It may as well be considered as the heart of Europe, as most of the EU offices reside in its European Quarter, but Brussels maintains a distinct Belgian attitude. Nestled between the Netherlands and France, there’s plenty to love visiting the city in a short amount of time.
Brussels is served by its international airport, but with its proximity to larger hubs like London (3 hours), Paris (2 hours), and Amsterdam (3 hours), it’s very easy to drop by the Belgian capital on a weekend trip.
First off – admit it, you came for the beers and the chocolate. No surprises, there are hundreds of beers to love in the country, each one coming from an original family recipe. As an example, the photo shown here features Yperman beer, from the Flemish town of Ypres. My hosts share the same family name (but no relation) as the beer, but it’s a good reason as any to stock up on the nutty, sweet beer. And chocolates, every other store in the town centre features in-house, hand-crafted chocolates in a variety of shapes, flavours and colours.
Now that we’ve covered what to fuel for a day’s trip, let’s start seeing what Brussels has in store. Start at the Grand Place, where the concentration of the city’s baroque and gothic buildings are on full display. City hall, King’s house, and many guildhalls dot the periphery of the square, encasing you in a show of century-old architecture. If you’re planning a trip here, why not look in August where the square is filled with flowers in a biennial tradition.
Not far off the city square (follow the Japanese tourists with video cameras), is the Mannekin Pis, a statue of a little boy peeing on a pool of water. It’s very popular, and his costume gets changed on a daily basis. Read all about the legend here here. Along the way you will see a bronze statue of a reclining lady, whose metallic sheen has eroded over the years as people touch it – follow suit, as local legends say touching the statue ensures your return to Brussels.
If you’re a fan of all things modern, visit the European Quarter to visit high-stakes diplomats’ offices, on a grand avenue and park, for Science there’s the Atomium, home of the 1958 World’s Fair, and the Musee de Beaux Arts.
If you want something off beat and different, scout around for the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee, or the Belgian Comic Strip Centre. It was pretty surprising to note that Europe, much like Japan, has long-celebrated appreciation of comic strips and cartoons, and Belgium’s had the most history behind it. With recent movie adaptations of Belgian classsics like The Smurfs and The Adventures of Tintin, it won’t be long before Lucky Luke and Spirou won’t be too far behind.
This should be a full day roaming around Brussels, now go and recharge with beers and chocolate, I’ll stuff myself with waffles.