Better known by many for its mouth-watering chocolates and golden beers, Belgium’s chic and culture-rich capital actually boasts world-class architecture, wonderful art galleries, cosy cafés, fine dining restaurants, and elegant boutique shops.
Wandering along Léopold II’s boulevards, Belliard and La Loi, you could easily imagine you were strolling through Paris, with its grand buildings housing embassies, banks and exclusive apartments.
The city’s integrated public transport system makes it easy and quick to get around, combining a Metro system, trams and buses all on a single ticket system – so you can easily squeeze in most major tourist sites during a short break. And there are tons of great hotels in Brussels for your stay, catering for all budgets – Octopus Travel offers a choice of over 100 different hotels across the city.
Exploring the sights
Cobbled streets lead to one of Europe’s most beautiful squares, the Grand-Place (or ‘Grote Markt’ in Dutch) – a central market square that’s heavily dominated by the incredible Gothic Hôtel de Ville, and lined with ornate 17th century guild houses.
Architecture fans can admire St Gudule and St Michael’s Cathedral, the construction of which began in 1215 but was only completed 300 years later, resulting in a rather dramatic blend of architectural styles. Love it or hate it, dominating the north-western skyline of Brussels from its home on Koekelberg Hill is the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart, combining a bizarre (and some say clashing) mix of neogothic and Art Deco styles. And if you venture out of the centre a little to the laid-back, arty areas of St-Gilles and Ixelles you’ll find buildings in Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, as well as quirky shops and restaurants.
Back in the centre, shoppers can explore Europe’s first covered shopping gallery, Galeries Royales St-Hubert, which was opened in 1847. Today it houses a collection of exclusive shops where you could easily max out your credit card – or just enjoy some free window shopping.
You won’t need to spend anything to visit the city’s botanical garden, either, which features an impressive neoclassical 19th century greenhouse surrounded by well-kept gardens that erupt in a blast of colour during the summer months.
Art lovers flock to museums such as the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, which features rare works by Pieter Brueghel the Elder alongside classic Rubens paintings and pieces by other important Old Masters – and to the René Magritte Museum, which occupies the house in which the Belgian surrealist painter worked for nearly 24 years.
Many other tourist attractions vie for your attention in Brussels, including the Royal Palace and the Musee des Instruments de Musique – but leave time to enjoy the classic Belgian clichés: beer and chocolate! There’s no shortage of places to indulge. Corne Toison d’Or is probably the city’s most famous chocolatier, housed in Galeries Royale de St Hubert – while you can also find out how beer is made at a working brewery and museum, Brasserie Cantillon, in the suburb of Anderlecht – and enjoy sampling a few beers along the way!