Friday, 14 July 2017

Lifestyle: Exploring Brussels In A Day

brussels day trip travelling in europe

City breaks have never been as popular as they are now. Our world is so well connected these days that it is easy to get on a train after work on a Friday and just leave for the weekend. Come back on a Sunday relaxed and with a bag full of lasting memories. The little escape usually takes no more than three days and is a welcome break from the mundane routine of a 9-5pm workweek. 

Having been on a city break to Amsterdam and Paris this year already, I was keen to explore another European capital and tick off my travel list. I always wanted to go to Brussels as I've never really visited Belgium properly. One of my colleagues visited the city not so long ago and said that you could easily view the sights within a day. Perfect, as there was no need in booking accommodation for the trip: wake up in the morning in my bed in London, spend the day in another country and fall back asleep at home in the UK - simple!

Said and done - I booked myself a ticket mid-week and ventured on a day trip to Brussels.  

Eurostar: When It Is Best To Book

Luckily the fastest way to get to Brussels is by the Eurostar high-speed train which takes you over to Europe in no time. I already enjoyed their comfortable way of travelling earlier this year and going to Brussels seemed the ideal occasion for my city adventure. I have to warn you, the Eurostar is pricey and not for the spontaneous who like to travel on short notice. Deals are rare, sometimes at the most random times and my colleague told me, she got a £40 return ticket in the first quarter of the year. The best opportunity is, therefore, to book far in advance.  

For Brussels, I selected the time frame of three months in advance. Thanks to the neat and organised website which provided me with a weekly overview of options and prices available, I was able to check and compare different times and days. I then opted for the cheapest fare available which fell on a Tuesday in July. In total, I paid £60 return which was the lowest fare for the month July. Weekdays are generally cheaper than Friday's after work. The weekends are ridiculous, no matter how far you check in advance and don't get me started on the prices in December for a Bruges trip!

Enough moaning, I decided for a Tuesday mid-week, booked off the day and couldn't have been more excited. The Monday of said week went quickly and it was an early bedtime for me as I got up at 4:40 am the next day to catch the train at ridiculous o'clock (8 am) from St Pancras International. The Eurostar has different fleets and this one came with a modern and clean design. The seats were spacious and super comfortable with generous leg room and a plug to charge my phone. The high-speed train can reach up to 330km per hour and it ran so smoothly that I fell asleep on the spot and woke up 2h later in Brussels. 

Things To Do In Brussels

I arrived at Brussels Midi (South) for 11 am and then walked approximately 20 minutes to reach Grand Place, as the train station lies on the edge of the city centre. Grand Place is the beating heart of Brussels: here you find a beautiful medieval market place surrounded by stunning buildings such as the Town Hall with its gothic facade and gargoyles, as well as the impressive Guild Halls which are elaborately decorated with gold. The square itself is known for being covered in flowers but on the day I went, a festival called the Vlaanderen Fest took place, so there were stages, music and lots of people about!

Brussels day trip grand place guild halls
brussels day trip buildings at grand place
brussels day trip gargoyles at town hall

Small narrow alleys seam around the Grand Place, so you can easily explore the rest of the inner city. My first choice brought me to the famous Manneken Pis which was less than a 5-minute walk away. The actual fountain is rather small, but if you know this, you'll keep your eyes open automatically and the area surrounding it bursts in particular with Manneken Pis branded waffles- and souvenir stands. Apparently, there's a female counterpart, the Jeanneke Pis, in a nearby shopping mall.

belgium waffles in brussels
brussels day trip manneken pis fountain

Afterwards, I walked over to the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, which is a lovely sophisticated shopping passage. Here you find one chocolate shop after another selling luxurious and divine treats. It took me a while to check them all out before I decided where I'd like to stock up my chocolate supply for home. Corné Port-Royal was my favourite by a mile as their chocolate pralines were delicious and every flavour combination ticked the box for me. I picked up a selection of assorted pralines as a gift set for my friends and family, as well as their own Florentines. Those are perfect, with a lovely crunch covered in the right amount of chocolate - not too sweet, just perfectly balanced.

BrBrussels day trip Corné Port Royal chocolates best belgium chocolates
Brussels day trip galeries royales saint hubert

On the steps of St. Michael & St. Gudula Cathedral, I took a little break from all the sightseeing. The Roman Catholic church reminded me very much of a mini version of Notre Dame and you can visit the inside free of charge. I checked all my pictures I had taken so far and looked for directions to the Comic Strip Museum. The museum was only a short walking distance away, located in a beautiful 1920's warehouse. Once you've entered the Comic Strip Museum you felt as if you've stepped back in time. The authentic and well-preserved art nouveau architecture was impressive and simply breathtaking. The museum itself hosts Belgium Comic history over three floors and I found my childhood memories of Asterix & Obelix, TinTin, The Smurfs and Lucky Luke. It's a nice little museum to walk around, dwell in childhood nostalgia and spend some time.

Brussels day trip St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral

In the late afternoon, I strolled along Brussel's High Street, the Rue Neuve. It's nothing special with the usual retailers but the window shopping was a nice change from the cultural sightseeing. By then I was pretty hungry, so I was also looking for a nice, little restaurant to sit down and get a bite to eat. Unfortunately, I didn't see many fries shops for which Belgium is world-renowned. Amadeo - the restaurant my colleague recommended in the west part of the city - was closed. In fact, a few food places were closed and would open later that evening. Strange, as the Vlaanderen fest was in full swing and the city was a lot busier than in the morning, so what was there to do next?

A quick search for the top 10 places to eat in Brussels recommended me Fin de Siècle. The restaurant was only a short distance away from my current location so I gave it a try and it turned out to be a good shout! Tucked away from the touristy hustle and bustle, in a quiet side street lay a beautiful little restaurant with a 1920's charm. The menu was in French but the waitress happily translated for me: on the menu were authentic Belgian meals, such as pork, lamb shank, potatoes, meat and salad. Hearty, savoury and substantial dishes - exactly what I needed. I ordered a traditional lamb stew with vegetables, potatoes and feta cheese, which arrived boiling hot and with fresh, home-made bread. An absolute dream!

Brussels day trip where to eat fin de siecle belgium food

Sitting there enjoying my meal and the late afternoon, the time flew by and it was time to head back to the train station. I walked back taking a route via the Place de la Bourse which was busy with people celebrating the festival and tourists filling the nearby chocolate shops. It was a lovely, lively atmosphere and a perfect ending to my day in Brussels. The journey back to London was just as smooth as the previous ride on the Eurostar and I arrived back in London just after 10 pm.

And my conclusion? Brussels in a day is doable and 8hs were absolutely enough to see all the major sites of the city and get a little "taste" of it. In comparison to previous city breaks, Brussels is rather small and easily walkable. I'm looking forward coming back one day to see the Grand Place in its full glory with the flower carpets and I haven't been to the Atomium yet, which I'd like to see. Brussels has some excellent chocolate shops and welcomes you with a relaxed atmosphere - seriously, this little mid-week getaway was exactly what I needed to break up the routine and also to get into a proper holiday mood.

I'll be jetting off to my favourite islands on Monday, so for next week, there won't be any posts scheduled and my Social Media will be rather quiet. Talk to you when I'm back from my summer holiday and till then, take care! 

Till next time,
Carolin 
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