Welcome to Brussels, the land of great history, architecture, food, beer, and iconic graffiti art! If your visit to the 2020 Worldwide Conference on Qualitative Research brings you to this beautiful city for the first time, you are in for a treat. There is a plethora of places to explore within the capital of Belgium.
After exploring the city, I fell in love with getting lost. You’ll eventually reach your destination, but each new street turn can surprise you with something you might have missed if you followed Google Maps. Let me introduce to you the things you can do to have an amazing experience!
Get to the Heart of Things
The first thing that you should do when you’re free is beeline your way to Grote Markt (Grand Place) in the heart of the old city. On your way, you’ll be tempted by the restaurants, chocolate, shopping, and trinkets, but keep moving. I can promise you that it’s worth the wait. Once you’re at the market, the grandeur of the buildings will hit you with a sense of awe. The monumental Town Hall will have you looking up to the sky and the dazzling gold ornate buildings in the surrounding area will glow as bright as the sun.
Most of the Brussels that you see today was constructed after Belgium’s independence from the Dutch in 1830. To educate yourself on the history, take a meander through the Brussels City Museum.
With the serious stuff out of the way, let’s get a bit of comic relief by visiting a famous local statue. Who else could this be? It’s none other than the naked Manneken Pis! This cute little boy peeing out on a corner fountain can make anyone giggle. Everywhere you go throughout the city, there are references to this icon, so it’s good to get an idea of where he’s located. There are numerous stories behind the legend, many of them involving a lost child who, when found, was urinating in a local fountain.
Make sure to snag a picture of Manneken Pis, because he might have a new outfit to wear tomorrow. Yes, he actually gets a wardrobe change from time to time, especially for the holidays.
As you walk the streets of the city, you’ll notice the graffiti art on the buildings. Some reference Manneken Pis, others depict Tintin, the lovable traveler from the Adventures of Tintin. You may have grown up with this character, so bring on the nostalgia.
One of the reasons I recommended you get lost in the city is so you can discover these graffiti masterpieces in both large and small sizes throughout the city.
By the time you’re done walking throughout the city, you will be famished and want to grab a bite to eat.
Finding the Best Fries
So, you’re a little hungry and aren’t ready to sit down for a big meal yet. What to do? Get some fries, of course! Contrary to popular belief, the French didn’t actually invent french fries. It was the people of Belgium back in the 1600s who revolutionized the snacking world by creating what is now the favorite item in many fast food chains.
My recommendation is to work your way up to Rue de la Madeleine to find Belgian frites. Expect to eat the perfect fry—crispy but not too crunchy. Pair it with ketchup, or with mayonnaise if you want to be a true Belgian.
Another great find is Fritland. Their specialty condiment is the Andalucia sauce, which is spicy and adds a little kick to your appetizer. If you’re adventurous and have a bigger appetite, go for the mitraillette. It’s essentially a sandwich with meat and a boatload of fries. Good luck being hungry after this!
Time for a Beer
Now to wash down those delicious fries, you have to try the beer in Belgium. Head to the notable Delirium Bar that boasts over 2,000 varieties. If you tried a new beer every day, it would take you more than 6 years to try them all. Drink to your heart’s content, but be careful—the drinks here can be a little strong.
By the way, if you are lucky enough to be there on a Thursday night, they have great live bands that really let you groove to the beat. Give it a try if you like the music and beer atmosphere.
Alternatively, if you want something a little less expensive, head over to Celtica. It’s your typical fun Irish bar that lets you enjoy a good night out, especially on Fridays. They also have live music alongside a great atmosphere to engage and converse with other conference goers.
More Free Time on Your Hands?
If you were fortunate enough to bring your children along, or still feel your inner child, you’re in luck. There’s an amusement park just thirty to forty minutes by metro in the outskirts of Brussels. Inside the amusement park, see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, and many more! Included here are buildings from approximately eighty different cities across Europe, which is an amazing feat of its own. This is a great photo spot to create lasting memories.
You can end the afternoon by going inside the Atomium to see a bird’s-eye view of Brussels and cities far beyond! The Atomium depicts an iron crystal cell blown up to a scale of 165 billion times the size of its original atomic form. It’s actually a museum now after being unveiled at the Brussels World Expo in 1958, which also underwent a renovation period in the mid-2000s.
If you get an entrance ticket at the Atomium, you also get access to a retro design museum that displays unique furniture pieces as well as temporary exhibitions.
It’s actually quite easy to walk around the city without having to use the metro or trams. If walking isn’t your thing, then a single journey metro ticket would cost you €2.10. If you want a good deal on transportation, I’d recommend getting the day ticket located at any kiosk in the metro or ticket booth which costs €7.50 and is valid for twenty-four hours. I’d recommend paying by cash, because some kiosks don’t accept cards originating from non-European countries. You will receive a contactless ticket which you flash in front of the in and out gates. Navigating the metro is pretty straightforward.
Have Another Day to Spare?
Given that you almost walked around the whole city of Brussels, there’s actually more than meets the eye. Do you enjoy a little bit of greenery? Perfect, because there are numerous parks scattered throughout the city; the most notable are Parc du Cinquantenaire, Parc du Bruxelles, Leopold Park, Bois de la Cambre, Par de Laeken, Royal Parc, and Josaphat Park. These are only to name a few, but enjoy a nice stroll out in nature. Breathe some fresh air and get a little peace of mind after the conference.
If you are more into seeing noteworthy buildings, take a tour of the European Parliament building, where the business of the European Union takes place. Other monuments I recommend are St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral and National Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Basilica Koekelberg). Both of these are timepieces that resonate with the locals as symbols of the city. With that, you can safely say that you did more than just go to a conference, you explored the splendors of the magical city that is Brussels!
Notable Museums in Brussels
- Brussels City Museum
- Musical Instruments Museum
- Belgian Comic Strip Center
- BELvue Museum
- Royal Museums
of Fine Arts of Belgium
- Train World
- Toy Museum
Notable ATTRACTIONS NEAR GROTE MARKT
- Brussels Town Hall
- Godiva Chocolate
- Beer Experience
- Museum of the City of Brussels
- Maison Du Roi
- Manneken Pis