I currently reside in Brussels, Belgium and have plenty of recommendations on sights, restaurants, and festivals throughout the country. It’s a great country to live in as an expat, and it definitely packs in its fair share of fun– and calories! For the sake of brevity, I’ll just focus on a few places that stand out as unique rather than go in depth on the hundreds of attractions and waffle stands around the country. Be sure to check the regional links above, and come back often for updates!
Brussels / Central Region
First things first — everyone who comes to Brussels will eventually find themselves in the Grand Place, which is definitely worth a visit! It hosts frequent festivals, as well as a beautiful Christmas tree and light show in the wintertime. Every other year in the summertime (July) it displays a massive carpet of flowers. There’s also the famous Mannekin Pis statue just off the Grand Place, as well as the less famous Jeanneke Pis and don’t miss the version with a dog! (Rover Pis). Families might want to go check out the Atomium, which is a huge sculpture of a Helium atom (I think) with a museum inside it. They shoot off great fireworks over the Atomium on certain nights in the summertime.
Food: Be sure to grab a waffle (my favorite is a classic, hot Liege waffle without any toppings… the really dense ones with sugar crystals inside). Also, grab some moules frites (mussels and fries) at any brasserie downtown — classic is with white wine and garlic, but some places will use Belgian gueze and chorizo — which is worth a try! Finally, if you get some frites, try some of the local sauces… my favorites are andalouse or samarri (a spicy version of andalouse). Also, if you go to a local restaurant, look for rabbit cooked in kriek (cherry beer) — it’s wonderful!
Belgian Chocolate: If you want a chocolate fix outside the Grand Place, I recommend heading up to Sablon, which has all of the high-brow chocolate shops (as well as a great market on Thursday nights with local fare). If you want to venture further afield, the Neuhaus Factory Shop offers good deals on bulk chocolate (although the nicely wrapped package chocolate is the same price as you can get downtown). The real benefit to going to the factory; however, is they put out all of their chocolate to sample and you can eat as much as you want (inside the store : )
Fatimah recently took a half-day chocolate-making class (50 EUR) with http://vanessarenard.com/, had a great time and made some amazing chocolate!
Belgian Beer: Belgian beer is as delicious as it is plentiful and strong! While there’s probably a million great spots to try Belgian beers, I’ll just recommend a few– Delirium Cafe has the Guinness record for most beers on offer (2004). Note — it can get super crowded, with warm / sticky air and a college bar feel. Still worth popping into while in town. Cantillion is one of the old-school spontaneous fermentation spots in town and makes some great lambics! They’ve kept an authentic feel to it despite its explosion in popularity in recent years. If you love lambic and can get further afield, I’d also recommend checking out 3 Fonteinen. You can also find Westvleteren around town (Westvleteren 12 has been referred to as “the best beer in the world,” and it is good!) Each beer is usually served in its own special-shaped glass that is ideally suited for it… Kwak comes in a glass that looks like a science project, and Corne is served in a horn. Sante!
Pro tip: Bottle shops downtown Brussels can have a bit of a markup in price. If you’re interested in buying large quantities of souvenir brews, the grocery stores have remarkably good selections!
Recommended Christmas Markets
As with everywhere in Europe, Belgium has some great Christmas markets. They’re all over the place, but I’ve flagged three below that I really enjoyed.
Belgium has hundreds of festivals throughout the year, especially in the summertime. A few friends have said they want to come visit for “the beer fest,” but that’s tricky, as there is literally a beer fest every weekend throughout the year. As you might expect, these fests get super crowded, so it’s best to arrive when they first open. Here are some fests that I recommend checking out…