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Brussels or Lisbon; a city comparison and tourism travel guide

Both Brussels and Lisbon are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?

We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This website will provide our unbiased opinions of Lisbon and Brussels, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit. The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)

Introduction to Brussels and Lisbon

It is all too easy to over-look Brussels as a city break destination, especially considering it is the home of modern European politics.

Lisbon is a progressive and liberal city, which still retains its rich seafaring history and distinctive Portuguese heritage. The city effortlessly blends history, vibrant culture and exciting nightlife into one charismatic tourist destination.

Lisbon is a city of compact variety; you can get lost in the maze of narrow streets in the Alfama district, be wowed by the grandeur of the plazas in Baixa or join the hipsters and fashionistas in the Principe Real. Close to the city are glorious sandy beaches, and Lisbon boasts one of the finest climates in Europe. This is an amazing city, which you must visit.

High-level summary for Brussels and Lisbon

Do you agree with us? Why not provide your own scores for Lisbon here

Summary
Which city would I go to? Lisbon
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Lisbon
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Lisbon
Which for my food obsessed friend? Lisbon
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)

The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

Lisbon is a varied and fascinating city, which takes three days to fully explore. Often, people like to visit Sintra as part of their stay, but at a minimum, we recommend you dedicate two days to Lisbon itself.

For a longer stay, there are many enjoyable day trips, all of which can be reached via the inexpensive public transport. These include, the palaces of Sintra, the beach resorts of Cascais and Sesimbra and the historic towns of Obidos and Evora. In the summer, a holiday to Lisbon can also include visiting the beautiful beaches along the Estoril or Costa Caparica coastlines.
Related articles: 3 days in Lisbon48 hours in Lisbon

Brussels is compact city, and as such, you can see all the sights in 1 or 2 days. There is ample to see, but most of it is packed into the historical core.
Walking from the Grote Markt (The Grand Place) in the very middle of the city to the EU Parliament and through the bustling streets of the Stalingrad District hardly takes more than a couple of hours – depending on how many Belgian beers you stop for en route, of course!

With extra time, you could consider outings to places like Waterloo (the battlefield where Wellington defeated Napoleon in 1815) and the handsome medieval city of Bruges.

Brussels gets busiest during the warm months of the summer. Everyone from city breakers flying in on short-haul budget links to Interrail backpackers on a cross-continent grand tour pass through during the main holidays from June and August.
There's a real buzz about the bars of the Grand Place then, with people chatting and snapping selfies all around the UNESCO-tagged streets. Some downsides: Brussels can have heatwaves, and the price of hotels at this time is sure to be peaking.

While winter is probably best avoided unless you're on the hunt for cosy Christmas markets, spring and autumn have their pluses. They're both typically cheaper. There's fewer people around, so you're more likely to score tours of the EU Parliament and whatnot. And everything costs a little less, from hotels to flights deals into town.

The recommended time to visit Lisbon is in the late spring and early autumn, when the city is sunny and warm, but without the summertime crowds. Lisbon is subject to the pressures of over-tourism at times, most notably being incredibly crowded during the summer months in the popular tourist areas, such as the Belem district and Sintra.

Due to the increased popularity of Lisbon, it is becoming a year-round destination, however, be warned that the winter months can be wet and chilly. Our favourite time of year to visit Lisbon is during the first two weeks of June, when the whole city celebrates the Santos Populares festivals with street parties and traditional dances.

Lisbon has a wide appeal; there are cultural sights, a buzzing nightlife and a blossoming artisan scene. The city will appeal to young or old, either for a cultural trip or as a fun weekend away.

In the summer (May-Sep) the beaches make for a really good extension to your trip and are easily accessible from the city. There is little to fault Lisbon and most visitors leave with fond memories of the city.

One of the great joys of Brussels is just how many facets there is to the city. You're certain to be entertained if you love architecture. The main square alone comes with Gothic, Neo-Gothic, and Renaissance elements.
Then there's all that fabled Belgian food, from the double-cooked chips to the chocolate-topped waffles to the frothy monk-brewed beers you find in the pubs. Add in enthralling tours of important parliament buildings, pretty parks, and some seriously rich galleries, and you've got a destination suited to all sorts.

Of course, some people might not feel right at home, Brussels is urban to the core. Finally, budget seekers could find themselves a little happier elsewhere. Brussels hardly breaks the bank, but it's no penny saver either.

There’s a lot to squeeze in for 48 hours in Lisbon.
Below is an interactive map for what we recommend doing in a 48 hour tripto the city; day 1is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights in grey.

Most tours begin in the Baixa district with its grand avenues and magnificent plazas, such as the Praça do Comércio and Rossio. In the later part of the day, start to climb the hills into the Alfama district which is a maze of medieval streets leading up to the castle. Take in one of the viewpoints close to the castle for a romantic sunset and then ride the quaint number 28 tram as it rattles through the city.
For dinner, head into the Baixa district and then for a night out, head to Barrio Alto, with its funky bars and social scene which fills the streets.

Torre de Belem lisbon

The Torre de Belem once guarded the Tejo Estuary and Lisbon

For the second day, head to the scenic Belem district, which contains the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, and Torre de Belem, along with views across the Tejo Estuary.
For the second part of the day discover the stylish Príncipe Real and Avenida da Liberdade districts or visit the ultra-modern side of Lisbon, the Parque das Nações.

48hours in Brussels
A whirlwind 48 hours in Brussels can take you from curious statues to modernist structures, regal parklands to beautiful palaces. Of course, there's plenty of time to fit in home-brewed beers and indulgent waffles along the way.

Day 1: The Grand Place is the only real place to begin in Brussels. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the kernel of the city, and has been since time immemorial. Look to the north end and you can see the elegant façade of the Brussels City Museum. It's housed in the Neo-Gothic Maison du Roi, hosting collections that include masterworks by Flemish painters and the original Manneken Pis statue (more on him later).

On the south flank is the indomitable Brussels Town Hall. Gaze up at its gorgeous medievalist spire and wonder at the carvings of dukes on the portals. The rest of the square is a photographer's dream, with guild houses and pubs and more. Next, the area of Stalingrad calls. Curiously named, it's nonetheless one of the liveliest quarters of Brussels.

It's also where you'll find the famously underwhelming Manneken Pis statue – we won't spoil it with a description! After lunching in one of the taverns there, head east to the acclaimed Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium. It's a must for any culture vultures, what with exhibits that contain works by the likes of Anthony van Dyck, Bruegel, and Rubens. It demands a whole afternoon.

town hall Brussels Grand Place

The town hall on the Grand Place, the main plaza of Brussels

Day 2: Overdosed on art and ready for something completely different? Good, because day two begins at the Espace Léopold. Welcome to the vast European Parliament; the corridors of power for 27 states that range from Romania to Portugal. Tours of the huge debating chamber and the plenary rooms where the decisions are made run daily from 9am.

After an hour inside, you can head for the grand Parc du Cinquantenaire that sits just behind. It's a prime example of Brussels' flamboyant public garden style, hosting the eye-watering Arc du Cinquantenaire, a national symbol of Belgium.

The afternoon sees you hop on trams (a combo of Tram 5 and Tram 6 usually does the trick) to the area of Laeken. This otherwise green a leafy suburb has one major claim to fame: the strange Atomium. You might not believe it, but it was built in 1958. Up top there's a lookout point with panoramas of the whole city.

For the evening, mosey back to the Grand Place and seek out the iconic Delirium Café on the side streets nearby. It's home to a whopping 2,000 variations of Belgian and global beers!

When exploring the city, all of the main tourist areas are centrally located and can be reached on foot,he only exception is the Belem district, to the west. There are a lot of steep hills in Lisbon, and sightseeing can be very draining in the intense summer sun.

Brussels Airport (BRU) and the Charleroi Airport (CRL) combine to offer all sorts of long-haul and short-haul air links into the capital. The cheapest cross-continent flights on Ryanair and the like usually jet into CRL. Transatlantic and premium carriers usually go to BRU.

You can use Brussels City Shuttle to get to Charleroi for as little as €5 each way if booked online and in advance. Meanwhile, direct rail links go to Brussels Airport from Brussels Central, costing €8.60 and taking a little over 20 minutes in total.

In terms of travel safety, Brussels ranks well. Incidents involving tourists are rare, although thefts, bag snatches, and pickpocketing do occur in many of the visitor hotspots.

Try not to walk alone in the city centre after dark, particularly if you've been drinking. Never leave valuable items within sight if you're parking your car. Also always keep one eye on your handbag or wallet when riding the metro.

For hotels, the best area of Brussels is surely the district immediately around the Grand Place. The closest establishments to that UNESCO site typically cost oodles but ooze luxury. A few streets back and you can find affordable local B&Bs with plenty of charm.

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