A City a Day: Antwerp, or ‘Hand Throw’ (A Guide)

For a list of things to see or places to eat, scroll to the bottom. Otherwise, enjoy the pictures and ramblings 🙂

After saying goodbye to beautiful Ghent and Bruges, we headed off to our last Belgian city of our Benelux tour: Antwerp. I didn’t know much about the city itself, but after doing some research it seemed like a worthwhile and quirky place to visit.

We got off the train, and the first thing you are struck by is the beautiful station. It is huge and just gorgeous to look at, has numerous floors, and there is even a zoo attached to it! In fact, Newsweek once rated it the world’s 4th greatest train station, and the British Magazine Mashable rated it the world’s most beautiful. It is definitely worth a peek around!

From there, we headed towards our hostel so we could get rid of our heavy bags. We stayed at Antwerp Student Hostel, which was okay but I would not highly recommend it. The price was pretty high for what it was (although it was a holiday weekend, so that might have contributed to it) and the staff weren’t the nicest (in fact, they were a bit rude). About half of the beds are in what they call “capsules” – basically wooden boxes with one open side. If you’re claustrophobic, this is not the place for you!

Anyways, Antwerp is a decent sized city, but if you’re able-bodied, you can pretty much walk everywhere (at least, that’s what we did). I have starred all of the main attractions that I found in my research.

Our first stop was St. Carolus Borromeuskerk, a quaint church in a quiet square. It was pretty on the outside, but (as I’ve mentioned before) when you travel around Europe, all of the churches kind of begin to blur together. My friends and I even joked that we should start a blog just on all of the churches we had seen in this one trip alone.

A short walk from there is Grote Markt and Antwerp City Hall. It is a lovely square with a quite unique and eye-catching centerpiece. If you look very closely, the man at the top of the statue is holding (and about to throw) a severed hand. Ew. Legend has it that there was a giant who used to charge people to cross the river, and when they couldn’t pay, or refused to, he would cut off their hand and throw it into the river. One day, a dashing young knight came along and said “Screw you, giant!” (I’m sure more eloquently than that) and cut off the giant’s hand, throwing it into the water like all of the giants’ victims. For good measure, he cut off his head, too. Lovely story, isn’t it? The name of the city, Antwerpen, literally translates to ‘hand throw.’

A couple of blocks away, you will find the beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp, or Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal. It’s imposing tower and prominent clock can be seen from all over the city, and it is rather impressive. Inside, you have to pay a small fee in order to see the famous paintings it houses. To get a peek of the cathedral, just sneak off to the left of the ticket booth and go into the prayer area, but stay quiet! It took 169 years to build this masterpiece.

The above picture is the free view you get from the prayer area, and below is one of the halls of paintings you can see if you pay the entrance fee. I hear it is definitely worth a visit and holds many Rubens, but we didn’t have time to go.

At this point, we were starving so we decided to head to one of the restaurants on my list. About a 10 minute walk away from the cathedral and through Groenplaats square (shown below, with a nice statue of Rubens), and admittedly a little hard to find, we stopped at De Groote Witte Arend, a lovely restaurant inside of an old 17th century convent building. It was definitely charming, and the food was local and delicious.

The waiter recommended the local specialty Stoemp, basically mashed potatoes with eggs, lettuce, and bacon added. It was quite delicious (I was a little wary about the eggs) and extremely filling! I would definitely recommend it. However, if you’re with friends, it might be a good idea to order a meat plate as well and share, so you can have both your carbs and a meaty protein.

After that filling lunch, we decided to head toward the river and see Hetsteen Castle then try to make it up to the MAS Museum. We asked the waiter for directions, and he warned us “You know it is a small castle, right? Not really anything to see?” However, when we got there, we were glad we made the short journey. Although small, it is still very picturesque and right on the river. There is even a nice cafe inside where you can have a rest and look out over the water.

We wandered along the waterfront for a bit (be sure to look back towards the city center, there are some nice views of the cathedral), then headed up north towards the MAS Museum. We stopped at St. Paul’s Church, or Sint-Paulusparochie, along the way. The church was unique because in the gardens they had statues and a diarama of sorts of various important scenes from the Bible. I had never seen anything quite like it. The inside was nice, but nothing out of the ordinary. When you walk in, at the far end there is another hallway with some interesting paintings that are worth a visit.

One thing that surprised (and confused) us was at the far end of the Cathedral, near the altar. In the picture above, you see white, black, and gray balls of differing sizes connected by strings. Weird, right? There was no informational poster or anything, but I have the feeling it was a temporary exhibit of some sort.

From there, we headed directly North. It was getting late and we wanted to be sure that we got there before dark (while the MAS exhibits close at 5 or 6, you can still go all the way to the top for the views). What we didn’t realize is that Antwerp has a mini Red Light District. We were so busy trying to read street signs and check our map that we didn’t realize where we were headed. Next thing we knew, there were women in string bikinis posing for us in the windows and men perusing slowly, deliberately. In fact, thinking back now, just a couple minutes prior a guy passed by us and gave us a weird hand signal and laughed, then power walked towards the main street. We had no idea what to make of it, but perhaps that should have been a clue.

Since we were heading to Amsterdam the following day, we decided to let this be a ‘taste’ of what was to come. We walked a little bit faster, but slow enough where we could still see what was happening. It felt nerve-wracking to be the only girls walking this street, surrounded by half naked women. I couldn’t believe how popular it was in the early afternoon! If you’re in the area during the day, it is worth a look if you’re in a decent sized group. However, I wouldn’t recommend anyone coming at night or even going by themselves during the day. It isn’t Amsterdam, there aren’t a lot of tourists around. It seemed like mostly a local thing, and a sketchy local thing at that.

From there, it was about a 10 minute to MAS, or Museum aan de Stroom. It is a very unique building, 10 stories high, with big, curved glass. If you arrive after the museum closes, you can take the escalators all the way to the top.

I hear it is a very nice museum, so if you’re in the area and have time, it is probably worth the visit. The views from the top are also nice, but I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to see it if time was an issue.

By this time, our feet were killing us, it was freezing, and we were dying for a drink. We headed back towards the center and bar hopped a bit, and luckily were able to catch the beautiful sunset against the Cathedral.

It is a very lovely city, especially when wandering the streets at night. We went to a nightclub that night and I met a guy who was from there, and he asked me why the hell we came to Antwerp because there was “nothing there.” A lot of Belgians seemed to have that opinion, but don’t let it stop you from making a visit if you have time! We truly enjoyed our time, and enjoyed lots of good Belgian beers and fries. We were sad to say goodbye!

THINGS TO SEE

  • Rubenshuis (Ruben’s House): Wapper 9 to11 – We didn’t make it to this, but if you are a fan of art (and, of course, Rubens), you should definitely take a look. The inside holds a lot of special treasures and also has a nice garden.
  • Carolus Borromeuskerk (Carolus Borromeus Church): Hendrik Conscienceplein 12
  • Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp): Groenplaats 21, €5, 10am-5pm – Belgium’s finest Gothic cathedral, took 169 years to make. You can see it from all over the city. It costs money to enter the main portion with the altar and paintings, but you can have a free glimpse by (quietly) entering the prayer area.
  • Grote Markt – The main square, also where city hall is.This is where you will find the famous statue where Antwerp gets it’s name. The man at the top is named Brabo, and he cut of the giant Antigoon’s hand (and head).
  • Antwerp City Hall: Grote Markt 1 – Built in the mid-1500’s.
  • Groenplaats: 2000 Antwerpen – Lots of bars and restaurants.
  • Museum Plantin-Moretus: Vrijdagmarkt 22-23, €8, 10am-5pm – We didn’t visit, but it is highly rated. It is a medieval building and has a lovely courtyard, an antique library and bookshop.
  • Het Steen: Steenplein 1 – Small but beautiful castle on the river. In front, there is a very strange statue of a peeping Tom (we didn’t get it). There is nothing to see inside, just a cafe.
  • Sint-Paulusparochie (Saint Paul’s Church): Sint-Paulusstraat 22 – Lovely church, some Rubens inside!
  • MAS: Hanzestedenplaats 1, €5 – We didn’t see the museum portion, but be sure to get the ipod guide or use your phone with QR code capabilities because apparently nothing is in English. It is free to go all the way up to the top for the views.
  • Cogels Osylei: Zurenborg – A lovely street to walk down (supposedly, we didn’t have the chance to see it!) but a bit out of the way.

FOOD and DRINK

  • De Groote Witte Arend: Reyndersstraat 18, €13-22 – Built inside a 17th century convent building. Great, local food and drinks! Try the stoemp, carbonnades, or rabbit.
  • Den billekletser: Hoogstraat 20 – unique beer bar
  • Falafel Tof – cheap
  • Le John: Kasteelpleinstraat 23, €13-26, dinner only, very artistic inside.
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A City a Day: In Bruges (A Guide)

When we were planning this trip, we had a real dilemma about whether to go to Bruges or Ghent (or both!). We didn’t have much time to explore every city since we only had a little over a week off from school, so we really had to prioritize. We had already planned one day in Luxembourg and one day in Brussels, so we decided to book ourselves for two nights in Ghent to give us a buffer day. If we made it to Ghent early in the morning and had all day to explore, then we could see Bruges the next day. But if we arrived late from Brussels, then we’d have to skip Bruges and use that extra day to enjoy Ghent.

Luckily, we planned everything out really well and could fit in both Ghent and Bruges – I am so happy we did! Pretty much everyone I had spoken to said that Bruges was a must-see, but one of the girls we were travelling with had already been and said it wasn’t that great. Her friend, who was currently living in Belgium, had recommended Ghent as a better, less-touristy option. While Bruges was definitely more crowded and more catered towards tourists, it was worth the visit. It is very small and easy to see within a day or two.

It is very easy to get from Ghent to Bruges. It was about a 30 minute train ride and only cost us €6 each way. To get to the main center from the train station, just follow the crowds and go towards the towers you see in the distance. Along the way, you pass some beautiful parks.

Center of Bruges in Relation to Train Station

Main Center of Bruges

‘t Zand Square Fountain

Near the concert hall, you will find one of the beautiful main squares with the ‘t Zand Fountain. It is a lovely square to people watch and enjoy the day, or to grab lunch with a nice view. Although, from what I understand, we REALLY lucked out with how nice of a day it was… it’s not common to be sunny here. So be prepared with a jacket and an umbrella, just in case.

After enjoying ‘t Zand, head back towards the center in the direction of the towers in the distance. Bruges is rather small, so it only takes about a 10 minute walk to get anywhere. We didn’t even use a map while we were here until we needed to go back to the train station.

As you wander around, you will find the many famous canals of Bruges. There are many canal boats that give you a short tour of the city, and it runs at about €8 for 30 minutes. We are glad we invested in the journey, it was very beautiful and informational.

Since we didn’t know if we were going to make it to Bruges or not, I didn’t do any research beforehand. However, we were easily able to wander around the city and come across the main sites.

Near the Market Square, you will find the famous beer wall. If you like beer, this is definitely worth a visit! They have a long wall dedicated to Belgian beers with their accompanying glasses. They have a small bar where you can do beer tastings, and a lovely patio where you can sit next to the canal and sip a cold one, watching the boats go by. They also have a large store with souveniers and tons of beer that you can stock up on. Don’t miss this! I was dying to do a tasting, but there was a long line and we wanted to make sure we saw everything else.

A short walk from the beer wall is the Belfry tower and main square of Bruges. It is such a picturesque square, and it is definitely worth spending some time at. We had lunch at one of the restaurants along the side that advertised 3 courses for €15. It was good, but nothing to rave about. We repeated the delicious waterzooi and stew that we had tried in Ghent, I highly recommend them both!

After lunch, we ventured up into the Belfry tower. Be prepared for a line! We probably waited at least 30 minutes to get in. And a warning – the steps to go up this tower are extremely narrow, so if you are afraid of this sort of thing you should probably re-think going in. It is one way up and one way down, so often someone has to squeeze tightly against the wall to let other people pass in the opposite direction. It is definitely a trek! But there are some very nice views at the top. Another thing, once you get to the top the wind is INSANE. Don’t wear a dress… =X

Near the main square is a Godiva store, so we decided to check it out. You can never go wrong with Belgian chocolate. I asked the lady for her recommendations, and ended up with the following. The latter was an actual cherry (with the pit inside) covered in chocolate and sprinkles. It was a nice change from the fake type you can get back home in a box!

That afternoon, we wandered aimlessly through the charming streets and then took a walk through the park back to the train station. Something about rivers makes everything prettier!

So, what’s the verdict? Bruges or Ghent? While I loved Bruges and was glad that we made time for it, I think I honestly prefer Ghent. It just had a smaller town charm, and lots of life wherever you looked. And the views from the Belfry in Ghent are just breathtaking.

A City a Day: Ghent, Here Be Dragons! (A Guide)

Stars indicate main attractions. At the bottom, you will see Backstay Hostel, a short walk from the center.

For food and drink recommendations, scroll to the bottom! 🙂

When we were planning this trip, we weren’t sure whether we should go to Ghent, Bruges, or both. We had all heard great things about Bruges, but one of the friends that was with us had said that Ghent was better and less touristy. Following her advice, we decided to book two nights in Ghent to give ourselves a buffer and allow ourselves to possibly go to Bruges for a day trip on one of those days. Ghent is less than 2 hours away from Brussels by train.

We stayed at Backstay Hostel Ghent, which I would highly recommend to anyone. It was one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed at, with every floor in a different theme. They even had a cinema room! We never got to check it out, but it seemed pretty cool. The beds were also very modern looking, and each bed had a little compartment near the pillow with 3 personal plugs. They also provided complimentary lockers which was a nice touch. Oh, and their breakfast! It was probably the best breakfast I’ve ever had at a hostel, you could make your own waffles and hard-boiled eggs in addition to the usual lunch meats and cereal. Fantastic! And it is only about a 10 minute walk to the center of town.

The main center. You can pretty much get anywhere in the city within 10 minutes by foot!

Our first stop was St. Bavo’s Cathedral, which is famous for the art it houses including the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck (as shown in the movie Monuments Men). You have to pay an extra fee to see the painting and the audioguide is included. Only one of my friends went inside, and she said it was very interesting. The rest of the cathedral is very beautiful, and you can go down inside of the original crypt and see some other timeless art pieces along with some really old books.

Inside St. Bavo’s

Like in the other cities we visited (Brussels and Luxembourg), everything was under construction so we couldn’t get a picture of the exterior. It’s crazy, I’m thinking that maybe they try to build everything in spring before all of the tourists come in summer? Who knows.

Stolen from Wikipedia, just to show the outside of St. Bavo’s which we didn’t get to see.

Just across the small square, you will find the Belfry Het Belfort van Gent, a large tower topped with a dragon. It is one of the most important buildings in Ghent and symbolizes their independence. A dragon was placed at the top of the tower in the late 1300’s to watch over the city and also the precious documents held within. Today, the dragon at the top is not the original. If you go inside, though, you can see one of the originals on display.

The Belfry, with the golden dragon at the top.

Once you get to the very top, you are graced with some absolutely amazing views of the city. It is a tight squeeze to get through some of the areas, especially if there are a lot of people, but it is definitely worth it. The best view is the side the goes towards Saint Nicholas’ Church.

Saint Nicholas’ Church. It was such a beautiful day!

View from another side.

Just some lovely buildings near the Belfry that I couldn’t help but take a picture of.

If you’ve been throughout Europe, you know that there are more Cathedrals than you can count. It can be quite difficult to remember them all, they just all start to blur together. You have to start taking note of unique characteristics of each one if you want to remember them, but the reality is that you really only remember the truly spectacular ones. For me, that includes the amazing Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Notre Dame in Lyon, and the Notre Dame in Paris. Saint Nicholas’ Cathedral is one of those that I think I will always remember for the grand looking exterior. Inside it is nice as well, but there’s something about this medieval architecture that is really impressive.

Saint Nicholas’ Church

If you continue down the street and to the right, you reach the Graslei area of Ghent. The first street will take you down an avenue with tons of restaurants and shops, and the second street on the right will take you down the waterfront. Both are worth exploring! The buildings are all so beautiful. My descriptions don’t do it justice, so here’s some candy for your eyes:

We found a restaurant in the Graslei area, and unfortunately I can’t remember it’s name 😦 But it was near the Pizza Hut! They recommended me a local beer called Petrus, which I highly recommend! I loveloveloved it! Strangely, I couldn’t find it anywhere else.

We ordered the local specialties that I had read were really worth trying: waterzooi and stoverij. The waterzooi was AMAZING. It is a local specialty from Ghent, supposedly Charles V’s favorite dish! I don’t blame him. If you leave Ghent without trying this deliciousness, you’ve failed at life. You can get it with either chicken or fish. I tried the fish, which I guess is the original. The sauce is a very creamy, rich sauce that is sure to please even the pickiest of eaters.

Fish Waterzooi, topped with gray shrimp (another specialty in Belgium). I can not even tell you how amazing and mouth-wateringly delicous this was. I want more. Now.

Stoverij, a decadent beef stew. I never ordered this while I was in Belgium (I just ordered waterzooi repeatedly because I loved it so much), but my friends really liked this dish. I had a taste and it seemed tasty, but very, very rich.

Chicken Waterzooi. Same delicious sauce.

After our delicious meal, we went about exploring the city some more. We crossed the river to explore the Kraanlei neighborhood.

Here, you will find the Castle of the Counts Gravensteen, a cute little castle built in the 1100’s. We ended up not going inside, but it comes highly recommended on most travel sites.

Gravensteen Castle

One thing you should definitely do while in Ghent (well, I suppose anywhere, really) is to stop in the little shops on the way to see what they offer. I ended up picking up some local tea and chocolates that I just couldn’t say  no to. That’s one of my favorite things about travelling. I always ask the shopkeepers what they recommend, and it’s so easy to do that here because everyone speaks English!

After exploring the Kranlei Neighbourhood and Patershol district (it has nice reviews on TripAdvisor, but there was nothing going on when we were walking around), we went back towards the center of the city and happened across Vrijdagmarkt Square. It is adorned with lovely buildings, a statue, and a plethora of great-looking restaurants. We were still full from our lunch, so we decided to find a drink somewhere nearby.

We found a little bar called Cafe Afsnis right next to St. Jacob’s Church. It had a lovely interior, kind of old-fashioned with candles and wood. The bartender was extremely friendly and helpful and encouraged me to try a passion fruit jenever, a popular liquor in Belgium. It was delicious! The smell was unbelievably tropical, yet not too sweet. She also recommended a nice beer.

After our rest, we decided to just wander around a little bit more to see if we had missed anything. Ghent is very small, and even in a day we were satisfied with what we saw. The beauty of Ghent is just aimlessly wandering around and seeing what surprises it has in store for you.

View from St. Michael’s Bridge

St. Michael’s Church

Street Art visible from St. Michael’s Bridge

View of St. Nicholas’ Church from St. Michael’s Bridge

We headed back to the hostel to freshen up, then headed back out that night to find some bars that we had heard were really good.

We went to the Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant (see address below) and enjoyed some good drinks. The bartenders were great at recommending local beers! We then went to Hot Club De Gand, but we arrived a little too late because it was packed due to a live band playing. It looked like a really nice place, though, and is definitely worth the look. We ended up at ‘t dreupelkot nearby, and it is a must-stop! It is a very small bar, and also very popular. It is famous for having tons of flavors of jenever, including cranberry, cactus, fig, licorice, strawberry, passion fruit, etc… the list goes on! Great prices and definitely worth the visit.

We felt like dancing, so from there we headed back towards our hostel and (thanks to the recommendation of some locals) visited the popular Sint-Pietersplein, where all the young people go out for drinks and dancing at night. We went into the first club we saw and stayed all night! They had one of the best DJ’s we had ever heard, he played all of the classics and hits. We also met some very friendly people, I highly recommend checking this area out! But go in groups – we were told that it isn’t too safe to wander around on your own at night here.

From my research, here are the highest-rated food and drink places:

  • Gentse Stadsbrouwerij Gruut: Grote Huidevettershoek 10 – Local favourite dishes and home-brewed beers.
  • t’Klokhuys: Corduwaniersstraat 65 – eat waterzooi!
  • Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant: Groentenmarkt 9 – beautiful waterfront terrace, great beer pub.
  • Hot Club De Gand: Groentenmarkt 15b – cozy concerts, outdoor seating with candles, nice lounge
  • Dulle Griet: Vrijdagmarkt 50 – selection of 250 different drinks
  • Groot Vleeshuis: Groentenmarkt 7 – old butcher’s hall turned restaurant and cafe
  • ‘t dreupelkot: Groentenmarkt 12 – tons of flavors of jenever! Very popular, worth a visit. Try the cactus flavor, it tastes like a margarita!
  • De Trollekelder: Bij Sint-Jacobs 17 – great locals bar

One thing that I really wanted to do that we didn’t have time for is the Museum Dr. Guislain, a mental-health museum (psych was my major!) housed in an old asylum. How cool is that?! It is located a bit outside the city, which is why we didn’t have time, but if you’re a nerd like me… check it out! And tell me how it is!

Another museum with good reviews is the Huis van Alijn in the Kraanlei neighbourhood. It only costs €5 to go in and displays everyday things from life in the last 100+ years.

A City a Day: Brussels, Land of Mussels, Fries, Beer and Waffles (A Guide)

Brussels MapAfter a long and rainy day in Luxembourg, we boarded the train and made the 3 hour journey to Brussels, Belgium. We stayed at 2Go4 Hostel, about a 10 minute walk from the Brussels Nord train station. We were excited about seeing the sun here (apparently it is a rarity), but the second we walked outside we realized that the wind chill was absolutely insane. We stopped along the way to ask one lady for directions, and she was literally crying from the wind. Anyways, the hostel was pretty nice, and I would recommend it. It is about a 10 minute walk from the main center of Brussels, but they do require an extra €10 deposit that they return to you upon check-out. The decorations here were pretty cool, the lounge there looks like it would be fun to hang out in if you had some extra time. We were also upgraded here from a 6 bed to a 4 bed because we had asked to be placed together, so boo yah! The only problem with this hostel is that it doesn’t serve breakfast. There is complimentary tea and coffee in the morning, but the coffee is instant and the cream is powder… blech.

We asked our hostel for some restaurant reservations and headed off towards the center. The hostel recommended Chez Léon, which has been in business since 1893. It is on rue des Bouchers 18, which is a main restaurant tourist trap avenue. There must’ve been at least 20 other restaurants on this street, all advertising those hokey big yellow signs with giant pictures of mussels and fries. And the waiters are relentless, too… They’re all standing outside trying to convince you to come in, and they really don’t leave you alone. I hate to ignore people, but you have to here. You so much as look at them and they follow you down the street, offering you free drinks and refusing to leave you alone. If you don’t respond or look at them, they start talking to you in 5 different languages, trying to figure out which language they can communicate to you with. Some of them say the darndest things, too…

Chez Léon, Photo Cred: http://www.insidebrussels.be

Anyways, Chez Léon. It was one of the few restaurants on the street that didn’t have all of those cheesy tourist signs, so we figured we’d give it a try. The food was pretty good, although pricy. We didn’t realize until after we had eaten just how huge and touristy the restaurant really is. I wouldn’t say that I wouldn’t go back, but I will say I might recommend finding something better for next time (see other restaurant recommendations below).

Anguilles au Vert

My friend decided to try the Anguilles au Vert, or Eels in Green Sauce. During my research, I read that this is a specialty of Brussels and tastes better than it sounds. However, neither of us really liked it… There was the spine still in it, which we weren’t expecting, and it had a strange texture. My friend didn’t like the green sauce, but I did. I have actually tried eel before on sushi and loved it, but this is nothing like that.

Mussels Provençale

I decided to order mussels, because hey… it’s a Brussels classic after all. They had many different variations of Mussels, and instead of going for the normal version, I decided to try something new: Mussels Provençale, basically mussels sauteed in snail butter and topped with a melted layer of parmesan cheese. It was very tasty, I must admit… but my god it was a lot of cheese! You can’t even see the mussels underneath. I, of course, paired it with a fine belgian beer and fries.

Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, Photo Cred commons.wikimedia.org

Nearby, you will find the Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a beautiful glass-roofed mall (or arcade). It was built in the mid 1800’s and is famous for being the first mall built in Europe. We only went through one corridor, and it was lined with chocolate stores galore. There were some pretty amazing displays! Definitely worth a visit.

Charles Buls Square

When you exit one of the main halls, you come out onto Charles Buls Square, a very nice area to walk around and often accompanied with live music. If you go to the right, you hit the main square and Grand Palace. If you go to the left, you find the Cathedrale St-Michel et Ste-Gudule.

Cathedrale St-Michel et Ste-Gudule

If you’re sick of seeing cathedrals, just go right towards the main square (or Grote Markt). The cathedral was nice, but it wasn’t spectacular. One interesting thing was how they had statues of saints lining the main hall on the pillars, I had never seen that before.

After that, we headed back towards the main square. It really is a sight to see. In all directions there are beautiful buildings lined in gold. I guess during one part of the year, they also cover the majority of the ground in a beautiful flower carpet like this:

If you could visit during that time, it’d definitely be a sight to see! But the square is beautiful regardless, and is known as one of the most beautiful squares in all of Europe.

After staring in awe at the beautiful buildings a while, follow the signs (or your handy map) to get to the famous Mannekin Pis. But don’t expect much… it is literally just a little boy having a wee. I don’t get it. At all. But the best part is that right next door, you will find a famous waffle house… and you just HAVE to buy a waffle there.

Oh, and on the way there, you will see some fun street art:

Adventures of TinTin! On the road from the main square to Mannekin Pis. Photo Cred clausitosfootprints.com

As for Mannekin Pis… behold, the wonder that is a little peeing statue that everyone comes to see:

It’s so very terribly interesting, don’t you think? Sarcasm aside, if you come at special times of year they dress him up. I’ve heard they have a museum dedicated to his outfits… -_-

Here’s what you do: take the mandatory picture in front of the statue, and move on. In fact, turn left onto the same street you came from and go a couple doors down until you find a line coming out of a delectable smelling waffle shop. Take out your wallet and give them your money… it’s worth it!

The famous waffle shop, right next door to Mannkein Pis. Don’t be fooled by that €1 sign, though… We paid about €5-6 for our waffle complete with strawberries, bananas, chocolate, and whipped cream. The €1 must be just for a plain waffle… how boring! Don’t be that person.

Yummers. It is messy as all hell, but get over it. And throw the forks away, there really is no use. Just use your fingers and enjoy!

After you’ve enjoyed that deliciousness, check your map and head towards the palace. It is a bit of a walk, though… Expect about 10-15 minutes, depending on your speed. If you go back to the right of the Mannekin Pis statue and go uphill, you’ll pass by some more street art:

On your way to the palace, you will come across the Jardin du Mont des Arts which houses a statue of Albert I on a horse and some nice landscaping. From the top, you will have a nice view of the gardens and the city laid out below you, especially on a clear day. I’d imagine it’d be quite nice to have a picnic there during the warmer months.

If you continue upwards further, you will find a lovely street with some beautiful architecture and lovely museums. We decided not to go inside any of them, but if you have lots of time and enjoy museums, here is a list of the top ones from my research:

You can really take your pick, though… I saw a museum of cinema, of musical intruments, etc. It’s a museum-goers paradise up here.

The Courthouse and Plaza

Up at the very top of the hill, you will find the courthouse. If you turn left and then make a right on the first street, you will find Coudenberg (the remains of the ancient palace; we decided not to go in, but I’ve heard it is interesting) and then the current palace, Palais de Bruxelles. However, unless you’re in Brussels during the summer months, don’t expect to go inside. It is closed to the public, but you can get your cheesy picture out front:

Royal Palace of Brussels. When you see the flag flying at the top, it means the King is in town.

By this time our feet were extremely tired, so we decided to circle back around towards the central square and grab a drink at the Delirium Bar. If you like beer (and well, you’re crazy if you don’t), you should definitely check it out! They have lots of varieties, and the prices are pretty good. It also has a very fun atmosphere, and seems to be one of the more popular hang outs at night. On the way to the Delirium Bar, you will pass by some other lovely street art:

For a peek inside the bar itself, here you go:

Photo Cred ourtastytravels.com

Photo Cred: Trip Advisor

If anyone reading this has ever been to or knows anything about Brussels, you’ll realize that there’s something very important missing: Atomium. Unfortunately, Atomium is located way outside of the city center, and is a little difficult to get to if you don’t have time and don’t know where you’re going. I had a goal of visiting the Atomium during the day so that we could go up inside of it and see the wonderful views, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we came at night to admire the beautiful lights. There weren’t many other people around, but it was definitely a lovely sight to be seen. I guess there’s also a really nice restaurant at the top, but expect to pay a lot of money and have a reservation!

Atomium during the day. Photo Cred ojoscuriosos.com

If you want to go to Atomium during the day, make sure you have at least a half day to do it. Also, ask your hotel for SPECIFIC directions on how to get there. When I google mapped the directions, it told me it’d only take about 15 minutes. However, when we followed the basic directions of the hostel, it took us about 45 minutes… and the trams only came about once every 20 or 30 minutes.

Atomium at night. Photo Cred Flickr

During the day until 6pm, you can go up inside of this marvellous structure and see some great views, from what I hear. If you’re here for longer, you should definitely check it out!

Below, I will list other museums and restaurants that I didn’t have a chance to see, but which my research found to be worth seeing:

Museums

Food and Drink

Think I missed something? Please feel free to let me know in the comments! 🙂

Spring Break 2015 – A City a Day, Benelux

Spring break has always been an amazing time for me, but this year was going to be extra special since I would be in Europe. I knew I had to take advantage of the time off from school (10 days), and I began planning back in January. Skyscanner, a website to check for the cheapest flights, was my best friend during this time. I must have planned at least 10 different possible trips with this! In the end, my friends and I decided on the Benelux tour – the nickname for when people go to Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg all in one trip (BeNeLux). I actually wasn’t even aware that this was a thing until I started planning it!

The week before we left, we heard knews of the horrible French Alps plane crash. It really shook all of us. Every time something horrible like this happens, of course, we feel bad about it… but the fact that this hit so close to home made it even worse. The plane that crashed had flown out of Barcelona (where I’m living) and flew into the French Alps on its journey to Dusseldorf, Germany. It really affected me because I remember on our plane ride to Lyon just the week before flying right by the French Alps, and thinking in my head just how majestic and beautiful they were. It was really just a hard time for everyone from these areas, I think.

What made it even worse was hearing about how it happened. It’s bad enough when an accident happens, but to hear that it possibly could’ve happened on purpose? When my colleague was telling me about the news I froze. How could someone be so evil? If you’re depressed, why do you have to bring everyone else down with you? I wasn’t sure if the fact that it was an intentional crash made me feel more or less safe for our upcoming flight. My friends and I all shared the same feeling.

At the airport, we were all a big ball of nerves… I was very sick to my stomach. I almost felt like I could cry. I have never felt like that before. But it’s crazy, if you think about just how many planes have crashed or gone missing in the last few years. What is happening?

Our flight turned out to be okay, besides the normal turbulence (which freaked me out since I was already really nervous). And I kept telling myself that you can’t hold yourself back in life due to fear. We ended up having the time of our lives on this trip, and I’m really glad I didn’t let it ruin my time. My heart goes out to all of those families who were affected by this tragedy.

The following posts will outline our Benelux journey, and also give some tips on where to go and where to stay (or where not to stay!). We ended up doing a different city every day, with the exception of Amsterdam.