Some say that Brussels is not the most exciting city in the world, in fact many would say it was downright boring. I say....NON! NON! NON!. While it may not quite compare with say, Paris, New York or Rio, It has a lot going for it.
To try and cover all of the sights and attractions of Brussels in one review is impossible. Therefore, I have concentrated on my favourite places in this diverse European capital.
The first written evidence of the existence of Brussels is from the year 977, when the German emperor Otto 2nd gave Low-Lorraine to Carl of France, who built a fortress there. In the middle of the 11th century the first city walls were built. The city thrived although it was controlled by Burgundy, then the Hapsburgian Empire.
In 1695 Brussels was attacked by the French king Louis XIV. The result was disastrous: more than 4000 houses and the Grand Place were completely destroyed.
The last foreign emperor to rule over Brussels and the present Belgian kingdom was the Dutch emperor William I. He was forced out of Belgium in 1830, when a successful struggle for independence began in Brussels.
In 1831 the first Belgian king, Leopold I, ascended the throne and Brussels became the capital of the new kingdom. There then followed a long period of rebuilding, new and grand buildings were erected, the city walls were demolished, and the city expanded in size and importance.
After WWII Belgium was divided in two semi-independent regions, Flanders and the Walloon Province. Brussels became a district with its own government (with limited powers).
Brussels also became the capital of the European Union and the NATO headquarters are nearby. These institutions have given Brussels an enormous economic boost.
On arrival in Brussels, head for the tourist office where narrow, cobbled streets open suddenly into the breathtaking Grand-Place. With it's ornate guildhouses, impressive Town Hall and buzzing atmosphere, it would be difficult to find a more beautiful square in the whole of Europe.
Bars, restaurants and museums are clustered together in the compact city centre, enclosed within the inner ring road, which follows the path of the fourteenth-century city walls.
This is the main tourist attraction of Brussels. It is visited by thousands daily, whether to wander around admiring the impressive buildings, or to sit at one of the many cafe-bar terraces enjoying the excellent beer.
The facades of gothic buildings are dominated by the Hotel de Ville, built in the fifteenth century. Its 96m spire is topped with a gilded copper statue of St-Michael. Opposite the Town Hall, and almost as grand, is the Maison du Roi, commissioned in 1515 and faithfully rebuilt in the 1890s. It now houses the city museum. A series of lavish Guildhouses complete the rectangle of the Grand Place.
Heysel Exhibition Park
In the 1930's Belgium wanted to organize a world exhibition to show its prosperity after the disasters of World War I and also to celebrate the centenary of its independence, and so the Heysel park was born.
Next to the football stadium (completely rebuilt after the disaster at the Liverpool v Juventus game), is Kinepolis, a major movie complex with 28 cinemas and a giant IMAX screen. Another main attraction is the Mini-Europe park, which contains miniature models (scale 1:25) of major monuments from all the member states of the European Union.
Situated at the Heysel. Here you will find a reconstructed Belgian village complete with cafes and restaurants. You can also have a tropical beach experience at the indoor Oceade swimming complex.
This monument from 1958 is the Eiffel Tower of Brussels. The Atomium is a representation of an 'atom'. It symbolizes an elementary iron crystal with its 9 atoms magnified 150 billion times. The monument is coated with aluminum, weighs 2,400 tons and is 102m high. Each sphere has a diameter of 18 meters. An elevator takes visitors to the upper sphere where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Heysel area and (weather permitting) the city of Brussels. There is also quite a good buffet-restaurant in the upper sphere. In the other spheres, exhibitions are organized and they can be visited by a series of escalators.
In my opinion, Belgium is the country with the best beer in the world. Therefore, a stay in Brussels cannot be complete without a visit (or three), to one of the many typical cafes and pubs that you will find there. Try the local beers of Brussels - Gueuze or fruit beer or a wonderful Trappist beer, made in one of the Abbeys of Belgium. Be careful when drinking a Trappist beer, these beers tend to be very strong (between 8 and 11.5 ABV).
The Gueuze Museum (in the Anderlecht district), is situated in the still operational Cantillon brewery and is famous for its authentic Lambic beers. Before you enter this brewery and museum, forget all you know about the taste of beer, and then try a Cantillon Gueuze or Kriek (cherry beer). You're in for a surprise !!!
The Brewery Museum is on the Grand Place and is open every day.
The world famous peeing boy can be seen every day and night at the corner of Eikstraat/Stoofstraat near the Grand Place. The Mannekin changes costumes regularly and on special occasions he 'pises' beer instead of water!
The Belgian comic Strip Centre
This tribute to the famous Belgian art form is housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau setting. Here you can discover the history of Belgium's comic strip heroes (especially Tintin). This is a beautiful museum - the building was designed b
y the most famo
us Belgian Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta. It illustrates this art form perfectly, with sets of enlarged drawings, three-dimensional recreations, etc. The museum also has a very good shop.
The City museum
The museum is devoted to all aspects of the city's history. On the ground level is a collection of art objects showing the decorative arts of Brussels : wall tapestries, paintings and goldsmith's work.
On the second floor there is a collection of documents and miniature scale models which outline the development and growth of the city. The third floor shows the cultural, economic and social development of Brussels with historic documents, paintings, engravings and manuscripts. Also on this floor is the wardrobe of Mannekin Pis. He possesses a collection of more than 600 costumes!
Brussels' classic souvenier is chocolate and Neuhaus in the Grand Place is probably the most famous chocolate shop. Belgian biscuits are also very tasty with the local speciality, speculoos - a gingerbread biscuit with a crunch, well worth hunting down. Beer is best b
ought at Bière Artisanale, which stocks over 400 types of beer and glasses to match.
Designer clothes are clustered around the smart Avenue Louise and Avenue de la Toison d'Or.
Children's and big kids' tastes are catered for at Brussels' many comic book shops.
Brussels lace is a good buy but beware, most of the lace on sale in the souvenier shops around Grand-Place is made in the far-east.