Brussels, Belgium’s capital city and its largest urban area, is a city to be explored on foot and preferably with a map in hand, in case you lose your way and have to ask for directions. This city has been around since the 14th century and historical buildings line its streets alongside today’s high-rise modern structures.If you are in Brussels for a day there is plenty you can do to cover the city without getting the feeling of having rushed through it all. Here are some of the sights to see, places to eat and things you must do in Brussels.
Grand Place-Grote Markt
Brussel’s central square; surrounded by the city’s Town Hall, guild halls and the Broodhuis, or Breadhouse, this square was recently voted the most beautiful square in Europe. Every two years in August, a huge flower carpet made from begonias, is set up in the Grand Place (the next one will be set up in 2012) and is a sight not to be missed, if you happen to be in Brussels during this time of year. The cafes surrounding the Grand Place are famous for their coffee so spend an extra few minutes to grab a croissant and cappuccino and you won’t regret it.
A short walk from Grand Place takes you to Manneken Pis, on the corner of rue du Chene and rue de l’Etuve. This tiny, much-loved (and hyped) bronze statue has come to represent the “irreverent spirit” of Brussels. Many legends surround the origin of this statue. My favourite is about the wealthy merchant whose child went missing. In desperation, the father declared to the city that if the child was found, a statue would be built of him doing whatever he happened to be doing when he was found. As it happens, the child was urinating when he was found. All around the Manneken Pis you will find stores selling the most delicious Belgian chocolate you can feast on, many in the shape of the Manneken Pis himself. Another thing to gorge on while you are here, are delicious, melt-in-the-mouth Belgian waffles.
The central part of the old town was named L’Îlot Sacré (Sacred Islet) by journalist Louis Quiévreux, who in the fifties, fought against a number of property development schemes. As a result of his struggle, this area of Brussels remains true to traditional architecture and is one of my favourite places to see. Several of the streets in this part of town have been fully pedestrianised and are lined with shops and cafes, making this a tourists’ paradise. Many call the L’Îlot Sacré “The Belly of Brussels” because of the number of restaurants that dot its perimeter. An absolute must-do is to window shop your way through the glass-roofed Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, the largest covered mall in the world during its time.
Flea Market: Place du Jeu-de-Balle
Haggling with hawkers at this chaotic flea market is an experience in itself. Although the market is liveliest during the weekends, if you are out to strike a good bargain, the best time to head out is early morning midweek. Lose yourself among the antiques and bric-a-brac or have a quick portrait of yours done by one of the local artists. And after a happy hour’s bargaining, tuck into a hearty breakfast at one of the surrounding cafes. Bliss, indeed.
Brussels City Hop On Hop Off Tour
If you are only in Brussels for a day, I recommend this unique open-top double-decker bus tour that allows you to hop off and on as many times as you like, for your own sightseeing, at any of the 12 stops along its route. There are bus departures every 30 minutes and tickets are valid for 24 hours after they are issued, so this is a very convenient way to explore the city at your own pace. Some of the stops covered as part of the itinerary are the chocolate museum, Botanic gardens, Atomium, Sablon and a number of museums and parks.
So grab that backpack and set out to explore Brussels!
Hotel in Brussels
Hotel Agenda Louise