Brussels has more sights than the Grand Place. There are also other, even better places to drink excellent Belgian beers than the super crowded Delirium. The capital of the European Union and of NATO is a small, albeit vibrant city that offers tourist more than just waffles, beer, and chocolate. Here are some recommendations on non-touristy things to do in Brussels.
Non-Touristy Things to Do in Brussels
Area around Louise
It’s nowhere near the grandeur of Champs Elysée in Paris or of Madison Avenue in New York, but Avenue Louise is as close as Brussels gets to high caliber shopping. Boulevard Waterloo, which intersects with Avenue Louise, is where you’ll find your luxury brand names like Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Salvatore Ferragamo. Walk south on Avenue Louise and you’ll find brand name stores like Mont Blanc, Longchamp, and Zara.
Louise is also a gateway to lesser-known streets filled with great restaurants. Walk along Rue Baili where you can find the likes of Makisu, a casual restaurant specializing in sushi rolls or La Tsampa, a bistro-like vegetarian restaurant. If you need a coffee break, head over to Workshop Café and grab a cup of tea and some cake. Last but not least, it is common knowledge that Brussels is famous for its many murals and Louise is home to one of the most provocative, and one might say, erotic graffiti in the city. The black and white mural shows a woman pleasuring herself. You can see it clearly from the tram stop at Stephanie.
One of the most underrated museums in the city is Musée Horta. The residential building turned museum was once the home of Victor Horta. It sits in Saint-Gilles, a neighborhood in Brussels not many people know about that’s a mere two miles south of the city center and Grand Place. The Belgian architect was one of the most respected in his field and was also one of the pioneers of Art Nouveau. The museum showcases his intricate use of curvature, color, and light, not only with the building’s exterior design, but of the insides as well. The museum is part of a handful of buildings he designed in Brussels that are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. When you visit, pay attention to even the smallest of details. Horta was known for his meticulousness, ensuring fluidity in his designs down to the last door handle.
The Musical Instruments Museum
Another one of the Belgian capital’s great small museum is the unique Musical Instruments Museum or MIM. Not far from the Place Royale and the Musée Magritte, this four-story museum contains over 8,000 musical instruments and artifacts from around the world. You’ll get to see traditional musical instruments from the late medieval period to early 19th century Europe plus different types of non-Scottish bagpipes. In the lower level, there are exhibits on clocks and bells as well as a growing collection of mechanical, electrical, and electronic musical instruments. The museum also has a fine dining restaurant that serves continental European food that provides a great view of the city center.
Place Sainte Catherine
Place Saint Catherine is an area in Brussels not many people know about though you’ve probably stumbled upon it without knowing especially if you visited Brussels during the Christmas season. The city’s largest Christmas market takes place here rather than at its more famous square, Grand Place. But Place Saint Catherine isn’t just a holiday destination. In fact, the area is a favorite among locals because it is the most central location where you can find great beer, food, and entertainment without the tourist markups. Should you find yourself wondering around, stop by Mer du Nord for lunch and grab yourself a spot at their stand up tables. This seafood market and restaurant serves an awesome crab cake and seafood soup. Make sure you bring cash. If you’re not a fan of things from the sea, across the street is Amadeo, the family-style all-you-can-eat ribs restaurant with bookshelves as an interior, will be your best bet.
Once you’ve satisfied your food cravings, walk just a few yards until you reach Monk, a Belgian restaurant/bar that offers rotating hard to find Belgian beer taps and nightly entertainment which can include live music performances to Flemish stand-up comedy.
One of the things I miss most about Brussels is its weekly Sunday market at the city’s main train station, Gare du Midi. Several blocks around the station, from 9 a.m. onwards to around 3 p.m., sellers of all sorts flock and set up shop awaiting the eager public who usually do their weekly shopping there. There are butcheries, dozens of competing fruit and vegetable vendors, bakeries selling fresh bread, and wholesalers selling everything from bed sheets to pots and pans. If the outdoor market around Midi isn’t enough, you can walk 900 meters northwest to the Marolles district for the city’s largest open-air antiques market. It’s also held every Sundays.
Wherever you end up staying in the city, make a point to try at least one of these non-touristy things to do in Brussels.