Brussels features fairly high on the Europe Backpacker Index’s list of the most expensive tourist cities to visit and yeah, a lot of the hotels, restaurants and shops can be a little expensive… but don’t rule it out. There are loads of ways to enjoy the place without bankrupting yourself – not only that, but their more budget-friendly things to do are really really good. You can have a great time in Brussels on a budget, and to give you a little taste of what that looks like, we’ve created a list of ten great things to do in Brussels on a budget.
Peck 47 is gorgeous. Their breakfast menu is small but perfectly formed, and it’s really good value too, with most options costing €10. These guys serve pure pleasure on a plate using fresh, delicious ingredients – and they can poach the hell out of an egg. There are really good vegetarian options (ones that even non-veggies will really like), and you’ll get your tenner breakfast served on gorgeous English muffins or on sourdough bread. If you wanted to go rogue and spend an extra euro on their savoury waffle breakfasts, we wouldn’t judge you for it. Whatever you go for, there’s no better way to get yourself fuelled up for a day exploring Brussels.
Surprise! Like in every other budget guide we write for you, the Brussels free walking tour is right up there on our list of great things to do in Brussels on a budget. Definitely best to do at the start of a trip, the tours give you a good overview of the city and help find your bearings, as well as giving you an idea of where you might want to return to and explore more thoroughly. Tours leave from Grand Place every day at 10am, 11am and 2pm and last 2.5 hours. You’ll do a whistle-stop walking tour of Brussel’s most famous sights and landmarks, and learn plenty about the history of the city. Don’t forget to tip your guide!
Everyone knows about the Manneken Pis, and obviously he’s a must-see in Brussels… but did you know there’s also a peeing girl and a peeing dog? Well, there is. They may not be the most important sights in the city, but they are pure Brussels. So go and find them both, and see the whole uncouth, incontinent family. The Jeanneke Pis is located on Impasse de la Fidélité, a cul de sac about a ten minute walk from the Manneken. She’s a little hidden, but Another ten minute walk away is the Zinneke Pis, a bronze dog cocking his leg on the side of the street – although he was hit by a car in August 2015 and is currently being restored. Check if he’s back before embarking on your mission.
All of them. Whether French Fries are actually French or are in fact Belgian is a subject of hot debate – but it’s neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things. In the grand scheme of things, what you need to know is that Brussels makes amazing French fries. They are crispy outside and fluffy inside as all self-respecting French fries should be, and they come drowned in a delicious sauce of your choice. Oh, and they are cheap. Maison Antoine is the city’s best known Friterie, but there are loads of great places to indulge – Friterie de la Barriere, Frit Flagey, Fritkot Bompa (get their home made tartar sauce) all deserve special mentions. You can get a stellar lunch – chips and a beer – for €6/7, or some pubs near the friteries will let you sit and eat if you buy a beer.
Ahhh the Manneken Pis again. You already know about the statue so you may also know that he is pretty famous for his snappy sense of style. The snazzy little dude is dressed up in different teeny costumes at least once a week – so often, in fact, that he now has a published costume schedule so that people can keep track. At least 800 of his little outfits are on display in the Museum of the City of Brussels, and it costs only €4 to go in and see them all – oh, and it’s free on the first Sunday of the month. Children under 6 always get in free and under 18s have free admission on weekends. Go have a look, it’s pretty impressive (as is the rest of the museum).
Brussels has serious comic clout – it’s the home of Tin Tin and the Smurfs among other well-known comics and cartoons – and they’re rightly proud of it. There’s a comic strip walking tour you can do in Brussels that takes you round the city to see almost 50 different murals painted on walls and gables, painted in celebration of some of the city’s most beloved cartoon heroes. It’s all free, and you can find a map and a list of the murals here. If you feel like splashing out with your tenner, stop off in the Comic Art Museum. Admission for adults is €10, for 12-25 year olds it’s €6.50 and under 12s get in for €3.50.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – Delirium is one of the most fun and lovely and beery and brilliant bars in Brussels. It’s right across the road from the Jeanneke Pis, on Impasse de la Fidélité. You could combine your visit to see her with a refreshment break in Delirium, but if you do make sure it’s at the end of the day; it’s pretty easy to get… sidetracked… in here. Their beer menu is mind-boggling and the atmosphere in the bar is always great. Pints can cost up to around €7 but they can also hit up to 12/13% in strength, so you get bang for your buck. We’re not going to tell you what to order, or how much of your tenner to spend – and we totally understand if you end up going somewhere over budget…
Oh, the waffles. The sweet, sweet waffles. The sugar-laced, soft, warm, slightly crispy waffles. There are two types of waffle you can get in Brussels, the Brussels-style or Liège (the Brussels ones are the rectangular ones; fluffy and light, and the Liège are the more misshapen and slightly ‘cake-ier’ ones). You can buy them everywhere in Brussels, with stalls and trucks on every street corner selling them for as little as a euro. But if you’re in Brussels, you should try Brussels’ best. Go to Maison Dandoy (Rue Charles Buls 14). The waffles here are a little pricier than from the stalls but my word, are they worth it – and you can sit down to properly enjoy them here too. A waffle with all manner of toppings will set you back between €5-€8. You’ll be glad you did it.
The Cantillon Brewery is a small family operation in Brussels where Belgium’s famous Lambic beer is made. Whether you’re a card-carrying beer hound of you’re just interested in this delicious part of Belgian culture, a tour of the small brewery is a great way to spend a couple of hours. The tours here are self-guided and give you a great insight into a rare thing – a brewery that has remained traditional and that looks the same today as it did a century ago, with the same machinery used and the same family making the brew. It’s pretty much the original craft brewery. €7 for the tour, and for that price you also get two taster glasses of beer. Winner.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg, just outside the centre of Brussels, is the fifth biggest church in the world. Of course, with big huge churches come big huge domes and balconies, which means big huge panoramas. For a fiver, you can access the viewing gallery under the dome of the Basilica. At 52.8 metres in height, it offers a pretty cool view over the city – on a clear day, you can see forever as far as the Mechelen Cathedral about 30km away, so bring a camera. Your fiver will also give you access to the Cathedral’s museums – just make sure you get there in good time, the museums close at 4pm, and the viewing gallery closes at 5pm in summer and 4pm in winter.
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- Dee Murray