Brussels. The name alone may bring to mind imagery of the European Union, beer, or possibly, your least favorite childhood vegetable. I recently had the pleasure of visiting this culture-rich capital city for a few days and Brussels (no sprout included), did not disappoint.
Brussels is the capital of Belgium and the de-facto capital of the European Union. The citizens of the city are at least bilingual speaking both French and English and many people also speak German and Dutch. It is a bustling melting pot packed with plenty to discover.
Any trip to Brussels should start with the Grand Place. This UNESCO-protected site is a Disney fantasy come true. Considered the most beautiful square in Europe, the gold-capped architecture is the stuff of childhood storybooks. Between the gothic city hall and the impressive Maison du Roi (the King’s House), I understand the compulsive need to photograph every minute detail of this site. If you would like to become an honorary history buff on this square as well as the rest of the city, may I suggest a Bravo DiscoveryWalking Tour? The tour takes place twice a day and meets up under an umbrella in the center of the square. You will enjoy roughly two hours of enriching information about Brussels by a local, at the end of the tour you are suggested to leave a tip based on your experience. I highly recommend this adventure as there is just SO MUCH to learn about this dynamic city! My partner and I found the guide incredibly engaging and knowledgeable and it was particularly nice to understand why the city is the way it is from a historical standpoint. Also, if you end up enjoying the surrounding nightlife I suggest passing through the Grand Place: without all your fellow tourists around you can really appreciate the history seeping from every structure (and pretend to be a beer-infused royal with the square all to yourself)!
Of course, Brussels is not only defined by it’s spectacular Grand Place. The city is also renowned for its chocolate and beer. With the help of our friendly tour guide, we learned that the best chocolatiers are housed in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert: two elongated halls with magnificent glass ceilings. Each hall is dedicated to a person of the royal family, Galerie de la Reine (The Queen’s Hall), Galerie du Roi (The King’s Hall), and Galerie des Princes (The Princes’ Hall). Luxurious retail stores line the halls and the scent of highly acclaimed Belgian chocolate beckons your body and more importantly, your wallet. We succumbed to a little piece of chocolate each from Atelier de Neuhaus, one of the most famous Belgian chocolatiers. Needless to say, my mouth had never experienced real chocolate until that day.
With our sweet-tooths satisfied, the next item on our list was beer. I’ll be honest, I’m not particularly a fan of this fizzy spirit but ‘when in Rome’. Within the historical center of the city, we scoped out a bar named The Sisters. It was late in the afternoon but the sun was still shining and their lavish plant-packed terrace beckoned to us. The decor was simple, bright and cozy--not a nightlife type of place. It is, in fact, a zero-waste vegan restaurant! This was a pleasant surprise in addition to their beer tasting trays. Yet, having chowed down on a cone of fries beforehand, we were in the market for beer. At 10 euros a ‘beer flight’ and over 200 organic beers to choose from (complete with pretty funny AND useful descriptions) this was the perfect place to sooth our thirsty souls. Even for a non-beer drinker like me, I found 4 delicious (therefore, extremely fruity) beers to suit my taste. But watch out! Their beer menu is a little unclear, stating you can get two ‘beer flights’ for 10 euros, but this is not the case. You will both get the same beers at a price of 20 euros...like we did and needless to say, my partner was not thrilled about my fruity selections. A minor error lost in translation, but hey, what’s traveling without a little miscommunication?
We only stayed 2 days and 2 nights which ended up being the perfect mini-trip. We strolled and sauntered through the lovely, little, meandering streets, and spared no expense in our gourmandize. This trip was pretty last minute and I only looked up some key addresses that we had to see. L’archiduc is one of these places I was most excited to visit. This bar was founded by Madame Alice in 1937 and after her departure in 1953, the location tied its’ history to that of the vibrant jazz scene. One of my favorite jazz artists, Nat King Cole, used to frequent this art-deco bar. The design of this historical site seems to have remained the same since the last time Mr. Cole’s fingers fluttered across the center-staged piano. From the Tiffany-box colored facade to the discrete wooden tables to the soft ambient lighting--this is THE place to live out your jazz fantasy. We decided to sit at the tiny bar which was bustling with friendly locals. We were told that almost every night there’s some type of musical performance; that night we arrived to a gentleman dancing his nimble fingers across the grand piano in the center of the room. This spot is strictly a bar on the slightly more expensive side of things, but the cocktails were delicious and honestly worth every euro. Despite being rather small, this notable establishment is a must-see for those who seek a friendly musical experience.
Unfortunately, we didn’t visit any museums. We reserved our last day, a Monday, for museums but in hindsight that was a bad decision. Museums are closed in Brussels on Monday so be sure to check out museum schedules before you go (unlike me). My hankering for art was luckily quenched through the city's metro system! Over 80 stunning works of art cover the walls of this underground metropolis and you can buy a guide (5 euros) to be sure to visit them all. I used a free PDF guide I found online provided by the city, but I only found it in French. In addition to the breathtaking and extremely varied works of art you’ll find in the metro system, you’ll find a plethora of giant creations above ground! Brussels is known as the bande dessinée or comic book capital of the French-speaking world. Old, windowless walls that litter the city, built by an old renovation-obsessed King (thanks tour guide!) are now giant paintings of familiar comic book scenes. Over 60 of these murals can be found throughout the city and the colorful, cheerful scenes will definitely brighten your day.
All and all, Brussels was a charming, welcoming, and surprising city. It is a place made for walking and discovery. Our meandering led us to a funky second-hand shop and a welcoming restaurant dripping with beautiful vegetation and specializing in brunch: I highly recommend it! Although our two-day stay was short (we didn’t have time to visit the Atomium ) our stay was incredibly satisfying. Due to unusually warm (and consequently, very alarming) February weather we were able to enjoy all of the outdoor marvels of this historic city including a little picnic in the Parc de Bruxelles with some new local friends. Throughout our stay, live music spilled into the city streets at all hours and the locals were as friendly and as vibrant as the comic book murals on their walls. We even came across an incredible and unexpected light show in the middle of the city! Brussels is full of bars to try, art to discover, chocolate and beer to taste, and lovely people to meet. It’s no wonder why this diverse city came to be known as the capital of Europe.