Visiting Brussels - What to See and Do
(Brussels Airport BRU, Belgium)
Despite the obvious claims to label Brussels
a cosmopolitan city, the Belgian capital really does deserve the honour. Both French and Flemish, Eurocratic and bohemian, Brussels gives its visitors as much cultural depth as they care to plumb. Its surface may appear dull and staid at first glance, but that's just its history at work.
From the monumental Grand Place to the myriad Art Nouveau buildings dotting the cityscape, the architecture is one of Brussels' main attractions. Better yet, inside these classy buildings are chic cafés along Avenue Louise, 75 or so museums in the Mont des Arts district, and even some hipster nightlife hiding on the Rue Antoine Dansaert.
It is hard to beat the medieval majesty of the King's House or the Town Hall that grace the Grand Place, but tucked into its cobbled side streets are the modern cogs of this surprisingly vibrant metropolis. Hunt for second-hand treasures at the Place du Grand Sablon weekend market and admire real treasures at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts. The beer is great and the dining sublime, and while you are strolling the streets of the centre, feel free to shop 'til your credit line is washed away in Brussels - a city of many facets.
Ten things you must do in Brussels
- The Grand Place is the heart and soul of historic Brussels, but simply marvelling at its elegance isn't enough. Buy a map and learn the stories behind the Gothic Town Hall, the King's House, the House of the Dukes of Brabant and the other dozen or so beauties. Stop by on a summer evening for a very enjoyable light and sound extravaganza illuminating the Town Hall.
- Brussels is the greenest city in Belgium, and the former hunting grounds of the city's Brabant Dukes are its prized possession. Spend an hour or two strolling the paths of Brussels Park. It is to be found just between the Royal Palace and Parliament, being ideal for a break from your city tour.
- Belgium has produced some of the world's great master artists, and the exquisite Royal Museums of Fine Arts compiles the best of the best from the 14th to 20th century. Keeping the Flemish masters company are works by Van Gogh, Dali, Matisse, Chagall and others in this multi-building complex that deserves a half day at least to truly appreciate.
- Search for your own personal souvenir at the weekend antiques market in the Place du Grand Sablon. Get to the front of the flamboyant Notre Dame Cathedral in the early morning and browse the stalls, then grab an outside table at one of the sidewalk cafés and watch the world roll by.
- The architectural star attraction of the Grand Place is the Town Hall (Hotel de Ville), a marvellous piece of Gothic expression from 1402. Visitors are allowed to inspect the inside of this masterpiece on a 40-minute tour that features a pantheon of great paintings. Look out for the extraordinary Gothic Hall and its many mirrors.
- You won't find many bargains in local boutiques, but it is certainly tempting to loosen the purse strings. Edibles are the best buys in this gourmand city, so don't deny yourself a splurge at Chocolatier Mary, some Belgian gin or one of its outstanding beers. Luxury retailers line Avenue Louise, while the pedestrian Rue Neuve is simply fun to wander.
- Locals say that the Brussels Opéra Royal de la Monnaie is the finest operatic company in the French-speaking world, and you can catch a performance at the grand old Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie. The theatre is also home to the Orchestre Symphonique de la Monnaie and the notable modern dance company Rosas.
- If you are a fan of beers, you won't want to miss the rare chance to spend an evening (or three) at A la Mort Subite, arguably the best Belgian beer bar on the planet. With more than 450 Belgian krieks, gueuzes, lambics and other wonders on the menu, this is the only place you need to go to experience the unique realm of Belgian brewing.
- Brussels is perhaps the world's finest repository of Art Nouveau architecture, and its native son Victor Horta was perhaps the greatest mind behind this style. Visit his home, which is now the Horta Museum, to immerse yourself in this fluid style of art and design.
- It may seem a little kitschy, but Mini-Europe is actually quite an impressive attraction. Imagine being able to stroll the Continent on a scale of 1:25 and admire precise replicas of its most iconic and important monuments, buildings and natural wonders.