Belgium. Oh, Belgium. I highly underestimated how much I would love this country. On my most recent trip to Europe, I purposely planned a train layover in Belgium, because I had yet to see the country. I know a train layover doesn’t count as seeing a destination, but I couldn’t pass up the chance when I would be passing through anyway!
The chocolates. The waffles. The architecture. The friendly people. I mean, what can I say? Belgium is definitely one of my favorite countries in Europe.
Unfortunately, I only had a few hours here for my first visit. At least I know it won’t be the last!
Keep reading for the essentials of visiting Brussels and all my stops on this train layover.
train stations in Brussels
Throughout my research, I found that Brussels is a small city. This is the only way I was able to swing a train layover, and make it worth my time to see part of Belgium. All the trains I researched arrived to Bruxelles-Midi, which is in the southern part of the city.
Before leaving the station, I rented a coin-operated luggage locker for about 4 euros in the train station. The smallest one fit my carry-on suitcase and backpack perfectly. If you only have large bills, the attendant at the lost and found area will gladly give you change!
Even if it looks far on a map, the southern train station is only a 20-minute walk to the center of Brussels. If you can’t or don’t wish to walk, you can easily get an Uber or taxi from the station, or take the metro within Bruxelles-Midi to Bruxelles-Central.
Because I love a good bargain, and my feet are free transportation, off I went on foot! I try to walk as much as possible, so I can see more of a destination this way.
I say this with one caveat, though: I noticed that the southern part of Brussels seemed less safe, with more opportunities for unwanted attention than the center. For this reason, and for time constraints, I took the metro back to Midi for my next train. This is my experience as a solo female traveler of color, and does not represent Brussels as a city.
what to see in Brussels: Grand Place
In every single Brussels guide or blog post, you will see the Grand Place as one of the top attractions. Why? I’ll let the photo speak for itself.
This square is beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I stopped in my tracks as I arrived. The photos can’t do it justice. You have to go someday.
In the Grand Place is not only a series of gorgeous architecture, but tons of shops, including a Starbucks. I mooched off of Starbucks’ wifi and free public bathroom. A day in the life of a traveler, folks!
Royal Palace of Brussels
This is a must-see and just a few minutes’ walk from the Grand Place. I’ll warn you in advance that the walk is uphill, but it’s 100% worth it. The walk was, of course, peppered with buildings of unparalleled charm.
Once I arrived to the Royal Palace, I enjoyed a stroll in front of the building, took some lovely photos, and just relaxed for a minute. I’d had a stressful day before making it here from Paris, and just needed a break. This was the perfect place to take one!
Although the Royal Palace of Brussels is the official palace of the King and Queen, it is not a royal residence. Instead, the King and Queen live in a palace in Laeken, on the outskirts of the city.
The Royal Palace of Brussels is open to the public every summer, from the National Holiday of July 21st to September.
Across the street from the Royal Palace sits Brussels Park, a sanctuary of foliage within the capital city. While I found Brussels to be a very relaxed city compared to other capitals in Europe and the United States, a walk in this park made my day.
Since I was on a train layover in Belgium, I had to figure out how I would get back to the station. Since Brussels is relatively small, public transit wasn’t as widely available as a larger city.
I did, however, manage to find a few metro stops not far from the park. This was the perfect place to end my few hours in Brussels, and conveniently get back to Bruxelles-Midi without feeling rushed.
what to eat: vegan Belgian waffles
On this train layover, I obviously was working with a limited time frame. As a result, I had one goal, and one goal only: eat vegan Belgian waffles. Off to HappyCow I went, in search of a restaurant that could get me what I needed. Thankfully, I found VeganWaf.
Whether you’re vegan or not, you’ve got to try this place. The owner told me his shop is the first vegan traditional Belgian waffle restaurant in the whole country. And I got to try it! What a treat!
If you plan to go, head to Grand Place and take Rue de la Colline, the side street near Godiva. Take the entrance to the Galerie Agora on the right just a few feet from Grand Place, and VeganWaf’s location is on the left within the mall. You can only pay in cash, so have some ready. Prices here are great, so you won’t need much!
I ordered my waffles with homemade whipped cream, chocolate drizzle, and roasted, candied hazelnuts. Yum!
vegan Belgian chocolates
Once I’d satisfied my waffle craving, it was time to get some traditional Belgian chocolates–without the dairy. This proved to be a little more difficult. I’d incorrectly assumed that I could go to just about any Belgian chocolatier and ask for dark chocolate truffles.
The traditional Belgian method of making chocolates includes butter, cream, or both in the ganache layer. So, even if dark chocolate is used, there is dairy.
That place is magic. The staff is so friendly, and the chocolates are like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. When I go back to Brussels, this place and VeganWaf will be my first stops.
For my order, I was told I could choose from the window which chocolates I wanted. Then, they would be weighed, and I would pay based upon that. Their vegan options are clearly marked, so no worries on that front.
When it was time to pay, I was sure this purchase would break the bank. I got 10 chocolates, all assorted vegan flavors. The verdict? Less than 5 euros. That is a bargain for the quality of their products. Seriously. These chocolates have such rich taste and feel like velvet in your mouth.
After picking up some delicious treats for the road, I headed for the train station to catch my ride to Amsterdam. What a lovely day in Belgium’s capital city!
. . .
I know this trip was short, but I managed to pack quite a bit of sightseeing and delicious food into this train layover in Belgium! On a return trip to Brussels, I plan to see the Cathedral of St. Michel and St. Gudula, the famous (or infamous?) peeing statues, and try The Judgy Vegan for a meal. Stay tuned; I never know where I’ll end up next!
*Cover photo by Stephanie LeBlanc. Thanks, Stephanie!
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