I’d travelled through Brussels four or five times before I actually made it out of the train station. I’d always thought of Brussels as a travel hub and a great place to stop before travelling elsewhere in Belgium.
It hadn’t occurred to me to stay in the city. I always saw Brussels as a business city and the home to many of the European Union institutions, so it didn’t seem particularly exciting or glamorous for a weekend away! If you thought the same as me, here’s why I think you should make it your next weekend break destination.
The best thing about being based in Brussels is that you can easily take a train to the surrounding cities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. These charming cities are gorgeous but they’re fairly small so if you spend a day in each city, you’ll have a beautiful, varied and interesting four-day break!
To make it even better, Belgian trains are fast, simple and reliable, making it so easy to get from Brussels to your chosen city and back again in a day. Travelling to Bruges takes about one hour 15 minutes, Ghent is less than an hour, Antwerp is 50 minutes and all journeys are reliable and cheap.
It’s not very often you can take a long weekend break and visit four unique cities during your time away!
During my latest trip to Brussels I stayed from Friday to Monday. We spent Friday afternoon exploring Brussels, Saturday in Bruges, Sunday in Ghent and Monday morning in Antwerp before heading back to Brussels to fly home. It sounds like a lot but it didn’t feel rushed and was one of my favourite weekend breaks of the year!
If you wanted to explore even further or had longer in Brussels you could even hop on a train to Paris (one hour 40), Lille (one hour 46) or Cologne (two hours).
Brussels is a hub for travel so you’ll find frequent trains via the Eurostar and lots of budget flights from most UK airports. It isn’t unusual to find return flights to Brussels for around £50.
There are a lot of business hotels in Brussels that might not be the quirky boutique hotel of your dreams, but they’re stylish, comfortable and in great locations.
And to make them even better, you can usually find great deals over the weekend when they have fewer business travellers and need to fill their rooms!
Belgians love their jazz and Brussels has a famous jazz scene! There are so many great jazz bars around the city where famous jazz artists take to the stage. You’ll also find smaller, intimate clubs with up-and-coming artists. Jazz fans won’t want to miss the Brussels Jazz Festival.
Brussels’ Grand Place is definitely the most impressive part of the city and is the first port of call for most visitors. It’s incredible and such a beautiful first impression of the city where grand buildings shimmer with gold.
If, like me, you won’t be spending a huge amount of time exploring Brussels then make it an afternoon around the Grand Place. There are some lovely little restaurants in the side streets off the main square where you’ll find traditional dishes and plenty of Belgian beer!
So we’ve established the Grand Place is a stunning reason to visit Brussels but it gets even better. Every two years, the Grand Place is decorated with around one million begonias! There’s a new theme and a different decoration every time the flowers are displayed, which makes a perfect excuse to go back every two years!
No, really, you can! Mini Europe is, as the name suggests, a miniature Europe. It’s filled with 80 miniature cities from all around Europe and includes 350 of the most famous buildings such as Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate and the Trevi Fountain. If nothing else, it’s a great place to go for a few selfies!
The Atomium alone might not be a reason to visit Brussels but while you’re here you can’t leave without seeing it. The Atomium was built in 1958 for Expo 58, a huge exhibition for culture and innovation.
It’s an enlargement of an elementary iron crystal cell and the beautiful sculpture can be appreciated for its impressive scientific scale (it’s 165 billion times enlarged) but also from an artistic perspective.
Expo 58 was the first to be held after World War II so it has major significance and represented human progress and how scientific innovations will help us develop. The Atomium is said to have been built as a temporary structure for the exhibition but it became such a popular symbol it stayed.
I’m the founder of The Travel Hack, one of the UK’s leading travel blogs focusing on travel tips and hacks to make your travels as easy and affordable as possible. I began blogging in 2009 during a two year backpacking trip through Asia and Australia when I lived and travelled in an old VW campervan. I studied journalism when I returned home, but quickly realised traditional media wasn’t for me. I now live in Wales and have two little boys, so I also blog about family travel and my weekend adventures around Wales.