When in Brussels, the first thing to do is definitely to check out the Grote Markt, also known as the Grand Place. An awesome collection of old, grand buildings, the square deserves the latter name far more than the former, and can easily occupy a lot of your stay in this contemporary city.
How to get there
Reaching the Grand-Place is just a matter of taking trains; this is Europe after all. There are three main train stations in Brussels: Midi, Central, and Nord. Of those, Central is within walking distance of the Grand Place. A single agency controls all the subways, trams, and buses that travel inside of the city (not including those that go all over the country or to other countries) so you can easily use any tickets you buy for any mode of transportation.
What you’re looking at
The size and volume of structure in the Grand-Place can be overwhelming. I advise that you come back to it a few times during your stay, certainly once each during daytime and night time, to get the full experience. Switching vantage points can also reveal previously unnoticed details about the buildings and designs in this UNESCO World Heritage site. The square is always, always crowded, and for good reason, so don’t let that bother you–after you get tired of looking at buildings, enjoy the people-watching!
So, start with the Gothic-looking building with the tall, slender, pointy spire in the middle and the statue on top. That’s the town hall. To the right of it are a bunch of old guildhalls that are now restaurants. Across from the town hall, on the other side of the square, is another Gothic building, only its spire has a cross on it. That is the Maison du Roi, or Breadhouse, now containing the Museum of the City of Brussels (entrance is only 4EUR for adults and 2EUR for children). To the right of that is the Maison de Ducs de Brabant, and closing up the square are more guildhalls, beautifully traced in gold.
Every other year, a beautiful “flower carpet” adorns the center of the Grand Place. Thousands of fresh flowers are assembled in the square. I was very sad to miss this spectacle, though I imagine the crowds can be intense, specially since the flower carpet is only present for a weekend. If you’re in Brussels in 2016, try to check it out!
Even if you miss the flower carpet, being at the Grand Place feels like being at the center of everything. Grab a Belgian beer from one of the side alley stores, find a spot at the edge of the square, and just take it all in.