Last week I went on my first ever solo trip! Brussels won the toss because it’s not too far away (from where I live in the Netherlands) meaning I could go by train, I’d been once before so I wasn’t a complete newbie and I could speak the language. Or so I thought! Officially the city is bilingual, but upon further research (Googling ‘language in Brussels’) 80% of the population in Brussels speak French as their first language. Oops! My French sucks!! I studied French at college but I never use it. Ah well, 2 out of 3…
Stuck at Schiphol
The trip didn’t get off to a flying start. I left the house late – as usual – and ended up practically running all the way to the station!! Thankfully I made it with one minute to spare! Hot, flustered and sweating… but on time. Phew!
Unfortunately, my Thalys connection at Schiphol airport wasn’t on time. It was cancelled! So I had to wait an hour for the next one. But I wasn’t going to let anything spoil my trip, so unperturbed, I went in search of something to eat. After passing on the uninspiring usual suspects (McDonalds and Burger King), I stumbled across Toko to go – offering Asian food – yay, finally something was going right!!
I had a delicious prawn soup – which was even more tasty once I’d added copious amounts of sambal, giving it a real kick! Burn baby, burn!!
I then found out my train had a further 20 min delay meaning I would arrive in Brussels at 3.30pm instead of just after 2pm so my available daylight was going to be severely limited. I’d have to drop off my bag and get exploring as quickly as possible! Luckily, I’d booked accommodation 10 mins from the station (Brxxl 5 City Centre Hostel) so that turned out to be very handy. It will probably be my first and last stay in a hostel… but more about that later!
After dropping my bag off, I hot footed it to Grand Place (or Grote Markt in Dutch) hoping that I’d still have good light for photos. Last year when Sander and I visited together, there was lots of construction going on. Luckily the square is big and grand enough that it doesn’t spoil the experience!
You can just see to the right hand side that there is still some renovation is going on, but they have covered it with a life-sized print of the building, how considerate!
Grand Place is the central square of Brussels and its most important tourist attraction. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site housing the city’s Town Hall along with other various public and private buildings. Quite simply: it’s a must-see!
I’d seen Manneken Pis before too… but as I had to practically walk past it from my hostel to Grand Place, I decided to pay the little peeing boy another visit! It was crowded as usual… he’s a popular guy! But people are generally quite friendly and take it in turns to have their picture with the little scamp.
FYI: It’s TINY!!!
The original statue was put in place in 1619 but it has been repeatedly stolen: the current statue dates from 1965. The little peeing boy has many different outfits and costumes, for example traditional Irish dress for St Patrick’s Day – I’m not quite sure what all the fuss is about – but you can find more info, plus his list of costumes here if you’re into that kind of thing!
Taverne Manneken Pis
Whilst in the area, I popped into Taverne Manneken Pis for a cheeky beer… when in Brussels and all that! It’s directly opposite the statue so you’d think it would be heaving with tourists but I was pleasantly surprised when it was only half-full. The general atmosphere was good, although the two barmen were a bit stand-offish and seemed much more interested in serving the locals.
I love the colourful and cluttered interior! With lots of Manneken Pis memorabilia, of course! I would definitely recommend stopping in for a delicious Belgian beer or three.
Prior to my trip, I’d spotted on Instagram that there was a cheeky female version of Manneken Pis, so of course I had to go and check her out!
Jeanneke Pis was constructed in 1987 and is thought to be the little sister of Manneken Pis. The statue depicts a young girl with pigtails squatting and you guessed it, peeing…
She is currently protected from vandalism by iron bars, but you can easily take her picture with your lens in between the bars. According to the official website any coins thrown into the fountain are donated to a cancer charity.
Location: Impasse de la Fidélité 10-12, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium.
Street Art & Comic Book Art
I spent hours wandering around and street art spotting! There’s so much great street art and comic book art in Brussels, I’ve dedicated a whole post to the subject.
I also went to see the ‘Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie’ (or the Koninklijke Muntschouwburg in Dutch). Both of its names translate as Royal Theatre of the Mint.
Location: Place de la Monnaie, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium.
Bourse de Bruxelles
And the Brussels Stock Exchange (or Beurs van Brussel in Dutch). I can imagine these can easily be confused – if you look quickly they are quite similar buildings!
Location: Place de la Bourse, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium.
On this trip I noticed a number of buskers in the city. One guy who particularly stood out performed an amazing version of Bob Marley’s One Love. His sound was pure reggae, it was in his blood… then he spoke… in a thick French accent and his voice couldn’t have sounded more different! It made me laugh – like when Adele stops singing and her angelic voice turns into a cockney squawk!
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (or Koninklijke Sint-Hubertusgalerijen in Dutch) is a famous shopping arcade in Brussels pre-dating both Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan and The Passage in St Petersburg.
The gallery consists of two major sections called Galerie du Roi / Koningsgalerij, meaning King’s Gallery, and Galerie de la Reine / Koninginnegalerij, meaning Queen’s Gallery.
After a good few hours of exploring, I just had time for another quick beer before heading back to my hostel. I chose to visit Moeder Lambic Fontainas because we’d been there on our previous trip and really enjoyed it!
It doesn’t surprise me at all that this place is #8 of 2,726 Restaurants in Brussels on Trip Advisor – I would definitely recommend a visit! I didn’t eat here this time, but last time we visited we had the mixed meat/cheese platter which was the perfect accompaniment to our beers!
Hostel, rest & breakfast
I booked a hostel for the night for 2 reasons: 1) it was cheap and 2) to test myself. In comparison, the cheapest single room I could find in Brussels on the same date was €60 (!!) so by booking a bed in a hostel – it saved me €40 which paid for my train transport.
I’m 33 and I’ve never stayed in a hostel as an adult (only on school trips) so I thought this was also a good test to see if I could cope with it – and save lots of money on future trips. It turns out – I’m too old and too prissy for hostels. But hey, I tried. I was pretty lucky with my ‘flatmates’ (I think): a Japanese guy and an Italian couple, even though the Japanese guy spent 30 mins showering at 11pm, and the Italians got up and started making noise at 7.30am. It could have been a lot worse I’m sure. An experience, anyway!
For dinner I went as close to the hotel as I possibly could as it was located in a dodgy area and I didn’t feel that safe walking around on my own. The food at Shinwi was cheap, plentiful and yum! I would have loved a glass of wine but they didn’t serve it (it’s a halal Asian restaurant) so iced tea was the order of the day.
After a night of tossing and turning in my bunk, the next morning I went in search of some more street art before returning to the train station to catch a train to Antwerp. I stopped off at the delightful Le Roi Des Belges for a hot chocolate (served DIY stylie) – the perfect way to end my (almost) 24 hours in Brussels!
5 Things I ran out of time for:
Atomium: Avenue de l’Atomium, 1020 Bruxelles, Belgium. Luckily, we went there on our previous trip! Another must-see in my opinion!
Comic book route: I did see some of the comic book art, however I didn’t have time to follow the entire route. More info here.
Parc Cinquantenaire: so well known it doesn’t need an address! Just put the name into Google / sat nav. I would have loved to visit this amazing park, but I simply ran out of time as it’s about a 40 minute walk from the centre.
Poechenellekelder: Rue du Chêne 5, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium. Weirdly fantastic pub filled with puppets hanging from the walls and ceilings. It’s currently #12 of 2,726 Restaurants in Brussels on Trip Advisor. On our last visit we managed to go for a beer here even though it was packed to the rafters, but this time I only managed to get a picture from outside.
Sablon: or Zavel in Dutch, is a pretty neighbourhood with magnificent architechture, great restaurants and antique shops. Oh and don’t forget chocolate shops! Unfortunately it got bumped from my list due to my late train… but there’s always next time! 🙂
So, how much does trip to Brussels cost?
COSTS – FOOD & DRINK
Toko to go: Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, Arrivals 1. www.toko-2-go.nl
Prawn noodle soup €5, Green Tea €4.25 (Note to self: check price before ordering a drink next time!)
Taverne Manneken Pis: Rue des Grands Carmes 33, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium. (Directly opposite Manneken Pis.)
Kriek beer €4.50.
Moeder Lambic: 8 Place Fontainas, Brussels 1000, Belgium. www.moederlambic.com
Kriek Cantillon (sour kriek beer made in Brussels) 25cl €5.
Le Roi Des Belges: Place Saint Géry / Jules Van Praetstraat 35, 1000 Brussel, Belgium. (No website.)
Spa Plat (still water) €2.40 and Chocolat Chaud (hot chocolate) €3.30.
Shinwi: Boulevard Maurice Lemonnier 159, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium. www.shinwi.be
Mixed seafood in a spicy sauce with rice €11.80, Iced Tea €2.10.
COSTS – ACCOMMODATION
Brxxl 5: Rue de Woeringen 5, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium. www.brxxl5.com
€20 (plus €1 for paying by card) for one night in a mixed dormitory of 4 people. Free wifi.
COSTS – TRANSPORT
I booked my train tickets via NS International. www.nsinternational.nl
Ticket from Hilversum to Brussels via Schiphol Airport – €36.80. (Train ticket from Brussels – Antwerp €8.20 then my husband picked me up from Antwerp.)
TOTAL COST OF MY TRIP: €96.15
I highly recommend Brussels as a destination, but not for solo female travellers and especially not staying in the Lemonnier area. If possible, I’d recommend staying in the Sablon area or anywhere around Grand Place – you might pay more but: location, location, location! Right?
Have you been to Brussels? What were your highlights?