Some say that Brussels is not the most exciting city in the world, in fact many would say it was downright boring. I say….Non! Non! Non!. While it may not quite compare with say, Paris, New York or Rio, It has a lot going for it. To try and cover all of the sights and attractions of Brussels in one review is impossible. Therefore, I have concentrated on my favourite places in this diverse European capital.
On arrival in Brussels, head for the tourist office where narrow, cobbled streets open suddenly into the breathtaking Grand-Place. With it’s ornate guildhouses, impressive Town Hall and buzzing atmosphere, it would be difficult to find a more beautiful square in the whole of Europe.
The Grand Place is the main tourist attraction of Brussels. It is visited by thousands daily, whether to wander around admiring the impressive buildings, or to sit at one of the many cafe-bar terraces enjoying the excellent beer.
The facades of gothic buildings are dominated by the Hotel de Ville, built in the fifteenth century. Its 96m spire is topped with a gilded copper statue of St-Michael. Opposite the Town Hall, and almost as grand, is the Maison du Roi, commissioned in 1515 and faithfully rebuilt in the 1890s. It now houses the city museum. A series of lavish Guildhouses complete the rectangle of the Grand Place.
Heysel Exhibition Park
In the 1930’s Belgium wanted to organize a world exhibition to show its prosperity after the disasters of World War I and also to celebrate the centenary of its independence, and so the Heysel park was born. Next to the football stadium (completely rebuilt after the disaster at the Liverpool v Juventus game), is Kinepolis, a major movie complex with 28 cinemas and a giant IMAX screen. Another main attraction is the Mini-Europe park, which contains miniature models (scale 1:25) of major monuments from all the member states of the European Union.
Situated at the Heysel. Here you will find a reconstructed Belgian village complete with cafes and restaurants. You can also have a tropical beach experience at the indoor Oceade swimming complex.
This monument from 1958 is the Eiffel Tower of Brussels. The Atomium is a representation of an ‘atom’. It symbolizes an elementary iron crystal with its 9 atoms magnified 150 billion times. The monument is coated with aluminum, weighs 2,400 tons and is 102m high. Each sphere has a diameter of 18 meters. An elevator takes visitors to the upper sphere where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Heysel area and (weather permitting) the city of Brussels. There is also quite a good buffet-restaurant in the upper sphere. In the other spheres, exhibitions are organized and they can be visited by a series of escalators.
In my opinion, Belgium is the country with the best beer in the world. Therefore, a stay in Brussels cannot be complete without a visit (or three), to one of the many typical cafes and pubs that you will find there. Try the local beers of Brussels – Gueuze or fruit beer or a wonderful Trappist beer, made in one of the Abbeys of Belgium. Be careful when drinking a Trappist beer, these beers tend to be very strong (between 8 and 11.5 ABV).
A few bars and cafes
These are listed in my order of preference:
La Mort Subite (The Sudden Death): perhaps the best fruit beer cafe in town
L’Imaige de Notre Dame
La Fleur papier dor : this was the 1920’s meeting place for the Belgian Surrealists – very atmospheric.
Le Cerceuil (The Coffin) : this bar is quite special. It’s decorated like a morgue, complete with coffins, skulls, black velvet, etc…
La Porte noire : situated in an 18th century cellar with a great choice of beers.
In the following list you will find cafs that are not typical beer pubs. These cafs are in the grand Parisian or Viennese style. Most of them are worth visi ting for the beautiful settings alone.
The Cafe of Hotel Metropole : this is in the Belle Epoque style.
The Falstaff (cafe and restaurant) : A beautiful caf in Art Dco style.
La Challoupe d’Or : situated in one of the guild houses of the Grand Place.
More about beer?
The Gueuze Museum (in the Anderlecht district), is situated in the still operational Cantillon brewery and is famous for its authentic Lambic beers. Before you enter this brewery and museum, forget all you know about the taste of beer, and then try a Cantillon Gueuze or Kriek (cherry beer). You’re in for a surprise !
The Brewery Museum is on the Grand Place and is open every day.
The world famous peeing boy can be seen every day and night at the corner of Eikstraat/Stoofstraat near the Grand Place.
The Mannekin changes costumes regularly and on special occasions he passes beer instead of water!
Music and light show
Between April and September the Grand Place and its buildings are illuminated at night to the strains of classical music.
There are two sessions of approximately 15 minutes each night (between 21.30 h and 23.15 h, depending on the sunset).
The Belgian comic Strip Centre
This tribute to the famous Belgian art form is housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau setting. Here you can discover the history of Belgium’s comic strip heroes (especially Tintin). This is a beautiful museum – the building was designed by the most famous Belgian Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta. It illustrates this art form perfectly, with sets of enlarged drawings, three-dimensional recreations, etc. The museum also has a very good shop.
The flower carpet
Every two years, during the third week of August, Belgian begonia cultivators decorate the Grand Place with a beautiful flower carpet, always with different themes. The next flower carpet will take place next year (2014).
This is not a museum in the traditional sense: a building where the objects contained inside are the focus of attention. Here it is the opposite : the building itself is the museum. The Horta Museum was actually the house that Victor Horta built for himself in the late 1890’s. It’s an excellent example of the Art Nouveau architectural style.
The City Museum
The museum is devoted to all aspects of the city’s history. On the ground level is a collection of art objects showing the decorative arts of Brussels : wall tapestries, paintings and goldsmith’s work.
On the second floor there is a collection of documents and miniature scale models which outline the development and growth of the city. The third floor shows the cultural, economic and social development of Brussels with historic documents, paintings, engravings and manuscripts. Also on this floor is the wardrobe of Mannekin Pis. He possesses a collection of more than 600 costumes.
Brussels’ classic souvenir is chocolate and Neuhaus in the Grand Place is probably the most famous chocolate shop. Belgian biscuits are also very tasty with the local speciality, speculoos – a gingerbread biscuit with a crunch, well worth hunting down. Beer is best bought at Bire Artisanale, which stocks over 400 types of beer with glasses to match. Designer clothes are clustered around the smart Avenue Louise and Avenue de la Toison d’Or. Children’s and big kids’ tastes are catered for at Brussels’ many comic book shops. Brussels lace is a good buy but beware, most of the lace on sale in the souvenir shops around Grand-Place is made in the far-east.
The winding streets surrounding the Grand-Place overflow with restaurants but many are simply tourist traps. The Rue des Bouchers is a prime example. This narrow street has tables outside which leaves very little room for pedestrians. Don’t worry if the weather is cold, there are heaters outside!
A safe bet is the Aux Armes de Bruxelles, which serves traditional Belgian cuisine, such as Waterzooi (fish or chicken in a creamy soup with vegetables), oysters or fries with mayonnaise. The surroundings are pleasant and the service is friendly and efficient.
The Blue Elephant is intricately decorated with outsized plants, Buddhist statues and comfortable bamboo chairs. It serves high-class Thai cuisine.
Hotels in Brussels can be fairly expensive midweek but there are some excellent bargains at weekends and holidays. For example, a hotel room costing 80 euros at the weekend can cost 400 euros midweek. There are good hotels in all areas and the Metro system means that all parts of the city are easily reached. Don’t even think about driving.
A good site for hotels is: http://www.hotelsbelgium.net/brussels