10 Reasons Brussels Is Europe’s Most Underrated Capital

Mont des Arts is a beautiful site between the Royal Palace and Grand-Place
Mont des Arts is a beautiful site between the Royal Palace and Grand-Place | © Paul Brown / Alamy Stock Photo
Bridgette Gottwald

There’s always something going on in Brussels. The Belgian capital provides Bruxellois and tourists with some of Europe’s best food, activities and parks, and its contagious positive energy will keep you coming back time and again. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you should visit.

The view

Brussels has a surprisingly picturesque skyline. Mont des Arts is a beautiful site between the Royal Palace and Grand-Place, offering one of Brussels’s finest and most accessible views. Have a drink on the roof terrace of the Musical Instruments Museum for a fabulous view over Mont des Arts and the rest of the city. In the north of the capital, the Atomium provides an unrivalled panorama, and the roof of the huge basilica in Koekelberg offers a real escape from city life.

Beautiful parks

Brussels is filled with breathtaking parks of all sizes to enjoy on warm and cold days alike, perfect for walking, biking, picnicking or just lounging around. In summer, an array of pop-up bars add to their appeal. From the landscaped Cinquantenaire and its landmark arches to the huge Bois de la Cambre with its rolling hills and central lake, the greenery provides an energising change of pace from city life. Check out Parc Tenbosch in Ixelles when you feel like leaving the city behind.

Parc du Cinquantenaire and its arch were built to celebrate Belgium’s independence

Incredible waffles

Nothing beats a fresh waffle from a van, served warm with the toppings of your choice – whipped cream, chocolate, fruit – or just as it comes. The batter creates an interior that’s as light as a feather, while the outside is crisp and sticky with caramelised sugar. You will struggle to walk more than 15 minutes in any direction in the city centre without running into a waffle stand.

Waffles are not hard to find in Brussels

Chocolate shops galore

No matter where you are in Brussels, a chocolate shop is likely to be within reach. This city’s chocolate is extraordinary. Look out for well-known brands such as Leonidas and Neuhaus, with outlets in most shopping areas. Check out the more exclusive brands like Pierre Marcolini and Chocolatier Mary for the ultimate chocolate indulgence.

Indulge your sweet tooth at one of Brussels’s legendary chocolatiers, such as Pierre Marcolini

Daily markets

Whatever the day of the week, you’ll find a market in a square near you offering a vast array of fresh produce, plants, olives, pasta, cheese and bread. Look out, too, for the evening markets that set up shop in a different square each day and stay open until 9pm. Here you can pick up a few groceries then enjoy an al fresco aperitif as you tuck into freshly made food from around the world – think cider, mulled wine, spritz or Belgian beer to wash down Breton crêpes, authentic Indian curry or Moroccan pastries.

Fabulous architecture

Keep your head up as you walk round the city and you’ll be rewarded with some of the most beautiful architecture you could hope to see. Brussels was home to the Art Nouveau pioneer Victor Horta and his influence is everywhere. Look out for gently curved window and door frames, intricate mosaics and nature-inspired motifs on wrought-iron balconies. Visit Horta’s old house – now the Horta Museum – for the full experience.

The influence of Art Nouveau pioneer Victor Horta can be felt all around Brussels

Beer, beer and more beer

In Brussels, beer isn’t just a drink; it’s a culture. Café bars offer numerous varieties, usually accompanied by the properly shaped glass. Delirium Café, just off the Grand-Place, boasts the world’s largest selection with more than 2,000 beers, but every bar you pass is likely to stock brews you’ve never tried before. Moeder Lambic, with outposts in Saint-Gilles and the city centre, is a great place to start your Belgian beer journey, while at Cantillon Brewery in Anderlecht you can see how the ultra-local gueuze and kriek sour beers are made.

The showstopping Flower Carpet

The Flower Carpet at the Grand-Place is held for one weekend in August in even-numbered years. The spectacular display, assembled by scores of volunteers over several hours, is 75 metres (246 feet) long and 24m (79ft) wide and includes more than 500,000 flowers. In the evenings there’s music with a light show on the surrounding Gothic buildings. Walking around the beautiful bloom-covered central square is an experience to remember; for an even better view, buy a ticket and climb to the town hall balcony.

The Flower Carpet is a spectacular biennial display surrounded by Gothic architecture

A huge choice of music festivals

Whatever your tastes, there’s a music festival for you in Brussels – and many of them are free. To name but a few, the Jazz Weekend sets up in bars and squares around the city; Couleur Café brings world music and food to the Atomium; Brussels Summer Festival lines up big local and international names; Midi-Minimes puts on lunchtime classical concerts; and Listen! is all about electronica.

Offbeat art

Everywhere you look you’ll see a quirky statue or a comic-inspired mural, testament to Brussels’s individual character. You know the Manneken Pis, that little peeing boy, but do you know his female and canine counterparts, Jeanneke and Zinneke? Then there’s Vaartkapoen by the canal, showing a criminal emerging from a drain to grab a caped policeman by the ankle and send him flying. To discover the city’s comic-strip wall art, pick up a guide at the tourist office.

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