch at Au Vieux Saint Martin. This is truly a local spot, and a hell of a place for me to brush up on my French. The waitress was patient with me, and thankfully we didn’t get too many weird looks from neighboring tables. After some tasty nourishment, we took by foot around the whole city. One of the great things about Brussels is that it is quite easy to see by walking. There are a few things like the Atomium that are a little more out of the way, but a lot of the heavy hitting sites are all in one place.
If you just have a day or two in Brussels, I would recommend seeing:
- Grand Place – The light show during the holiday is super entertaining, and all of the building could be stared at for hours!
- Cathedral of of St. Michael and St. Gudula – Belgium’s national church, and a site for royal weddings and funerals.
- Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon – Also, take a lunch or dinner in the neighborhood, there are so many tasty places to go like: Lola, San Sablon, COCO Donuts, and and Chez Richard.
- The antique shops in Sablon – There’s all sorts of fabulous jewelry, a few historical maps if you can find them, and bronze decor items – amongst many other things.
- The Atomium – You will have to take a car out of the city center, but it really is a cool museum, and a great spot to see if the weather isn’t so agreeable.
- Cinquantenaire – Another great park for lunch, but only really when the weather is warmer.
- Belgian Comic Strip Center – If you’re looking for a more modern take on Belgium, this center is quite famous and really interesting for any art buffs.
- Galerie St. Royal – For tasty treats away from the elements and window shopping.
- Christmas Markets – If you are there during the holiday season, grab a cup of hot wine and explore local vendors for stocking stuffers.
After many hours of exploring, we headed to Delirium Cafe (a must-see if you are in Brussels, and where I spent many nights as a university student living in Brussels) for a couple of beers, and ended up eating at a bit of a touristy spot around the corner for a quick dinner before heading back to the Hotel Amigo. We had a massive day ahead of us, so thankfully we made it to bed somewhat early. Have spots on your list that I didn’t list that are a must-see in Brussels? Comment below, so I can add them to my list for my next visit to the European Capital.