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Your summer, sorted: 24 of our favourite things to do in Brussels over the holidays
Whether you’ve been in Brussels for 20 years or you’ve only just arrived, let us provide you with inspiration to create a summer to remember. From rooftop bars to treasure hunts, must-see museums to street art tours, there’s something for absolutely everyone.
1. Slow travel
Get a different view of the capital as you potter along on a canal boat. Brussels By Water offers evening apero cruises, day trips, combined boat-bike-train excursions and even a chance to travel on the remarkable sloping lock at Ronquières.
2. A cool summer drink
Five of Brussels’ parks are home to a family-friendly beer garden-style bar all summer long, with benches and tables and a cute refreshment stand in the tradition of the French guinguettes. As well as serving drinks and local organic food, they are also be the venue for activities from yoga and dance classes to concerts, organised with the local community.
You’ll find Guinguette Maurice in Cinquantenaire park, Emile in Parc Duden, Gisèle in the Abbey of La Cambre, Henri in the Georges Henri Park and Fabiola in Jette's Baudouin Park. They are open seven days a week from 11.00 to 22.00 until the end of the summer.
3. It’s all gravey
Brussels’s oldest cemetery is the final resting place of a number of notable folk, and is also home to an original cast of Rodin’s The Thinker. Its underground burial galleries, recently restored, add an extra layer of atmosphere.
4. Park life
From art to zumba, Schaerbeek’s Josaphat park pulls out all the stops to keep young and old entertained over the summer. The Park To Be is a packed programme of 200 free activities spread across every day of the holidays. Nine themed weekends are also on the agenda, including an open-air cinema, urban farm and Schaerbeek Plage, with deckchairs, water fountains and a bicycle-propelled fruit juice maker.
An info stand is staffed every afternoon, where you can borrow park games including the highly addictive Mölkky, a Finnish take on skittles. While you’re in the park, enjoy a round of mini-golf and watch some vertical archery next to the Buvette Sint-Sebastiaan. Next to the park’s resident donkeys, Camille and Gribouille, you’ll find Josaphine’s, a new kiosk that takes the hassle out of picnicking: it sells bagels, hot dogs and hampers full of picnic food, and rents out waterproof blankets, plates and all the cutlery.
5. Shall we Frunch?
Every Friday, gather at the BIP courtyard on Brussels’ Place Royale for Frunch, the laid-back lunch party with food trucks, live music, cocktails and chillout terrace. Sign up for a loyalty card for discounts on food, drink and culture.
6. Tiny trains, big fun
Little (and big) railway fans will love this miniature train ride around beautiful parkland in Forest, lovingly maintained by a group of enthusiasts. The Petit Train à Vapeur runs at weekends until the end of June, and Sundays only from July. A 12-minute lap costs €3.
7. On tour
Whatever your interests – industrial heritage, comics, war memorials, architecture, surrealism, Jacques Brel – there’s a self-guided tour of Brussels for you. Pick up a €1 pocket-sized map at the Grand’ Place tourist office and explore the city based on a theme close to your heart
8. Meals on wheels
Take two icons of Brussels – the rickety old tram and the cornet of frites – and you get Le Tram de Boitsfort, a takeaway serving burgers, fries and other fritkot favourites.
9. Summer jammin’
What’s better than sipping a wellmixed Negroni on a rooftop with a stunning view over the city? At Jam Hotel, a veritable design gem, you have all that and more: the rooftop even boasts a (suitably Instagrammable) pool.
10. Art in the streets
If you don’t want to spend your time inside a stuffy museum during the summer but are still craving a dose of art, here’s the perfect alternative: the Brussels street art tour lets you discover art under the open sky. There’s a handy map letting you plan your own itinerary.
Tuck into Brussels’ best shrimp croquettes at Fernand Obb Delicatessen, a newcomer to the scene in SaintGilles. Th e bustling deli-cafe dishes up award-winning croquettes alongside boudin burgers and witloof salad – and don’t miss the crunchy potato waffles.
12. Brussels à la Provence
One of Brussels’ many charms is its dash of French savoir-vivre, something that manifests itself each summer in the countless spontaneous pétanque games that take place all over the city. In case you’ve never played it, the popular game originating from Provence follows an easy concept: players have to throw their boules as close as possible towards a smaller target ball and whoever gets closest wins. It’s popular with grandparents, children, and everyone in between, and terrains can be found all over Brussels, both in freely accessible parks (such as Tenbosch and Cinquantenaire) or for a small fee (in the Stade d’Ixelles, for instance). Pétanque sets are cheaply available in sports stores such as Décathlon. Best enjoyed exactly as French tradition commands: with a glass of pastis in your hand.
13. Set out your stall
Perfect for an after-work apero or to impress visiting friends, Brussels’ evening markets pop up in squares across the city ﬁ ve nights a week, with an appetising line-up of food trucks and wine bars plus the usual deli, bakery and fruit and veg stalls. Place Van Meenen, Saint-Gilles (Mon), Place du Luxembourg, Ixelles (Tue), Place du Châtelain, Ixelles (Wed), Place Albert, Forest (Th u), Place des Chasseurs Ardennais, Schaerbeek (Fri)
14. Make like a tourist
Tourists tend to do things that residents never do, but not always because they don’t know any better. Take carriage rides, which are just delightful, damn it. Book – or just show up – to take one in.
15. Chop chop
The latest craze to reach Brussels is axe-throwing. No, really. At Woodcutter, you can shake off the week’s stresses by chucking an axe at a target to score points while supping a beer. It’s challenging, it’s cathartic – just follow the rules so nobody gets hurt.
16. Drink in the view
Sip a cold beer or nibble on some charcuterie while perched on what feels like the top of the world. Bar Duden, in the park of the same name in Forest and created by the folks behind Bio Vrac organic shop, appears every summer, with its smart marquee, its deckchairs and its stunning view across rolling parkland to the Justice Palace and the Brussels skyline beyond. It’s an uphill trek from almost every direction, so you’ll have earned that beer (or wine, prosecco or homemade lemonade) by the time you arrive; refuel with flammkuechen, empanadas, samosas and cheese platters. Kids’ activities, live music, salsa classes and more are on the programme, and it’s an ideal spot for a round of pétanque – or, alternatively, just sitting back and watching the world and its dogs go by.
17. Taste of Brussels
Founded in 1900, Cantillon brewery is a slice of Brussels history. Follow their ‘lambic stroll’ from the city centre to get there, tour the family-run site by yourself or with a guide, then enjoy a gueuze, kriek or framboise in the bar after.
18. Medieval mischief
Handed a map and a bag of clues, you’ll solve riddles and meet princes and sorcerers at Sortilège, a magical medievalthemed adventure park in 22 hectares of nature on the outskirts of Brussels. The itinerary can be adjusted for all ages – from little explorers to grown-up team-building exercises.
Dive beneath the city’s streets to explore a section of Brussels’ 350km-long sewer network, and discover what exactly happens to your water before it comes out of your tap and after it goes down the drain.
20. Pick your own
Take a trip to the country without leaving the city at Fruit Time. The Anderlecht farm is the place to pick strawberries in June and raspberries and other berries and flowers from July to September. If you don’t fancy making your own preserves, pick up a jar of their homemade raspberry jam.
21. Island in the sun
On a tiny island in the middle of a lake in the city’s biggest oasis, Chalet Robinson has opened a new terrace for the sunny season that’s much more casual than its restaurant. A small ferry will take you across the water, and there are rowing boats for rent as well.
22. Give us a clue
Grab your smartest family members to tackle the Secret of the Manneken Pis, a treasure hunt around central Brussels. Keep your eyes peeled and your wits about you as you scour historic buildings and statues for clues. Suitable for kids 10+, challenging enough to keep everyone guessing.
23. Up on the roof
The fifth largest church in the world, Koekelberg’s Art Deco basilica is a remarkable feat of engineering that dominates the Brussels horizon. Visitors to its two museums can take a lift to the roof to enjoy spectacular views across the city.
24. Underground mission
Calling valiant young knights! Charles V needs your help to ﬁnd the treasure beneath the Coudenberg Palace. Kids aged ﬁve to eight must don disguises as they tackle a series of puzzles and follow the treasure map that leads to the prize.
Looking for more ideas? Download our Belgium-wide summer travel guide now.
Top photo: Jean-Marc Zenari / 1: Brussels by Water / 2: Bruxelles Environnement / 3: Visit Brussels/Jean-Paul Rémy / 5: Visit Brussels/Eric Danhier / 8: Visit Brussels/Jean-Paul Rémy / 17: Visit Brussels/Eric Danhier / 19: Visit Brussels/Eric Danhier / 23: Visit Brussels/Jean-Paul Rémy