Monday 1 October 2018

Free things to do in Brussels

When I travel, I usually try and do so on a budget – I’ve always found that doing it this way and saving as much as I can wherever I can means that I can squeeze in one extra trip with the leftover money. And you don’t need to spend a lot when you’re on holiday, especially if you’re on a city break; I usually tend to visit little Polish cities that aren’t too touched by tourism, but as you’ll know if you read my blog, this year I went to Brussels. It’s the capital city of Belgium and home to the EU Parliament and NATO and loads of other important things that make the city a business hub for thousands of people. But there are some free things to do in Brussels that will leave you with plenty of money for beer and waffles.

Visiting the Grand Place itself is completely free, and the architecture is so genuinely stunning, so woven with beauty and so intricate that just standing there is an experience in itself. On a sunny day the gold sparkles from every angle and the square is quite often frequented by street performers – I was lucky enough to see a man on a harp alongside a young boy playing a whistle, and later on that day I sat with my back against a lamppost, listening to a busker while kids and adults alike danced around to his gorgeous voice. I tipped these street performers a couple of euros each, but essentially it was free to sit and listen and bask in the music and sunshine. At one end there's a free selfie machine which somehow allows you to take a panoramic selfie in the Grand Place. I’m not entirely sure how it works or how long it's there for, and every time I passed there was a massive queue, but it is completely free. If you get there at the right time (every other August) as I was lucky enough to do, you’ll also get to see the Brussels flower carpet which is woven out of begonias and created by volunteers – I’d heard of it before but had completely forgotten about it, and it was completely by chance that it was there when I was. It’s so beautiful and you can stare at it for as long as you want, free of charge.

Most cities offer free walking tours both day and night, where mostly you have to follow someone who’s carrying an umbrella and you stop at various hotspots around the city. I didn’t do a walking tour in Brussels, although after finally doing one in Bruges which Holly booked for us, I kind of wish I’d done one in Brussels. The guides are often locals who know a lot about their city and have a wealth of knowledge to share with you, and you really can find out information that you wouldn’t really know otherwise as well as getting to see some hidden gems that you might not think to visit on your own. A quick Google search will lead you to loads of different free walking tours, so depending on what you’re after you’re bound to find something to suit you. They’re definitely worthwhile, in my opinion, but be warned you might get stuck with some really annoying people who love the sound of their own voice. It’s sort of expected that you tip at the end, but sometimes you’ll get a free pint or something like that, so it works out pretty well.

On the first Sunday of every month, and the first Wednesday afternoon of the month, if that’s when you happen to be in the city, loads of the museums in Brussels are completely free to get into. Obviously this one is completely dependant on your travel dates, but it’s really handy to know that you can pop in and see some exciting things, learn something new or just escape the hustle and bustle of the city for completely free if you time it right. You can find a complete list HERE of the museums that won’t cost you a penny to visit on some occasions.

Despite being a city, and quite a busy one at that, there are quite a few parks and green spaces dotted across Brussels if you know where to look; I personally visited a little patch of grass (probably not even considered a park) that’s opposite the beautiful cathedral – which is also free to enter, and you might catch the amazing organ music – where I sat and read my book. There was a pop up bar there so I did pay for a beer, but if you really want to do it on the cheap there are loads of newsagents and little supermarkets strewn across the city where you can buy a few cans or bottles to relax with. The main park is Parc de Bruxelles and it’s massive, and there is also the Mont des Arts park and garden which has benches and a really nice view.

Street art isn’t, from what I saw while I was there, as big of a deal in Brussels as it is in some cities but that’s not to say there isn’t any; for example, right by the aforementioned Mont des Arts there’s a set of stairs, and on the wall somebody has attached frames so that the stains and marks look like abstract pieces of artwork. I loved this – it’s such a quirky little piece of art and the captions made me laugh, and had me straining my eyes to work out if I really could see a man with a backpack. This was completely free to see, and I really enjoyed it. Near my hotel there was a lot of art, from a gorgeous giant lighthouse painted onto the side of a building (sadly I didn’t get to snap a picture because I was rushing to make my train to Ghent when I saw it) to some neon monsters on the walls of the buildings that line the canal. I’d have liked to find some more street art, but there are loads of cool pieces dotted around – just keep looking up and around, and you’re bound to spot some.

So as you can see, there’s plenty of free things to do in Brussels if you’re travelling on a budget – you don’t need to spend loads to have a good time, and I think that’s the best thing about travel. PS, click HERE to book hotels in Brussels.

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