Chocolate, beer, waffles, frites, mussels and beer. These are just some of the reasons you should visit the capital city of Belgium. Did we mention beer?
Brussels is a city often overlooked by tourists – it’s the home of the European Parliament, right? Why would you want to visit?
Well, Brussels is much more than that. With delightful medieval squares, superb restaurants and more culture than you can shake a waffle at, you’ll be surprised at what the capital of Belgium has to offer.
The city has a population of about 1.1 million and dates back to the 10th century. A strategic location in Europe, it has been fought over and occupied countless times, yet much of the medieval architecture has remained intact.
There are modern buildings too – the European Parliament for one, but also the famous Atomium – built in the 1950s and resembling a giant atom. There are two airports serving the city – Zaventum, about 20 minutes from the centre, and Charleroi, almost an hour away.
There are great links from both into the city centre, and once you’ve dropped your bag at your hotel, it’s probably time to grab a beer.
What? Too early for a beer? Come on, you’re in Brussels! The Belgian monks started the whole craft beer industry long before we caught on and they’re still at it, with Trappist monasteries brewing many of the famous brands available.
There are more than 200 breweries in Belgium, but check the strength as some can be pretty powerful.
If beer’s not to your taste, brunch has become a big weekend thing in Brussels, with many restaurants serving food up until 3pm. Everything’s on offer, from traditional croissants and coffee to American-style eggs over easy.
The Manneken Pis is a bronze sculpture of a small boy peeing into a fountain – yes, it does sound strange, and it is strange, especially since the town has taken to dressing him up in various fancy dress costumes.
He’s been a firefighter, a Samurai warrior and even Dracula. He has more than 1,000 costumes, and these can be seen in the GardeRobe MannekinPis museum dedicated to these just across from the sculpture himself.
It’s a good idea to buy a Brussels Card here, which allows you free access to more than 40 museums in the capital.
In addition, you’ll be eligible for discounts at other attractions, including money off in selected cafés and bars.
Public transport in the city is great, with trains, trams, buses and a subway system all working hard to keep the city moving. There’s even a waterbus on the Senne river connecting the suburb of Vilvoorde with the centre.
You can pay a little extra on your Brussels Card to allow you unlimited travel on all modes of transport (except the waterbus) – a great option if you want to see more of the city.
Don’t just wave it at the driver and expect him to let you on though – you can use it to get a travel ticket at one of the many automated GO ticket machines. Once you have your travel ticket, you must validate it when travelling.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ve come to the right place. The Belgians have been making chocolate since the 17th century, and the country has become synonymous with quality in the industry.
In fact, chocolate made here must have a minimum of 35 per cent cocoa solids – it’s the law. There are plenty of chocolatiers dotted around the city and while the quality is great, many of the shops are expensive.
If you have time, some shops even offer chocolate-making courses.
Is it time for a beer again? Seriously though, a beer does wash down Belgium’s unofficial national dish – mussels and fries – rather well.
It’s easy to find restaurants serving this cheap, tasty dish, and you can’t really leave without trying them.
The nightlife in Brussels is lively, but not as full on as in other European cities. There are plenty of spots to chill and have a drink with friends, but there is no ‘central club strip’ – they are mostly dotted around the city.
Be aware that some clubs have a cover charge of 10 Euros or more. This often includes a drink, however.
We’re at the end of our day, and we haven’t even mentioned the Belgian Comic Strip Center – where you can see home-grown comic book stars such as Tintin, the Smurfs and Lucky Luke.
There is superb shopping to be had at the beautiful 19th-century Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, and before you leave, you must take in the view from the iconic Atomium, recently refurbished in stainless steel, to celebrate the coming together of European countries.
Fly to Brussels direct from Edinburgh with Brussels Airlines. See brusselsairlines.com