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Making the most of Brussels on a 12 hour flight layover

We are a group of 4 who arrive from an international flight at 7:30 am on May 16 and leave for Edinburgh at 9 pm both flights are at Brussels airport (BRU). We are trying to figure out the most cost efficient but also seamless way to enjoy Brussels during this short period of time. We are also factoring in that we will be tired from our overnight flight and have our luggage. I have investigated and learned that a taxi from Brussels Airport to downtown Brussels is $150 Cdn roundtrip ($75 each way) or a train is $30 Cdn return. Luggage storage at Brussels airport will be about $24 Cdn for the day. The Hop on Hop off bus is $40/pp. I've also looked at booking a tour guide (Tours by Locals website) that will pick us up and return us to the airport plus provide a walking tour of Brussels and transportation to Royal Garden's, Atonium and EU Headquarters. The cheapest price I can find is $491 CDN for all 4 of us. I'm wondering if the tour guide would be worth the difference in price. If you have any links to cheaper tour guide options or other options that might be better, I'd love to hear from you. Also any thoughts on pro's/cons of these two ideas would be greatly appreciated. My concerns include: short time frame; getting lost and not getting back to the airport on time; paying too much for the day trip; not understanding the signage/language.

Posted by
7196 posts

Take the train from the airport it only takes 20 Minutes. Just do the hop on hopoff if you do not want to spend the amount on a guide. Brussels is a very bilingual city so no way are you going to get Iost.

Posted by
1005 posts

Brussels is the capital of the EU and HQ of NATO--so there is English everywhere. Stow your bags at the airport and take the train into the city--get off at Brussels Central and walk to the Grand Place. Eat chocolate, drink beer, and take Rick's walking tour of the city center. If you like art, see the Royal Museums of Fine Art. You'll have a great time.

Posted by
4011 posts

I agree with taking the train to Brussels Central station. The Grand Place is a 5 minutes walk from it. Although the train ride is only 20 minutes, allow extra time when heading back to the airport in case the trains are running late. On our recent return to the airport, we left our hotel at 08:00 for a noon flight. Glad we allowed plenty of time since the trains were running 23 minutes late. Then of course there was checking our bags, going through security, and passport control. Taking into account one gate change, we only waited 20 minutes before boarding our flight.

Posted by
888 posts

Take the train the other direction and you can be in Leuven in 15 min. Good alternative to the big city.

DJ

Posted by
9 posts

I agree with the previous posters about taking the train to Brussels Central Station. Brussels is a very easy city to blitz in a day. Store your bags there in a locker, then walk down to the Grand Place.

My recommendation for a day's sightseeing would be:

  1. the Rick Steves walking tours near the Grand Place which you don't need a hired guide for (2-2.5 hours if you walk slowly and stop frequently to take pictures; free)
  2. the EU Parliamentarium (EU headquarters and museum) tours (1.5 hour for the museum, 1 hour for the meeting hall itself which is in a different building; both are free)
  3. the Military Museum (2.5-3 hours), Musical Instrument Museum (1-1.5 hours, though listening to every option in the audioguide in full will push it to nearly 3, as I learned the "hard" way), or Autoworld (1 hour). It is about a 30-40 min walk from the Grand Place to the Military and Auto Museum through some nice parks, but you can also take the city bus. Music museum is about 20 mins from the Grand Place. (All are ~10 eur, I believe--look at the Brussels 1 day card, which may save a couple euro)

Add in 2 hours for meals and you should still have plenty of time before you need to return to the airport.

The Atomium is comparatively quite distant from these attractions (20-25 min. subway ride, if I remember correctly, and next to the Royal Gardens which I did not visit) and not as interesting. In my opinion, it's not worth it unless it's a high personal priority for you. Likewise, I don't think that the Hop-on bus and a full-day guided tour are worth the money, though admittedly a "pro" would be that the guided tour could get you back to the airport at a guaranteed time.

Don't worry about the language or signage, everyone spoke fluent English and the signs were multilingual.

Hope you have a great day.

Posted by
149 posts

I'd do Grand Place, Rick's walking tour, and a museum or two, time permitting. Take your time and enjoy Brussels. The Musical Instruments Museum (MIM) is a short walk, some uphill, from Grand Place and awesome for both its content and the building it's housed in. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts is across from MIM and top notch, particularly if there's an exhibit that catches your eye. When my wife and I were in Brussels they had Chagall. If you want to avoid crowds, we really enjoyed the sculptures at the Musee Constantin Meunier, and other than the man that opens the door when you ring to be admitted, had the place to ourselves. If you like Art Nouveau, the Horta Museum is nearby, and could easily be included. Have fun! I wish I had a layover in Brussels!