Bank Holiday weekends are a gift. During the course of a long year, where most of us probably only get to go away once or twice, they offer the perfect opportunity to squeeze in an extra trip. With cheap flights and the excellent value Eurostar making it incredibly easy to escape to Europe, a short-haul short break is the absolute ideal.
My very own May Bank Holiday break took me to the Belgian capital of Brussels. For us it was a mere 1 hour flight from Manchester, and it’s only 2 hours on the Eurostar if you’re travelling from London. A great choice for a weekend break, the combination of good food, lots of sights to see, a wealth of historic buildings and a rich cultural heritage make for a fascinating couple of days.
What makes a great weekend away is having a nice place to stay. Our home for the weekend was the superb 4* Leopold Hotel; set close to the European Parliament, it’s just a short walk from the centre but in a part of town that’s pretty serene on the weekends. Spacious, comfy and with an easy elegance about it, the hotel’s accommodation was an ideal base for our weekend in Brussels.
Once we’d settled in, it was time to start sightseeing straight away. A compact, walkable city, the centre of Brussels has much to see; our route into the Old Town saw us walk past the gorgeous Royal Palace, snap pictures in front of the gorgeous Mont Des Arts Garden, and stop at a very popular Frites stand for a portion of Belgian’s famous chips smothered in tasty Andalouse sauce.
Beyond lay some of the city’s most iconic sights. The busy, thriving Grand Place – with its medieval town hall looming large over the ornate square – was a real highlight. The 400-year old Manneken Pis was more diminutive than I imagined, but no less popular – hordes of people were crowded around the tiny statue of the urinating boy, and it’s difficult to imagine a time of day when it wouldn’t be surrounded by tourists snapping happy. We made a quick stop for chocolate syrup-soaked waffles – yet another Belgian speciality – and finished the day with a tour of the stunning Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.
Day 2 saw our focus shift to some of the more outlying sights – the Parc du Cinquantenaire and the Atomium – both a little more secluded but definitely still worth the trip. As it turned out, the endlessly pretty Parc du Cinquantenaire was a mere 15-minute walk from our hotel, and made for a pleasant early-morning stroll. The impressive Arc du Cinquantenaire was, I suppose, what we were really there to see, and its old-world beauty and grandeur didn’t fail to make our jaws drop (or inspire lots of picture-taking). The Atomium meanwhile was a straight-forward Metro ride away, and another must-see; the queues well worth the trip to the top to see the views right across the city.
Better yet, our hotel offer a must-try Belgian Beer tasting package that’s to die for – come evening, it’s the perfect way to take the edge off after a long day of sightseeing! The package is a great choice for sampling some of the best brews this famous Ale-drinking country produces; even a novice like me can quickly learn to appreciate the lightly-hoppy Duvel, the brewed-in-its-bottle Hoegaarden, and the sweet cherry-flavoured Kriek… See! Practically an expert already!
Staying one more day allowed us just enough time to squeeze in a couple of the city’s sublime museums. We headed straight for the Musée des Beaux Arts – home to fine arts old and new, the huge building is worthy of at least half-a-day’s exploring. The Magritte Museum, dedicated to the renowned surrealist and my favourite artist, was perhaps unsurprisingly the highlight of my trip.
A weekend in Brussels proved to be plenty of time to see all the main sights and to still enjoy a relaxed escape from it all. Historic, cultured, welcoming and gastronomic, the Belgian capital is a classic city break destination. If you’re looking to get away next Bank Holiday weekend, I’d thoroughly recommend Brussels – for my money, the ideal short-haul short break!
Been to Brussels, or planning a trip there? Tell us about it in the comments section below!