For a little over three months, Brussels was the city we called home! We moved in, a little reluctantly, listening to the many comments about the city that suggested we would be bored during our stay. However, from the very first moment we arrived in the city, we felt at home. The Belgians have a little something that is not foreign to us Quebecers! As we were there for a long period of time, but mainly for work, we didn’t always have the opportunity to discover the city as much as we would have liked. So to remedy this, we decided to play tourist in our temporary home town for a week. This destination guide is the result of our adventure in Brussels.
Airbnb accommodation & Avios points accumulation
As we were settling in the city for a long period of time, we opted for Airbnb accommodation. We needed a place to put our books, luggage and all the equipment that was taking up space and we didn’t want to keep moving from one place to another.
On the platform, it is very common to see long term discounts, so we were able to get almost 50% off per month since we had booked for three consecutive months.
The choice to stay in an Airbnb type of accommodation also allowed us to do two things: on the one hand, to cook at home and thus save a lot of money on meals and on the other hand, to discover the city as the locals do, to the rhythm of the farmers’ markets, organic grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.
The apartment we rented was located in the commune of Ixelles (Brussels is made up of twelve communes), a rather chic neighbourhood and close to both the ULB and VUB Universities.
As you might expect, renting an apartment through the Airbnb platform involves additional costs, such as platform fees, cleaning fees, etc. However, as a foreigner it is not always easy or possible to rent an apartment in due form, so the use of this platform and the payment of additional costs often appear as a lesser evil. On average, apartments in Brussels, depending on the “quality” of the accommodation and its geographical location, run between 1600-1900$ CAD per month. It is important to remember that Brussels is the seat of the European Parliament and that a lot of accommodation there is very expensive.
Points, points, points!
Of course, as travel hackers, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to earn some points along the way! Indeed, British Airways, behind the Avios program, allows you to earn 3 points per $/€ spent as indicated on this page. We have earned about 15,000 Avios for our accommodation in Brussels.
So, to take it a step further, we coincided the apartment rental with the acquisition of an American Express Business Platinum Card® that required $7,000 in purchases in the first three months (with a referral from one to the other).
Thus, by going through the British Airways link, we earned 3 points per dollar spent on the platform for the accommodation, and at the same time, were able to meet the minimum amount required to unlock the American Express bonus offering 75,000 Membership Rewards (+ 25,000 additional Membership Rewards due to referral from one to the other).
- 15,000 Avios miles
- 75,000 American Express Membership Rewards
- 25,000 bonus American Express Membership Rewards
What about points for Airbnb rentals?
Things to do in Brussels
Now let’s get to the fun stuff! As mentioned at the outset, we arrived in Brussels with the preconceived notion that this city of civil servants was boring, but we were surprised at the opposite! While I agree that Brussels is not a wild city, it has much more to offer than its famous Grand Place.
The Grand Place
Of course, even if Brussels can’t only be summed up by this impressive Grand Place, it remains a must-see. Located in the heart of the city and lined with historic and majestic buildings such as the King’s House and the Town Hall, this large square has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. The mixture of Gothic and neo-Gothic styles in the buildings surrounding the Grand Place gives it a special character. Many decorative elements are adorned with gold.
Inside the King’s House is the museum of the city of Brussels. The collection on display is eclectic and tells the story of the evolution of the city and its inhabitants in its own way.
At the foot of the Mont des Arts, there is a multimedia experience (until June 2020) dedicated to the work of the Flemish painter Bruegel. Interactive rooms plunge you into the heart of his works. Although I did not know this painter before this visit, I loved the experience. It is a new and original way to know and discover the works of a great master of painting.
Belgian Comic Strip Center and Mural Hunt
Belgium is well known in the world of comics, and a stay in Brussels cannot be complete without immersing yourself at least a little in this universe.
Discover the Art Deco atmosphere of the place and immerse yourself in the world of the famous Tintin, Spirou and many others!
If the weather is nice, why not go hunting for murals that pay tribute to comic books? A few steps from the Grand Place are a large number of murals dedicated to various famous and lesser-known people. A great way to discover the city if you don’t fancy museums!
We also loved wandering around the comic book shops that are ubiquitous in the city center.
Atomium / Mini Europe
In the north west of Brussels is a strange structure known as the Atomium. Built for the 1958 World’s Fair, the structure is composed of 9 spheres of 18m in diameter, connected to each other by metal tubes in which visitors move around. At the heart of the building is an elevator that allows you to reach the top, from which it is possible to climb into the highest sphere, which is in fact a restaurant-observatory.
The other spheres include various exhibits, most of which are related to the World’s Fair, the development of nuclear power in the context of the Cold War and the promise of a better energy future.
I mention this in passing, but from the top of the Atomium you can see Mini Europe, a miniature park containing numerous reproductions of European Union monuments. We did not go there, but it seems that for children the park is an interesting place, allowing them to discover the many monuments making the fame of the countries of the Union.
European Parliament / Parlamentarium
The “European Quarter”, where the European Parliament is located, includes several parliamentary buildings. It is not always possible to visit the main debating chamber (the hemicycle), but on the recommendation of many locals, the best time to visit is on Fridays during the off-season, for example in January, or during the summer holidays! To visit the Parliament, you must have your passport with you and to go through security. But once inside, it is possible to visit the hemicycle, as well as the visitors’ center. On site, a number of tours are offered to explain the workings of the institution or to attend “staged” debates.
The Parliamentarium is a free exhibition space where you can learn a lot about the workings of the European Parliament. Audioguides and pamphlets help the visit along, allowing you to learn a lot about the history of Europe.
Fiftieth Anniversary Park
Located a 15-minute walk from the Parliament, the Fiftieth Anniversary Park is a huge urban park surrounded by numerous museums: the Army Museum, the Aviation Museum, the Automobile Museum as well as the Royal Arts and History Museums… phew! In other words, there’s a little something for everyone. In any case the park is very pleasant and worth a visit.
Drinking and eating
“Tonton Garby” is a very small restaurant-counter specializing in sandwiches! As soon as we enter the shop, Tonton (uncle) Garby himself welcomes us and explains that he offers custom-made sandwiches adapted to our tastes. He asks us the necessary questions about our preferences in cheese, meat and other ingredients to satisfy our taste buds. And to ensure customer satisfaction, Tonton Garby starts by having customers taste the main ingredients before putting them together in a sandwich. All of them are of very high quality and very fine, resulting in truly personalized and delicious masterpieces! It’s a fabulous experience that you have to try when you visit Brussels! You’ll probably try some sandwiches among the best of your life.
Belgium is the land of French fries… But don’t be fooled by all the French fry vendors in the city centre and head for the Friterie Tabora, which offers by far the best fries! This is the promise that many locals have made to us. And we were not disappointed! For a classic experience, opt for the Andalusian sauce, a real treat!
To have a good time in a real Brussels institution, you have to go to the Drug Opéra, near the Grand Place! You will find the great classics of European cafés in an eclectic atmosphere and you will be able to take advantage of the outdoor seating to enjoy a drink while enjoying the heart of old Brussels. Definitely a great experience.
Peck 47 is a great brunch destination in Brussels. The food is delicious, the atmosphere very pleasant and the staff truly charming! We highly recommend the waffles with eggs Benedict and chorizo. A pure delight!
For cute instagram photos and a little sweet tooth satisfaction, Coco offers donuts in all sorts of flavours and colours. To our great disappointment, by mid-afternoon the filled donuts had all gone. We had to settle for the covered donuts and opted for the pistachio and dark chocolate crunch flavors for one, and white chocolate and pistachio for the other. Our opinion? A little too doughy, but if we go back, we’ll definitely get there earlier to be able to try the specialty of the establishment, the filled donuts which are apparently by far the best!
We went to Amen for a major celebration: my wife’s birthday. We were willing to pay a little more for a culinary experience and we were not disappointed! We opted for the seasonal menu which offered a 4-course meal for 50€ per person. Not cheap, but totally de-ca-dent! The restaurant is small, warm and friendly and you can stay there for hours tasting, chatting… in short, there is no hurry here. The restaurant is located in the Ixelles district and therefore a bit far from the center, but it is well worth the detour.
We really liked the retro 50’s American atmosphere of this restaurant which mainly offers burgers, fries and milkshakes. True to the style, the atmosphere is very relaxed: here, you don’t have to worry about anything. The only downside? They only accept cash. On the other hand, it’s a great place to get insider information about unusual concerts and activities in Brussels!
Located in front of “l’oreille tourbillonne”, Pharmacie anglaise (English pharmacy) welcomes you with divine cocktails of all kinds! The decor is absolutely splendid, in the style of a cabinet of curiosities. We loved being immersed in this 19th century world.
Students from all over the world meet in this bar and it’s not for nothing… a menu of more than 2,000 beers is offered. For the Belgians, beer is a true religion, and the beer culture has even been classified as intangible world heritage. The locations themselves place itself is very impressive, as is the menu. Opt for the bartender’s recommendations and tell him or her which flavours you prefer. On the other hand, who says well-known also says popular and for this reason, it’s better to go in the afternoon.
This 17th century building offers authentic Belgian products of the highest quality. You can enjoy a free tasting in the late afternoon and great live jazz music in the evening… nothing could be more perfect to discover real jewels produced in microbreweries or to savour wonderful Belgian family tradition beers. Located just a few steps from the Grand Place, you won’t be disappointed!