8 Recommended Tours in Brussels

Brussels is brimming with Art Nouveau gems, such as the Ciamberlani House designed by architect Paul Hankar
Brussels is brimming with Art Nouveau gems, such as the Ciamberlani House designed by architect Paul Hankar | © Neala McCarten / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Gareth Clark
2 December 2019

From the dazzling historical centre to the art and artisanal treats that made the city famous, Brussels can be a lot to absorb. You miss plenty by not seeing it with an expert, so try one of these exciting tours to discover a side of the city that few explore.

The bars and beer-tasting tour

Craft Ale Bar, Beer, $$$
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Belgium beer being poured
Explore Brussels by visiting the many historic beer bars and sampling their wares | © Ed Norton / Getty Images

Beer is the star on this 2.5-hour tasting tour of some of Brussels’s most iconic bars. There are nearly 250 breweries in Belgium alone, including the official Trappist brewers (there are six in the country) whose beers have kept its old abbeys and monasteries running for centuries. Many of the capital’s bars are no less venerable. While a new era of brewing – moving away from the heavier Belgian ales or sour lambics of Brussels – is sweeping the country, the old favourites are still easily found. It’s a fascinating time in this age-old craft and one that you can explore by visiting a trio of Brussels’s historic beer bars and sampling their wares to see what all the fuss is about.

Chocolate-tasting tour

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Cut handmade chocolate bonbon
Belgium handmade chocolate has been a major industry in the country since the 19th century | © TorriPhoto / Getty Images

Belgium’s chocolate obsession has some unexpected roots: namely the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its 19th-century colonisation of central Africa opened up an endless supply of cocoa, setting the stage for generations of chocolatiers. Today, Belgium produces hundreds of thousands of tonnes of chocolate a year. This chocolate-tasting tour takes you to the Neoclassical Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert shopping arcade, where Neuhaus – the first large-scale chocolate maker in Belgium – opened its first shop in 1857. It also invites participants to a first-hand taste at today’s chocolatiers in Saint-Catherine, where you’ll get a real flavour of this confection’s remarkable past and present in Brussels.

The historical running tour

Historical Landmark
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If you’d rather catch your breath than a bus, this sight-jogging tour of the historical centre is handily stretched over 1.5 hours with plenty of stops to rest and soak up the information. It unravels some of the more interesting histories of Brussels, looping out from the Grand Place to the unloved Palais de Justice, one of the capital’s most remarkable yet controversial buildings. When construction began in the mid-1800s, some 3,000 homes in the impoverished Marolles area were demolished to make way for a building three times the size of the royal palace. It’s just one fascinating tale among many told here – just don’t forget to stretch!

A waffle-making workshop

Cafe, Belgian
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Those with a sweet tooth will love this 1.5-hour waffle-making workshop. The dessert has been a part of Belgium since the Middle Ages when the first waffle was sold, and today, it is a culinary mainstay. No matter if you’re a newbie wanting to try something different or an experienced baker, during this experience, you’ll learn how to make one of the country’s most popular dishes.

The ‘two cities’ tour

Historical Landmark
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Grand Place Square in Brussels, Belgium
The Grand Place or Grote Markt (Grand Market) is the central square of Brussels | © Tunart / Getty Images

Brussels is actually divided into two cities: the Upper Town and Lower Town. This realisation typically kicks in as your thighs start burning on the walk up from the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula, where all royal weddings take place, to the mansions, art museums and palace of the Royal Quarter. It was here that Brussels’s ruling class literally looked down on the rest. As you’d expect, the Lower Town is very different, spreading out like a cobweb from the golden guildhalls of the Grand Place to merchant streets and the working-class Marolles neighbourhood, but it’s no less fascinating for it. You can pick either area on this free walking tour, which gives a rich historical account of one side of the coin.

The ‘insider’ kick-start tour

Historical Landmark
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Brussels is a city with more than a few secrets. Slip into a side alley off one of its main shopping arteries to discover an eighth-generation bar and marionette theatre, where plays are performed in old ‘brusseleir’, a mix of French, Spanish and Dutch that was once the common tongue in the city’s poorer areas. Alternatively, perhaps you’re bored of the Manneken Pis and would rather discover its squatting female equivalent, the Jeanneke Pis – as remarkable as it sounds. The city has plenty of quirky corners and eccentricities, which this kick-start tour sets out to uncover with relish.

Discover Art Nouveau

Historical Landmark
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The Hotel Tassel
Victor Horta designed the Hôtel Tassel for the Belgian scientist and professor Emile Tassel in the late-19th century | © Alan John Ainsworth / Heritage Images / Getty Images

Brussels’s architecture is both iconic and notorious – unchecked urban planning and past corruption often saw dozens of clashing styles occupy a single street. Yet within this melange are some beauties. Brussels is the city in which you’ll see legendary architect Victor Horta’s Art Nouveau legacy across the city’s boulevards. This guided Art Nouveau tour of the Bailli district reveals some of his finest works alongside other masters of a style that turned iron, glass, wood and stone into the buildings that defined an era.

Uncover the city with a HOHO bus

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark
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Two routes are available on this hop-on, hop-off bus that takes you to Brussels’s most popular tourist attractions. This 24- or 48-hour bus ticket is a great option for those looking to maximise their holiday without having to walk too much. Offering panoramic views of the city, the bus will stop at attractions such as the National Basilica, the European Parliament and, of course, the famous Atomium. You’ll be able to learn about the city’s rich history with a multilingual audio guide.