Welcome back to the Travels with Quigley series, featuring travel tips from my adventures with a jet-setting rescue terrier. This is our fourth edition in a series of dog-friendly guides to cities around the world. In November, we took readers across the pond to explore the delightful city of Copenhagen, Denmark, and now we’re showing you how to celebrate the holidays in Brussels, the capital city of Belgium.
Belgium runs through my veins. And not just because it’s a country that I adore, but also because I can trace my lineage back here. (My husband, James, does not feel that this means I am entitled to as many Belgian beers and waffles as I like; I agree to disagree.) My grandmother was a Belgian immigrant, a lovely woman with whom I shared far too little time. The city of Brussels took on a new life for my family when my father, Gil, was tasked with returning to Belgium to sell our Great Papa Gilbert’s home. His months there nurtured relationships that beckon him back to the capital frequently, and his most recent journey provided the chance for James, my father, me, and Quigley to all to enjoy a Belgian Christmas abroad together, as a family.
Even without familial ties, Brussels is a beautiful and festive city that is ripe for holiday enjoyment. There are Christmas markets to wander, warm cafés and pubs brimming with conversation and local delicacies, and kind people to befriend. Additionally, Brussels is full of enthusiastic dog-lovers who will stop to pet your pup and even welcome you both inside. From the snow-kissed gothic architecture of the city center to the local parks on the outskirts of town, a Brussels Christmas entails a winter wonderland for all who choose to visit.
Where to stay
For Christmas abroad, we chose to stay in someone else’s home away from home. If you don’t mind hiking up stairs, this fifth-floor Airbnb apartment was the perfect spot, positioned right in the city center — a stone’s throw from Grand Place and the famed Brussels Christmas market. We woke every morning to the sound of church bells ringing across the rooftops and exited our building to be immediately surrounded by holiday cheer. This listing accepts pets on request.
If B&Bs are more your style, check into the Villa Botanische Guesthouse. Both human and canine guests have full access to the house, including the surrounding terraces and gardens. Or, if you prefer a traditional hotel with a stylish edge, head to Radisson Red, where Baxter the house terrier will be happy to show you around. Pup amenities include a dog bed and dishes, as well as a black and red pet bandana to keep!
Where to Eat and Drink
There is much that the Belgians do well, and their beer is no exception. Our AirBnB was conveniently located mere steps from Moeder Lambic, which quickly became our favorite bar and restaurant. Quigley perched happily upon the bench in our booth each night, taking in the scents of cheese and sausage stews while James and I enjoyed craft Belgian brews. Other excellent dog-friendly bars include Delirium Café, with its record-breaking selection of over 3,000 beers, and Life is Beautiful, a quaint cocktail establishment featuring homemade syrups and liqueurs.
For brunch, make time to visit Peck 47, where the food is worth every moment you might spend in line. Time your visit just right, and you can snag the cushioned window seat, a perfect cozy nook where your pet can curl up and watch the world pass by. For food, I recommend the Leek Waffle topped with gin-soaked salmon and poached eggs — Quigley recommends anything topped with sausage. In the mood for tacos? ChezWaWa is a Mexican diner that not only welcomes dogs, but provides discounts to chihuahua owners every Wednesday.
Those who enjoy relaxing afternoons spent drinking tea and playing games should bring their friends — both human and fluffy — to the Liber teahouse. Guests can indulge in teas, cakes, and board games in an environment that welcomes you to stay awhile. We recommend curling up in an armchair by the window with one of the readily available books. Weekly special events include game and art nights, as well as polyglot parties — conversation tables organized by three different world languages. Do you fancy coffee over tea? Barbeton, Love Ciabatta, and Café Velvet are all happy to welcome your pet inside, and their employees are even known to offer them water bowls and treats.
For Christmas Eve dinner, we turned to Chez Leon, a Brussels institution famous for their mussels and frites. Our meal was satisfying not only due to the exquisite food, but also because this bustling restaurant allowed us to spend our holiday meal with the entire family — Quigley included!
Where to Shop
In Brussels, as in any city, we preferred to shop with our pup by our side! Quigley recommends a trip to Animal Store, a pet boutique featuring products by Hunter. Grooming services are also provided, should you want to spruce up your pet for the holidays!
If you’re near the picturesque neighborhood of Sablon, be sure to visit L’Atelier En Ville, a delightful café and makers studio. Grab a coffee to sip while exploring the beautifully curated selection of art, clothing, and furniture. Similarly, Cook & Book provides a space where you can shop for both classics and the newest bestsellers while waiting for your brunch table to open up.
Travelers with a sweet tooth would be wise to pop into Maison Dandoy for a box of traditional speculoos, a traditional sweet and crunchy biscuit. The shop even sells bags of speculoos bits, perfect for topping your morning yogurt. If cocoa is your sweet of choice, wander through Le Comptoir de Mathilde’s vast selection of chocolates. Just be warned: while well-behaved dogs are allowed in both stores, remain very attentive to your pet as you shop, as these sweets can be harmful to them if ingested.
Where to Play
While lack of opposable thumbs means your pup is left to simply observe, humans can enjoy a round of ten-pin or billiards at Crosley Bowling. If you’re in the mood for something a bit more sophisticated, pets are welcome to take in the art at both Halles Saint Géry and Levy Delval.
Our favorite green space in the city is the beautiful Parc du Bruxelles, formerly known as Parc Royal. This lush public garden lies between the breathtaking Federal Parliament and the Royal Palace. With large, tree-lined paths and expansive fountains, Parc du Bruxelles is a beauty for humans and a veritable playground for pups. Although rowing around the lake at Bois de la Cambre is popular during the summer months, winter visits to the park provide a great opportunity for snowball fights, hot drinks at the chalet, and an excuse to buy a fresh waffle from the waffle truck! (We recommend all of the above.)
During the holidays, everyone will enjoy Winter Wonders, a collection of stalls, rides, music, and light shows across the city. If your pet does well in crowds, be sure to visit the tree erected in the Grand Place, Brussels’s central square, famous for its opulent, gilded exteriors.
Where to Pose
Although Brussels is well-known for Manneken Pis (the famous bronze fountain of a young peeing boy), your dog will likely prefer being photographed with Zinneke Pis. This canine counterpart is located at the corner of Rue des Chartreux and Rue de Vieux-Marché.
If you’re looking for more photo-worthy locales, you’re in luck — the city is home to plenty of beautiful murals to provide a backdrop for your dog. Our favorite is the collection of comic strip walls, most notably those of Tintin, by the Belgian artist, Hergé. For a different twist on city art, head underground for portraits in the subway stations — or, more specifically, the Pannenhuis station, with unique color, lines, and lighting fixtures that are sure to elevate your images.
The facades of Brussels also provide gorgeous photo ops. To discover some of the city’s most striking, explore the neighborhoods of Sablon (and the Square du Petit Sablon) and Saint Gilles (and the Palais de Justice). Additionally, the grounds of Cinquantenaire supply endless architectural and horticultural beauty — so be sure you and your pup take time to wander.
Where to Escape
A perfect weekend away can be enjoyed in the village of Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage site pulled straight from the paintings of old Flemish masters. We recommend booking a room at the Doghouse, which includes breakfast, bicycles, and a dog-friendly fireplace lounge. We also suggest that you eat as many Flemish dishes as possible at Cafe Cambrinus, grab a few pints at Brouwerij De Halve Maan, and fill up on chocolates from the Chocolate Line. When you’re ready to take in the fairytale environment, grab a tea from the Gulliver Tree, then stroll through the Marktplatz, Quay of the Rosary, and the Lake of Love. If cycling, remember to circle the perimeter of Old Town to experience the gothic architecture away from the bustle of the town center.
We hope you enjoyed the tips, inspiration, and — of course — the fluff. Please drop us a message with any further questions, or to share your own insights!