If you are traveling around Western Europe you must consider visiting Brussels, the Belgian capital. Located halfway between Amsterdam and Paris, in the valley of the Senne river, Brussels is somehow under the shadow of these two glamorous cities. But there is something undeniable that makes visiting Brussels a fantastic idea: Belgium’s capital is Western Europe’s most multicultural city. Surrounded entirely by Dutch speaking Flanders, it has gradually adopted French as its main language. Today it is an independent region, the seat of the European Union and NATO and home to people from all over the world.
Brussels is a fairly large city with more than 1 million inhabitants, yet almost all of its important landmarks are located in a small area surrounded by a group of boulevards that make up a ring. The famous Grand Place / Grote Markt square, located in the very centre of said area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the city’s main attraction. Its more than 30 guildhalls stand together with the impressive Town Hall and King’s House. The area around the square is dotted with narrow streets, historical buildings and street art. Next to the historical area numerous avenues, parks and monumental public buildings including the Fine Arts Museum, the Law Courts and the arcades of Cinquantenaire were built during the reign of Leopold II who changed profoundly the urban aspect of Brussels, by vaulting the Senne River. To the east the European Quarter is where most of the European Union institutions are.
Begin your walk around Brussels at the Grand Square. The existing structures date back to the end of 17th century and are faithful copies of the original gothic, renaissance and baroque buildings. The majestic Town Hall with a 96 metre tall tower dominates the cityscape and can be seen from afar. 50 m north of the square the neoclassical glass roofed Galeries Saint-Hubert is one of Brussels’ first shopping malls. The medieval urban grid ends just 100 metres from the square with the neoclassical Stock Exchange as a popular meeting point. If you walk 300 metres south you’ll find another city icon: Manekken Pis. The small bronze statue of a boy peeing supposedly represents the ‘irreverent spirit’ of Brussels. Another 300 metres eastwards you’ll arrive to the elegant Mont des Arts square, the Royal Library, the Old England building (Musical Instruments Museum) and a couple of other interesting museums. The Royal Palace of Brussels, the official palace of the Royal Family, is behind the square. Half a kilometre eastwards along the Rue Belliard and Rue de la Loi you’ll reach the modern European Quarter and behind it the beautiful Parc du Cinquantenaire. If you take the metro line 6 until the penultimate station you’ll arrive to the elegant Atomium building. Built for the International Exhibition of 1958 it’s nine spheres represent the iron crystal cell.
Compared to other major European capitals, Brussels is a relatively inexpensive city to stay. In fact, mostly visited by officials and executives, hotel prices drop dramatically during weekends. The best location to stay is the historical area, not far from the Grand Place. There are plenty of hotels and guesthouses south and east of the ring, especially in Saint-Gilles, Ixelles and around the European Quarter.
Brussels is mostly flat, and most of the streets around the Grand Place are pedestrian, so visiting Brussels on foot is the best option. Biking is a smart way of moving around if you want to visit peripheral areas. There is even an easy to use bike sharing system. Public transport consists of 4 metro lines, 3 fast trams (with underground sections), trams and buses. Taxis are reliable but expensive.
There are plenty of reasons to visit Brussels. First of all it is a vibrant city full of street art, with urban paintings and murals decorating many buildings. Secondly, it was the centre of the Art Nouveau movement and loads of elegant buildings can still be admired today. Thirdly, its main square is one of the best preserved medieval market squares in the world. Let’s not forget Belgian chocolate, one of the most delicious man-made products and world class beer. Last but not least: Belgians probably have the best sense of humour in Western Europe. The fact that the Dutch, Germans and French make fun of them is probably the result of pure envy.
Visiting Brussels – Travel Guide
STAY IN BRUSSELS
- Stay near the Grand Place. Happy Frog recommends Pantone Hotel
VISIT IN BRUSSELS
- The Grand Place and the surrounding streets;
- The miniature Manekken Pis;
- Mont des Arts and the Royal Palace;
- The ‘eternally under construction’ Law Courts of Brussels;
EAT IN BRUSSELS
- Try a delicious sandwich in Tonton Garby.
- Loads of chocolate and beer.
MOVE IN BRUSSELS
- On foot, by bike, metro and tramway.
GET OUT – EXCURSIONS
DO NOT MISS:
- Get lost around the city centre searching for large murals;
- Spend an afternoon in the Parc du Cinquantenaire;
- Bike to the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg;
- Search and admire Art Nouveau buildings.