Situated only an hour from Paris and Luxemburg and 2 to 2 ½ hours from Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and London, Brussels, the capital city of the European Union is an ideal central location to use as a base while exploring Western Europe. Even though Belgium’s official languages are Dutch, French and German, you can find a sizable number of people who speak English as well.
Tour of the Grand Place
Start your day in Brussels with a tour of the Grand Place. Construction on this UNESCO World Heritage site began in the 15th century replete with trade guild houses and market halls. In 1695, this site was almost destroyed by bombs courtesy of the French Army. However, it was soon restored resulting in a mixture of Gothic, baroque, neogothic and neoclassical buildings lining this square.
While walking around the Grand Place, stop by the Toerisme Vlaanderen office. Here you can pick up maps and purchase the Brussels Card. This handy card comes in 24, 48 and 72 hour increments and offers you free use of public transports, free entry to over 30 museums and discounts toward shopping, eating and other attractions.
On your way out of the Grand Place pay a quick visit to the iconic Manneken Pis. In the 17th century, J. Duquesnoy created this bronze statuette that’s come to symbolize the irreverent spirit of Brussels. If you’re lucky, this statuette might be decked out in a costume ranging from a street cleaner to Elvis Presley.
Enjoy classical window shopping as you stroll along the 19th century Galeries Saint-Hubert arcades located off the Grand Place. Peek inside shops selling designer clothing, lace and chocolate. Stop by and sample the chocolates available at Mary, purveyor to the Royal Court and Neuhaus, the inventor of the Belgian praline. If you want a casual snack on the go, pick up some Belgium frittes (fries) over at Belgium Frit’n Toast located between the Grand Place and Central Station.
Mont des Arts
Then head up the Mont des Arts where you’ll pass by museum after museum. In particular, allow ample time to wander around the Museum of Ancient Art (Musee d’Art Ancien). This temple to ancient art contains paintings from the 15th to the 18th century including some of the great Flemish painters. Afterward, be sure to photograph a panoramic view of the city from the Palais de Justice before heading over to the Royal Palace for a quick view of the manicured gardens and ornate architecture.
Next, if you want to relax and have a bite stop into Laurent Gerbaut chocolatier for another chocolate fix or step inside one of the many cafes along the way.
Park of Brussels
Then take a stroll through the Park of Brussels and head over to the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula. Building on this Brabant Gothic-style cathedral began in 1226 with the facade dating from the 15th century.
Once it hits 5pm, the museums and cathedrals close and it’s time for a light meal. Head back down for a dish of mussels served with Leon lager over at Chez Leon. If you want to continue sampling Belgium beers, stop off at the Delirium Cafe and try one or more of their 2,500 available beers. Before you leave this area deemed the “Belly of Brussels” and it’s admittedly touristy but fun flavor, pay a visit to Jeanneke Pis, a female statuette erected to complement Manneken Pis.
After dinner and drinks, continue your stroll around the streets of Brussels. By now you’ll begin to recognize landmarks and develop a familiar feel for this city. Even though you’ve been here less than 24 hours, the city starts to take on a familiar feel. Conclude your evening with a walk back to the Grand Place to view the square lit up at night.
If you feel like indulging yourself in old world European elegance with modern amenities, book a night or two at the Hotel Amigo, a 5 star hotel situated in the heart of Brussels adjacent to the Grand Place. A full range of accommodations ranging from luxury hotels to youth hotels can be found on the Visit Brussels (www.visitbrussels.be) website.
Then using Brussels as a base, you can then take short day trips via car, boat (www.rivertours.be-www.scaldisnet.be) or train (http://www.b-rail.be/nat/E/) to other cities and regions in Belgium including Antwerp, Liege, Bruges, Ghent, and Namur.
What & Where:
Toerisme Vlaanderen office (Rue Marché aux Herbes 61; 32 (0)2 504 03 77)
Museum of Ancient Art (Musee d’Art Ancien) (Rue de la Regence 3, Brussels; 32 (0)2 508 32 11)
Chez Leon (Rue de Bouchers 18, Brussels; 32 (0)2 511 14 15)
Hotel Amigo (Rue de l’Amigo, Brussels; 32 (0)2 547 4747)
Check out Visit Flanders for additional information about booking your trip to Brusssels and the surrounding region.