What to see and do in Brussels
Things to do in Brussels
As the headquarters of the European Union, Brussels is set squarely in the middle of world events. Plus its architectural, cultural and gastronomic offerings make Brussels a must-see destination.
Any traveler to Brussels will want to visit the renowned Grand Place. It's hard not to be impressed by the sweep of architecture that encloses the cobbled market square with its opulent guildhalls dating from the late 17th century. Be sure to check out the exquisite 15th-century Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and come back to the Grand Place at night for lovely illuminations.
From Grand Place, it’s a short walk to the enchanting old districts of Ilôt Sacré and Sablon. If you haven't overdosed on architecture, explore the Notre Dame du Sablon, a magnificent late-gothic church dating from the 15th century.
Among the city’s many great museums are the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, or Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. It’s various locations showcase a wide selection of art styles including Old Masters, sculpture, surrealist and contemporary art.
Getting around Brussels – and beyond
Brussels is a fairly compact capital city, with most of the sights and attractions within reasonable walking distance of each other. However, Brussels’ rainy reputation doesn’t always make walking possible, and some sights are a little further out.
Brussels’ network of public transport is the easiest way to get around, and is made up of buses, trams, and the metro. Most of the transport is run by the STIB (MIVB in Dutch) and has an integrated ticket system which means you can change lines and modes of transport easily.
The city is infamous for terrible traffic, so getting around by car is not recommended.
If you’re planning to travel further afield, then the SNCB intercity trains are the way to go. Popular day trips from Brussels include visiting Ghent and Bruges, which can be reached in 40 minutes and 1 hour respectively.
Traveling to Brussels in summer or winter
Brussels is a wonderful city to visit all year round. Due to its four distinct seasons, you’ll likely get a different experience based on when you travel.
Summer is considered to be the high season in Brussels. Warmer temperatures alongside the many different festivals and events see tourists flocking to the Belgian capital.
The Renaissance-style Ommegang festival takes place in early July, while the popular Flower Carpet and Summer Festival are August’s flagship events. The city’s spirit comes alive during this time, but it’s also the busiest and most expensive time to fly to Brussels.
Despite the fact that Belgian winters are notoriously dark, wet, and chilly, winter is another popular time to visit Brussels due to the festive excitement in the city.
There’s a plethora of Christmas markets to be explored, and there’s a huge Christmas tree that illuminates the square. Prices for hotels and flights tend to rise in the lead-up to the holiday season, so keep this in mind if you’re planning to visit then.
Visiting Brussels in the shoulder seasons
You may want to wait for the colder weather to subside, in which case, spring is a good time to plan your trip. From March to May, temperatures begin to rise, and conditions improve for sightseeing.
Paired with a spattering of events and parks coming into bloom, spring is an all-round pleasant time to visit Brussels, making it popular with tourists.
Fall is probably the best time to book flight tickets to Brussels if you’re looking for a sweet spot where there’s mild weather and fewer crowds.
September to October marks the end of the high season, while you can still see the sights without getting too chilly.
No matter what time of year you visit, it’s still a good idea to book your hotel and airline tickets to Brussels well in advance. Use the flight finder tool above to browse all flights to Brussels, Belgium, with Icelandair.
Market shopping in Brussels
Brussels’ market scene is not to be missed.
From flower sellers setting up on Grand Place a few mornings a week to a sprawling Sunday market by the Gare du Midi train station; there are plenty of markets to be explored.
The Sablon neighborhood is perfect for browsing - it's loaded with antique stores and chic boutiques.
A market sets up on the Place du Grande Sablon square on weekends, selling antiques and books.
More refined, elegant shopping can be found at Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a glass-roofed arcade from the 19th century.
What to expect from Belgian cuisine
For a country of its size, Belgium has had a disproportionate impact on the palate of diners and drinkers around the globe.
Belgian beers are revered (especially Trappist beers, brewed in monasteries), and its reputation for fine chocolate is unmatched. Check out the Place du Grand Sablon for the holy grail of Belgian chocolate, where most grand chocolatiers have a store.
Perhaps the most iconic Belgian meal is mussels and French fries, or moules-frites. The area around Ste-Catherine’s fish market is a super spot to sample this and other seafood specialties.
In Brussels, you can track down bistros that serve European classics in old-world, polished-wood charm, and find Michelin-starred temples to enjoy fine dining. There's a growing selection of cafes selling fresh foods, and world cuisines are nicely represented.
For addictive local street food, stop at a friterie or frituur for a cone of perfectly made fries, fried meat and unforgettably delicious sauces.