Dodging the rain by hopping from bar to bar to sip Belgium's finest beers, meeting European locals in a brasserie who bought us rounds and filled my purse full of old bottle caps, 4 friends squished into a table made for 2 in a Grote Markt cafe eating crepes & laughing at the poor souls stuck out in the rain...these are just a few of my favorite memories of our New Year's trip to Brussels, Belgium. The crowds were thick, the bars huddled full of tourists, and the fireworks shooting off in the streets as the sun went down basically terrified the pants off of each of us, but what else do you expect celebrating NYE in Europe?
When I got a call from my college roommate saying that she and her hubby Mark wanted to spend New Year's somewhere fun in Europe with us, Brussels was my first thought! D and I had never been (although we were no strangers to Belgium) and had heard while there isn't too much to see, the festivities surrounding the winter season in Brussels were worth braving the crowds for. We spent our first half day exploring the city, getting our bearings, and introducing Nancy & Mark to Belgian beer. The city was bustling with activity, much more than we expected. After eating a late lunch in the Grote Markt (Brussels beautiful town square), we visited the winter market (a mega huge Christmas market scattered throughout the city), ate Liege waffles, and got birds-eye view of the city atop a giant glistening Ferris wheel (recap to come...so beautiful!). We also stopped in for some Flemmish stew at a brasserie on Lombard street and met two of the funniest Netherlanders we'd ever encountered (stories to come)! Our NYE day (also known as the LONGEST DAY EVER) went something like this:
+ We souvenir shopped (Brussels has some pretty decent shopping areas).
+ Gobbled up Neuhaus chocolates (a must in Belgium!).
+ Took the Brussels hop on-hop off bus to see more of the city.
+ Had a mini photo shoot in front of the Manneken Pis (Brussels' famous bronze "peeing man" sculpture).
+ Bar hopped (Brussels has no shortage of amazing bars).
+ Ate NYE dinner at Hard Rock Cafe (because when D and I were missing yummy American food).
+ Made a stop at the famed Delirium Cafe (super touristy and super crowded, but the beer selection is extensive!).
+ Bar hopped some more (recommendations to come!).
+ Huddled into a small brasserie on the Grote Market to order crepes & cappuccinos for some energy...and laughed as dozens of people were turned away as they tried to storm the cafe when the rain started pouring.
+ And finally made our way to the Mont des Arts with about a million other tourists to watch the midnight firework display. The place was a firework war zone. Terrifying & awesome.
WHEW, right?! Our bones were frozen and feet were bleeding by the end of that day, but we wouldn't have changed a darn thing. I warned Nancy & Mark that NYE in Europe was no holds barred when it came to fireworks and debauchery. Needless to say, Brussels did not disappoint! We all feared for our lives at least 5 times that night, but having experienced NYE festivities in both Frankfurt and Wiesbaden, I knew what we were in for. The crowds of people, however, made enjoying the fireworks a bit hard. Loud, drunken teenagers are annoying no matter the location. Thankfully, we made it back to our hotel by 1am, unscathed and filled with memories of another exciting NYE abroad. Would I recommend Brussels for future New Year's Eve celebrations? Sure! Just make sure to get a hotel away from the loudness of the Grote Markt, Mont des Arts, and the Rue des Bouchers (bar/restaurant alley). And prepare for crowds EVERYWHERE you go. If you can handle that, then Brussels is a wonderful place to ring in the new year! Bonne Annee, everyone!