Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Brussels, Belgium

Experience authentic European culture at the heart of Europe!

By Laura Baeyens

Neighboring the prominent European countries the whole world has come to love is a small country known for its mouth-watering chocolates and beers, Belgium. In its heart lies the city of Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union and the cultural center of the continent. It is the ideal place to be if you want to experience everything Europe has to offer in just a few days. Walking the streets of Brussels will give you an exquisite taste of diversity and a past-meets-present experience you will never forget.

This captivating city in a nutshell is a blend of traditional and contemporary European architecture, art, fashion, food, and music. The mix of old and new in every corner will leave you in a state of trance and nostalgia where time stands still and the past, present, and future collide. Brussels is also a melting pot of languages. French and Dutch are the official languages which are music to the ears.

Where to go?

Most of the must-sees in Brussels can be reached by foot, how convenient! Public transportation is also very accessible. There are affordable city tour buses which you can take. The first thing to visit is the symbol of Brussels and Belgium, the Atomium. It was constructed for the 1958 World Exhibition and is known as a modern marvel in architecture. From the name itself, this iconic building is modeled to an enlarged elementary iron crystal.

Want to tour Amsterdam, Berlin, London, and Paris in one day? Luckily, just a few steps away from the Atomium you will find Mini-Europe. This park gives you a tour of all the famous cities and attractions in Europe in just a few hours! There are about 350 elaborately-crafted models of different European landmarks.

What makes Europe immortal? It’s architecture of course! Have a look at baroque and gothic buildings and houses around Grand Place. There you will find the Town Hall with its sharp and narrow spire and its beautiful interior. Somewhere in the corners of the Grand Place is the famed statue of a boy peeing in a fountain, the Manneken Pis. The locals have several amusing legends to share behind this iconic statue. What’s most comical about this attraction is
that the statue is actually dressed in different costumes every week! In the Brussels Museum close by you will find about 750 of the Manneken Pis’ outfits on display! Also, why not take a look at the Palais Royal where the Belgian king lives just a few meters away. During summer, the neo-classical palace is open to the public. A few minutes by car or by bus is Flagey, a site known for its architectural, cultural, and technological modernism. Various art and music events are held here.

In the mood for some art, history, and music? There are about a hundred museums to choose from around the city. You have the BOZAR, Brussels’ artistic and cultural center established by the prominent Art Nouveau architect Vitor Horta, the Magritte Museum of fine arts, the Cinquantenaire Museum of art and history, the Musical Instruments Museum which has one of the largest collections of different instruments in the world, the Comic Strip Museum, the Natural Sciences Museum, and many more.

What to do?

The #1 to-do in Brussels is EAT! Food in Belgium is an art form. The locals love to eat in style, which is why the city offers renowned delicacies and restaurants to choose from! From frites and waffles in the streets to mussels and croquettes in fancy restaurants at the cozy 17th century street Rue de Bouchers near Grand Place, you’re surely in for a treat of gastronomic proportions. Let’s not forget Belgian chocolates, which are popular worldwide because of their all-natural ingredients such as praline and out-of-this world flavors. Go for some chocolate shopping at Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini, Godiva, and Mary’s.

What compliments Brussels food and dining? DRINKING BEER! There are about 650 varieties of Belgian beer to choose from. Like food, beer is in an art form for Belgians. There are several local beers that are only served in personalized beer glasses of different shapes and sizes which are meant to enhance the beers’ flavor. You can visit the Brewers House in Grand Place and several breweries around the city to have a taste. There are also various beer festivals throughout the year such as the Mons Beer Festival and the Anvaing Festival of 100 Beers. There are also numerous picturesque and trendy bars, pubs, and cafes to choose from.

Brussels is also a place to shop! Centuries-old shopping places such as the Royal St. Hubert Galleries and the Place du Grand Sablon have a chain of luxurious shops, antique shops, chocolate and beer shops, and boutiques, as well as several fancy cafes and restaurants and a classical theatre and cinema. There are also modern shopping centers such as City 2 and Rue Neuve with all the major and posh clothing brands you can think of! Fashion shows are also quite frequently held in the city.

Belgians are festive people. On a Saturday night, young locals rush to night clubs for some techno music and dancing. Brussels is home to several rising disc jockeys. Belgians also have good taste in entertainment. Classical dance, theatre, and cinema are quite popular in the city. There are also numerous musical festivals, especially jazz concerts and festivals, held in different parts of the city all the time. Nights are always filled with music in Brussels.

How about some walking or some alone time? Brussels is the perfect place for walking! Beautifully-made graffiti of popular Belgian comics such as The Adventures of Tin-Tin can be seen in the walls of buildings all around the city. In the less urbanized and greener areas of Brussels, there are several breath-taking and artistic parks and gardens to relax and have a picnic. There’s the Brussels Park, the Jubilee Park, the Bois de la Cambre, and the Jean Massart Botanical Garden.

Travel and Accommodations

Reaching Brussels is very easy and convenient. There are two airports nearby, the Brussels airport and the Charleroi airport, which offer cheap flights. Aside from flying, you have the option to travel via an intercity train network between Brussels, Amsterdam, London, and Paris. Once you get to Brussels, public transport is very available. There are trains, trams, buses, and taxis you can take. If you need a place to crash, there are various classy and clean hotels, bed and breakfast, and hostels that offer affordable packages.

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