Contrary to popular belief, Brussels sprouts aren’t famous in Brussels. Turns out, they were just cultivated there many years ago, and were therefore named after the Belgian city. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move onto what Brussels is really good for – beer, chocolate and waffles. Yes, totally shamazing, mouthwatering chocolate and waffles, and so many different varieties of beer that you really would be silly not to sample a selection – if not all of them! (Peach beer was my favourite, do give it a whirl.) As well as the chocolate, waffles and beer, Brussels’ speciality is handmade lace, and it’s also very well known for bringing us comics including the Smurfs, remember them? I should probably also give ‘frites’ a mention. These are chips that are double fried and served with mayonnaise, and eaten by most Belgian folk. So if you see fritteries on almost every corner in the city, you’ll know why!
Brussels is the perfect location for a quick weekend break as there’s lots to do and see. It’s a very multicultural place and getting around isn’t too difficult: choose from the train, bus or tram – get a travelcard and you’ll be able to use all three. Oddly, if you venture away from the central area, especially at night, you will notice that the streets are very deserted – there is literally nobody around and many restaurants are closed – even on a Saturday night! It seems that most people are tucked up in cosy bars and pubs – you guessed it – drinking beer. Here are my suggestions for places to visit in Brussels.
Sample Belgian cuisine at the many terrace restaurants and cafés lining this huge, central square and wander the cobbled streets as you appreciate the historic surroundings (especially the Town Hall, information below) – and you’ll begin to see why the Grand Place is listed as a world heritage site. You should expect prices to be fairly inflated in Grand Place as a result of its central location.
The Town Hall
Admire the stunning architecture and detail of the sculptures adorning Brussels’ Town Hall. Also known as Hotel de Ville, this is the most striking building in Grand Place.
Beside Grand Place you will find this famous (and amusing!) landmark depicting a naked boy peeing into a fountain. The tiny bronze icon has been humouring visitors since 1619, and was initially a fountain supplying drinking water to the city’s dwellers. Now it’s one of Brussels’ top attractions and on special occasions, is dressed up in different outfits – some of which are on display at the Museum of the City of Brussels. Manneken Pis will definitely bring a smile to your face! And if you like this kind of thing, you can visit Jeanneke Pis – the ‘sister’ of Manneken Pis – featuring a statue of a girl squatting and urinating into a fountain!
Take the time to enjoy a delicious Belgian waffle at Biscuiterie Dandoy café, located just a few minutes from Manneken Pis. The waffles are light, a little bit crispy, and incredibly tasty – I’d never tucked into such a lovely one. Biscuiterie Dandoy is well known for its biscuits, baked goodies and chocolate too, so do stock up while you’re there.
Sample Belgian chocolate
Brussels isn’t just the capital of Europe; it’s also the chocolate capital. It’s here that I got a taste of real chocolate. It was mind-blowing, and I’m not exaggerating – I’d go back to Brussels just for it! There are many top-class chocolatiers located close to Grand Place, the most celebrated shops being Godiva, Neuhaus, Wittamer and Mary Chocolatier. The chocolate was so divine that eating Cadbury and Galaxy once I’d arrived back home wasn’t nearly as satisfying. *Sad face*
Boston Steak House
You must try this Belgian chain restaurant that specialises in great grilled meat. Offering everything from steaks and burgers to ribs, it is good quality food, with large portions, and it’s reasonably priced, too. I opted for the grilled chicken, which was tender, flavoursome and moreish. I wish they had a branch in London!
Palais Royal (The Royal Palace)
Although the Queen and King no longer live at the palace, they have their offices there. I wasn’t too taken aback by the palace’s appearance because it seemed to be very run down; the walls were no longer white, instead a dark greyish colour, so it almost looked a little dingy. In the summer, the palace is open for public tours, and visitor reviews seem to suggest the inside is much nicer than the outside so be sure to visit when it’s open. Opposite the palace you will find The Royal Park, also known as Brussels Park. Like much of Brussels’ other green spaces, it is maintained very nicely and there are always events taking place inside it, so do take a walk through – it’s a very pleasant, charming space. Josaphat Park in Schaerbeek is a smaller beautiful park worth visiting if you get a chance. It’s a charming, romantic space, located on the outskirts of Brussels, in a residential area. It has a quaint lake, lots of walking routes, and offers donkey- horse-rides too.
Cinquantenaire Triumphal Arch
Erected in celebration of Belgium’s independence, this is the world’s second largest arch, after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The arch forms the centrepiece of Parc du Cinquantenaire – yet another pretty green space in Brussels. Located in the same vicinity are various European Union buildings (as Brussels is the capital of the EU). If you’re intrigued by the world of the European Parliament, you should visit the free Parlamentarium.
This atom-like structure is incredibly deceptive – it looks very small until you get inside it. Nevertheless, it offers plenty of photo opportunities from the inside as well as out. You have to pay to ascend the Atomium, but in return you get panoramic views across the city skyline as well as entry to exhibitions within the structure. Thankfully there are lifts to take you up and down, and between the spheres, but a fair amount of walking is still required. Go on a clear day for a good view, but don’t expect to see anything spectacular – sadly there aren’t that many massive landmarks you can spot from above the city! If you hate heights, it’s probably not advisable to go up (it’s 102m high), although you may be tempted by the pricey bar and restaurant at the top.
Located at the foot of The Atomium is Mini Europe, the only place where you can take a whistle-stop tour of most of Europe and its most fascinating attractions, in just a couple of hours. 350 of Europe’s most popular buildings and monuments are recreated in miniature form, and visitors can take a somewhat cheesy, animated tour, although an entrance fee does apply.
Rediscover your childhood heroes
Did you know that Tin Tin, Snowy and the Smurfs are all cartoons that have emerged from Belgium? Artists from the country created these childhood heros. There are comics painted on random walls across Brussles – take the walking tour and try and spot them or visit the Comic Strip Museum where you’ll be able to see original sketches and memorabilia.
Brussels is a lovely city, and offers something to please everyone. If I haven’t made it clear enough yet, don’t miss the chocolate, the waffles and the beer. Nom, nom, nom. Over and out!