What to see and do in Brussels: Belgian waffles, chocolate and beyond
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
I had taken my 8-year-old son on multiple international father-son trips, but never my 4-year-old daughter. So when FlyingBlue announced a summer promotion offering 25% off business class award flights, I knew this was a great opportunity for a fun dad-daughter trip. Friends have mentioned how great the chocolate, waffles and fries are in Belgium, so it has been on my travel wish list. When I found available award space, I booked a trip for my daughter Scarlett and me. (Read this if you're dubious about the value of traveling with young kids who may not remember the trip.)
Once you're in Brussels, there are plenty of sights and experiences you shouldn't miss, including the food. Here are a few of our favorite Brussels travel tips and activities.
The Grand Place is a beautiful city center surrounded by ornate historic buildings, many adorned with gold. There are several shops and restaurants at the ground-floor level. The Brussels Visitors Center is also located here.
We enjoyed grabbing ice cream or waffles and sitting on the cobblestone ground in the evening. Occasionally, performers put on a show for everyone to enjoy. There is no charge to enter the Grand Place, which is a main gathering place for visitors and locals alike.
Comic Book Trail
What kid doesn't love comic books, right? Along the Comic Book Trail, you'll discover murals of popular comics on the walls of buildings. You can search for them on your own or buy a small book for two euros from the Brussels Visitors Center that contains a map and back story for each comic. We didn't recognize many of the comic book characters but were excited to find out that The Smurfs and Tin Tin both originated in Belgium.
For more comic fun, visit the Museum of Original Figurines (MOOF). There are more than 1,000 figurines inside this museum. Admission is 10 euros for adults, 7 for seniors and children 12 to 24 years old, and 3 for children under 12. Children 3 and under are free.
From almost anywhere in Brussels, you can spot the Atomium. It's a futurist-looking building that reminds me of a molecule from science class. The structure was constructed for the 1958 Brussels World Fair and was the flagship building for the event.
Visitors can take an elevator to the top to take in the scenic views or enjoy a meal in the restaurant. As you descend, you can explore different levels using a mixture of escalators, walkways and stairs. The Atomium offers a mixture of permanent and rotating exhibits, so there will be something new to see each time you visit.
Admission is 15 euros for adults, 8 for students, and 13 for seniors ages 65 and above. Children shorter than 115 centimeters (45 inches) enter for free. The Brussels Card saves you 25% off admission. Combo tickets are available to save money on additional attractions, such as the Planetarium.
See the highlights of Europe at this two-hour walking tour of replicas of famous buildings from every European country. At every stop, push a button to hear that country's national anthem or cause something to happen. For example, you can trigger an eruption at Mount Vesuvius during which the ground shakes.
Tickets for Mini-Europe are 11.80 euros for children and 15.80 for adults and seniors. The Brussels Card provides a 2 euro discount. You can also save when adding other attractions, such as Atomium, Planetarium or hop-on hop-off bus to your admission.
Hop-on hop-off bus
When you need to rest your feet but still want to explore Brussels, take a ride on the hop-on hop-off bus. There are 22 bus stops spread throughout the city, so it's a convenient way to sightsee or get between two destinations quickly. The bus has two levels, with the top open during good weather.
The Brussels Card offers free rides for pass holders. Otherwise, it's 25 euros for an adult or 15 for children ages 4 to 12. Children 3 and under are free. Booking online will save you 2 euros.
As you roam Brussels, you'll notice an abundance of artisanal chocolate shops. Take some time to stop by several and indulge in the sweet goodness. As we packed for our trip, I made sure to save room to bring home chocolate for friends and family. A few of our favorites included Neuhaus, Leonidas and Mary-Galerie de la Reine.
In America, we call them Belgian waffles, but here they are known as Brussels waffles. I suggest doing a taste test between Brussels and Liege waffles. The Liege versions are a bit denser, have the edges cut off and are sweeter.
There are many to choose from within the city, but we liked Maison Dandoy, Waffle Factory and Brussels Waffle Workshop the best. At every shop, you can add multiple toppings, ranging from melted chocolate to Nutella, ice cream and fresh fruit.
Belgian fries with dipping sauces
A popular walking-around snack in Brussels is Belgian fries, similar to the "steak fries" we have in the U.S. Most shops serve them in a cone or sack that is easy to carry around, with your choice of sauces drizzled on top for extra flavor. Every time we passed by, Fritland always had long lines, but don't waste your time waiting there. When we finally bought some, they tasted no better or worse than all of the other Belgian fries we tried.
Flying to Belgium using miles
To fly to Brussels, Belgium, I pieced together different award programs to find the best deals. We live in Nashville and our airport is primarily served by Southwest, Delta and American, but we got a little creative to get to Belgium.
Don't you hate it when you find an amazing deal that is from another airport? This is where a positioning flight comes in handy. Since the FlyingBlue deal we found required that we fly from Chicago, we flew there on Southwest from Nashville for 15,192 points and $22.40 round-trip. Scarlett was my designated companion for the Southwest Companion Pass, so all we had to pay for her ticket was the $11.20 in taxes on her flights.
Southwest points can be earned from the Chase Southwest personal or business credit cards. My favorite is the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card (here's a full review), because it gives cardholders a $75 Southwest travel credit and four priority boarding passes each year.
I always book one-way flights on Southwest so it is easier to change or cancel them should better options become available. For example, our flight from Nashville to Chicago was only 6,145 Southwest Rapid Rewards points.
KLM business class flights from Chicago
Thanks to the FlyingBlue promotion, I booked our outbound flights for 25% off the regular award price in business class. AirFrance and KLM flights can both be booked with FlyingBlue miles and our business class tickets on KLM were 39,750 miles and $229.71 each.
FlyingBlue is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou points. Travelers have plenty of options to earn points which can be converted into FlyingBlue miles via credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the American Express® Gold Card.
United Polaris business class back to Chicago
The best available business class awards for our return trip rang in at 60,000 United miles and $85.83 each for United Polaris business class. United miles can be earned through its cobranded credit cards, like the United Explorer Card, or transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards.
For the taxes and fees on the flights, I used the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card to pay for and then erase those travel purchases. With the card, I earn 2x miles for every dollar that I spend, and I have 90 days after spending on travel to earn additional miles to cover all of the purchases. The purchase just has to code as travel on my statement to be easily "erased" with miles from the card.
Staying in Brussels using hotel points
When traveling internationally, many cities do not have the same hotel brands that we are used to in the United States, or the options may be limited due to local customs. That was the case for Brussels when I searched for award availability.
Assuming that -- unlike me -- you might be traveling with more than one child, I looked for family-friendly options. Some hotels would not allow a family of four in a room without requiring an upgrade to a premium room, while others didn't offer award space at all for that many travelers in one room. Here are some of the more the hotel award options in Brussels.
This Holiday Inn offered award space for a family of four. The hotel itself is small, with only 63 rooms available, so book early if you want to snag a room. It offers a central location and is close to the Royal Museums of Art and History.
The cash price for the room was $228 per night in October 2019, or you can book for points for 30,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night. Learn more about the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card, which provides an annual free night worth up to 40,000 points and the fourth night free on award bookings.
This Marriott hotel does not offer rooms for four people. However, I would consider it if you are traveling solo with one of your children, as I was.
Rooms start at $183 or 25,000 Marriott points per night. All Bonvoy members receive the fifth night free on award bookings. The annual free night (worth up to 35,000 points) from the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card can also save you money on your hotel stay.
As Scarlett and I were searching for murals on the Comic Book Trail, we found that The Smurf mural is at this hotel. The location is perfect because it's just steps away from the main train station.
In order to accommodate a family of four, Hilton required a premium room reward redemption. This significantly increases the number of points required for your stay compared to double-occupancy rooms that can be booked for as low as 40,000 points per night.
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers automatic Diamond status, which could make your stay a bit nicer.
This Radisson Blu has a gorgeous art-deco-inspired exterior with a bright and airy atrium. Unfortunately, only cash rates were available for a family of four in my searches. Point redemptions became available only when I searched for a party of two. You could choose to book two 50,000 point rooms if you want to stay at this hotel.
When traveling, I also like to research local hotels to experience something different than the major chains. The Aparthotel Adagio offers a unique character and is centrally located near the Grand Place, a major tourist attraction in Brussels.
This is a hotel where you'd want to use fixed value points to cover your stay, or rack up 10 miles per dollar by booking via Hotels.com Venture if you have a Capital One Venture Card through Jan. 31, 2020.
Scarlett and I very much enjoyed our first international trip together to Brussels. It was a wonderful week of exploring attractions, learning about history and eating delicious food. While hotel options using points for a family of four are a bit tricky, the Holiday Inn Brussels - Schuman offers a tremendous value for your points. We ended up staying at the Brussels Marriott Hotel Grand Place, which we enjoyed, but book early if your visit is in the summer as it gets pretty full.
Before you begin your Belgian adventure, price out the Brussels Card to gain free entry to 41 museums and receive discounts for many other attractions, tours and restaurants is also likely worth exploring. If you want, you can also upgrade your Brussels Card for unlimited public transportation and hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses. Then, once you are already in Brussels, you can consider adding a train trip to nearby Antwerp for more fun adventures.
Based on our experiences, I highly recommend Brussels as a vacation destination, with or without kiddos.
Here are other resources for planning a family trip to Europe:
- Take the family to Florence: A complete planning guide
- 11 activities for kids and families in Florence
- How to find points hotels in Florence for a family of 4
- How to plan the perfect family trip to Rome
- 10 activities in Rome for kids and families
- Why every family you know is flying to Portugal -- and why you should, too
- Paris hotels on points for families of 4
- 8 points-friendly hotels in London for families of 4