During our Interrailing trip, our stop in Brussels became a happy accident. Due to leaving train reservations way too late, we were unable to reserve a fast train directly from Paris to Amsterdam. In order to avoid an 8 hour train journey with multiple stops we decided to book a Thalys train to Brussels and carry on to Amsterdam later in the day. This at first seemed incredibly tedious, but it ended up being so worth it.
Train Travel with Thalys/ Baggage in Brussels Station
We arrived in Brussels refreshed after having spent the past hour or so aboard the Thalys service. I wish I had taken more pictures of the train, and not an embarrassing video I sent to my parents. It was so luxurious, we had huge red velvet like seats with spacious leg room and a generous tray table. I have honestly flown long haul in more uncomfortable seats. Leaving the train was sort of bittersweet. Knowing we would be slumming it later on a train, but at least we had a few hours in Brussels before we had to worry about that.
Our first port of call was to find somewhere for our big backpacks, thankfully Brussels station offers rental lockers which housed our bags for a few hours whilst we explored. Shockingly, we did do a little bit of research before we arrived in our second country. We knew we wanted to visit Mini Europe and the Atomium. Visiting these monuments has been a childhood dream after seeing both on a documentary. We grabbed some metro tickets, (fair warning that the Brussels metro system is relatively simple but finding ticket machines proves difficult), and headed across the city.
The Atomium & Mini Europe
Thankfully you can purchase a ticket for both attractions at once which saves standing in queues. And again thankfully for me, French is spoken in Brussels which simplified everything greatly. Once we had bought our tickets, we headed straight for the Atomium, where we were greeted by Tin Tin before heading up on a lift straight to the top. The views over Brussels and Mini Europe are just insane and there is even a restaurant at the top. From there we headed back down in the lift and explored more of the ‘atoms’ by escalator. Inside each ‘atom’ there are a variety of exhibitions and in one there was even a cool music concert. This was honestly such a surreal experience for me, having dreamt about visiting this monument.
From there we headed for a walk around Mini Europe. If you are unaware of the concept, you essentially walk around a park of some of Europe’s most famous monuments, except they’re in miniature version. We enjoyed a small taste of culture from almost every country in Europe, minus the expensive air fares. It was interesting to see monuments from places we had already visited and places we were yet to see. This only served to excite us for the rest of our journey around Europe. It really was a dream come true, as geeky as that sounds. When I realised that our quick pit stop in Brussels would allow us enough time, I was incredibly excited.
Grand-Place de Bruxelles
After finishing our small trip around Europe, we metroed (have I just coined a verb?) back into the city, of course not before buying a Belgian waffle, to soak up as much as we could before we had to jump on a train to the Netherlands. We got off the metro to take a look around the main square, which was just incredible. The architecture is insane. It was at this point for the second time this trip, that I swore to do my year-abroad in Brussels. Coincidentally there was a Japanese dancing performance starting as we arrived that we managed to catch before heading off.
I really could have spent days more in Brussels absorbing as much Belgian culture as possible. It was so lovely to have the opportunity to spend some time in Brussels, if only for a few hours. I have in fact been to Belgium before, I visited Ypres on a school trip, but I had never had the pleasure of visiting Belgium’s capital city until now.