About five or six years ago, we witnessed a mass migration of friends leaving Paris and moving to Brussels, attracted by the city’s high standard of living for bargain prices compared to Paris. The one upside of having so many loved ones choose to settle in Brussels is that we get to visit there quite often!
Which is easy, because Brussels is a mere hour and 15 minute ride away, via the high-speed train Thalys!
This past month we had not one but TWO reasons to go visit the city, and I realized that it was high time to devote a little love to this extremely multicultural and kid-friendly city!
Brussels is officially bilingual, and though it is predominately francophone, Flemish is also an official language. The European Union is also headquartered there, and you will also hear plenty of other languages as you are out exploring.
My top activities for a weekend in Brussels:
Bois de la Cambre
This sprawling park is fun in spring, summer and fall (I cannot speak for winter thoughJ). Bring a picnic lunch, or plan on grabbing a bite or drink at one of the informal outdoor eateries, like Woodpecker. We grabbed burgers (even a veggie one!) and croque monsieur here, and ate on a picnic table under the sun.
Bois de la Cambre is enormous, and even on beautiful days does not seem crowded (ahem, Paris parks!). Walk to the center of the park, where you can watch the elephant swans floating gracefully on the water.
My favorite part about this park is the little island in the middle of the pond, which you can access via a ferry boat (2 euros / person). Perched gracefully in the middle, you will see the Chalet Robinson, a chic (but not too chic for kids) restaurant, with a menu for meals or just snacks, like hot chocolate with Belgian waffles. You can rent row boats and peddle boats (30 minutes for 10 euros; 1 hour for 15 euros) here too!
La Grande Place
You cannot visit Brussels without a stroll through one of the most ornate squares I’ve ever seen – every building in incredible! The Manneken Pis statue – one of the main symbols of Brussels, for some reason???? – is right around the corner, so you can check that off the list while there.
This is the most touristy part of Brussels – capitalize on that and grab waffles decked out in a myriad of toppings from one of the dozen or so choices around the Grande Place. This is a sure bet for kids, who will be awestruck by the choices!
This is another sprawling park, and home to several museums to boot. There is a park for kids to play in, while parents enjoy the views. Naturally, there are more waffles to be had here. Look for tacky trucks (the more kitsch, the better!) near the entrances, to get a hot off the press Belgian waffle!
Brussels is very bike-friendly – I am usually pretty petrified of riding in cities, but here I felt safe. We rode through the beautiful European Quarter, hopping off frequently to enjoy the architecture or little parks.
This area is a hotbed of incredible Art Nouveau architecture. Don't miss the Saint-Cyr house!
Don’t miss the French Fries!
I’m a pretttty big French fry fan, and some of my favorites are in Brussels. The local fries are thickly cut and then twice fried, giving them the perfect texture and loads of flavor. My two favorite French fry shacks (because they are made and sold in little huts!) are Frit Flagey and Maison Antoine. Get there early – the lines get long at peak hours! Also, please excuse this photo dating from 2012 - I am apparently too busy scarfing freid to ever think to document it!
Located in the Schaerbeek neighborhood, this park is a bit of a hike from the center, but worth it! The landscaping is beautiful, and there are playgrounds for kids to enjoy. Highlights were the laidback eateries – we went to La Laiterie, and there is another called Sint Sebastien, and the surprise mini farm! There were the cutest miniature donkeys to feed, as well as plenty of chickens and other birds to watch!
Voila, voila – for now, these have been my favorite family activities in Brussels. I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list as time goes on and we visit more museums. Let me know if you go and enjoy any of these recommendations!