Braving Brussels: How to Enjoy 2 Fascinating Days of History & Culture

As part of a two week vacation through Europe, our next stop after visiting Paris was the intriguing city of Brussels. Paris is 41 square miles of immense city filled with world-renown historical attractions and timeless architecture. Brussels is less than a third the size with a less illustrious background, but a rich story nonetheless.

Surrounded by France, the Netherlands and Germany, the country of Belgium has been the canvas for a unique mix of events over the centuries. The French and Dutch monarchies exchanged rule throughout this time until the Belgians gained independence in 1830. Brussels’ location at the country’s center made it the perfect location for it to become the capital city where a confluence of culture, energy and artistic expression abounds. It has also served as the European Union’s headquarters for nearly three decades.

While being the host of many nations, Belgium is also known for its contribution to the art of waffle-making (aka the well-loved Belgian waffles), amazing french fries and producing some the world’s best chocolate. This can all be enjoyed within the confines of Brussels where either one of these delicacies can be found on every corner near or in the city’s center called the Grand Place.

Brussels by the Numbers

Due to its central location, the capital is easily accessible by train from major cities such as Paris, Amsterdam and even London via the Chunnel (Channel Tunnel). So you can easily make Brussels a stop on your list of European vacation destinations. Here is a quick take on how you should budget for this part of the itinerary:

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  • Lodging – We set a goal of $250 per night for our family of 6. We’ve found this gives us nice accommodations in safe areas of most metropolitan cities in Europe. You can definitely rent at a lower daily rate, but make sure to do your homework to ensure it meets your needs.
  • Transportation – We are factoring in costs per person if you plan to venture beyond the city center. We used Uber which ended up being more costly than anticipated. I’d advise monitoring the public transit routes to save some on this expense.
  • Meals – There is a lot of room for variation in this line item. Our family really likes to try new foods when we travel so not much cooking takes place in our rental home. $50 per person should be more than enough for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.
  • Excursions – Another area for plenty of variation in expense. We participated in a walking tour focused on many of the great chocolatemakers in Brussels. However, we used credit card rewards points so all expenses were covered. These experiences can add up quickly so you could easily go over $40 per.
  • Misc. Expenses – Every trip has those unplanned costs such as souvenirs, toiletries and fees for exchanging currency. Best to plan even a nominal amount so you aren’t caught off guard.

The total cost of nearly $1,000 per day for the family can seem daunting, but you can easily shave that down by a couple hundred dollars or more. Let’s look at how our experience worked out and then explore some ideas on how you can uncover savings for your trip to Brussels.

Bringing the Numbers to Life

Day 1 – A Grand Adventure

We grabbed a late morning train from Paris to arrive at the Brussels Midi train station early afternoon. Our AirBnB was only a 15 minute taxi ride away so it was our first stop to drop off bags. The rental was in an industrial part of town that is billed as an up and coming area for artists. We were pleasantly surprised to discover a split level condo with a master bedroom on the main floor, two bedrooms upstairs and nice living room/kitchen space. This was quite nice as my wife and I had been resigned to sleeping on pull out coaches in both London and Paris!

After settling in, we took a walk to the Grand Place. The journey from our Air BnB was intriguing as it is located in an industrial area. The path towards the city center starts shifting to small green space and narrow streets. We finally reached the Grand Place being lucky enough to catch the last half of the 711st Planting of the Meyboom festival. It is an old tradition dating back to as far as 1213 and is celebrated every year on August 9 with the planting of a tree of joy, the “Meyboom”.

From there we enjoyed some of the best burgers overlooking the square and ventured throughout and around the Grand Place. The well-known Mannequin Pis was near by as well as numerous little shops selling all the usually tourist trinkets. The most exciting thing for me was to see the variety of french fry and Belgian waffle shops.

We ended the night sitting in the main square of the Grand Place eating our dessert waffles and people watching.

Day 2 – Exploring Tasty Treats and Unique Landmarks

This was our only full day in Brussels so we packed it tight with activities. We figured what better way to kick things off than to take a 4 hour chocolate walking tour! We had the best guide who not only took us to various chocolate shops extolling the qualities of top notch chocolate, but also overlayed great insights into the history that makes Brussels unique.

Towards the end of our tour we had the chance to make our own Belgian chocolates called Pralines. I don’t think they’ll be hiring me for my chocolate making skills any time soon, but the experience with the family and our fellow tour goers was unforgettable.

Next, we took an Uber to the other side of town to visit the Atomium. It is a historical landmark from the 1958 World’s Fair. Taking a tour inside provides a wealth of history about how it was constructed and the Fair in general. The escalators up the various tubes are narrow so those who are claustrophobic may want to wait in the park while the rest of the family explores the inner heights.

Within the same overall park complex is mini-Europe. A small-scale amusement park of sorts without the rides, but fun vignettes of mechanized models depicting various countries all over Europe. The exhibits are 30 years old, but fun for kids and adults never the less with a number of them being interactive. After we had our fun, we headed back to the Grand Place to finish up with some shopping and another bout of people watching in the square.

Ideas for Taming Your Large Family Travel Budget

Now, let’s take a look at how we were able to cut the standard budget of nearly $1,000 down by more than a third:

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  • Lodging – The total fees brought us about $20 over the daily goal of $250, but the location and amount space it offered us was well worth the overage.
  • Transportation – We managed to stay under our $60 per day budget, but would still advise monitoring the public transit routes to save even more.
  • Meals – The most expensive meal was a burger lunch in the Grand Place. The rest of the visit was spent hitting local fry shops and small eateries enabling us to keep this expense low as well.
  • Excursions – As I mentioned earlier, we were able to use our credit card rewards points which got us our chocolate tour and Mini-Europe admission free. The only attraction we had to pay out of pocket for was the Atomium. Check out our Travel Rewards Points post for more insight how to save up for excursions, air fare and more.
  • Misc. Expenses – We had minor expenses for toiletries which can arise with AirBnB stays.

We hope this serves as a solid budget guide for your upcoming trip to Brussels. The expenses will vary depending on your activity, but these general spending rules of thumb have serve us well.

Quick Visual Trip Through Brussels

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