When I studied abroad in Rome I lived in an apartment with eight other girls. In an apartment that had essentially one bathroom. While this may seem like the beginning of a story about how none of us got along, I actually became very close with three of my roommates, especially Brooke and Heather.
The three of us had similar expectations for our study abroad semester. We all wanted to travel as much as possible. And we did. For nearly five months we spent most every weekend city hopping around Europe. From a weekend in Liverpool with guys we met in a pub in Rome to almost peeing our pants on a bus to southern Italy, we covered a lot of bases.
After we left Rome, we had a reunion in Las Vegas the next year, but I hadn’t seen Brooke or Heather in 4 years.
Until they came to visit me in London!
Because of our European traveling history we decided we needed to make another trip to the continent together. They wanted to spend a couple days in Paris, but I’d just been in the fall and didn’t really have the time because of school commitments. So we made a compromise. We’d take the first Eurostar of the morning from London to Brussels and then I’d take the last train back as they continued on to Paris.
With the first train arriving in Brussels at 10 am and leaving to return to London at 7:50 pm, that left us with about 8 hours to explore the Belgian capital after factoring in late trains and arriving early enough to clear customs. Our plans? A little bit of sightseeing and a whole lot of eating and drinking. Obviously.
Here’s how we conquered Brussels in one day.
10:26 - We pulled into Brussels Midi Station to just about the worst weather you could possibly imagine for a day of walking and sightseeing- dark clouds and pouring rain. But with limited time we were forced to just go with it. Wet shoes be damned, it was time for breakfast. And in Brussels, according to us, that meant Belgian waffles.
11:03- After getting lost a few times looking for the left luggage room and walking through a fairly ugly part of town, we finally made it to Brussels’ charming historic center and our breakfast destination, Le Funambule, one of the most famous waffle stands in the city. The rich, dense, chewy waffles are sold with a variety of topping choices, but I went classic with just a little bit of sweet syrup. Eaten standing on the street with a tiny, bendy plastic fork made things a little difficult, but worth it.
11:11- Right next to Le Funambule is Manneken Pis, one of the most famous landmarks in Brussels. There are several legends behind why this statute of a naked peeing boy exists, but the most famous says that during a battle this two year old lord was hung in a basket from a tree and peed on the opposition, who then eventually lost.
11:23- Our next stop was the Grand Place, or Grote Markt if you speak Dutch like about 56% of the Belgium’s population. This large central square is surrounded by many opulent buildings including the Town Hall and the Museum of the City of Brussels. It’s also tourist central so after snapping a few photos of the detailed architecture, we were on our way.
11:36- The center of Brussels is fairly small (many a tourist have called this city boring before, this is probably why) but that makes it a great place for wandering. So that’s exactly what we did. We walked up and down the narrow streets, popping into shops that looked interesting, and admiring some interesting street art.
12:01- Now that noon had officially struck we figure it was appropriate to start the drinking portion of the day. Belgium has a long brewing history that dates back to the crusades of the 1100s and today there are about 180 breweries in the country. We started our sampling at Delirium Cafe. In 2004 this bar set the world record for having the most brands of beer with 2,004 different brands. It’s a popular place, large and dark, decorated with signs from different types of beer around the world. You can only order at the bar and we took turns sampling different kinds of Belgian brews, noting the different shaped glasses used for each variety.
1:18- With a little early afternoon buzz on we decided it was time for more food. And not just any food. FRITES. My favorite food. Some say they originated in Belgium, others in France, but regardless, Belgium is known as having one of the best frites games in the world. I’d spent hours researching where to find the best frites in Brussels, but somehow couldn’t properly navigate us to the shop (that or they no longer exist) so we decided to just try our luck with the next one we passed. Fries in Belgium are often a street food, served in a paper cone, and topped with sauces of your choice. I went with andalouse, a Belgian sauce made from mayonnaise, tomato paste, and peppers. It. Was. Awesome.
1:42- Something amazing happened while we were devouring our frites- the sun came out! We did a little more walking and as soon as we passed a pub with outdoor seating we decided to do what we do best, drink and people watch. We sat around enjoying the early summer sun, catching up on the past four years of our lives, and laughing quite a lot.
3:54- With about an hour before our really early dinner reservation, we needed to get moving so we could try Moeder Lambic, a popular beer bar with two locations in Brussels. The staff here were very friendly and helped us all pick out the perfect beer for our tastes (and charged my phone behind the bar). I had a Belgian style IPA from De Ranke Brewery that was probably my favorite non-lambic Belgian beer I’ve had.
5:03- While researching places to eat traditional Belgian food for dinner I kept coming across one place, Les Brassins. You need a reservation to get into this place most every night of the week, as it is tiny and popular, but if you eat at the early bird hour like us you’ll be fine walking in. (I did call to make a reservation and the woman literally laughed out loud. I had a train to catch, okay?!) I had the beer beef stew, which came highly recommended, and a strawberry lambic, a perennial favorite of mine. The stew was good, but I preferred Brooke and Heather’s dishes- sausages with stoemp (similar to what I had in Amsterdam) and a creamy soup.
6:37- We made it back to Brussels Midi with time to spare. After buying a water bottle with my leftover Euros (this was supposed to be my last trip to Europe…) and pedaling a stationary bike to charge my phone, I boarded my train and slept all the way back to London, exhausted from a jam packed day of exploration.
Is eight hours enough to fully explore a city? Not at all. But 8 hours was enough time to have a wonderful day reconnecting with old friends while getting a taste of a country I’d love to explore more.
Have you ever spent only a few hours in a new place? How did you make the most of it? And if you’ve ever been to Brussels- what did we miss? Did we see enough of Brussels in one day?