The travel blues hit me hard Wednesday night. Therefore I bought tickets for the next day to and from Brussels, Belgium.
It’s a 34 minute, €28 TGV train ride from Lille, I had only spent half a day there before, I love how I never know if I should speak English or French, and I had a craving for waffles… so, why not?
After arriving at 9:45am, I grabbed a city map from the train station (seriously… I was slightly unprepared for this little day trip) and followed another guy who was holding a map out to the subway station in front of the train station. From there, I took the subway line 3 (or 4) towards Gare du Nord/Noordstation and got off at Bourse/Beurs, dropping me off just next to the main square. Once you step inside the square, you suddenly find yourself enveloped between huge, magnificent buildings, and you probably won’t know where to look – I spent a good 15 minutes just walking around and taking it all in!
After taking in the square, I started to wander my way towards the nearby cathedral. The cathedral is beautiful and completely free to see, so I highly recommend it. It was surprisingly bright and light inside, and when I came outside afterwards, the sun was finally peeking out from the clouds!
Just around the corner from the cathedral is the Parc de Bruxelles/Park van Brussel, which is a lovely place to take a stroll or take a rest on one of the numerous benches for a bit. If you walk all the way across the park, you’ll eventually arrive at the National Palace, but we’ll get to that later.
At this point I was hungry, so I ate lunch outside of a small restaurant near the Place d’Espagne Spanjeplein – there are plenty of places to choose from, and lots of good people watching to do. There were even two travelers eating just next to me, planning their epic train trip throughout Europe. Those were the days…
I had an hour to spare before taking the English guided city tour at 2:30pm starting in front of Town Hall, so I decided to wander some more. I crossed a sign for the Museum of Beer on the main square, so I stopped and went in. It was more of an exposition than a museum, but hey: for €5 you get to watch a 15 minute educational video about all of the types of fabulous Belgian beers, look at machinery used in brewhouses, and drink your choice of a typical Lambic-Kriek (cherry flavored) or blonde beer. Not a bad way to spend a bit of time if you ask me!
I returned to Town Hall at 2:30pm to join a group of other travelers for a huge, intense tour of the city. Our tour guide was Argentinian and awesome, and he taught me more about Brussels than I thought was possible to learn in 4 hours (although I was already familiar with some of it, like the Belgian beers, country regions, linguistic history, etc)!
Some of the things that were covered: Main square, Saint-Hubert Galleries (shopping!), Mont des Arts, National Library, Palais Royal, Petit Sablon, Palais de Justice, Manneken Pis, and literally everything in between. The tour cost €10 and was worth every penny. I won’t tell you too much about the sights, though, because you’ll have to hear all about them when you go visit for yourself!
Overall, it was 4 hours of my time well spent. I saw tens of things that I hadn’t seen or noticed during my last visit, and learned the stories behind them.
After the tour was over, I finally indulged in some Belgian frites and nougat before heading back to the train station. Yes, I know, I didn’t even eat a waffle or buy any chocolate. But with the city only being a 34 minute train ride away from my second home city, it’s a piece of cake (or bite of a waffle?) to come back.
Brussels is a great European city that is worth spending at least a day or two in, but if you only have a day like I did, you can get a very good idea of the city by taking a tour and wandering a bit on your own. Listen to the plethora of languages being spoken around you, notice the mix of different styles of architecture, and smell the goodness of yummy food all around. Enjoy!