Do you want to indulge in delicate chocolates, drink gallons of beer and soak up your hangover with french fries and waffles? Then Brussels is your city – plus, you can eat mussels in Brussels (
sorry)! There is more to the political capital of Europe than food though and it’s worth a weekend visit to explore this beautiful historic city.
What’s Cool To Know?
Whilst you may know that Brussels is the capital of Belgium did you know it is also the capital of the European Union? With it being the headquarters to so many EU institutions, around 40,000 EU employees live here and roughly 27% of Brussels residents are not Belgium citizens.
Brussels is a fairly small city and all major attractions are within walking distance. It is also known as a very safe city so walking around at night is perfectly fine (as long as you use your common sense)!
There are bike lanes everywhere so if you prefer to bike that is definitely an option. Cars are used to bikes being on the roads and are therefore always looking out.
If you have done a little too much shopping, taxis are metered and available at taxi stands or by calling (you are unlikely able to hail one on the street).
Things to See And Do
The pissing statues in Brussels – no I’m not being rude – are iconic of Brussels and Belgium. Manneken Pis and Jeanneke Pis are two very small statues of a little boy and little girl respectively, peeing. There are different suggestions as to why Brussels seems to have a thing with creating statues that pee but there is a general agreement that it signifies peeing on something such as opposing troops and then saving the city. You will often see him in different costumes which change weekly (a schedule can be found online) which is highly amusing. Manneken Pis has actually been stolen so many times that since 1965 original actually lives in Maison du Roi on the Grand Place.
It is said, Jeanneke, the little girl was created in the 1980’s to establish equality (or if you’re more cynical to attract people to the restaurant next to it). I think Belgians just have a good sense of humour!
There is also Zinneke Pis, a dog peeing, on Rue des Chartreux. Zinneke in the local dialect means someone of mixed origin symbolising the mix of cultures and humour that Bruxellers have.
A visit to Brussels isn’t complete without a visit to the Royal Palace of Brussels. Unfortunately it is only open to the public for a couple of weeks near the end of August however a walk around the outside is worth the visit. The lawns and gardens are meticulously maintained the facade of the palace is very impressive. The facade is actually very similar to Buckingham Palace in London however the Brussels facade is 50% longer than Buckingham Palace.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Le Grand Place is the central square of Brussels and is one of the most grandest city squares we visited in Europe. It is surrounded by elaborate guildhalls and other large buildings, almost all with beautiful gold finishings. Every two years in August, a flower carpet is created in the square that looks magnificent. We were lucky enough to see the start of the alternate year celebration: Flowertime. For 2017 the theme was flowers and fruit and we could see a variety designs by florists laid out on the floor using just flowers and fruits – some were very creative whilst others were quite basic! Some of the buildings surrounding the square also housed massive flower arrangements on display which were certainly awe inspiring.
If you fancy shopping, the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert are one of the oldest shopping arcades in Europe and it is absolutely beautiful. Lovely boutiques and fanciful chocolate shops can be found a plenty here!
A visit to the striking Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula also wouldn’t go amiss whilst wandering around the city.
Out of the city
Twenty minutes outside of the city centre you will find Mini Europe and Atomium. Would I recommend them? If you have extra time in Brussels or have young children, yes. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t bother. Mini Europe is, as the name says, a small scale replica of buildings and places within Europe accompanied by statistical plaques on each country and national anthem playing on demand. I found it a bit gimmicky and in need of a big renovation but it’s kind of fun for what it is.
Atomium is a large stainless steel structure which forms the shape of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It’s impressive to look at and after originally being created for the World’s Fair Expo held here, it is now open to the public with various permanent and temporary exhibitions. The upper sphere provides a 360 degree view of Brussels and on a clear day they claim you can see as far as Antwerp.
Belgium is known for many typical dishes which are available throughout Brussels. We didn’t have time to visit any specific restaurants but I would highly recommend trying as many dishes as possible whilst in Belgium as I got severe envy looking at the delicious dishes we passed by!
There are three offical languages in Belgium: Dutch, French and German however almost everyone speaks English and you will find it easy to communicate with the locals.
Belgium uses the euro so everything is pretty straightforward when it comes to paying for everything. Credit cards are accepted everywhere including small corner shops.
The weather can change quickly in just a few minutes so ensure you take a rain coat, umbrella and sunglasses to be prepared for any sudden changes! Just because you visit in Summer, doesn’t mean it will be sunny all day.