Things to do in Brussels

Brussels has garnered a reputation as a boring business destination, but I discovered a range of shops, restaurants and cafes that illustrated a creative and exciting side to the city. Just two hours from London on the Eurostar, Belgian is accessible and easy to get to.  As the capital city Brussels is home to many of the flagship stores and important sights. We particularly enjoyed the chocolate, beer and chip tasting!

To stay

The Dominican – this hotel has a focus on design, art and history and is set on the site of what used to be a 15th century Dominican abbey. Located in the centre of Brussels, this accommodation is part of the Design Hotel group featuring the designs of the renowned Amsterdam brand FGStijl. The interior is a modern renovation and revitalisation of the old cloisters and original architecture.

To eat

WY Brussels – this is the newest project from star chef Bart De Pooter, and was prompted awarded a Michelin star. It is a very special and unusual eatery, concealed within Mercedes House, the posh car showroom. We enjoyed a delicious lunch here trying their specialities like the innovative Bacon and cabbage dish.

La Boule D’Or – those searching for traditional Belgian cuisine should head to La Boule D’Or. Most often crammed with hungry locals, this characterful corner café serves favourites like meatballs and steak with chips. Prices are reasonable and the service is friendly.

To drink

Hortense – we were delighted to discover this spirits and cocktail bar, hidden in a tiny cave along Place du Sablon. The little candlelit bar is very atmospheric and serves up tasty inventive drinks. We enjoyed short flavoured cocktails accompanied with the house salt and pepper popcorn.

Chez Franz – this local and atmospheric venue is easy-going and trendy. The perfect stop for a hearty weekend brunch or an evening pint of Belgian blond beer.

OR Espresso Bar – a micro roaster, coffee training centre and coffee bar this little venue was recommended to me several times as the best place to get my morning caffeine fix. Small and characterful I was pleased with my strong but creamy takeaway flat white.

To do

Marolles Flea Market – This street market is open every day all year round and is the place to find a bargain. Rare antiques and vintage trinkets are found amongst the modern tat, you just need the patience to rummage through.

Museum of Musical Instruments – housed in a magnificent Art Nouveau building this impressive collection of instruments from across the ages is presented here in an informative and fun way. As you walk around the audio guide will play you the authentic sounds of the instruments in front of you.

Manneken Pis – “Little man Pee” in Dutch and le Petit Julien in French) is a bizarre landmark in Brussels. The small bronze sculpture depicts a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619.

To shop

Maison Dandoy – we stumbled across this charming little biscuit shop. A sweet institution established in 1829, Dandoy produces irresistable oven-fresh biscuits. Coincidentally the original shop is found in Brussels on rue au Beurre (Butter street).

L’Antichambre – an unmissable boutique on the Brussels shopping scene. Owner Anne Pascale has created a sensual shop with the highest quality scents from Grasse, and will work with clients to create their very own bespoke fragrance. I was lucky enough to make my own, which I named Resolument Moderne including Chocolate, Spicy Pepper and Fig ingredients. L’Antichambre also produce a range of beautiful scented candles, try the unique flavour Le tomate verte.

Mary – this pretty feminine shop has packaging that is just as lovely as the chocolates. There are now a few branches of this artisan brand, all stocking the signature illustrated boxes filled with seriously delicious treats. My favourite chocolate shop in Brussels, a box of Mary chocolates would be a memorable gift for someone special.

Hunting and Collecting – this spacious, cleanly arranged shop stocks a range of labels, which are rotated regularly, so you are bound to find a new gem every time you visit. The basement hosts art exhibitions whilst upstairs you can browse the tailored clothes, and lust after the design objects and striking accessories.

Pierre Marcolini – when you ask the locals in Belgium for the best chocolate, most will point towards the haute chocolatier, Pierre Marcolini. The shop is more like a museum with immaculately presented chocolates everywhere you look. I loved the coloured heart collection, which are almost too pretty to demolish!

La Fabrika – Opened by Kelly Claessens in 2010 this design haven stocks a beautifully curated collection of classic furniture, unusual books and chic accessories that would complement any home. La Fabrika is a trendsetter in Brussels and is popular with the stylish Bohemian locals.

Le Typographe – I have been excited about my trip to this stationery emporium for months, so entering the doors of the perfectly ordered shop was a joy. Alongside the carefully hand-picked pens, pencils and other writing paraphernalia Le Typographe stock their own brand, often neon, cards, envelopes and notebooks. An atelier of the finest stationery, I wanted it all.

Thoroughly Modern Milly travelled with Eurostar.

·         Eurostar operates up to 9 daily services from London St Pancras International to Brussels with return fares from £69.

·         Tickets to any Belgium station start from £79.

·         Fastest London-Brussels journey time is 2 hours.

·         Tickets are available from or 03432 186 186.

Things to do in Bruges

One day in Bruges is enough to see the main sights and soak up the picturesque setting. Talking to friends about my weekend trip, it quickly became clear that Bruges is the most popular Belgian destination. This Unesco recognised area is known for its historic city centre and the idyllic canal-side beauty, the abundance of chocolate and beer and featured recently on film: ‘In Bruges’, a homage to the destination.

To stay

Hotel De Tuilerieën – this is the luxurious abode where the film star cast of In Bruges stayed. The building is an elegant patrician house from the 15th century that has been transformed into a contemporary hotel. Hotel De Tuilerieën counts 45 unique rooms and overlooks the canals of Bruges.

To eat

A’Qi – There are plenty of places in town to have the speciality moules frites, but if you want something more special I recommend A’Qi. A few miles out of town this charming little eatery serves immaculate Michelin starred food. Karen Keygnaert is the leading lady in the kitchen producing pretty dishes with an Asian twist. We loved the Sunday set lunch menu, highlights included langoustine with Yuzu sauce, duck with Japanese citrus fruit and the most delightful dessert of blood orange, cheesecake and peach.

To drink

De Halve Maan Brewery – it would be easy to lose track of time in this authentic beer house. Take a guided tour round the brewery and learn about the old-brewing process in the museum before trying the delicious brew.

De Proeverie – when you are weary of sightseeing pop in to De Proeverie for hot chocolate. They get their chocolate from the shop across the road, Chocolatier Sukerbuyc and make a delectable drink served with freshly whipped cream for extra comfort.

To see

Basilica of the Holy Blood – This tiny little church has amazing artwork and memorable stained glass windows but is most famous for housing a phial claimed to contain a cloth stained with Jesus’ blood.

Michelangelo’s Madonna – this unique beautiful sculpture is on show inside the Church of our Lady. After wandering around the decorative church head for the cordoned off museum where the masterful marble figures are found.

To do

Climb the belfry on the Grote Markt – you will have to queue for this tourist attraction but it is worth the wait. The impressive 12th century medieval bell tower has become a symbol for the city of Bruges. After climbing the 366 narrow steps to the top you will be rewarded with a stunning view of the city while listening to the bells played by carillon (hand keyboard).

Float along the Gronerei (green canal) – a walk down the canals in Bruges is one of the most romantic strolls you could have, but if you fancy a float head for one of the boat tours which cost 7 euros for a 30 minute ride. Take in the scenery whilst relaxing on the rippling water.

Thoroughly Modern Milly travelled with Eurostar.

·         Eurostar operates up to 9 daily services from London St Pancras International to Brussels with return fares from £69.

·         Tickets to any Belgium station start from £79.

·         Fastest London-Brussels journey time is 2 hours.

·         Tickets are available from or 03432 186 186.

Things to do in St Petersburg

St Petersburg is supposedly the most cosmopolitan city in Russia and yet I found it startlingly foreign. Most obviously the language and alphabet is completely different, and very few people are able to converse in English, making it almost impossible to communicate. After spending a few days here I also began to notice the differences in religion, culture and traditions. The freezing weather and lack of light gives the place an icy appearance, but step inside the historic buildings and you will be dazzled by the wondrous light, colour, art and design. Aside from sightseeing, there is plenty of magical music and dance to indulge in. The choices are endless so theatre fans can visit a different show every night if they so wish. Good food choices are limited but we found plenty of charming bars to spend the evenings sipping vodka cocktails and enjoying the warmth.

To Stay

Lion Palace, Four Seasons St Petersburg – this magnificent hotel only opened last year but has already built up a reputation as the finest accommodation in the city. With fine Italian and Asian restaurants, a 4-storey spa and luxurious bedrooms, the gloriously transformed Lion Palace has it all.

To Eat

Zhelyabov 25 Doughnut shop – come in from the cold streets and enjoy a hot cup of coffee and a freshly baked sweet doughnut. This basic café has been around for years and is a nostalgic reminder for the locals of post-Soviet times. The prices have also remained unchanged so a doughnut will only cost you the equivalent of 30 pence, coffee is about 20 pence!

Cococo – this forward-thinking restaurant offers new Russian cuisine with a focus on local organic ingredients and farm products. The recipes are inventive and exciting, I would recommend the Quail stuffed with baked potatoes and a glass of homemade lemonade.

Idiot café – this cosy little underground venue is an institution in St Petersburg. Relax in the lived-in comfortable furniture and enjoy a hot chocolate or choose a dish from the extensive menu which specialises in vegetarian cuisine. Every guest is given a customary shot of vodka on arrival.

L’Europe Restaurant – this grand restaurant is Russia’s oldest continually serving restaurant and is housed in an elegant and beautifully preserved art nouveau room. Serving smart Russian and European cuisine, I would urge you to visit on a Friday night when the famed Tchaikovsky Night takes place wowing diners with a performance of live music and ballet.

Mansarda – part of the successful and ever-growing Ginza group of restaurants, Mansarda is considered to be one of the best venues in town. Located at the top of the Quatra Corti business centre, the large restaurant has plenty of natural light and wonderful views of St Isaac Cathedral. They serve classic Italian food, prepared with care and stylishly presented.

To Drink

Terminal bar – you will find this tiny bar on Belinskogo street which is filled with fun food and drink places. Fight your way through the crowd and attempt to make an order (the waiters speak zero English); we ended up pointing to vodka on the menu and managed to get something which slightly resembled the drink we desired. The dim lighting is accented with the radiant green neon Terminal sign at the back of the room.

The Hat Jazz Bar – loud and kicking this jazz bar had an infectious atmosphere and great live music. Head here around 11pm and make yourself at home amongst the local hipster crowd whilst enjoying the effortless, improvised music.

Oh my tea! – we stumbled across this sweet little teashop which recently opened and serves unique loose-leaf brews to cold passers-by.

Apka – most people we asked in Russia recommended this place for the best cocktails… and we weren’t disappointed. A trendy and lively venue with talented bartenders and a great cocktail list make this place popular every night of the week. We were well looked after by Yuri (who has recently won a big cocktail competition) and tasted some fine drinks here.

PMI bar – there are two bars at this sleek venue. Ask the receptionists for the secret speakeasy and they will escort you, with a knowing smile, to the little door at the back, where the real cocktails are made. Here we were amazed by the creative and talented mixologists who make brilliant but expensive drinks.

Gin Tonic – this was the last and best bar we went to in St Petersburg. Hidden down a deserted alley, concealed by a plain black door you would only find this hang-out with exact instructions. The clever bartender made delicious off-menu drinks for us: a strong and aromatic Mr First, and a wonderfully fruity Cherry Manhattan.

To Do

Yusupov Palace – this is the former palace of the Yusopov family who ruled Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries.  To some it is known as Moika Palace and was famously where Rasputin was murdered. Wander round the ornate rooms with the audio guide… I particularly loved the tiny Rococo theatre.

Russian Museum – just a few minutes walk from the Church of Spilled Blood this is the ideal place to learn about the artistic history of Russia. It is the first state museum of Russian fine arts and is huge so leave plenty of time to see it all. Make sure you go out into the lovely Summer Garden (any time of year!)

Orthodox service at Saint Nicholas Cathedral – this was one of the most memorable things I did in St Petersburg, and was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. A naval cathedral with numerous memorial plaques for the crews of sunken soviet submarines, is quite spectacular inside clad in gold and religious paintings.

To See

Church of Savior on the Spilled Blood – this building has an iconic exterior, but I was particularly impressed with the spendlour inside. Built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated it should be the first stop on all St Petersburg sightseeing itineraries.

Mariinsky Theatre 2 – the modern sister of the original Mariinsky Theatre built in 1860, Mariinsky 2 is one of the largest theatre and concert venues in the world. The auditorium seats up to 2000 people at full capacity and comes alive with the enchanting opera and ballet productions. We saw a beautiful performance of Swan Lake here. If you have time try to visit the original Mariinsky Theatre too, it is just next door to the new building.

Saint Isaac Cathedral – this is the largest Russian Orthodox Church in St Petersburg. After seeing the glorious interiors climb the 211 steps up to the dome which is over 100m high and has great views of the city.

Hermitage Museum – one of the oldest and largest museums in the world. The Russians often say, ‘If you looked at every painting for a minute it would take you 7 years’! Needless to say we didn’t see them all, but we did manage to see the famous Elgin marbles borrowed from the British Library. The rooms with their elaborate ceilings are almost as impressive as the art.

To Shop

Beluga Deluxe– this expansive souvenir and jewellery shop has every Russian item you could wish to take home. Opt for some golden amber, fur or a traditional hand-painted Russian doll.

Tatyana Parfionova – St. Petersburg’s most famous clothing designer offers immaculate designs in flowing silk and velvet, as well as a line of homewares that includes linens, tableware, furniture, and even original paintings.

Eliseyev Emporium – this famous food hall and café was constructed in 1902-1903 for the Elisseeff Brothers and is still as glamorous as ever selling luxurious foods and specialities. Pick up some caviar or chocolates, or sit at the central café and take in the atmosphere whilst warming up with a hot drink.