Brussels is probably the most cosmopolitan city of Europe, with liveliness and an appeal that are closely linked to its role of the Europe’s crossroads. The capital of Belgium has many spellings, Bruxelles, the French version is most frequent. Brussels is the capital of Belgian MonarchyÂ and the seat to the Europe’s bureaucratic institutions — The European Commission and the European Parliament.
Brussels is also the Headquarters of NATO and a European lobbying and commercial hub for many multinational corporations. But what describes Brussels best is the greatest variety of museums, bars, restaurants, and other cozy places to visit when you’re up to enjoying life!
Architectural styles found in Brussels range from Gothic cathedrals and churches to the gracious classical facades of the Palais des Nations, the Royal Palace and to a great variety of art nouveau and art deco houses in the comfortable neighborhoods where the Brussels residents, the Bruxellois, live.
The heart of Brussels and the place to start getting to know the city is the Grand â€˜Place, famous for annual Floral Carpet event which gathers thousands of tourists every August. This historic square, lined with exuberantly ornate guild houses and focused on the Gothic heights of the Hotel de Ville, is widely held to be one of Europe’s finest hotels. The Grand â€˜Place is the focal point of the city’s social life. The residents of Brussels gather here for their most important ceremonies and festivals, for the traditional bird market on Sunday mornings, and cozy gatherings on the terraces of the central bars and cafes for the simple reason of enjoying a cup of coffee or a glass of famous Belgian beer.
Brussels is a city of many markets: the bird market, the flower market, the antique and flea market, and even the horse market. Farmers and vendors bring fresh fruit and vegetables from many corners of the world, cheeses made in farms and Belgium’s famous abbeys; hams cured in the Ardennes mountains, flowers and potted plants, chickens, rabbits and fresh caught fish, shrimp and mussels from the North Sea.
To the east of the Grand ‘Place, the ground rises toward the upper town where the Royal Palace and the House of Parliament sit. In between these two is a formal park with fountains in the French style. It is here that the Belgians fought the Dutch for their independence. Slightly to the south is the Place du Grand Sablon, the center of exquisite antique galleries and sumptuous restaurants of Brussels.
Just to the north of the Grand Sablon is the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, which comprises the Museums of Ancient Art and Modern Art. Both possess enormous collections featuring many outstanding works. Among the rooms not to be missed is the collection of Flemish paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries. All of the major artists are well represented including Robert Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes, Dirk Bouts, Hans Memling, and particularly, Peter Breughel the Elder. There is an entire room devoted exclusively to Breughel’s work, including his Landscape with the “Fall of Icarus.” The national sons, Peter Paul Rubens and his disciple, Anthony Van Dyck have an impressive presence.
Entertainment events in Brussels never end, and in keeping with the city’s cosmopolitan outlook, the events are widely varied. They range from the annual Queen Elizabeth Music Competition, which draws aspiring classical musicians from all over the world, to the annual Jazz Festival in Brussels which attracts legendary jazz stars to the Belgium’s capital.
The Theatre Royal de la Monnaie consistently offers first class opera and ballet. In the Palais des Beaux Arts, symphony and chamber music concerts are programmed year-round. There are cinemas with American and European movies in their original version, nightclubs and discos to satisfy the most energetic and outgoing. Don’t forget the folklore and pageantry integral to an understanding of Belgium, with the Ommegang Festival, the first Thursday in July or the Parade of the Giants in May.
All Belgian food is of course delicious and goes well with amazing Belgian beers and great wines. Mussels in Brussels are a must. They are prepared in a variety of ways and are a bargain in season. Portions are huge, so, when dining in Brussels, try to save room for dessert. Most of them — chocolates, waffles and cookies — can be found on every corner of Brussels. And after all, you can always go on a diet when you are in Paris or get in shape crawling the seven hills of Rome!
Request GUIDED TOURS of Brussels and anywhere in Benelux (in French, English, Hebrew, Italian, German, Spanish or Russian).