A Backpacker's Tale

Budgeting Brussels: 
Cheap Things to do in the Capital

Brussels has rapidly become such a popular travel destination because it’s got something for everyone – much more than what most people actually think! You’re probably familiar with beer, chocolate, waffles and politics, but there’s more than meets the eye to the unofficial capital of Europe, and we’ve decided to help you out and present our top picks for the best the city has to offer.

And in keeping with our mantra and tradition – they’re all going to be for free! Or at least really, really cheap anyway! For extra savings, consider investing in the Brussels card, which will get you discounts and free stuff for the duration of your stay. Nous allons!

Grand Place

Where better to start than the centerpiece of the city, with the stunning architecture of the Grand Place. Traditionally the heart of Brussels, this historic cobbled market square is always bustling with activity, but you can simply take the weight of your feet and admire the impressive façade on every side. This is one of the best things to do in Brussels

The Hotel De Ville is a gothic masterpiece dating back to 1402, and for a small fee you can gain access to its tower for some wonderful views over the square.

Enjoy the flower market every day except Monday, or just get lost in the maze of charming back streets and alleyways surrounding this city focal point. If you’re only in Brussels for half an hour – the Grand Place is a must visit.

Manneken Pis

Deserving an entry in its own right is the charmingly naughty statue of Manneken Pis (or peeing boy). Situated a stone’s throw from the Grand Place is one of the most famous statues in the world, and one of the city’s cultural landmarks.

It depicts a bronze sculpture of a little boy urinating into the fountain basin, and it has become an unlikely Brussels icon. He’s also got an extensive wardrobe, as there are hundreds of costumes he dons throughout the year celebrating different world-wide events and celebrations! There’s also a little girl’s version called the Janneken Pis – but less well known and a little harder to find!

Picnic in the parks

Brussels has an enviable selection of green space throughout the city, and there’s nothing better than to pack a picnic and enjoy them on a summer’s day. Here you’ll find everything from tranquil corners and leafy shades to read a good book, or outdoor museums of sculpture and art to brush up on a bit of culture.

Try the Parc du Cinquantenaire or the Botanical Gardens – which boasts over 18,000 species of plants, although you will pay a small entrance fee to enjoy them. Probably the most famous and popular green space though is Brussels Park, which has some beautiful statues and fountains to wander around and is the largest urban park in the city.

Free Museums 

Now here’s a little trick. While you’re always going to pay a pretty penny to enjoy most of the museums Brussels has to offer (and there are quite a few of them), if you happen to be in the city on the 1st Wednesday of the month, after 1 pm you can get into most of them for free!

This is pretty awesome, especially when you consider the extensiveness of the collections in galleries like The Royal Museum of Fine Art, which has houses one of the largest and most diverse collections in all of Europe. You really don’t want to miss the work these galleries have on display.

And here’s another tip – remember the Brussels card we mentioned? Holding one of those will get you free access into many of the cities museums too, so you can see them at any time!

St. Gudule and St. Michael’s Cathedral

Brussels is home to its fair share of stunning churches, none more so than this architectural wonder in the city centre. The St Gudule and St Michael’s Cathedral dates back to the 8th century and was given cathedral statues in 1962. It took over 300 years to complete, which might account for it being one of the most beautifully diverse cathedrals in Europe of its style. Its interior is equally impressive, but although entrance is free, be prepared to pay a small donation for the privilege – like most centres of worship in the city. There’s also a small but interesting museum displaying some of the cathedral’s religious artifacts and treasures.

Window shop the chocolate!

You’re not going to get away, so you might as well embrace it! Belgium prides itself on being a strong contender for manufacturing the finest chocolate in the world, and just one bite is all it could take to convince you! While you’ll usually have to pay for the experience – including chocolate making workshops – many chocolatiers allow customers to sample their work as a try-before-they-buy. Be very careful though, because if you’re on a budget and you only go in to get a freebie, temptation could force you to walk out with a double box of pralines!

Many of the shops themselves are a delight for all senses, so make sure you do some window shopping at the very least.

Royal Palace

Rub shoulders with Belgian royalty at the Royal Palace, which is open to the public for free during the summer months. Although no longer used as a royal residence and utilized more for administration, you can still enjoy wandering through the exquisite staterooms and suites, and enjoy the architecture and surrounding gardens.

The tradition to open the palace to the general public every summer has been in place since 1965, beginning after a Belgian national holiday on the 21st July. Make sure you don’t miss this grand spectacle if you’re in the city at this time.

Barter a Bargain

You don’t HAVE to spend anything if you decide to indulge in one of the famous Brussels markets, but half the fun is trying to haggle for a good price! Here you’ll find an abundance of nick-knacks, trinkets, antiques and general tat; as well as fresh produce and local crafts.

They’re perfect for picking up an unusual souvenir, especially if you try the flea market Place du Jeu de Balle in the Marolles. Arguably the most famous of all Brussels bazaars, you’ll find an incredible selection of used stuff here, and surely pick up something for the person who has everything in your life! It’s not just for tourists either – you’ll find many a local trying to pick up a bargain too – just get in there before them!

Brussels isn’t just about the corridors of European power, or spending a small fortune sampling some of the best beer in the world! We think you’ll discover a really unique experience if you give the Belgian capital a chance, especially if you visit during the summer months when it really comes alive and when the last minute hotels are stuffed with tourists and backpackers.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for attractions in the city – and don’t even get us started on waffles!

Have you been to Brussels? What is your top-tip or must-see sight for the Belgian capital?

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