25 Jul Brussels – City made of tolerance and home for foreigners
City of avant-garde spirit, pop culture, multiculturalism and place where all the ideas seem to have approval and freedom of will
How can the place where you can eat so many different tailor made pralines and uniquely done chocolate bars and waffles, drink the world’s best crafted beers and drown yourself in tasty bowl of mussels can be not worth of visiting? But Brussels is lot more than culinary destination; it is one of those places where charming streets and little cafes and restaurants make you feel like you are walking through middle Ages fairytale.
Disneyland for comic strip lovers; with more than 700 comic strip authors, Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometer than any other country in the world! Strip scenes are also often seen on city’s facades giving Brussels extra charm and positive atmosphere. From Zagreb to Brussels you can easily fly with Brussels Airlines from 69 Eur per return ticket available online. There is also a great offer Hi Belgium Pass which allows travelers to get a return flight ticket, unlimited train rides to different Belgian cities, and free access to a wealth of tourist attractions in only one package costing 149 Eur.
Centre of European Union and metropolis of multicultural society
Belgium is also the capital of Europe so you’ll find the headquarters for the European Union as well as NATO in Brussels. The city is one of the most international cities in the world. 27% of the population is made up of foreigners, not including those who have taken Belgian citizenship. Brussels region is made up of 19 separate communes; the City of Brussels is one of these communes and it has about 150,000 inhabitants, and dates back to the original city built in the 13th century.
Some fun facts about Brussels include the fact that on last count there are 249 butchers, 874 hairdressers and 647 pharmacies. This can be noticed almost immediately when you walk down the streets, you will see at least one hairdresser and one or two pharmacies. The Belgians got around during the colonial era, and you’ll see many people from the former colonies, notably The Congo and Rwanda.
The northern half of the country speaks Flemish which is pretty close to Dutch, the southern half speaks French, and a few small areas in the east speak German (the parts on the German border). Brussels is surrounded by the Flemish speaking area of Belgium, but being the capital city, you hear just as much French as Flemish.
Historic centre is a place to be in Brussels
We arrived on a Monday evening and the atmosphere in the city was pretty quiet. At the first impression city looked very business alike , but if you walk to the old historic center which is full of very impressive architecture, countless restaurants, cafes, and of course people from all over the world you will discover another face of Brussels, more entertaining one. The smell of chocolate, fries and waffles are all over you, people are very relaxed and open minded, and everything looks like nobody is really in any hurry.
The main square, Grand Place is one of the most impressive European squares, and the biggest one. Here you can enjoy watching how different cultures go together. Beside the picturesque architecture that will make you spend at least half an hour of photographing! The majority of the historic city center was re-built at the end of the 17th century as the French heavily bombed Brussels and a subsequent fire wiped out 1/3 of the city.
What is even more special about Brussels is Metro and the music you will hear when entering any station. It is very relaxing, and here you can hear a great choice of rock, pop and even dance music. When you combine this auditory experience with all the artistic and cool pictures you can see on the walls of every Metro station you will be amazed with the great stories they are telling all the way through the city underground world. If you decide to go outside the city, and maybe take a day trip to beautiful cities of Brugge or Ghent you will also be amazed with the motorways which are illuminated all around Belgium with no extra tolls to pay.
Home of Art Nouveau style
A new artistic style was born in Brussels around 1890 under the leadership of architect Victor Horta. This revolutionary movement was called Art Nouveau, and it meant an opposition to the previous academic formalism. It influenced not only the architecture but also all art forms; from furniture to decorative objects, jewelry, painting and sculptures. Other important architects of the Belgian Art Nouveau are Paul Hankar, Henry Van de Velde, the Delune brothers, Ernest Blerot or Paul Cauchie.
Among the rich Art Nouveau heritage in Brussels are four remarkable buildings designed by the same architect which, in 2000, became World Heritage Sites: Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvey, Hôtel Van Eetvelde and the House of Victor Horta.
Some districts in Brussels such as Ixelles, Saint-Gilles, Etterbeek and Schaerbeek were developed during the heyday of Art Nouveau. So, even though during the 50s and 60s some buildings were demolished, there are still numerous buildings of this style.
From famous restaurant Chez Léon to arcade of chocolate
But back in the historic part of Brussels be sure to visit the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, an amazing glass-canopied shopping arcade from the mid 19th century to sample some good chocolates (including hot chocolate) from world-renowned chocolatiers. Or take a wonderful culinary experience at the famous Brussels restaurant Chez Léon which celebrates its 160 long history.
Here of course you have to try mussels which are prepared in some most unusual ways. I tried gratinated ones with a bunch of cheese, and beside they were very tasty they were also extra filling. Desserts here feels like heaven, little to say; from perfectly done chocolate mousse with Belgian chocolate of course, Panna cotta with speculaas, different sorbets, and crèmes with fresh fruit, and one and only Belgian waffle.
Security in Brussels
Regarding the security in the city, yes there are many soldiers on the street covering all touristy places and metro stations. But there is not any sign of paranoia and life is normally going on. Streets are crowded with tourists and residents making their ways to everyday’s obligations. Sometimes it doesn’t feel pleasant to walk around surrounded by soldiers, but that’s life these days in all European metropolis.
After last year’s terrorist attack and great drop of tourist visits, this year Brussels is starting to record the tourism numbers as before the attack. The city is still in the second place for world’s MICE business after Singapore. And no matter what, it will always be a place where business travelers will come back and be amazed not only with business facilities and opportunities, but also with a great leisure activities very close to business district.
The most important thing you have to be aware here is that most of the attractions and some of 100 museums in the city work latest till 5 or 6 pm, and also many shops close their doors as early as this. Exceptions are shopping malls in the city centre which mostly work till 7 pm.
During our visit to Brussels we visited some of the main attractions in the city, and all of them are equally interesting for any type of travelers, although families with younger children will for sure have a great time here!
Monument to the strip culture
If you come to visit the Belgian Comic Strip Center, you will witness the unusual combination of the Ninth Art and Art Nouveau, two artistic forms of expression which have always been particularly cherished in Brussels. This kingdom of imagination is home to some of Belgium’s best-known comic strip heroes: Tintin, Spirou, Bob and Bobette, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Blake and Mortimer, Marsupilami… We were also happy for the opportunity to visit the exhibition „Asterix in Belgium”, and more than happy to be a part of Smurfs village stories.
The Parlamentarium – What is European Union all about
The visitors’ centre of the European Parliament is opened seven days a week and entrance is free of charge. With multimedia guides on 24 languages here you can find all about path towards European integration, how the European Parliament works and what its 751 Members are doing to meet the challenges of today.
You can also take a seat in Parlamentarium cinema and get a stunning 360° view of Europe and of its Parliament, how it works, how laws are made and how European politics affects you. An interactive floor map takes visitors on a virtual tour around the European Union, illustrating its diversity and highlighting nearly 100 ways it contributes to the well-being of its citizens.
House of European history
From myths and discoveries to the chaos and cohesion of the 20th century, the House of European History takes visitors on a journey along the path of Europe’s history and challenges them to contemplate its future.
The House of European History is located in the beautifully renovated Eastman Building in Parc Léopold. This beautiful park is also a great place to take a midday nap or to just meet your friends and have a nice chat in wonderfully green zone. Exhibits in House of European history are available in all 24 official European Union languages and entrance is free. Overall, the House of European History provides a diverse program that prompts visitors to question their understanding of European history and its legacy in the contemporary world. The nearest Metro stops are Maelbeek and Schuman on lines 1 and 5, and Trone on lines 2 and 6.
Atomium – the most Belgian monument
The Atomium was the main pavilion and icon of the World Fair of Brussels in 1958, commonly called Expo 58. It’s also a dream and a utopia, which took root in the mind of engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak. It symbolised the democratic will to maintain peace among all the nations, faith in progress, both technical and scientific and, finally, an optimistic vision of the future of a modern, new, super-technological world for a better life. It was also not intended that Atomium will survive beyond the 1958 World Fair but its popularity and success soon made it a key landmark.
Since its restoration in 2006 the Atomium is called the most Belgian monument, and it is also a museum with its permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. “From symbol to icon” permanent exhibition is spread over 2 floors (levels 1 & 2) and the panorama (level 7). It tells the history of this pavilion of more than 50 years old and how it became, with time, the symbol of the city of Brussels and of Belgium.
At the time we visited Atomium in July we had the opportunity to enjoy exhibition “Sabena – Travel in Style” that tells story about history of the Belgian World Airlines. From original objects, several airplane scale models, uniforms, posters, photos, movies and some gadgets to souvenirs from private and public collections. The exhibition illustrates the 78 years this commercial air company was in service.
Atomium is made up of 9 spheres connected by 20 tubes: the structure rests on 3 pillars (or bipods). Total height is 102 metres with total mass of 2400 tones. Next to the Atomium you can also discover amazing ADAM – design Museum Brussels. Its main collection consists of 2000 objects in plastic from the 60’s until now.
And after you had an amazing time discovering this futuristic building the best thing to do is to visit Atomium Panoramic Restaurant located at the top of Atomium where you find some of the most delicious traditional specialties in Brussels. Everything from meet to fish overlooking the beautiful cityscape!
Mini Europe – all European famous attractions in the scale 1 to 25
Located at the foot of the Atomium, Mini Europe is the only park where you can have a whistle-stop tour around Europe in a few short hours. All the main attractions that symbolize Europe tourism world you can find here in the scale 1 to 25. From Big Ben, Eiffel tower, Nyhavn and Exchange building in Copenhagen, Stockholm City Hall, Tallinn city, Maastricht, Acropolis, St Marco’s Church in Zagreb… Not only will you have a visual experience you will be pretty amazed with sound affects and tactile stories that are made around many attractions in the park.
At the end of the park you can also enjoy “Spirit of Europe” – a great interactive entertaining course about the EU. Thanks to the games, you go from discovery to discoveries. Discover the European Union, its members, his history, its successes, the enlargement… This is also a very interesting history lesson if you visit the place with the kids.
The most photographed icon of Brussels
There is a great chance that you will be disappointed with this little guy called Manneken Pis standing proud in the historic part of the city. However it will be more disappointing to come to Brussels, and not to give him the opportunity to be a part of your photo album. Maybe not impressing in size, but for sure impressing by the countless number of times it has been stolen and the real story of why it’s even famous.
Back in the day, leather tanners needed more piss than they could muster themselves to help cure their leather goods (urine is a good and cheap source of uric acid which is what they wanted), and they would pay a few cents per bucket of mellow yellow. The statue marked the location where pisspreneurs could peddle their tinkle to the local leathersmiths. If you are happy enough (we were out of luck this time) you will see little Manneken in costume. His wardrobe actually counts about 900 different suits.
Not to miss in Brussels
When in Brussels you should definitely try waffles, pralines, chocolate bars, frites with Belgium mix of sauces, Belgian cheese, and bite of speculaas, traditional dishes Moules-rites, Carbonade flamande, drink craft beers (try some at Moeder Lombic – amazing place with amazing collection of craft beers). And be aware that in Belgium there are more than 1500 craft beers available.
If you want to move around the city very conveniently, and with discounted rates be sure to buy Brussels Card. It is definitely worth buying, and will give you free admission to over 30 museums and monuments, discounts at guided tours and even discounts at stores, restaurants and bars, unlimited travel on public transport or unlimited access to the Hop on Hop off buses. The price depending on how many days you take starts from €22.
Thon Hotels – Green heart of the Brussels hospitality
For our stay in Brussels we selected Thon Hotel Brussels City Centre which is just steps from the city’s main shopping street, and a 10 minute walk from the Grand Place. The hotel is also close to Rogier Metro station and Brussels North Station with direct connection to Brussels Airport. Its great position gives you a lot of opportunity for easy discovering of the city. Moreover, as I stayed at 26 floor I had a great panoramic view of the city which makes you feel great early in the morning, and during the night when all the lights go out. Read more about Thon Hotels here.
Special thanks to The Embassy of Belgium in Croatia, Visit Brussels, Thon hotels and Brussels Airlines who made our trip abundant and full of great experiences and memories.