Walking back to the hipster Ixelles neighbourhood, I was surprised to see my little Fiat 500 parked in the centre of the main square.
It was surprising considering I parked it elsewhere.
I found it a little odd that someone stole my car but then parked it out in the open, in a pedestrian only area, where I would easily find it.
I hopped in the car and found a note explaining the recent heavy rains had flooded the car park so they moved my car above ground to safety.
How considerate of the council to save my car!
The last time I was in Brussels, I had my car towed twice. The first time due to a flooded car park and the second time due to a flooded car park. The second time was more stressful as I had been away in London and when I returned the car was once again parked in the main square. But this time it had one of those massive yellow wheel clamps attached to it.
There was no one around and I didn’t know what to do so I walked miles away to the local police station. They tracked down the culprits, back at the car park. They were all very friendly about it and they only clamped it to be sure I would pay my parking ticket. I didn’t get a fine or anything, they just wanted me to pay for the parking.
I had a wonderful month long stay in Ixelles but they really should get that flooding problem fixed.
Chocolate, Waffles and Fries
The reason I spent so much time in Brussels was to decide if I might like to live there long-term (I don’t) and to research the best locations for Belgium’s classic gourmet snacks; chocolate, waffles and fries.
I started with PhD level research on where to find the best chips in Brussels followed by sampling as many artisan chocolates as possible. Unless I’m missing something, waffles are pretty standard everywhere so I didn’t have to do much with that. Overall, it was a tough month of eating.
As an aside, Belgian fries are usually cooked in beef fat so vegetarians beware. Ask before you order as this might have changed since I was there last.
Brussels Food Tour: Self-Guided vs Paid Tour
If you’ve travelled much in the last few years, you might have noticed the huge growth in food tours as a way to explore a city and its food culture.
Food tours are a great way to discover local specialties and artisanal food stores you might never come across on your own. You can be introduced to small restaurants and passionate food vendors away from the tourist traps prevalent in some popular destinations. It’s a chance to experience classic dishes and snacks as well as emerging trends in the local scene. At the same time, you get to explore the city on foot with a knowledgeable guide.
The downside of food tours are the cost, the time involved and the lack of choice in you what you get to eat.
Food tours in Brussels start at €50 per person which is cheaper than in other cities but still quite an expense, especially if you are travelling in a group or as a family. I don’t think that’s a bad price considering how much food is included in these tours but I do question tours which start at €70 or even higher. Think of how much food you can get for €70 if you pass up on the guided bit!
Aside from the cost issue, look carefully at how long the tour takes before booking anything. If you get to sample 10 different dishes in 3 hours, that sounds like good value but you’re probably going to end up being extremely full at the end. On the other hand, if you do a 5-hour food tour, which I did once before, it really starts to drag on. I personally do not want to spend the best part of a day walking around and eating with people I just met. It’s best to find a balance between how long the tour is and how many stops are included.
The last important point when taking a paid, guided food tour is the lack of choice in what you get to eat. If you’re not fussy and don’t have any dietary requirements, this won’t be an issue for you. Vegetarians can usually be easily accommodated, just be sure to mention this before booking. But tours can be more difficult for vegans or if you have something like coeliac disease and must be on a strict gluten free diet. I would strongly suggest doing a self-guided tour in that case or just pick one or two cafes or restaurants who cater to your needs and maybe add on a stop at a gourmet market.
These potential downsides may or may not be issues for you but they can be overcome by creating your own food tour, a kind of DIY, self-guided food tour.
A self-guided food tour has it’s own pros and cons too. The biggest drawback is the lack of personalised tips and anecdotes shared by the guide and them pointing things out as you walk around. You also might not be able to get sample size dishes but this can be overcome if you’re travelling with someone and don’t mind sharing or by saving some for later.
At the end of the day, it comes down to how you want to spend your time and money, if you see value in a guide and meeting people or if you want more freedom and money to spend on the food you want to try.
Book a Brussels Food Tour
If you want to book a Brussels food tour, these are the tours I recommend. You can book them online before you go with GetYourGuide, a well-known company based in Berlin.
- Brussels food tour with 10 tastings – a 3-hour tour hosted by Withlocals. This tour goes well beyond the simple classics like chocolate, waffles and fries. It really goes into the food history of Brussels and the multi-cultural influences in its cuisine. You get to try a wide variety of food and beer in classic Belgian institutions.
- Chocolate workshop and guided walking tour – a popular 4-hour chocolate and city tour combined. This includes a chocolate making workshop, plenty of chocolate tastings and a walking tour of the main sites in Brussels. Read the reviews if you need convincing, this is one of the most highly rated tours in Brussels.
Create Your Own Tour
It takes a bit more research and planning but it if you would prefer to create your own tour, pick one or two stops from each category below, add them to Google Maps and save it to your phone or print it out. There you go, your own customised food tour in Brussels.
Specialty Coffee in Brussels
Start your tour with a strong brew from one of Brussels quality specialty coffee outlets.
- MOK Specialty Coffee – 196 Rue Antoine Dansaert.
- My Little Cup – 53 Rue de la Croix de Fer.
- OR Coffee – 9 Rue A. Ortsstraat.
Gourmet Bakeries & Patisseries
- Renard Bakery – 3 Place Fernand Cocq, Ixelles. My local bakery when I stayed in Ixelles. So good.
- Aux Merveilleux de Fred – 7 Rue du Marche Aux Herbes. My absolute favourite dessert in the entire world. I was a regular at their Paris shop when I lived there.
- Brian Joyeux – 3 Rue du Congres. Brussels has many incredible cake shops. This is one of them.
I can’t believe anyone would suggest any country other than Belgium has the best chocolate in the world, it’s just not true! It’s Belgium chocolate all the way for me. I put a lot of time and effort into taste testing different chocolates from the top artisanal chocolatiers in Brussels.
At the end of the day though, all of the high-end chocolate shops have incredible quality chocolate with both classic and unique flavours. I doubt you will be disappointed but if you’re a true chocolate snob, you might want to avoid the chain stores but even they have pretty great chocolate for the most part.
All these shops are amazing, some are bean to bar including roasting, some sell delicious cakes and others have their own cafe which you can sit and enjoy the specialties in-house. Check their websites as most have multiple locations.
- Mary – 23 Grand Place, Brussels
- Wittamer – 6 Place du Grand Sablon, Brussels
- Pierre Marcolini – Place du Sablon, Brussels
- Frederic Blondeel – 39 Rue de Ganshoren, Brussels
- Darcis – Boulevard Lambermont, Brussels
- Galler – 44 Rue au Beurre, Brussels
The Best Chips in Brussels
As I mentioned, I reviewed a bunch of takeaway chip shops, trucks and kiosks around Brussels, including all the touristy ones and some very off the beaten path locations. Belgian street food at its best.
- Maison Antoine – Place Jourdan 1, Etterbeek. The most well-known, most touristy and still one of the best.
- Fritkot Bompa – Avenue de la Couronne 71, Ixelles. One of the best suburban frites shops, perfect if you’re staying in the fun Ixelles neighbourhood.
- Friture Pitta de la Chapelle – Place de la Chapelle. Good option if you like crispy fries and the handy location near Place du Sablon near many of the chocolate shops.
Brussels vs Liege Waffles
The age-old question persists, which are better, Brussels waffles or Liege waffles? For the uninitiated, Brussels waffles are the rectangular ones. They are light and crispy and topped with all kinds of sweet things but often whipped cream, Nutella, ice cream, fresh fruit or all of these things. Liege waffles are the thicker, more rounded waffles. They are slightly chewy and sweet and don’t really need any toppings except a little icing sugar.
But where to find the best Belgian waffles in Brussels?
- Vitalgaufre – 23 Rue Neuve. The place to go for Liege waffles. Cash only.
- Maison Dandoy – Rue Charles Buls. A tearoom serving both kinds of waffles. Massively popular and quite pricey but a great choice if you don’t want to eat your waffle in the street.
- Food trucks. Waffles are classic Belgian street food. The simple kind from a street vendor is often the best. But maybe avoid the touristy ones around Grand Place.
Brussels Food Market
No food tour is complete without a stop in a fresh food market with local produce and regional specialties. Buy supplies for a picnic or just look and admire.
- Marche du Parvis Saint-Gilles – Sint-Gillisvoorplein, Sint-Gillis. A morning market and delicatessen open Tuesday to Sunday.
- Marche Flagey – Place Flages, Ixelles. Another popular morning market open Tuesday to Sunday.
- Place du Chatelain Market – Ixelles. More of a high-end market. Open Wednesdays, 2pm til late.
- Marche du Midi – behind Midi Train Station. One of the largest markets in Europe. Lots of international food and cheap veggies.
Traditional Cafes and Restaurants
If you’re more interested in eating at cafes and restaurants than a snack based walking tour, Brussels is packed with traditional eateries with classic Belgian dishes. I won’t go into where to eat as there are too many places to mention but this post from CN Traveler covers just about everything you might want to give a try.
Food Festivals in Brussels
If you are a serious foodie and want to plan your trip around a food event, Brussels has a number of popular festivals held throughout the year.
The most famous food festival is Eat! Brussels which is held in early September each year. This is a free event but you can get a magnetic card/pass with credits to purchase food and wine. The focus is on regional cuisine and includes cheese, wine, desserts, and there are a few workshops like the gin workshop. You can get more information here.
You might be wondering where to find all the famous Belgian beers. I gave up drinking a couple of years ago and beer was never my thing so maybe check this post if you’re looking for beer tips or try this popular beer tasting tour.
Experiencing a city and culture via its food is one of the great pleasures of travel. Let me know if you end up doing one of these Brussels food tours or create your own self-guided tour. If you plan on spending more time in Belgium, Ghent and Bruges are also great foodie cities worth visiting or head just across the border to gourmet city Lille.2