Beyond the chocolate, beer, waffles, and frites (fries), I learned during my 3 days in Brussels that the city also has must-see art deco and art nouveau architecture, beautiful goth cathedrals, and authentic Italian pizza (Italians are the 3rd largest immigration group).
Brussels is also the capital of Belgium and has historically been known to be the “heart of Europe” because there are over 20 EU organizations based here, the most important is the European Union headquarters.
Walking past the Le Berlaymont building I saw how modern the Squares Quarter is, and it was a side of Brussels I wasn’t expecting to see.
If you only have a short 1, 2, or 3 days in Brussels I want you to make the most of it. With this itinerary that I have done myself, I know it’s possible to hit all the main Brussels attractions while still exploring a couple more unique areas. So let’s dive into this Brussels itinerary!
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Brussels Itinerary Overview
While the itinerary outline below is for 3 days in Brussels you can also narrow down some of the ideas on this list depending on if you are only staying for 1 or 2 days. The first day’s outline is definitely a must to see the most famous sights including the Grand Place and the Royal Galleries and you could always customize day 2 and pick what looks most enjoyable to you from the rest of the itinerary!
You could still do quite a bit with only 2 days in Brussels but if you can I would highly recommend staying for at least 3 days to be able to experience what the city is really like.
If some of your 3 days in Brussels are NOT on the weekends I recommend organizing the days from the itinerary to have the popular attractions to be during the weekday.
Here is a breakdown of what you can expect to do on this Brussels itinerary:
Day 1 – Visit the Grand Place and Royal Gallery, enjoy waffles or lunch at a cafe, find the peeing fountains, eat some chocolates and/or visit some museums, and relax at Brussels Park before seeing Brussel’s national church.
Day 2 – Find treasures at the flea market and walk and shop your way to the Palace of Justice before seeing panoramas of Brussels. Then eat in the high-end Sablon neighborhood before exploring a couple of impressive parks and museums.
Day 3 – See the peculiar Atomium, people-watch with a coffee and learn about Art Nouveau in St Gilles, and enjoy authentic Italian Pizza before watching the sunset from a rooftop bar.
The starting point for day 1 of this Brussels itinerary will depend on where your starting point is at. If you are staying closer to the Grand Place follow the order I have laid out. If you are closer to Brussels Park then begin from evening to morning.
Morning – Grand Place and Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert
On your first full day of this Brussels itinerary, you will start things off in grand fashion, and I mean that quite literally at the Grand Place! This world-famous spectacle from the 14th century genuinely took my breath away!
I had just arrived early in the morning from a red-eye flight from Florida and checked into my hotel so I definitely felt like I was in a haze walking here but once the view set in my eyes definitely opened up the rest of the way! Unless you get to the square at sunrise there will be large amounts of tourists here but to be honest this didn’t bother me because I couldn’t take my eyes off the gold-covered buildings!
I learned that the gold embellishments and statutes, style, and goth architecture represent the prosperity and power that Brussels had to restore and preserve the square’s history after it was originally bombed by France in 1695.
If you didn’t already eat breakfast at your hotel you can also find several cafes on or around the Grand Place and enjoy this area for a bit longer. Most places open between 9-11 am! Or you can have a snack to hold you over and eat at the next stop of the morning, the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert which is just a couple of blocks away.
This narrow shopping arcade has such a beautiful glass roof design and dates all the way back to 1847! Inside, there are several high-end shops, chocolatiers, and restaurants. If you want to try the infamous Belgian waffle while you are here there are two spots inside the gallery, Gaufres & Waffles and Maison Dandoy.
I personally chose to skip these options and waited to try a waffle from the waffle trucks stationed all around the city because they looked super busy and overpriced. That being said, if you have the time and don’t mind spending a little more they did look delicious!
Around the corner of the galleries is where I ended up popping in for lunch at L’Arcadi. The interior had a lot of character and after a while of sitting there found out that the people at the tables on either side of me were locals which is always a good sign!
L’Acradi is a traditional Belgian cafe that serves many local dishes. Their menu is large and I ended up trying the Meatballs with Liégeoise sauce (sweet and sour) and fries which is one of the most popular foods to try in Brussels. The food was decent but I might not be the best judge as I’m not a huge fan of heavier homestyle dishes.
The mussel dishes here are also popular and you can even get Belgian waffles with toppings for a good price!
My Finding’s Tip: On the walk to the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert stop and see the Jeanneke-Pis fountain. This silly statue doesn’t make the most sense visually as it’s designed to look like a little girl peeing but for some reason, it’s a popular attraction in Brussels are there are actually a couple of others like it around the city. For amusement’s sake, it’s worth stopping at.
Tour option: If you want the guidance and knowledge of a local there is also this walking tour that combines the Grand Place, Royal Gallery, chocolate, beer, and waffle tasting. It conveniently departs from the Grand Place and costs 79.50 GBP.
Afternoon – Monte de Arts, chocolate, and a museum or two
The Mont des Arts makes for the perfect after-lunch spot to walk around and relax and are under a 10-minute walk from the gallery.
The gardens are really nice and well-maintained and there are lots of benches, little fountains, and great photo opportunities here. Then, climb up the stairs and enjoy the beautiful view of Brussels city and the gardens. There’s also a cafe up here if you’re in the mood for a coffee.
Once you’re ready to move on now would be a good time to purchase some Belgian chocolate from Laurent Gerbaud which is the chocolatier I recommend! I bought quite a large variety for myself and as gifts for my family and it was seriously some of the best chocolate I’ve had!
I did my research on Laurent Gerbaud beforehand and what I liked about him is that he steers away from overuse of sugar in his chocolate and likes to play around with interesting raw ingredients such as the Shanghai orange, Madagascar pepper, and the Izmir fig, to name a few.
There were also more traditional flavors available too if you don’t want to venture too far from your comfort zone. A lot of the flavors are also vegan which I appreciated since I don’t do well with a lot of dairy!
You can order by individual pieces or choose a pre-packaged box and if you order their hot chocolate you get a free piece of chocolate! For the quality I found the price to be pretty fair. Laurent Gerbaud is definitely not a place you’ll want to miss on this Brussels itinerary!
My Finding’s Tip: If you’re visiting on a Saturday Laurent Gerbaud hosts a chocolate workshop from 11:30 am to 1 pm for 35 euros. If you miss it there are also many other chocolate-making classes in Brussels that happen daily which you can book in advance.
After you’ve stocked up on chocolate you can decide if any of the nearby museums interest you enough to spend a couple of hours at. Some of the most popular are the Magritte Museum, Oldmasters Museum, Musical Instruments Museum (MIM), BELvue museum, experience.brussels, KBR Museum, or the Fin-de-Siècle Museum.
I had plans to check out the MIM and stop in for a treat at their 6th-floor restaurant but unfortunately, the restaurant was closed for renovations. Ultimately I could have still gone to the museum but I’m not going to lie, that deterred me since I’m not much for museums to begin with.
If you are the opposite, the Musical Instruments Museum looked the most interesting to me because it has instruments from all around the world, and on the audio guide you can learn about the different instruments, their importance to their culture, and play clips of how they sound. Tickets cost 15 euros and you can purchase them online or in person.
If you choose not to visit any of these museums like me you still must walk past them because Place Royal Square is so pretty and you’ll also see the Godefroy de Bouillon statue in front of the church of Saint James.
Evening – Palace of Brussles and Parc de Bruxelles
Before you lose the rest of the daylight keep walking to your final few stops on day one of this Brussels itinerary. Right around the corner from the Place Royal Square is the incredible Palace of Brussels!
This will just be a quick stop to admire the architecture and take a few pictures. For a month or two in the summertime, they do open the doors to the public but tickets must be purchased online in advance.
Note: The palace will not open for the summer of 2023 due to construction but is expected to reopen in the summer of 2024. Check their website for updates.
Next, hop across the street to Brussels Park where you can spend an hour or so exploring. It’s large enough to feel like you are away from the business of the city, yet, not so large that you’ll get lost.
I was visiting during autumn and it was so magical to watch the leaves fall from the trees and sprinkle the ground when there was a strong breeze.
I thought that the most beautiful areas were the large fountains and right next to the smaller of the two closer to the palace side you’ll find the cutest little bar called Kiosk Radio! They play alternative music live from the radio to the speakers.
It’s such a nice atmosphere and an ideal place to chill and grab a coffee or a beer or a glass of wine. Kiosk Radio is open daily from 12 pm to 10 pm and there are a handful few picnic tables and several stump seats.
When you leave the park, you might as well hit one more sight to end a long first day in Brussels. Exit from the opposite side of where you entered because St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral will be less than a 5-minute walk away. This is Belgium’s national church and it’s free to enter. It is an absolutely beautiful church to look at!
Inside you’ll see the stunning craftsmanship and large stained glass windows. Bring 2 euros if you want to enter the extra exhibit in the basement.
Morning – Marollen Flea Market, Panorama of the city, Palace of Justice
You will want to start day 2 of this Brussels itinerary early to fit in all of the activities planned for the day. First, begin by getting yourself to the Marolles Neighborhood.
There are only a few eateries here that open early for breakfast so you won’t be able to be super picky if you don’t eat breakfast elsewhere before coming. That said, P’titi café and La Clef d’Or are well-rated and do serve all of your classic breakfast options.
After you’ve fueled up for the day you must check out the Marolles Flea Market which is located on Place du Jeu de Balle. It is the only flea market in the world that is open daily and their hours are from 6 am – 2 pm, so you’ll have plenty of time to browse!
This flea market is not just any old setup, it is huge and takes up the entirety of the square. There are vendors selling pretty much anything you could think of, from vintage clothing to international goods, art, furniture, one-of-a-kind antiques, dishes, jewelry, and more!
It’s perfect for the budget-minded, it just might take some digging but you’re bound to find something cool here just don’t forget to try and haggle for an even sweeter deal!
A 5-minute walk away from the flea market is the Palace of Justice, one of the large courts in the world and the largest built in the 19th century. It’s super impressive!
My Finding’s Tip: there are a lot of interesting shops to pop into on the way to the Palace of Justice on Rue Haute.
One of the best views of this grand building is from Rue de Minimes and instead of taking the elevator here to go up I highly recommend walking up the incline wrap-around pathway to get even closer views of the palace and city before mingling with all of the tourists that will be waiting above.
One at the top there is another viewing platform for incredible panoramas of Brussels and the unmissable ferris wheel called The View Brussels. I didn’t feel the need to ride as the views from the platform are pretty much uninterrupted but I was also traveling solo so I could see this being more fun with a partner or a family or for sunset (I have another sunset idea mentioned on day 3).
Admission to the wheel is 10 EUR for adults and 6 EUR for children and you get to go around 3-4 times so it is worth the money. If you book your tickets online you can get a 1 EUR discount.
If you still have yet to try a Belgian waffle (or want another one!) I noticed there was one of the popular yellow waffle trucks hanging around here. They are just a few euros and ever so warm, chewy, and delicious!
Grabbing a waffle to-go would make for the perfect snack to enjoy on the way to your next destination, the Sablon District.
Additional Stop: If you want to see the birthplace of Audrey Hepburn the building is only a 10-minute detour from Poelaert Place.
Afternoon – Sablon District, House of European History
One of the first places you have to visit in the Sablon District is the Square of Petit Sablon. It is seriously one of the most gorgeous little parks I’ve ever been to, especially in summer/early fall when the flower gardens are still in bloom!
But the main attraction here is the Egmont and Hornes fountain and statue. It was made in honor of these two counts who were unjustly executed for their resistance to the Spanish rule. There are benches around the fountain this would be a perfect spot to rest and enjoy a baked good, take in the view, and people-watch.
Right across from the park, you’ll most definitely notice the beautiful gothic architecture of the Church of Our Lady of Victories. Seeing the exterior was good enough for me however you can enter for free but any donations received do go towards the maintenance of the church.
From the park, the heart of Sablon neighborhood is just a couple of blocks away and in it you will find plenty of cafes and eateries so you can take your pick for lunch. Then, feel free to shop (or window shop) in the district. It is ritzier so you’re sure to find luxury stores selling clothing, jewelry, handbags, and accessories, fine art galleries, and antique shops!
Once you’ve exhausted yourself with shopping the latter part of the afternoon continues at the House of European History which has free admission and is only a 15-minute bus ride away from Sablon. You can get off at the Bruxelles-Luxembourg station.
I spent around an hour and a half here but you could easily spend more time if you wanted to (just save some daylight for the Parc du Cinquantenaire afterward). The museum is huge and there are 4 floors of exhibits that fully cover Europe’s history through ancient times, wars, and modern-day Europe. It was very interesting and interactive and the free audio guide was super helpful to understand what everything meant!
I really liked the floor themed “Rebuilding a Divided Continent” which focused on the 1940s through the 1960s and the evolution that society had to go through. Another cool thing you can find in the museum is the British flag which hung outside of the European Parliament before Brexit.
Early Evening – Parc du Cinquantenaire
To round out the last hours of daylight make your way to Parc du Cinquantenaire which is also the last attraction for day 2 of this Brussels itinerary!
This park is among my favorite places that I visited in Brussels – the three arches are just so stunning to look at and walk through! It is also one of Brussels’ national landmarks and was built during the reign of Leopold II in 1880 to celebrate 50 years of freedom!
The landscaping and arches were also a perfect backdrop for a photoshoot! Definitely bring your camera and use your umbrella as a prop if it’s raining.
If you don’t have too long to wait to stick around for sunset, do it! The golden light reflecting onto the buildings will be beautiful!
For another dose of history, you can also visit one of the 3 museums inside the building in the park. There is the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, Art & History Museum, or Autoworld which has a huge collection of old cars.
Note: the museums close at 5 pm so make sure to visit them first before relaxing in the park.
My Finding’s Tip: On the short 10-minute walk to Parc du Cinquantenaire from the European House of History, I recommend taking a short detour to see the Le Berlaymont building in the Squares Quarter. This distinctive-looking building is the headquarters of the European Commission which is the executive branch of the European Union. If you are looking for a snack at this point make a quick stop at AKT Brussels for a yummy coffee or baked good!
Morning – Atomium
On the last morning of your 3 days in Brussels, you will make the journey by metro to the Atomium which was the centerpiece of the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. The Atomium itself is quite hard to explain but its bizarre shape is meant to represent an iron cell unit which is why there are 9 iron atom branches on the structure.
From central Brussels, it will be around a 40-minute journey and I’d recommend getting here right when it opens at 10 am before it gets crowded!
Once I got off the train I could already see the Atomium in the distance and it was super cool seeing its size come into perspective as I walked up to it!
Entry tickets will allow you to ride in the elevator to the top of the sphere for spectacular 360-degree views of Brussels. There is also a restaurant at the Panoramic Restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner but make reservations in advance as walk-ins aren’t always honored if it’s busy.
Admission also includes access to the Design Museum where you can learn about the engineering and historical significance of the Atomium. Tickets cost 16 EUR for adults and 6.50 EUR for children and you can book them online in advance.
I can confidently say you’ll never see anything quite like the Atomium and I am personally glad I decided to visit!
Before you leave the area I wanted to point out there are a few other activities you could do near the Atomium if you have the time. You can see miniature replicas of important European landmarks at Mini Europe, wander around the Royal Parc of Laken and visit the Royal Castle and Greenhouses of Laken (only open for 3 weeks out of the year, see the dates here), admire all of the flowers inside Jardins du Fleuriste, or visit Train World inside of one of Belgium’s oldest train stations.
Afternoon – Relax and eat lunch in St Giles
After spending the morning at the Atomium it’s time to hop back onto the tram for a 40-minute ride to the eclectic neighborhood of St Giles where you’ll find a bunch of art deco architecture, brewpubs, cafes, and restaurants – perfect timing for lunch!
You will likely get off at either the Gare du Midi or the Port de Hal station which is either right in front of or across the street from Halle Gate. At first glance, Halle Gate looks like a castle but it’s actually the last remaining gatehouse of the old city wall from medieval times. Directly on the opposite side of the gate lies St Gilles!
If you want to make a quick stop and enter Halle Gate you can pay 10 EUR online or at the desk to witness 360-degree views of Brussels (only accessible by stairs) and learn a bit about its historical significance.
Note: Halle Gate Museum is closed on January 1st, May 1st, November 1st and 11th, and December 25th.
Continuing on to St Giles, I found this area so nice to walk around and it definitely didn’t seem like there were many tourists here which is always nice! Parv. de Saint-Gilles and Rue de Moscou were the streets that had the most options to grab lunch or a drink.
I decided to order a cappuccino from Le Verschueren and sit on their open-air patio because the atmosphere and view of the Church of St. Giles looked so inviting – and it was! Le Verschueren also serves a variety of beers that seemed to be a popular choice too. This corner bar has been around since 1880 and the wood paneling and art deco design make that fact quite obvious, I loved it!
Late Afternoon/Early Evening – See Art Nouveau inside the Horta Museum
After you’ve gotten some food back into your system should be feeling re-energized for the Horta Museum which is the next activity on this Brussels itinerary!
The Horta Museum is located on the outskirts of the St Giles neighborhood and it’s one of the best places to see the art nouveau architecture style that Brussels is so famous for!
From central St Giles, getting to the Horta Museum shouldn’t be longer than a 15-minute walk.
This is a special museum because it is actually located inside the house and private studio of a famous Brussels architect, Victor Horta. The original 1895 design of his home has been well-preserved and features so many unique art nouveau elements. From the design of the staircases, stained glass windows, paintings, and furniture, this home will definitely help you to understand what art nouveau is all about.
This museum is very popular so you will need to make reservations well in advance to guarantee entry. If following this itinerary, I’d recommend booking one of the later time slots so you don’t have to rush the activities prior to visiting.
They are only open from 2 to 5:30 pm during weekdays and from 11 am to 5:30 pm on weekends (the last admission is at 4:45). Unfortunately, because of their weird hours, I ended up missing out on this activity.
Evening – La Pizza è Bella, Secret Rooftop for Sunset
Once finished with the activities in the Saint Gilles area the next destination is for dinner at one of the most authentic Italian pizza places in all of Belgium!
La Pizza è Bella was ranked 5th for making the best pizza in Europe by the Italian 50 Top Pizza ranking in 2020…. now that’s a statement! From the St GIles neighborhood, it will only be a 20-minute walk or a 17-minute tram or bus ride with transfers.
Since I’ve yet to visit Italy, La Pizza è Bella seriously made all my Neapolitan dreams come true (at least for now)! All of their ingredients come from Campania, Italy and I could easily tell the difference when I took my first bite. The ripeness of the tomatoes, the soft and chewy thin crust, and the blend of authentic melty cheeses – their pizza will be hard to beat!
Seriously, it was the best pizza I’ve tasted to date and you have to give it a try for yourself but make sure to make reservations well in advance, especially during peak season.
After a highly satisfying meal, it’s time to end the last few hours of your 3 days in Brussels with sunset!
After a bit of hunting on the internet for the best rooftop views (there aren’t many) and getting lost trying to find a place that doesn’t exist, I eventually found the Secret Rooftop which is the rooftop bar on top of the Warwick Hotel!
To be honest though, I would really only recommend trying to visit the Secret Rooftop during off-season months (I visited in October) if you want a better chance at quick service and a table outside with a view because it is a small space.
The rooftop bar is open to the public so just walk through the lobby and take the elevator up to the top floor. I enjoyed my gin and tonic with a great view of the city center for sunset! And even if you can’t time things out properly for sunset the nighttime had it’s own intrigue too.
Note: While not my experience, some of the Google reviews mentioned needing to pay 10 EUR at the front desk in order to get access to the rooftop bar but the receipt could be used for one drink from the bar at the top. There were also mentions of “watered down” drinks and extremely slow service during busy times. Do with this what you will.
My Finding’s Tip: If you are visiting during fall or winter when the sunset is earlier in the day, swap the order and go to the Secret Rooftop first for pre-dinner cocktails and make later reservations to eat at La Pizza e Bella afterward.
Where to Stay for 3 Days in Brussels
Motel One Brussels $ – I personally love the Motel One chain and this is where I stayed at in Brussels (I also have stayed at their Warsaw location). It’s located on Rue Royal next to Brussels Park which isn’t super central but is still walkable to many attractions (a 10-minute walk to the Grand Place) and right next to the main train station making it easy to get to other cities and to/from the airport. The rooms are priced low starting at 99 EUR for a double room. They are simple but modern and have everything you will need including a very comfortable mattress, TV, desk, and toiletries. There is also a hotel bar and restaurant and you can enjoy a wide range of breakfast options daily for an additional 16 EUR.
Hotel des Galeries $$ – This is the hotel for you if you’d like to be centrally located. It’s right next to the Saint Hubert shopping gallery and just around the corner from the Grand Place and train station. The accommodation itself is stylish, bright, and clean. With spacious rooms and comfy beds (king-size are a true king-size and not two beds pushed together), the duplexes have a patio with a view of the city. You can add on breakfast for 21 EUR but it can seem a bit limited for the price but there are many nearby cafes to solve that issue.
Juliana Hotel Brussels $$$ – An exceptionally restored 5-star hotel with a restaurant and spa will make for the perfect relaxing stay for a fair price! While the property is not right on top of the Grand Place it is still only a 10-minute walk. The beautiful design throughout the hotel and inside of the rooms will make you feel like luxury and the comfort of the beds and towels will prove you’re paying for what you get! On top of the spa, there is also a fitness center, sauna, and terrace.
Final Word on 3 Days in Brussels Itinerary
After reading about what your 3 days in Brussels could look like I hope this has you excited to plan your Brussels itinerary! Brussels is such an amazing European hub with a diverse culture, gothic and art nouveau architecture, comfort foods, and Belgian beer! Enjoy your tour time here.
If you found this post helpful and are traveling around Europe check out some of my other guides below: