Brussels Travel, Belgium

Brussels' famous bi-annual floral carpet on August 14, in Grand Place, Belgium

Brussels famous bi-annual floral carpet on August 14, in Grand Place.

Why visit Brussels?

A rich and elegant city of cobbled streets and grand old structures, Brussels is an underrated tourist city, especially in the summer where street culture takes off.
As homebase for the European Union the city is cosmopolitan and stylish, the cuisine is superb and the nightlife busy.
Brussels is easy to get around, freshly fashionable, as safe as anywhere and the origin of some of our worst habits, mouth-explosion chocolate and mule-kick beer.

Downside
With so much flash euro cash around, don’t expect Brussels to be cheap.
The weather is frequently dire.
There are some grim, not-so-delightful areas.
It’s not a great place to be on a diet.

Brussels' Royal Palace, Belgium

Brussels’ Royal Palace. Photo by Martin Falbisoner.

Things to Do

Averbode Abbey in Brussels, Belgium

Averbode Abbey in Brussels. Photo by Marc Ryckaert.

Brussels centre is divided into the Lower Town and the Upper Town (known collectively as the ‘petit ring’) and the obvious starting point for any tourist is between the two at the Grand-Place. This spectacular square (pictured above) is the hub of the city, enclosed by superb 18th century guildhouses, the gothic Hotel de Ville, and is always buzzing with life.

A few yards south sprays the little pisser, aka Manneken Pis, eternally surrounded by admirers. Further south leads to Quartier Marolles, the place for good value eats and shopping at the daily flea market.

Steeply upwards and eastwards from Grand-Place the roads drift into stately Upper Town, the posh sector, where boulevards and buildings are on a royal scale and mere mortals feel small.

The Royal Palace, open free to the public in summer months, and the House of Parliament are two of the more significant structures. Near that grand pair is Place du Grand Sablon, a zone of pricey restaurants and shops, and a clutch of the city’s best museums and galleries.

East of the petit ring is the European Union complex of modern concrete and glass, including the EU Parliament that offers free tours, with guide, at limited times.

Brussels weather

Best: May-September, though the climate is notoriously erratic.
Worst: November-March. Short daylight hours, cold and grey, but floodlighting and hyper-beers will enlighten midnight minds.

Getting Around

Brussels' Cinquantenaire Park, Belgium

Brussels’ Cinquantenaire Park. Photo by Marc Ryckaert.

Brussels centre demands no transport other than two functioning legs. Otherwise a modest flat fee gets you onto efficient buses, trams and the metro. Simple. . . but beware place name confusion due to the obligatory use of both main languages. e. g. South Brussels is posted as both Bruxelles-Midi (French) and Brussel-Zuid (Flemish).

Arts/Culture

Museums: Out of the centre the stunning Art Nouveau Musée Victor Horta is high value target for lovers of style while the Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts offers a huge selection of both modern and ancient fine art.

Classical Music: The Palais des Beaux Arts provides excellent symphony and chamber music all year.

Dance/Opera: The Theatre de la Monnaie is Brussels’ home to Opera and Ballet productions.

Live Music & Clubs: The city has endless night action of all sorts in varied styles, constantly morphing into something new, so just take a walk, ask your concierge or check the ‘Brussels Times’ for event info/listings.

Shopping

Much of the city centre is busy with the usual chain stores but more interesting boutiques can be found off Grand Place in Galeries St Hubert or rue Antoine Dansaert, and some quirky little shops lurk off rue du Midi.

Food

Eating out in Brussels is a joy, especially if you have a fat wallet. Local cuisine fusing north and south Belgian styles is excellent and international food offerings are of equally high quality.
Fortunately for those on a lesser budget, cafés and even bars serve food of a very high standard for a modest price; alternatively plenty of fast food joints provide cheap calories.
A must-eat is mussels in Brussels, the national dish.

Accommodation

Brussels makes a great romantic weekend destination as the bureaucrats are all off home in their various countries; hotel rates and restaurant prices take a dive Saturday/Sunday.
As usual the peak summer season sees rooms in short supply, so book ahead for that period. The Grand-Place vicinity is the prime tourist accommodation target but there are reasonably priced places available for early birds.

Festivals

Feb 6, 7, 8, the Carnival of Binche. An ancient and famously kaleidoscopic event with costumes and masks. Binche is 54kms (34 miles) from Brussels.
May 22, the Battle of Lumecon & The Procession of the Golden Chariot, Mons. A George and the Dragon battle and religious procession in this pretty city (40 mins by train).
May-November, Festival of Flanders. Superb classical music in magnificent locations, such as cathedrals, all over Flanders (just north a bit).
Last Thurs of June, the Ommegang Pageant, Brussels. A wildly colourful ‘folkloric’ procession and games since 1549.
July 21, National Day and start of Brussels Fair (1 month).
Dec 6-Jan 2, European Christmas Market, Brussels, Bruges and more. Icy, festive fun, all lit up, and that’s before the head banging beer kicks in.

For some precise dates or more information see: European Festivals or Arts Festivals.

Short Trips Out

Belgium has a fine clutch of well-preserved, lively medieval cities – known as the Flemish Art Cities – within easy reach of Brussels. Under one hour away by efficient, good value train are: Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent. See Belgium Travel Guide for more information.