As my train pulled out of St. Pancras I wondered how many people had sat in the seat before me…
Carriage 15, seat 31 on the Eurostar. This was the first trip under the English Channel I’d embarked on. I don’t know exactly what prompted my decision to head to Belgium, but I was finally on my way to spend 5 nights in Brussels. I wanted not only another creative getaway, but a new international destination to explore. There’s something about visiting a country where there’s a foreign language, and buildings so old they’re screaming out to be photographed; I enjoy destinations like these, the opportunity for ultimate solitude. Much like my blog Creative City-Break: Top Things Bristol Has To Offer To The Creative Mind, this is going to be my top experiences/tips in Brussels & Bruges on a Creative City-Break.
1. Appreciate the city for what it is. I know first hand that when you travel solo, it’s so easy to wander around, headphones in, nose in your Lonely Planet guide and see the sights with no outside influence. Every city I go to, especially when I’m alone, I partake in a Sandeman’s free – emphasis on the free – walking tour. These 2-3 hour-long tours, are not only a great way to meet people, but a chance to scope out the city and get an insiders guide into the hotspots. I always try hit up a tour on the day that I land so I have an idea of where I want to go, and what I want to see in more detail. Knowledge is inspiration, my friends.
2. Enjoy the parks and quiet places to think. I came across Place du Petit Sablon by chance, and it was by far my favourite garden I visited whilst in Brussels. It’s a lovely square, complete with hedges, sculptures, 48 bronze statuettes, and a beautiful big fountain. At the base of the fountain, and the surrounding green, are plenty of benches. I sat here for an hour, had my lunch, and enjoyed the scenery. The sound of the water allowing me to read and relax.
Other lovely parks to visit: Parc Leopold & Parc du Cinquantenaire.
3. Drink the coffee, they make it right. I have a good place for you to visit. It’s call Askum Coffee House. Not far from Grand Place, and in the centre of Brussels, it’s the perfect place to whip out your book or computer and relax. Their coffee is great, their staff are lovely, and the place has a good vibe. Need I say more?
4. Some museums are better than others when in need of a creative push. One of those definitely being the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée, otherwise known as Belgium’s national Comic Strip Centre. Yup, you heard right. The entire building is dedicated to showing the evolution of comics; you enter the building, and you’re literally surrounded by art. The centre hosts a café, bookshop, a comic book museum, gallery and even a library where you can sit and read comic books.
Did you know The Adventures of Tintin and The Smurfs (Les Schtroumpfs) are both Belgian comics? Oui oui.
Another lovely museum I recommend you give a go is the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts. This museum, dedicated to the fine arts, has modern and ancient art, so there really is something for everyone. I absolutely adored the café in this museum as well. Even though it’s slightly more expensive to alternatives, this café offers a lovely patio with roof top views where you can enjoy your delicious chef prepared food. Be sure to visit the sculpture garden outside the museum.
5. Take a day excursion to Bruges. When I was telling people about my holiday to Brussels, I was told by nearly every person that I had to go to Bruges, another beautiful Belgian city. An easy hour train ride from Brussels-Midi station, it is a necessary day-trip when you’re already so close. On my recent trip to Bristol I purchased a Canon 1300D, the camera I’d always dreamed of owning. Bruges made me so thankful to have such a beautiful camera to capture the city itself. The small, canal-surrounded city encouraged me to put away my phone, replace it with my camera, and just wander. The quirks of the photogenic old city inspiring my stories with every step.
Musts in Bruges:
- Visit the EspressoBar – I Love Coffee coffee shop. This was an amazing find. Not only is the place itself wickedly decked out – from soldered spoon lampshades to the portafilter door handles – their baristas make one hell of a coffee.
- Sit in The Basilica of the Holy Blood and/or wander through and around the monastery gardens of Begijnhof. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the beauty of these spaces, and they are both beautifully silent spaces.
Before I finish off this blog, here are the places you go to try the best of authentic Belgian foods in Brussels:
- Chocolate – Neuhaus: You can find the original shop in the Galerie de la Reine which opened in 1857.
- Waffles – Maison Dandoy: Right near Grand Place, be sure to order a ‘naturel’ waffle for the real Belgian waffle experience.
- Frites – Friterie Tabora: Recommended by the local tour guide. They’re as good as good frites come.
So, as the Belgian proverb says,
“Money buys cherries.”
…go buy yourself a cherry of a city-break to Belgium. If you live in London like me, or in Europe – or even anywhere else in the world – Belgium is worth the trip and can offer you a lovely time.
Amusez-vous bien (have fun) kids!