Brussels – sights, food, hotels and many more…
As mentioned in our previous article on Belgium, Brussels is the capital and largest city of this small Western European country. With almost 1.2 million people living there, it goes by as a medium-size European city, but the presence of the European institutions makes it much more than that…
Brussels has a history of more than 1000 years, being founded in the early Middle Ages by a Frank ruler. The city has been, over time, under the sovereignty of the French, the Spanish (yes, the Spanish!) and the Dutch. It has gone from being a Dutch-speaking small town to today’s Francophone metropolis.
Brussels proper is no more than 120 thousand big, but the region, formed by a total of 18 so-called communes (that is “municipality” in French) makes it a bustling European city. It has changed a lot since WWII, with the building of the European institutions and major infrastructure projects (the city is literally crossed by a network of underground tunnels) shaping the urban landscape.
The old part of town, the centre-ville, around the Grand Place (“Large Market”, in English) is the main tourist attraction that Brussels has to offer. The area is riddled with chocolate shops, fries restaurants, souvenirs and beautiful architecture, making it the ideal place for a walk in the afternoon.
To the east, one can visit the Arc du Cinquantanaire, a magnificent example of late 19th century architecture. It was built to mark the 50th anniversary of the Belgian state, in 1880. The Arc also houses the Military and Car Museums of Belgium (both worth a visit, but with a rather expensive entrance fee). Additionally, the European institutions are just around the corner. The European
Parliament offers regular guided tours of its building (book them in advance here), and the Jourdan or Luxembourg squares, located nearby, are good places to have lunch among the so-called Eurocrats.
Other sights include the Battlefield of Waterloo, located just South of Brussels (the place where Napoleon lost his final battle), the Manneken Piss (a small bronze statue of a boy pissing – it’s said that his piss extinguished a fire, so he must have been a big beer lover…), but also the Atomium (a 80 meter tall structure that resembles an atom – the site is a bit overrated, but is worth a visit).
The food in Brussels (as everywhere in Belgium) is just brilliant. The classic Belgian fries (incorrectly labeled “French fries” by the Americans during WWI) and sweet and tasty waffles are an absolute must. You can find good waffles all around the Grande Place at an average price of 4 euros per piece, and some of the best fries in Belgium are made by Maison Antoine, located in Jourdan Square (they’re a bit pricey and almost all the time there is queue, but it’s worth the effort). The Saint Gerry area around the Stock Exchange provides a wide range of small and cozy restaurants with cuisine from 40 different countries.
Where to stay in Brussels?
Lodging can be found easily on Booking.com or similar sites. For the ones that like to travel and live cheap, the offer for Brussels on airbnb is huge, so you’ll find a place in no time. If you’re the fancy type, try some of the boutique hotels located around the Grande Place or the modern Eurocrat-hosting places on Rue de la Loi.
To end, a few tips: Brussels is well known in Europe for its high crime rate and lack of cleanness. Be careful with your possessions (best not carry all the money you have on you, at all times). The public transport is well organized and pretty clear to understand, but it suffers from the constant strikes of the personnel (check in advance for these kind of events so they don’t take you by surprise). Also, be careful with taxis – they are expensive and some drivers can scam you, unfortunately – better use Uber. Nothing left to say but: Have a pleasant stay in Brussels!