I’d passed through Brussels Midi station four times without ever getting any further than one overpriced bar directly outside whilst waiting for a connecting train to other towns in Belgium. The Eurostar is synonymous with a Paris city break and the recent opening of the Amsterdam route now also shares some of that limelight, but in just two hours you can be right in Belgium’s capital. I headed there for a weekend of beer drinking interspersed with some very light sightseeing.
What to do in Brussels
Brunch at Hinterland
We stayed at Jam Hotel after seeing a great review from Gastro Gays and on Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man, but aside from the wicked strong margaritas I had there on the night of our arrival, there wasn’t much that I enjoyed about our stay, sadly. It’s based in the area of Saint Gillis though, which is a great little up-and-coming suburb and Hinterland was one of a few excellent brunch spots within walking distance of the hotel. I had a strong helping of bacon and banana French toast with plenty of maple syrup with an oat milk flat white to help my margarita headache. My fiancé had perfectly fluffy pistachio pancakes smothered in lemon curd – I’m pretty sure he ordered strategically as it was not one for this lemon hater to steal a bite of, sadly!
Find it at: Hinterland, Charleroise Steenweg 179, 1060 Sint-Gillis, Bruxelles
Brewery tour of Brasserie Cantillon
For a true Belgian beer experience, it’s essential to partake in some lambics. The variety is brewed in a specific region to the southwest of Brussels, but also in Cantillon itself – the only purely lambic brewery within the city. If you think you don’t like beer, but will drink cider, this could very well be the variety for you as it has the same dryness that’s characteristic of a cider, just with a more sour aftertaste.
Let’s say it’s an acquired taste for those who love a more traditionally brewed beer! Kriek is a cherry variety that is probably the easiest entry point for a newbie, but I quite like the gueze which is sparkling and feels like the blissful union of a lager and a cider. The tour of Brasserie Cantillon shows the fascinating process of brewing lambics but you need to bring your coat! The spontaneous fermentation is created by putting yeast in cold air and leaving it to cool naturally. The fermentation means the beer bubbles up and spills out of the casks and onto the floor; the cellar floor was as sticky as any good pub’s at closing time. It’s this process of cooling which makes it sour and also what makes the tour a chilly affair as the building itself obviously can’t be well heavily insulated.
Find it at: Brasserie Cantillon, rue Gheude 56, 1070 Bruxelles
A tasting flight at L’Ermitage Nano Brasserie
The benches made of pallets outside L’Ermitage Nano Brasserie were patiently hoping for sunshine and hinted that we were in the right place, but on a rainy day, there weren’t any crowds and the main entrance looked more like a cupboard. In just-about-legible sharpie on a coaster taped to the door, we saw the word ‘taproom’, and tentatively went in. A heaving beer menu, wooden decor and a whole heap of houseplants made me know immediately that this was very much my sort of place.
A tasting flight of four beers is a total bargain at €7 which meant I could take risks with some of the more experimental beers brewed by L’Ermitage including the Théorème de l’Empereur spiced herbed beer which garnered a solid 0.75 out of 5 in my Untappd rating! I did enjoy their Lanterne pale ale although it was more floral than I was expecting, and my favourite was definitely the Bruxelles Ma Belle – a hoppy pale ale with hints of apple.
Find it at: L’Ermitage Nano Brasserie, 24-26 rue Lambert Crickx, 1070 Bruxelles
Frites and chocolate for lunch
If you only have 36 hours in Brussels, there’s no point fannying about with lunch reservations. My priority was to eat two of Belgium’s most famous foods and I knew exactly where I wanted to get them from. We’d managed to avoid the very centre of Brussels until this point, but Friterie Tabora was where I wanted my frites from so we braved the crowds. The friterie fits a maximum of three standing patrons at any one time and the queue will inevitably be snaking out and sheltering under the one parasol outside, but don’t let that put you off as you’ll be served in no-time. This is zero frills, minimum fuss, get yo frites and get out. I smothered mine in aioli and ketchup and even a medium size portion was enough to defeat me.
Find it at: Friterie Tabora, Rue de Tabora 2, 1000 Bruxelles
Well, until I needed something sweet to follow it up, of course. After a brief stint to visit Dille & Kamille – the homeware store my Eurostar luggage allowance rejoiced for, we joined another quick moving queue at Aux Merveilleux de Fred. A merveilleux is an absolutely outrageous dessert, made of two meringues wedged together with whipped cream, which is then completely covered in MORE whipped cream, and then rolled in chocolate shavings. The open kitchen meant you could see the bakers creating the magic in front of your eyes, pulling out shelves of fresh meringue and rolling the merveilleux quicker than the Instagram Boomerang function could fathom. We got one each. This was both a genius idea and a huge, huge mistake because I would never contemplate sharing mine, buuuuuuut I probably should. There’s an outpost in London so I guess the opportunity to be a little more sensible is always there!
Find it at: Merveilleux de Fred, Rue du Marche aux Herbes 7, 1000, Bruxelles
An obligatory drink at Delirium Village
OK, so I’m adding this in because if you’ve never been to Brussels, you’ll probably just want to pop in as the eight bars of Delirium Village is the most well known beer drinking tourist spot in the city. It was certainly NOT my favourite beer-related location we visited as it was absolutely rammed with people, even in the late afternoon, and I enjoy my beer in a quieter, chilled out atmosphere. Delirium still bring in PR from their gold award in the World’s Best Beer Awards in 1998 and inevitably tourists head there because the logo is a pink elephant which y’all know everyone wants to ‘gram. The previously mentioned award winning beer is the Delirium Tremens which is a knee-trembling 8.5% ABV but surprisingly light. Take it easy with that sort of deceptive strength!
Find it at: Delirium Village, Impasse de la Fidélité 4, 1000 Bruxelles
A tasting flight at Brussels Beer Project
We braved the seemingly never-ending rain to quickly take in the impressive Grand-Place Square, a UNESCO world heritage site and home to Brussels’ town hall, and then walk through the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert an amazing shopping arcade that set the tone for the Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, both of which are beautiful but rain + tourists = a need for a beer, stat. The Brussels Beer Project is on a road full of independent homeware stores mixed with world food supermarkets, giving it slightly-posher-than-Dalston vibes. Their beer menu is staggering, which demands a tasting flight to even be able to touch the sides. They provide you with a coaster that details which varieties you’ve picked as well which is such an excellent idea!
This time it was four 1/3 pint glasses for €10, which, considering last night I bought a pint in a central London pub for £6, is an absolute bargain. I made the mistake of trying a wheat beer again, because I’ve come around to liking sours so figured maybe this would be the time my palette would change, but nope. Grosse Bertha has a great name but it is 100% #notmybeer. I absolutely loved the Dark Sister black IPA, a variety that I’ve been seeing much more of recently after first trying at my local nanobrewery Muswell Hillbilly’s. The #EXP0059 was a light, slightly grassy IPA – perfect for a session ale, and the Delta IPA was refreshing and a perfect staple beer to try if you’re just after a swift pint before heading somewhere else.
Find it at: Brussels Beer Project, 188, Antoine Dansaert, 1000 Brussels
Dinner at Kipkot
It takes a while but there comes a time where I’m all beer’d out. As we sat for dinner at rotisserie chicken joint Kipkot, I wasn’t sure I could even fit another drop in my stomach. But do you know what goes really well with fries? An ice-cold class of IPA, so I managed to find the room. Kipkot is the ideal place to carb-load after a day of gradually drinking your way through Belgium’s finest beers. We had teriyaki marinaded rotisserie chicken with a whole heap of sides including fries AND a baked potato with lashings of sour cream which saw me nicely fill-to-bursting and happily roll into an Uber and back to the hotel.
Find it at: Kipkot, Place Sainte-Catherine 8, 1000 Bruxelles
Brunch at Parlor Coffee
For our last few hours in Belgium, we decided to do my favourite holiday activity and just wander, but the weather was a blend of sideways rain and 360 degree wind, so along with my incredibly unhelpful umbrella I really needed coffee. Parlor Coffee grind and roast beans from around the world in their store, but also, unbeknownst to me before I went in, they do a truly banging brunch. I ordered the waffles and they came with butter AND maple syrup, bacon AND eggs. I didn’t have to make any choices AT ALL *praise hands emoji*
Find it at: Parlor Coffee Roasters, Chaussée de Charleroi 203, 1060 Bruxelles
Hot chocolate and plant shopping
If I’m not going to be drinking beer, I can still stay totally on brand by pitching up at a houseplant shop. After stumbling upon Brussels’ most famous statue, the Manneken Pis, which literally is a statue of a small boy pissing. Tourists flock to see this guy taking a waz gleefully wherever the hell he likes, so I thought I’d better pop by a see it for myself. It was by turning right instead of walking straight ahead with the crowds that we happened to stumble upon Gruun, a beautiful little plant shop with a couple of seats to perch and have a coffee. I had a hot chocolate which was actually a mug of warm milk which came with a shot glass of dark chocolate buttons to pour in and melt into. It felt very decadent for an unplanned pit stop, but was exactly what I wanted in such horrid weather.
Find it at: Gruun, Oud Korenhuis 36, Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés 36, 1000 Bruxelles
When I started researching our trip, I didn’t have a clue what to do in Brussels because there isn’t necessarily a lot of huge well known sights to see. But the experience of exploring the beer scene was our main reason for heading there, so the sightseeing areas were often just an added bonus to a weekend of easygoing wanderings.