I decided to go to Brussels as my first travel destination this year. The first things that come to mind when we say Belgium are: beers, fries, mussels, chocolate and comics mostly. We do not hear much about travelling to Belgium, but this country is very rich culturally. Historically, Brussels was built during the 10th century as a fortress town. It is now the capital and the largest city of Belgium. But it is also the capital of the European Union.
Remains of the wall from the fortress surrounding brussels
I decided to go to Brussels to visit one of my old friends from Ivory Coast I have not seen for 13 years. It was great to see him again and I was lucky to be with him to visit the city as he played my tour guide. Unfortunately, my time was limited, so if like me you can only visit Brussels in 24 hours, here is a list of the main places and attractions I enjoyed.
I started my day heading to the Atomium. This landmark was designed by Andre Waterkeyn for the 1958 Brussels world's fair. It stands 102 m tall, has nine 18 m diameter stainless steel spheres that are connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal. It is a very impressive piece of art. Now it is used as a museum with interactive exhibitions, a new visitor centre and a restaurant at the top where you can enjoy a panoramic view of Brussels. I did not visit it as the queue was long and my schedule pretty tight. But if you have some time, it could be interesting to see their exhibitions.
After then, I definitely recommend to visit the next attraction right next door: Mini Europe.
I have heard a lot about this miniature park. It is located at the foot of the Atomium displaying reproductions of the main European monuments at a scale of 1:25 from 80 different cities. It took us about a full hour to visit it and was very educational and entertaining at the same time. A great day out for a family but also for grown kids like me. I had a lot of fun there and definitely recommend it as a must-see in Brussels.
It is pretty easy to use the transportation in Brussels. You can use a day card on all type of transportations. On that day, we mostly used the metro as it was the fastest way to get around. And it was quite entertaining. It reminded me the metro station in Stockholm. Each one of them has a different theme. A good way to remain entertain while an underground journey.
Royal Palace of Brussels
It is the official palace of the King and Queen of Belgium located in the centre of Brussels, but it is not their residence. Indeed, it is mostly used to deal with affairs of state as they say. The royal family lives in the royal Palace of Laeken.
Nearby are gathered some interesting museums like the Museum of Ancient art, the Musical Instrument Museum or the Brewery Museum. Unfortunately, in one day it was not possible to visit them.
Panoramic view of Brussels
We then headed towards the Law court of Brussels, built while the 19th century. There has been a big controversy about the construction of this building as It is one of the largest King Leopold II projects that caused the demolition of 3000 houses of working class residents. It is free to visit and worth to have a look. Afterwards, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city right behind the war monument.
The Comic Book route
As I said Belgium is known for their famous comic books. I remember reading when I was a kid the adventures of Tintin of Herge, Boule et Bill of Roba or even Le Chat of Geluck. It is part of their culture and you can see that they are proud of it as you can stumble upon many comics murals in the streets of Brussels. There is even a comic book route that you can follow to visit the city.
If you remain in this area you will encounter the famous Manneken Pis. Built in 1619, it is since a landmark in Brussels, but also worldwide. There have been replica built in Japan, in Rio de Janeiro and in Orlando to cite a few. For the curious, you can see more in this article Manneken Pis around the world.
Walking around in Brussels you will also see so many derivatives of this little man. It is an emblem of the city. Also, do not be surprised to see the statue dressed in costume once you visit Brussels as it is done on special occasions.
Did you know? Manneken Pis was a survivor of the bombardment of Brussels in 1965.
The Grand Place
The Grand Place is the central square of Brussels. It is one of the most important tourist destination. This Landmark is UNESCO world Heritage Site and gather around it the Brussels town hall and the Breadhouse. They usualy setup every two years in August an enormous flower carpet that becomes the main attraction of the city.
Les Galleries Royales St Hubert
It is a shopping arcade with a street-like courtyard and plenty of shopfronts to capture your attention. It is worth seeing it as it is an architectural piece of art, however if you plan to shop on a budget, I would rather recommend to go to Avenue Louise.
Rue des Bouchers
Outside of the Galleries, you will head back to Brussels History walking along the narrow alleys with cobblestone surface. Rue des bouchers is a tourist area worth discovering with many restaurants and bistros where you can enjoy Brussels specialties: Beer, mussels and fries. The waiters will try to attract you to their restaurants with interesting lunch or dinner menus at a reasonable price as the competition is high on this street.
The Female version of the Manneken Pis. This statue is well hidden in the old narrow streets of Brussels. It was recently built in the mid 80s to grow the "Brussels Pis family". There is also the statue of the dog Zinneke Pis that I unfortunately did not see. It is fun way to discover the city and play treasure hunt to find them. But the most interesting part is what is facing the statue on this street...
The Delirium Cafe
What a best way to end a day than by tasting a few local beers. The Delirium cafe is the best place to go in Brussels if you are a beer fan. There, you will have a selection of more than 2000 beers to satisfy your thirst! It is obviously a pretty busy place, especially while the weekend, but a must DO in Brussels.
Did you know? In Belgium, each brand of beer has its own dedicated glass.
I did not know much about Brussels, and I can say I was pleasantly surprised by visiting this city rich of culture and history. A weekend is a great way to have an idea of the Belgian culture and history but is definitely too short to enjoy the Belgian lifestyle. I will definitely go back there one day to enjoy it more as a local and less as a tourist, and maybe go explore the other cities this country has to offer.