Brussels is the capital of Belgium, and home to the infamous Mannequin Pis. When my mother visited in December, we dedicated two days to visiting both the capital of Belgium and the nearby charming city of Bruges. Although Brussels is quite large for just a one-day visit, it’s manageable to see the highlights during that timeframe.
Brussels by Day
We started the day in Brussels by checking out the Eglise Saint Nicolas and the little shops around Grand Place. During December, there were several Christmas markets around. As we walked around the center city we peeked at the various huts of food, crafts, and tchotchkes. Grand Place is absolutely stunning, both day and night. We had lunch in Grand Place, at a quaint little restaurant in one of the old trade buildings. This restaurant had a cozy fireplace and charming decor.
My mother and I signed up for the free walking tour with Sandemans for the afternoon. This took up a big chunk of the day, but we got to see a ton of the city and we learned so much! I had been to Brussels before, however I wasn’t very familiar with the city’s history. Our tour guide explained why the Town Hall, the most prominent building in the town square, is not symmetric in design. The right wing was built a few decades prior to the left wing, and each was built by different architects. At first glance, it seems similar enough. In closer inspection there are several differences despite the consistent Gothic style.
Grand Place is a square bordered by the Town Hall, Museum of the City of Brussels, and lots of smaller buildings with ornate gold detailing. These are the old guildhalls built around the 14th century for local tradesmen and merchants. Each guildhall has some type of symbol representing which trade union it belonged to. Apparently we had eaten at a restaurant inside what used to be a guildhall!
I remember during my last visit to Brussels in 2013, my friend and I noticed all these people stroking a statue beside Grand Place. We just copied what other people were doing, and took pictures! Monkey see, monkey do right? Turns out, this man is actually Everard t’Serclaes who was a famous citizen of Brussels for helping take back the city from invaders. As an old man he was attacked and tortured by enemies, so this monument of him depicts him laying down dying. This statue has several interesting superstitions. It’s said if you rub his hand you will have good luck. For a year of happiness, run your hand from his head all the way down to his feet. A few years ago the original was moved into the Town Hall to preserve it, but a copy is still hung just outside Grand Place available for rubbing!
Mannequin Pis, the face of Brussels, is just down the road from Everard t’Serclaes. He fills all of the tourist shops! In person he is quite small in size at just 61 cm high. Many different legends offer different reasons why this statue of a little naked boy peeing was created, but none have been confirmed! This little boy has a whole association dedicated to deciding when he will wear outfits and when his fountain will spout beer. That’s right! Sometimes he pees beer!! If you’re lucky enough to be there at the right time someone will hand you a cup of beer from his fountain! What completely shocked me is that he has more than 800 outfits! His wardrobe is available for viewing at the City Museum.
Belgium is known for lots of deliciousness – beer, chocolate, fries, and waffles. Brussels has a chocolate shop at nearly every corner you turn! Possibly even more waffle stands! It’s heaven for sweet tooth’s like me! Although the waffle stands tend to show waffles drenched in tons of different toppings, the waffles are truly delicious by themselves!
Brussels By Night
We saw the outside of the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula during our tour. Because the walking tour covers a lot of the city in just a few hours, we didn’t have the time to go inside. Therefore, after the tour this was the first place my mom and I went! The gothic cathedral is absolutely beautiful. Inside, they had nativity scenes from all over the world on display!
Our tour guide told us about the light show in Grand Place! during some parts of the year. This website says the light show happens between July-September. However, when we visited in December there was a Christmas light show!
Starting at 5:00pm, this show is spectacular! Lights shine onto all of the buildings in Grand Place and change along with different styles of music. My mom and I ended up going back to watch it twice after taking a snack break!!
When my mom first arrived for her visit, we met another American traveling for the holidays. He had gone to Brussels before and he told us that we absolutely had to stop by Delirium Bar near Grand Place. We grabbed a beer there earlier in the day before our tour. At night, we returned to the bar when we were passing by to see Jeanneke Pis (a newer female version of Mannekin Pis). Long story short, a “pit stop” turned into a long night in this place! My mom and I had so much fun chatting with other travelers and enjoying the Belgian beer.