Everyone who lives in a big city knows exactly how to spot typical tourists: they’re always equipped with cameras, they constantly look back and forth between the street signs and their map, and they smile a lot…because it’s great fun exploring a foreign city! What’s more, they tend to visit the same places and behave in ways that only tourists can. Here are some of the top things that typical tourists do in Brussels:
1. Visit the Grand Place
One of the places tourists really like to visit in the Belgian capital is the Grand Place (“Grote Markt” in Dutch). It’s considered to be the heart of Brussels, perhaps because the city’s town hall is situated there. It’s surrounded by wonderful architecture, and home to several restaurants. Different events such as concerts and markets also take place there, however the real attraction happens in August when the entire square is covered by a huge flower carpet.
The flower carpet of 2012 (Photo credit: Michal Osmenda)
2. Take photos of Manneken Pis
Manneken Pis, also known as the “Peeing Boy”, is one of the most famous sights in Brussels. It’s actually a rather tiny fountain shaped like a naked boy. Located on a street corner in the city centre near the Grand Place, it attracts pretty much every visitor to the city. Fun fact: the statue is often dressed for special occasions and has several hundred different costumes.
Manneken Pis (Photo credit: Francisco Antunes)
3. Walk around the European Quarter
Many people have seen the main buildings of the European Union institutions on TV, so it comes as no surprise that many tourists want to see the buildings with their own eyes. Although it has a reputation of being a famous Brussels sight, prepare to be disappointed. In reality the European Quarter is just another business district where there’s nothing particularly interesting to see.
The European Quarter (Photo credit: Steve Cadman)
4. Admire the Royal Palace
You’ll find many tourists taking photos of the centrally located Royal Palace of Brussels. That being said, it’s not used as the royal residence. The king and his family actually live in the Royal Palace of Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels. The Royal Palace of Brussels is surely a beautiful building with a lovely garden, but don’t go there hoping to see the king or his relatives.
The Royal Palace of Brussels (Photo credit: R/DV/RS)
5. Visit Mini Europe & Atomium
There are two popular tourist attractions near Heizel metro station: Mini Europe and Atomium. Mini Europe features miniature replicas of the most famous European tourist attractions. Adult tickets start at €14.30, so it’s definitely not the cheapest place to visit. You can buy a combo ticket, however, which gives you access to Mini Europe as well as Atomium. Atomium was built in 1958 for the Brussels World’s Fair. The building looks really cool from the outside, especially at night when the balls light up, but the inside is not as impressive as one might imagine.
Atomium from the inside (Photo credit: Harald Hoyer)
6. Refuse to get lost in the city
How to spot tourists? They’re always taking photos and they carry around maps, or devices with GPS. The problem is that most tourists only focus on the city centre and the main tourist attractions, refusing to take a detour and explore more hidden parts of the city. Another problem is that they only focus on one city. If you have time, try to visit other cities in Belgium too, for example Bruges or Antwerp. Both cities are on the Dutch side of Belgium, so you won’t have problems with people not speaking English. Also, you can access both cities comfortably by train.
Bruges (Photo credit: Tanya Hart)
7. Choose restaurants targeted at tourists
There are several streets near the Grand Place where you’ll find many restaurants. They mostly offer seafood and frites, one of Belgium’s unofficial national dishes. Don’t be surprised if the service staff speak to you in faulty English or even Russian. Don’t be fooled by their compliments and friendly offers. These places are typical tourist traps and although their menus might seem appetising, you should ignore the intrusive service staff and find a nicer and more authentic place somewhere else. Rue des Bouchers is one example of a typical restaurant street with eateries packed tightly alongside each other.
If you want to try real authentic flavours of Brussels take a Brussels Culinary Evening Tour and spend a relaxing evening savouring the most famous dishes.
Tourist traps (Photo credit: John Karakatsanis)
Opening photo: Atomium at night (Photo credit: Olivier Ortelpa)