Brussels - the birthplace of the European Parliament, Jean-Claude van Damme and the Marmite of Christmas side dishes, the mighty sprout. Although this petite Belgian city is often overlooked as yet another boring administrative government centre, in reality Brussels is full to the brim with character, history and excellent food. Plus, with regular Eurostar trains running from London right to the heart of the city, it makes an excellent European weekend break by train.
What to See
One of the best things about Brussels is its size. You can walk around the stunning city centre of this pint-sized capital within a few hours, and along the way you'll find cobbled streets and historic buildings that look pretty as a postcard. La Grand Place - the UNESCO-listed central square - is a must-visit on your weekend in Brussels. Interesting and iconic architecture lines all four sides of the square, including the impressive Town Hall; the intricate, Gothic-style city museum; and the narrow, towering guildhalls which are so emblematic of Brussels.
We highly recommend spending the first day of your weekend simply strolling around and getting to know the city, then using the second day to visit one of the many museums - as well as the classic art and history museums, there's also a musical instruments museum, a cartoon museum and a chocolate museum, so kids and big kids will be in heaven. If it's green space you're craving you've got plenty of options. One of our top picks is the centrally located Brussels Park which is looked over by the grand Royal Palace, or you can venture a little further out to the vast Parc du Cinquantenaire in the city's European Quarter. Or, for even more excellent architecture and museums, there's the Mont des Art, a public garden surrounded by museum and gallery buildings.
Where to Eat and Drink
Brussels is - perhaps surprisingly - an excellent foodie destination. Although we strongly suggest starting the day with a chocolate-slathered Belgian waffle then grabbing some hot frites for lunch on the go as you walk around the city (you simply must get them dolloped with lashings of mayonnaise or spicy Samurai sauce to look like a real local), there are also plenty of eateries for a chic sit down dinner come evening. Head to the Rue Gretry for a patchwork of restaurants serving up everything from the classic mussels from Brussels moules frites to pan-Asian cuisine, and leave it to us to secure those elusive tables for two at the city's most sought after spots. After dinner, head for a nightcap or 12 in one of the city's many bars. A weekend in Brussels is paradise for beer-lovers, and you'll find lots of local and national casks on draught in any bar or restaurant, whether it's a small and cosy nook with just about enough space to lean, or the three-story beer Nirvana which has a menu of over 2,000 beers and friendly staff that will be more than happy to help you pick your new favourite brew.
Where to Shop
Much like many big cities, Brussels has all of the usual suspects when it comes to shopping, but where it sets itself apart is in the beautiful and historic arcades. As you stroll through the light-filled passageways, lined on either side with boutiques serving up everything from chocolate to couture, be sure to look up to catch a glimpse of the old architecture and sculpture that decorates the arcades. Galleries Saint-Hubert is a must, and its position in the heart of the city means that you'll likely find yourself using it as a scenic shortcut multiple times a day. There are numerous chocolate shops here (you are in Belgium after all) where you can enjoy the grown up version of the 'kid in a sweetshop' experience, handpicking your very own box of artisanal chocolates to take home as a sweet memory (if they make it that far).