Belgian capital is famous for having one of the biggest mixes of everything in Europe, losing, probably, just to London. People from different backgrounds and countries, multiple languages, various cuisines and architecture styles – this all makes Brussels an interesting destination to visit.
Thanks to Eurostar, again, we travelled to Brussels by train spending slightly more than 2 hours on the whole trip. The train arrives to Bruxelles-Midi railway station which is, technically, near the city centre, however Brussels turned out be a rather large city so we’ve spent good 30 minutes on getting to our hotel. Our accommodation was provided by Hotel Le Berger – a nice boutique hotel with very interesting rooms. After checking-in and a short break we started exploring the city.
Our first stop was European Quarter which is dominated by various institutions of the European Union. Leaders of the EU members gather together for summits, members of European Parliament have their debates and countless officials discus the future of their countries and the continent as a whole. These people, obviously, add up to Brussels’ mixology. Many streets in the quarter are called after European cities and countries. We walked down Dublin street, crossed London square and found ourselves on a Luxembourg square where you can find the parliament’s visitors centre. If you’re traveling on a week day you can actually visit the parliament, but as we were there on Saturday, we took a couple of photographs and moved on.
Brussels has many museums to offer and with Eurostar ticket you’ll have 2-for-1 offer on the entrance fee to some of them. We decided to leave it for the next time and see the museums from the outside instead. One interesting museum hub in Brussels, Parc du Cinquantenaire, is located right next to the parliament. The park itself is a nice and peaceful place but you can also visit one or several of the museums located there: Musée du Cinquantenaire, Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History and Autoworld. In the middle of the park stands on of the famous Brussels sights, Les Arcades du Cinquantenaire.
On our way out of the European quarter we’ve seen Angela Merkel passing by in a car. That usually means that EU summit takes place in Brussels and transport links from this area are very likely not to operate. Very kind policewoman showed us the way to the closest opened metro station from where we directed straight to the historical centre. It’s time to have some beer and see Manneken Pis, isn’t it?
You can’t visit Brussels without trying at least some of famous Belgian beers. The variety of Belgian beers is so huge that you can spend months trying all of them. And if you want to limit yourself by trying one of each style, well, good luck. Technically, anything brewed within the border is called Belgian. So by Belgian beer they call any type of sweet, sour, hoppy, fruity, malty and/or bitter fizzy drink with alcohol percentage differentiating between 3% and 13%. Usually, the strongest ones have the richest flavour so I started my tour by visiting Délirium Café, home of Delirium beer and about 2000 other beers.
Brussels doesn’t really have that many famous places, monuments or landmarks. One may enjoy wandering around central streets and looking for hidden gems. The city has several very interesting buildings. Some of them are situated on the famous Grand Place and all have unique architectural styles, another good example may be Musical Instruments Museum. However, what really attracts tourists and, for whatever reason, became the most popular points of interest, are statues of urinating creatures. Yes, there is more than one. In fact there are three different statues, forming a weird triangle around the city centre. Manneken Pis, obviously, is the most famous one. Attracting thousands of tourists every hour it is, probably, the most disappointing landmark I’ve seen so far. I seriously don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Right next to Délirium Café you can find Manneken’s sister, Jeanneke Pis. And the last figure is their dog, Zinneke Pis.
Some people may be excited by this triangle, however here’s much better triangle of beer venues everyone should consider visiting. Starting at Délirium Café, have a couple of house beers or maybe go for a good bottle with a pink elephant on it. Short stop next to Jeanneke, then go towards Manneken. Take a selfie and you’re already moments away from Moeder Lambic. This is, perhaps, the best beer venue in Brussels. The selection of beers is extraordinary. Their beer carte includes both local brews and some guest specialties. This is a place where I fell in love with Belgian gueuze. Sour, acidic beer at Moeder is delivered from Cantillon brewery in Brussels. Strong Val-Dieu Grand Cru quadrupel will help you to wrap up your visit. The last stop for the beer day is Brussels Beer Project. House of modern, mostly American style beers, is an actual brewery where you can see how the liquid in your glass is brewed.
An intensive beer connoisseur day is followed by a relaxed walking tour around the city. There is one thing in Brussels, that may actually impress you. This is the Atomium, a huge model of iron crystal unit cell, magnified 165 billion times. It was built 60 years ago for Expo 58 also known as Brussels World’s Fair.It is very difficult to impress people by some colossal futuristic buildings or statues these days, but back in 1958 it was regarded as a miracle. Tourists can get inside for €12 to explore multiple internal expositions and enjoy lunch at the Brussels’ highest restaurant (rather pricey though). Be sure to join the queue as early as possible, Atomium open its doors at 10:30 AM, otherwise you’ll have to wait for a few hours to get inside. It is located on the edge of Brussels and the journey takes around 40 minutes from city centre.
Lazily coming back to city centre, I had a glass of fresh gueuze at A La Mort Subite, yet another point of interest for beer lovers. If you managed to wake up early, you should have plenty of time left for the afternoon walk. You may want to visit another city’s museum hub – Mont des Arts. Some of the finest Belgian museums are located here, including already mentioned Musical Instruments Museum, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and BOZAR. All of them qualify for 2-for-1 deal from Eurostar so you may also enjoy pretty decent discount if you have someone to share it with.
Brussels is officially a bilingual city with majority of the population speaking French and a few brave citizens speaking Dutch (or Flemish as they call it). Our journey ends at Bruxelles-Midi station, which name in French has nothing to do with South in its Dutch name Brussel-Zuid.
How to get there?
Brussels has good railway connections with many Western European cities. International airport connect Belgian capital with more distant locations.
Where to stay?
Any budget options are available as in many European capitals. We chose to stay at Hotel Le Berger located next to European Quarter and Porte du Namur metro station. One night will cost around €75.
What to eat?
Belgium is famous for its beers. There are several very good venues where you can enjoy this fizzy drink. To fill your body with something substantial, you can choose from a range of restaurants around city centre. Most of them serve a mix of Italian and French cuisine, very rich on seafood. On a move, enjoy real Belgian fries at Café Georgette.
What to do?
Brussels has several very good museums to offer. Being one of official EU capitals it hosts several Union institutions. One of the, the European Parliament, is opened for visitors. On the outskirts of the city you can find an artefact from 1958 – Atomium, a 102 m high model of iron unit cell with several expositions and a restaurant inside.
How to get around?
Public transport in Brussels has a very good coverage. Metro, trams and buses connect all the landmarks and points of interest. Tickets are sold at metro stations. You may buy single tickets for €2.10 or enjoy a 24-hour pass for €7.50. Although it is likely that no one will check your tickets, be sure to validate them when you enter tram or bus.