It never fails. Every single time someone asks my opinion on a European itinerary and I suggest they make a stop in Brussels, I get the same confused look.
“Brussels? Like, in Belgium?” they say, the wheels clearly spinning in their head. “But…why?”
Perhaps that reaction is exactly why you should visit: because despite being a world-class city, it has somehow managed to stay off the radar of the backpacker crowd, making it a wonderful respite from the hordes of tourists that overrun the likes of Paris, Prague and Rome.
Brussels is the capital of Belgium, a small country famous for waffles, beer and being the headquarters of the European Union. Home to about two million people, this historic city is one of those places where you can simply stroll around and take in the sights and sounds, as opposed to racing around to different landmarks.
The Grand Place is at the centre of the action, serving as a central square. The towering, Gothic-inspired town hall looks down on the large cobblestone plaza, which is surrounded by cafes, chocolate shops and restaurants. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the spot is a must-see—especially if you’re visiting in August when the whole area is transformed into a giant flower carpet. Yes, you read that right, a flower carpet!
Nearly one million vibrant begonias are brought in and arranged one-by-one into a pattern, creating a masterpiece that ends up looking like a Turkish rug. Stretching an incredible 77 metres long and 24 metres wide, the whole square is lit up at night resulting in a gorgeous scene. The tradition has been going on for over four decades, and has since been brought to other cities around the world.
Just a couple of blocks off the Grand Place you’ll stumble across Belgium’s most famous–and rather underwhelming–landmark. Manneken Pis is a tiny fountain depicting a young boy peeing. Seriously.
The hilarious bronze sculpture has somehow become a symbol of the country, and it goes without saying that it’s worth seeing- if only to laugh at.
Farther outside the city centre, landmarks include the regal Royal Palace of Brussels and the futuristic looking Atomium, a 103 metre structure that looks like, well, an atom.
Finally, the best way to experience Brussels is to enjoy some of the cuisine it’s famous for: namely beer and mussels. Belgian beer is simply fantastic even if you’re not a regular beer drinker, as there are sweet concoctions like Kriek and Framboise that taste suspiciously similar to cherry and raspberry juice (but with a nice buzz!). As for the mussels, they’re worth ordering just to say you ate ‘mussels in Brussels.’ Bonus points if your husband happens to be named Russell (like mine), so you can say you ate ‘mussels in Brussels with Russell.’
Where to stay in Brussels
MAS Residence– This hotel is so unique that every single one of the huge rooms is designed differently. With it’s perfect location, you can walk to major attractions in the city and also get to and from the airport easily. Click here to book
FunKey Hotel– This kitschy hotel has a “board game’ theme, where every room’s design is inspired by a different game. Of course, they also off an extensive inventory of board games to play, which will bring you back to your childhood and make for some great entertainment after a day of sightseeing. Click here to book
Thon Hotel EU– This property proves it’s possible to be sustainable, affordable, and still provide a great guest experience. Centrally located in Brussels, Thon Hotel EU has spacious rooms and an excellent restaurant that serves a great breakfast. Click here to book
Currency: The euro
Language: French and Dutch are the main languages, but most people speak at least some English or Flemish as well. As a matter of fact, with so many diplomats living in the city you can expect to find people who know about seven different languages!
Must do: Eat a waffle! The Belgians swear by their thin liege waffles, but most people are more familiar with the huge Belgian waffles. You can enjoy one with a number of toppings including ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, strawberries and bananas. Just don’t eat one right before dinner!
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