Country #75 - Belgium Day 2

The Rain and The Christmas Light Show

Today I fought off my better judgement and slept in longer than I had intended. While half asleep I told my mom to go to breakfast by herself and woke up two hours later at 11am. After a busy week, I think I definitely needed the extra sleep before day two in Belgium! Once I got up and ready we grabbed some free hot chocolate downstairs at ibis Styles Brussels Centre Stephanie. We walked outside to board the tram which is when I first saw the beautiful snow that had fallen overnight. Our tram stop turned into quite the spectacle when the tram had its path blocked by a car that had parallel parked too far into the tram lane. The tram had not yet reached our stop but we watched all of this unfold down the street. After about five minutes of honking at the car a large group of people got off of the tram and somehow pushed the car towards the curb enough for the tram to get by. Like I said, quite the spectacle!

Our first actual stop of the day was Église Notre-Dame au Sablon, a stunning gothic cathedral. I really liked the inside because even though it seemed similar to many incredible churches that I have had the opportunity to see before, it had a few really unique qualities. I loved that it was lit almost entirely by natural light through the giant stained glass windows, and there were also some very unique sculptures that I’ve never seen in a church before (e.g. a giant wooden boat). After taking in the church we headed across the street to walk through a beautiful park that we had just happened upon, Jardin du Petit Sablon. It was full of cool statues and my favorite part was the really cool bushes. If you didn’t know bushes could be really cool, Brussels will definitely show you they can be.

From Jardin du Petit Sablon we then walked to the Royal Palace of Brussels. It was on this walk that we realized the beautiful snowfall was going to turn to gross mush sooner rather than later and that we would be dealing with it, plus what was now rain, for the entire day. It was quite dreary, indeed. The Royal Palace, though, was exceptional. It was beautiful and filled with more beautiful gardens. It’s an actual palace so you can’t visit but that was okay because it was stunning just to see from the outside.

After the Royal Palace we had a longer walk to the European Parliament. This was a last-minute addition to the day once we realized that both the Royal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musical Instrument Museum were closed - but I am so glad that we visited the European Parliament instead! Our first stop was a tour of the parliamentary chamber. There was an audio guide that offered information about how the parliament and its proceedings work, and it was super interesting. Afterwards, we visited the Parliamentarium, the official visitor center for the European Parliament. It was really one of the most interactive and unique museums that I’ve ever visited!

When you enter you get an audio guide that works with the native languages of every EU member country. You then use your audio guide throughout your visit to tap it on different interactive exhibits to either learn more via audio or to activate the exhibit to use it interactively. There were so many cool exhibits, from learning about the formation and addition of the EU to learning about how the EU works and learning a lot about its citizens. It was such an informational visit (especially as I’m obviously not from the EU) and was very well done as well - oh, and it was free, too!

After the Parliamentarium we took the metro to St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral. It was another beautiful one! It’s similar in style to Église Notre-Dame au Sablon, but also quite unique as well. I enjoyed the different Christmas displays set up inside from cultures from all around the world - it was fascinating! It was also a nice respite from the literal pouring rain at this point. Our next stop was to walk through Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, which is a sort of outdoor/indoor mall - it’s basically an outdoor shopping center that is opened at the ends but covered at the top, and it is so pretty, especially with the Christmas decorations.

Our final stop of the day was the area around Grand Place and Town Hall, arguably the most famous spot in Brussels. When we walked up there was music playing, and it turned out to be the music that goes to the absolutely incredible Christmas lights display! Lights on the buildings all around the square are linked to music (it was traditional Christmas music as well as Christmas songs by Sia). I have never, and don’t think that I will ever, see Christmas lights that top it. Not only are the buildings themselves some of the coolest you’ll see in Europe, but then they have an incredible light show on top of them! I’ll add a video so you can see for yourself.

We only saw the very end before we walked around the buildings and the Christmas market that was all around the area. My mom bought a few ornaments and we enjoyed walking through the stalls before we headed back to the Grand Place to see the entire Christmas lights performance. It was 15 minutes of mind-blowing lights and music and I highly recommend you visit Brussels just for the light show if you are ever in Europe around Christmas. After the lights we were completely drenched through our clothes and freezing, so we ate at a really cute little restaurant right on the square, called La Brouette. We had a seat by the window so we had such a cool view (and saw the light show once more from inside an hour later). I had a hot chocolate, a chicken puff pastry, and a really yummy traditional apple and ice cream dessert. It was a really great meal to end the day on.

Our last stop was to see the famous Manneken Pis statue, otherwise known as the Peeing Boy. By this point, it was snowing again, and snowing hard. Luckily it was only a five-minute walk from the restaurant, and we took a short look before getting on the bus to head to the tram to then head back to ibis Styles Brussels Centre Stephanie. It was such a great, but very wet, day! We saw a lot of Brussels, learned a whole lot about the EU, and really appreciated all of the Christmas spirit that Brussels had to offer. It’s time to head east for a few days, though, as we are headed to Prague early in the morning!

75 countries down, 122 to go.

Read about my first day in Belgium here.

To learn more about ibis Styles Brussels Centre Stephanie click here.