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5 hours in Brussels

We will be day-tripping to Brussels the end of July. We have about 5 hours before we need to catch our train to Amsterdam. What are the top recommendations for those few hours? Are there specifics in Grand-Place, Place du Grand Salon, and or Place du Petit Salon we should see? In which area do you recommend eating? Is Parc de Bruxelles worth a stroll? Should we take the metro from the station rather than walk? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

Posted by
4684 posts

You should see the Grand Place itself as a whole. There's no need to visit the Sablons (not "Salons") unless you are a serious chocolate fan and want to go to Marcolini or Wittamer, the two famous chocolate shops on the Grand Sablon. Unfortaunately many of the other worthwhile sights in Brussels are spread around the outskirts - it isn't a good city for a few hours between trains. If you like classical architecture and don't mind a (rather uphill in places) walk, one suggested itinerary would be to get the subway from Gare de Midi to Bourse station, which is near Grand Place, and walk from there to the former palace district around the museums of art, retrace your steps to Gare Centrale, and get a train to Gare de Midi for your train to Amsterdam. (If you are getting an Intercity train rather than Thalys to Amsterdam, they may stop at Gare Centrale, but I'm not 100% sure and you should check with Belgian rail.)

There are a lot of rip-off tourist chocolate shops around Grand Place, but there is a branch of the quality chain Galler on one of the side streets just off it. The Galeries St-Hubert (a very attractive nineteenth-century shopping mall) north of the Grand Place has branches of two other quality chains, Corne du Port-Royal and, my personal favourite, Neuhaus.

If you are travelling to Amsterdam by Thalys you need to get back to Gare de Midi, so expect to spend at least 30 minutes getting there from central Brussels, either by underground or train from Gare Centrale. I would think that isn't long enough to have a proper restaurant meal and see some of the sights of central Brussels. The restaurants around Grand Place tend to be overpriced and poor-quality. Le Roy d'Espagne on Grand Place itself is reasonable, even though you pay a premium for the view and the food is acceptable rather than memorable. Personally I'd look for a light meal - the Exki chain of health-food cafes is nice and there's one near the southern exit of the Galeries Saint-Hubert. If you want to splurge, Aux Armes de Bruxelles and Vincent are both genuinely good (but quite expensive) restaurants in the area, but I would recommend booking for lunch in advance and expecting to spend most of your time in the restaurant.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you so much! I appreciate your quick response. My Frommer's book was fairly worthless in regard to Brussels and Bruges, so I just downloaded Rick Steves's guide to those two cities. Based on past experience I'm sure it will be much better.

Posted by
14 posts

there is also a very good Chagall exhibit right now you might want to check out.

Posted by
1806 posts

I spent a similar amount of time in Brussels on my first visit there. I second the suggestion to just grab a quick lunch on the go rather than do a sit-down lunch. I grabbed something quick and in that amount of time spent a couple of hours at The MIM (Museum of Musical Instruments), went to Grand-Place and visited the Museum of the City of Brussels (they house the super-touristy but wacky little exhibit of costumes gifted from around the world and worn by the Mannequin Pis statue), took a stroll around a park, bought some over-priced chocolate at Neuhaus and snapped a few quick photos of the Mannequin Pis before heading off to get the train to Antwerp. Unfortunately, having spent more time than I expected to at The MIM, I was not able to squeeze in the Magritte Museum on that trip. The MIM is renovating one of the floors within the museum throughout 2015, so you won't see it all, but it was still really a fun museum to put on headphones and get to listen to what some of these really old musical instruments sounded like.

Posted by
114 posts

swright18, I had about 6 hours in Brussels one day in May. I did Rick's Grand Place walk, attended a one hour chocolate workshop at Zaabar (, which I highly recommend if it works with your schedule and then had an early dinner/late lunch at Chez Leon just off the Grand Place. It's a little touristy but it was fairly quick service and decent food and gave me the opportunity to sit at an outside table and watch the world go by for a while. It was a good introduction to Brussels and I thoroughly enjoyed my short time there. I am of the notion, that I would rather see/experience something briefly than not at all. Whatever you decide to do, enjoy!