Our first international trip from Germany was to Brussels, Belgium over Thanksgiving weekend. It happened to coincide with the opening weekend of the city’s Christmas market, known as Winter Wonders. This was by far the largest and most impressive of the six Christmas markets we visited over the season, featuring 200+ vendor “chalets,” a massive ferris wheel, multiple carousels, an ice skating rink, and a sound and light show on the Grand Place.
It was my first trip to Brussels — and Belgium — and I was really wowed by our visit. The Christmas market definitely gave the entire city a festive, magical feel, but there’s so much more to see and do: lots of museums, great food — so many good restaurants and cafes, lots of interesting streets and shops to wander, and The Chocolate.
Oh, the chocolate. Kail was interested in sampling all the good Belgian beer, but I was interested in sampling the fancy chocolatiers. I had The. Most. Amazing. Hot Chocolate at Pierre Marcolini.
We didn’t go to ALL the chocolate shops (we were only there three days), but we hit a few of the more well known ones — Pierre Marcolini, Leonidas, Neuhaus — and sampled a few more brands we picked up at the grocery store near our Airbnb. Hot chocolate aside, I think the best one is Neuhaus, which claims to have invented the Belgian praline.
What did we do other than eat chocolate and drink beer (and eat Belgian frites and waffles and drink vin chaud)?
We visited the Belgian Comic Strip Center, which Piopio enjoyed. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it as well. I’m not really a comic strip/comic book/graphic novel person (Peanuts is really the only comic I’m very familiar with, and that probably has more to do with “A Charlie Brown Christmas” than the actual printed comic), but it was interesting to learn about Belgium’s rich history of comics.
Fun fact I learned: The Smurfs — or Les Schtroumpfs in French — are Belgian. The Adventures of Tintin were vaguely familiar to me, but I think that’s more because I studied French in high school and we must have read it.
Otherwise, I didn’t know a lot about other famous Belgian comic strips, like Boule et Bill, or Billy and Buddy. [Side note: I could not figure out — and am still confused by — which one is Boule and which one is Bill, and which one is Billy and which one is Buddy. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, Boule is a seven-year-old boy, and Bill is his cocker spaniel dog. Bill does not strike me as a dog name. In English, however, Billy is the boy and Buddy is the dog. Those names make sense, but it’s confusing given that Bill is the dog in the Belgian version.]
The museum was neat, with lots of hands-on things for Piopio to do and play with, like a person-sized doghouse where he spent much time trying to chew “Bill’s” bone, and a life-sized Smurf mushroom house.
We also visited the Musical Instruments Museum, which sounds like it would be toddler-appropriate, but — housing an impressive collection of thousands of historical and modern musical instruments in a really cool art nouveau building — was far too fancy for Piopio. There was room for him to run around (closely supervised, so he wouldn’t climb/bang on anything), but the galleries were structured as these large open spaces with other patrons quietly observing pieces with the help of audio guides. So it ended up being a short visit.
The museum has a restaurant on the top floor with a terrace boasting beautiful views of the city and a good brunch, so maybe we’ll return one day, sans Piopio.
We spent the rest of our short visit wandering the Christmas market stalls, which were spread out across several areas of the city, but all within walking distance. We made sure to visit both the Chimay and Leffe chalets. We rode the ferris wheel and took in amazing views of the city. Piopio rode a carousel of course. Kail and I took turns seeing the sound and light show at the Grand Place after Piopio went to bed.
Our Airbnb was literally on the same street as Brussels’ most famous landmark, the Manneken Pis, so we walked by that multiple times a day. (Verdict: unimpressed.)
We definitely would like to return to Brussels — it’s only about a 3.5-hour train ride away — outside of Christmas market season to experience the rest of the city.
Do you like comic strips?