You're lucky if you get to visit Brussels on a Sunday. This is the best day to go for a walk in the Sint-Gilles and Marolles neighorhood, because there are some fun things you can only do on this specific day. In this article you'll find a Sunday itinerary involving a few cool places for a bite and a drink, beautiful street art and a lovely panoramical viewpoint of Brussels. The total distance is no longer than 5 km, but you need to count in enough time to visit some spots along the walk. After all, we're talking about Sunday, meaning it is strictly forbidden to rush and run.
Ready? Then hop on the train to Gare du Midi and exit through the Avenue Fonsny, turn left towards the hustle and bustle of one of the biggest open air markets of Brussels. The marché du midi counts over a hundred stalls selling all sorts of goods at very cheap prices: fresh seasonal fruit, whole grilled chicken, spices, plants, clothing... This is the occasion to stock up on food for the upcoming week. On a sunny day, there's a really nice vibe here that will make you feel like you're on holidays. This may be explained by the multiculturalism, but also by all the colors, fragrants and exotic products...
There is one stall in particular that you should not miss out on. Consider it your morning challenge to find the (somewhat hidden) Moroccan stall with a large display of olives and spices. Those who find it will be rewarded with a delicious Moroccan pancake filled with feta, dried tomatoes, olives, honey... and a fresh mint tea. You will find no better breakfast for only 5 euros.
Click here for more tips about the marché du midi.
When you're ready to walk on, turn right on the Avenue de la Porte de Hal. Upon leaving the market, you'll walk past a huge grafitti wall of Le Chat (just one of the many cartoons you'll see on this walk). Follow this avenue until the Halle Gate, a 600 years old reminder of the second city wall of Brussels. There's a little park around it, which would be a great place for a picnic (and it's not too far to carry the food bought at marché du midi).
Now you're about to enter the heart of the Marolles district. The Marolles is known for its antiques, which you will notice as soon as you walk through the Rue Blaes that eventually leads to the flea market of Place Jeu de Balle.
But first, make a little detour through the Cité Hellemans. This residential area used to be a jumble of dodgy small alleys, so the city of Brussels redeveloped the area with some beautiful large art-nouveau buildings. Fun fact: the street names refer to old professions. At the bottom, the streets refer to high-class professions, such as the 'Goldsmith street' whereas higher up, they refer to more low-class professions. From West to East the names are: Goldsmith Street, Embroiderer Street, Chair-maker Street, Barrel-maker Street, Carpenter Street, and finally Chimney Sweeper Street.
The flea market at Place Jeu de Balle takes places every morning, 365 days a year, and is the biggest of the Belgian capital. If you want to hunt for real treasures though, you better come early.
On the corner of the Place Jeu de Balle with Rue du Chevreuil there is Le Caducée, a little shop with freaky curiosities that you might want to check out.
A nice place to have a drink would be Le Chaff, where you can sit on the outdoor terrace or -my favourite spot- on the first floor next to the window that overlooks the entire Place Jeu de Balles. From there you can overlook all the activity taking place outside.
In the little streets around the Place Jeu de Balle, you can find a lot of street art and many beautiful cartoon walls. Read this article to know where exactly they are situated.
Stroll down the Rue Haute with its many antique dealers and second-hand shops. There are also a few cool hipster shops such as Belge une Fois that sells very original Belgian items that would make a great souvenir, the plant shop Brut that recreates a miniature jungle inside or the second hand clothes store Melting Pot Kilo where you pay for your clothes per kilogram.
Head to the Rue de l'Epée for the Marolles elevator. This large, glass elevator that is free to use, will take you up to Place Poelaert, from where you can overlook half of the city. In the distance you'll even see the big balls of the Atomium. If you have time, try to come back in the evening. This article explains why Place Poelaert is so beautiful at sunset.
Follow the tram lines on the Rue de la Régence. Few people know, but there is actually a small hidden park here. Take the Rue Joseph Dupont on your right which leads to Park Egmont. This used to be the private garden of the Egmont palace, but now it belongs to the Belgian Foreign Ministry. Feeling thirsty? There is a small café in the old orangery.
Head back to the Rue de la Régence and turn right. On your right side, you'll see another park (Square du Petit Sablon) and on your left is the Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon.
Now walk on until the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, still on the Rue de la Régence. Don't walk past the museum; instead take the little alley on your left, the Sculpture Garden. Few tourists come here, but it is a nice little greenish oasis of peace in the center of the city. It leads through another quiet street, the Rue de Ruysbroeck, to the Boulevard de l'Empereur, on which you should turn right to the Mont des Arts.
Climb the stairs for a beautiful panoramic view over the Brussel city center. Walk further up along the art-nouveau style Museum of Musical instruments towards the neoclassical Place Royale, dominated by the Church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg. The other buildings here are the Magritte Museum, the BELvue Museum and the main building of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Belgium. In the middle of the square stands Godfrey of Bouillon, the leader of the first crusade in 1096.
Turn left on Rue Royale and you'll reach the Park Royale and the Royal Palace. This is the King's administrative residence and main workplace. The palace is open to public in Summer after the National Holiday of July 21 until September.
The King and his family actually reside in their other 'modest' palace in Laken, where they also have their own private greenhouses.
You've reached the end of the walk. Maybe now you'd like to chill out in Parc Royal (especially nice in Summer) or head back to the city center for a beer? If you're feeling tired and want to return home, go to the metro stop Park or the train station Gare Central.