As we arrived in Brussels, I had high hopes for the city. I had actually contemplated extending the time my boyfriend and I had in the city, but as we walked from Brussels-Midi to our hotel in the centre of the city, I was already having second thoughts about the mere day and a half we had planned.
If there is one thing I would ever recommend to someone visiting Brussels, it’s don’t walk from Brussels-Midi to the centre – either get the metro or stay on the train to Brussels Central. The immediate area surrounding Brussels-Midi isn’t overly attractive, and I most definitely didn’t feel safe walking through there, and I hardly ever feel unsafe!
First impressions aside, once we’d dropped our bags off at the hotel, we had an hour to kill before we were able to check in. Just around the corner from where we were staying is Sainte-Catherine church, so we thought that would make a great time filler because we both love churches! After a brief look around, we ventured back into the rain and continued to explore the local area and Christmas markets. We didn’t spot a great deal, so made our way back to the hotel to get ourselves checked in. We decided it’d be a good idea to make a plan, and the lovely receptionist had pointed some things out she thought we’d like to visit. Something she’d highlighted was a ‘mountain’, which we assumed had gotten lost in translation because we were sure there were no mountains in Brussels.
We made our way in the general direction she’d pointed out anyway, through Grote Markt where we checked out what is called the prettiest square in Europe (not sure I agree…) and onwards up a steep incline. After quite a number of steps, we saw people gathered looking over us to where we’d just come from. I always think if there’s a group of people looking at something, it’s usually worth seeing, so we made our way to see what they were looking at.
The views of the city from this vantage point were stunning, and although I wouldn’t call it a mountain, we had risen above the city a fair amount and could see for quite a way. The spires in Grote Markt were lighting up and changing colours, so we made a mental note to check that out on the way back, but took a slight detour to Jeanneke Pis (very tricky to find first time!) and Manneken Pis. As both of these are close to Grote Markt, we arrived back in the square at 6pm to watch the lights show before grabbing a hot dog from one of the Christmas markets and heading back to the hotel for an early night after a long day of travel.
We were up early the next day to make the most of our last day in Belgium before heading home. We packed our stuff away and checked out, leaving our bags at the hotel before continuing to explore. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side and it was absolutely tipping it down with rain! We decided we’d revisit Manneken and Jeanneke Pis as the photos we’d taken the night before weren’t great. We then soldiered on through the rain to the cathedral. As we got closer, we could see everyone pouring out of the main doors and people being refused entry. We weren’t too sure what was going on as it was too early for closing time, and there were TV cameras at the base of the stairs. As it happened, unbeknownst to us, it was the day of the Queen’s funeral and there were no tourists allowed in the cathedral. We were disappointed, but continued on to make the most of our day.
We were slowly getting higher in the city, and the rain was getting heavier. We walked on to the Royal Palace, where the flags were flying at half mast. Unfortunately by this point we were soaked and had very little desire to continue. I well and truly hate the rain, and it took all of our will power not to call it a day. As we were in the area, we decided to check out the Palais de justice (the courts), but the building was covered in scaffolding and I didn’t think there was much chance of us being allowed in. By this point we decided to just grab our postcard, magnet and any pressies for people back home, grab a bite to eat and call it a day.
The rain was ridiculous – much worse than typical English rain. On the bright side, we finally discovered what the receptionist had meant by ‘mountain’. As we looked out over the city, we could see for quite a distance despite the rain. I imagine on a clear day you can see for miles! We also found that there’s a lift, so we’d trekked up the hill when we could have just got in the lift. Never mind! We did get the lift down (epic shortcut!) and did a bit of shopping before retiring to a cafe for the smallest, most delicious sandwiches while we tried to dry off a bit before heading to the station to catch the Eurostar home.
The combination of the rain and the short time we had in the city meant that I didn’t get to do the two things I had really wanted to – visit the European Parliament and Mini Europe. Both are located a fair way out of the city, and it wasn’t feasible for us to fit them into our trip. I’d also love to do a bus tour, as I think it’s a great way to see the sights and get a bit of background info that you wouldn’t otherwise get. Next time we’re in Brussels, I just hope the weather is a bit better so we can really enjoy the city, as this is the first time I’ve visited somewhere and not thought ‘oh I’d like to live here!’. Still time to love it there though…