Although Brussels may have the reputation of being the ‘capital of the European Union,’ spending a few days in the city are enough to prove that there is much more to do and see than just the EU. One of the most popular areas of Brussels, however, is the Grand Place at the heart of the city center – here are some tips to ensure you get the most out of this cultural hotspot.
Appreciate the stunning architecture of the Grand Place
Known as the most populated square in Brussels, the Grand Place receives tens of thousands of tourists each year and is one of Belgium’s most important landmarks. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Grand Place hosts annual festivals, light and sound shows (especially during the winter holidays period for the Winter Wonders festival) and twice a year tourists have the chance to see the colorful Flower Carpet.
Generally, every street starting from the Grand Place leads the visitor to a smaller square. The downtown squares are usually great locations to discover various street artists. Whether it’s performance art, painting or graffiti, walking around the city center with your eyes peeled is the best way to get the most out of Brussels’ art scene.
Browse through an abundant collection of books or vinyls
Brussels offers a wide array of book and music stores, with plenty of opportunities to enjoy a good novel or listen to old-fashioned classics on vinyl. Some local shops also carry antiques, where you can discover little treasures. Whether you are looking for a collection of Belgian or international literature, vinyl records, DVDs, comic books and/or collectibles, Bouquinerie Evasions is the place to go.
They say the best way to discover a city is by walking – which is also true for Brussels. That is why a group of young enthusiasts (Viva Brussels) have set up The Authentic Free Walking City Tour of Brussels. What is truly great about this particular tour is that it operates on a pay-as-you-want basis and part of the profits go to servicing social projects in the city. The tours take place every day from Monday to Saturday, at 10am and 13.30pm, and are conducted in either English or Spanish.
There are many panoramic views of Brussels, but one of them comes with a twist. In Place Poelaert, in front of the Justice Palace, this panoramic view is accompanied by the ‘Elevator to the Sky’ experience. For those not afraid of heights or see-through walls, the elevator is open every day until 11.30pm (bike access included) and allows the viewer to observe some of Brussels’ most popular tourist points.
Also called ‘the stomach of Brussels,’ Rue des Bouchers is home to several local and international restaurants. Even if some don’t find this street particularly tempting, it is definitely worth passing by and trying your luck in tasting the famous Moules Frites or an authentic Italian pizza. Otherwise, you can get the full Belgian traditional experience at the Aux Armes de Bruxelles restaurant. For those who prefer the traditional waffles or frites, the city is filled with a variety of places to choose from, where you can never go wrong.
If you are more of an indoor explorer, don’t forget to stop by one or more of Brussels’ museums or art collections. Stad Museum, the Museum of Chocolate or the Music Museum are all conveniently located near this area. If you would like to get the ‘full package,’ the perfect choice would be the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Housing a collection of 20,000 works of art, distributed over six galleries (four of them to be found on 10 different levels within the same building), the RMFAB is a worthwhile destination. Keep in mind that even the museum’s staff suggest to reserve a full day for visiting, if you really want to check out all the exhibitions.
If you are interested in a mixture of art, culture and architecture, there are also many options to visit in downtown Brussels. Theatre des Galeries, De Munt or BOZAR are the perfect destinations to enjoy a cultural fusion experience. The number-one pick on the list should be BOZAR, however. In the words of architect Victor Horta, Brussels’ first cultural center was imagined to be “immense and yet almost invisible, overlooking the city and yet buried underground, multiple and yet unified, prestigious and yet open to all.” This statement is a testament to how this esteemed organization functions today, as it continues to host a diverse program of artists, cultural figures and world-renowned leaders on its stage.
When it comes to getting a drink or two, Brussels surely has some aces up its sleeve. In the case of Delirium Café, the bar has a variety of more than 2,000 types of beer – both Belgian and international. Another place worth visiting is Gopuil le Fol: a bar with fascinatingly weird yet amazing décor, French music playing from the jukebox and more than four different rooms where you can enjoy their special vin au fruits.
Many bars and restaurants in the city center are well-known for their open-stage nights, where local and international artists perform and then invite members of the audience to become part of the show. You can bring your own instrument or use the bands’, and share your love for music with the public.