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Brussels, Belgium

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Did You Know … ?

  • The Manneken Pis fountain has a large wardrobe; it includes an Elvis jumpsuit.
  • The Belgian capital counts 1,800 restaurants.
  • Brussels claims Europe’s oldest shopping arcade, Galeries St. Hubert (1847).
  • The city’s law courts stretch over more ground than St. Peter’s in Rome.
  • The spire on the town hall is 315 feet high.

Of gastronomes and bureaucrats

Brussels is known for its fine food and good beer. There also is a club scene, but live jazz has been available longer. For tourists, the city’s appeal is further enhanced by the beauty of its historic buildings, particularly the city’s central Grand Place.

Brussels is the headquarters for both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and that makes it an important travel destination for a particular kind of business traveler.

The Belgian capital may seem a rather small city considering it is the center of operations for the European Union and NATO. Nevertheless, it has a history sufficiently long and rich to produce attractions with tourist appeal. It is especially rewarding to walk around the relatively compact historical center.

Of course, the walk begins with the Grand Place, which originated as a 13th century market, but today is lined with magnificent guild houses and the Gothic city hall. The tourist stroll extends to encompass more of the old, as well as the new, Brussels. Modern structures built to house today’s bureaucracies are less pleasing to the eye but fascinating to see.

Another side of Brussels draws the gourmets among us. In a city that loves its food, street names include Rue des Bouchers (Butchers Street), Petite Rue des Bouchers (Little Butchers Street), Marche aux Poissons (Fish Market), Rue du Marches aux Fromages (Cheese Market Street) and Rue du Marche aux Herbes (Herb Market Street). In addition, Brussels gave its name to Brussels sprouts, as Belgium gave its name to Belgian endive and Belgian waffles (Brussels waffles in the capital).

Other specialties include Godiva and other Belgian chocolates, a range of craft beers (each served in its own unique glass), Belgian tapestries and Belgian lace.

The city also is home to Art Nouveau architecture, works by 15th and 16th century Flemish artists and, in a suitably named alternative museum, lots of comic strips.

Tourists are most likely to visit in summer when the days are longest and weather pleasant, but they could eat Belgian specialties, drink its beer, walk the city center, haunt the museums and shop for local crafts anytime.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Check out interactive exhibits at the Belgian Royal Institute of Natural Sciences. These change, but here’s one example: Solve the heinous “murder” of the museum’s director.
  • Attend the annual three-day Brussels Beer Weekend, where you can quaff a wide selection of Belgian beers while sampling jazz, brass bands and other forms of entertainment.
  • Discover that even the city that hosts busy bureaucrats by day is still awake at night.
  • Use a bicycle as your mode of transport on a self-guided tour of the Belgian capital.
  • Take a cooking class, and spend a day with a Belgian chef.
  • Find your way to the working-class Marolles district to shop at the city’s flea market, open daily 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Things to do for Centrics

  • If with a group, you may visit the Chocolaterie Duval for chocolate-making demonstrations and tastings. Or take a guided chocolate-themed walking and tasting tour.
  • Visit the Cantillon Brewery, which provides tours and tastings year-round.
  • Attend a parliamentary sitting in the European Parliament; also, take an audio-guided tour of the building.
  • See artwork from hundreds of cartoonists at the Belgian Center for Comic Strip Art. Also, follow the city’s comic strip route, organized by the museum; 18 large images decorate the sides of buildings around the city center.
  • Eat mussels at Chez Leon. Eat Belgian waffles, too, specifically the Brussels version.
  • Attend the Ommegang Festival and you can pretend, without much effort, that it is 1549 because of the lavish procession that features richly colored costumes, embroidered banners, flag throwing and stilt jousting.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Visit the Royal Palace, the official home of the Belgian king and open to the public in summer.
  • Check out Belgian Art Tapestries, a shop near the Grand Place, to look for and maybe buy fine examples of an old art. Also, shop for Belgian lace.
  • Take a guided sightseeing tour of the Belgian capital to learn the historical significance of its medieval buildings.
  • Have coffee and something chocolate at one of the terrace cafes at the Grand Place, the heart of the capital. Attend a concert in the square, as well.
  • Play golf at the Royal Golf Course of Belgium, founded by King Leopold II in 1906.
  • Of course, you’ll see the Manneken Pis, the much-photographed statue of a small boy piddling in a fountain, but better yet, see the naked child’s wardrobe (gifts of foreign heads of state) which includes more than 760 outfits and is found at the Brussels museum.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult VisitBrussels at http://visitbrussels.be