Brussels Travel Guide
Brussels, Bruxelles in French and Brussel in Dutch, is the most European of Europe's capital cities, albeit with a kinky sense of humor. Its principal draw is a little boy peeing in the center of town, aptly named Manneken Pis. But that should come as no surprise, for here's the comic strip capital of the world, home to such endearing Belgian comic book characters as Spirou and Fantasio, Gaston Lagaffe, Lucky Luke, and, most famous of all, Tintin – a 17-year-old with an orange tuft of hair and a shaggy white dog whom Steven Spielberg turned into a Hollywood star in his 2011 film, Tintin. Still, that's not all Brussels is about. Here is a city where Victor Horta's Art Nouveau architectural flourishes are juxtaposed with medieval palaces and post-modern EU buildings. Here is a city of chocolate and beer, of gourmands and bon vivants, where more than 1,800 restaurants and scores of bars and brewpubs not only exist but thrive, offering up a veritable smorgasbord of foods and flavors – everything from the homegrown Brussels sprouts and endives to the home-concocted pralines, Belgian waffles and frites, or French fries (yes, contrary to popular belief, French fries are Belgian, not French!), to the most innovative haute cuisine on the continent. Here, ultimately, is a city of all that is European, and as much a play on cultures and styles as it is on words and a wickedly delicious humor.
Brussels is situated in the north-central part of Belgium, 35 miles (56 km) south of Antwerp, the hub of Flanders, and 53 miles (85 km) northwest of Liege, the capital of Wallonia. From Gent and Bruges, which lie to its northwest, it is 29 miles (47 km) and 56 miles (90 km) distant respectively.
Brussels is well connected to London, Paris, Amsterdam and most European capitals and major cities on the continent, both by air – with several carriers servicing it – and rail.
Brussels has a rich trove of visitor lures, with more than 80 first-rate museums and a wealth of unique landmarks. Among the priorities, however, are the 2-foot-tall (61 cm) bronze fountain sculpture Manneken Pis, Brussels' most famous landmark; the Grand Place, which is a stone's throw from Manneken in the city center, famous for its guildhalls and spectacular "flower carpet" that draws visitors from all around the world in August every two years; and the 335-foot-tall Atomium on Boulevard du Centenaire, with its nine interconnected steel spheres depicting a magnified unit cell of an iron crystal, and with scale models of famous buildings from all over Europe in the adjacent Mini-Europe park that are just as interesting. As for museums, the most rewarding are the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, which has a fabulous collection of works of Flemish painters; the René Magritte Museum, which boasts the world's largest collection of the surrealist's art; and the Belgian Comics Museum, which covers the full range of comic art in Belgium. And then there are Victor Horta's Art Nouveau architectural gems, standouts among them the 19th-century Hôtel Tassel, Maison Autrique, Hôtel van Eetvelde, the grand Hôtel Solvay, and Horta's own home, all of which are now on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Oh, and Waterloo, famously the site of Napoleon's defeat, lies just a short train, bus or car ride to the south of Brussels.
Brussels' nightlife is scattered throughout the city, with more than 80 bars pouring 400-plus local brews. Still, for the party-hearty young lot, the best bet is the city's Lower Town, in the vicinity of the Grand Place, particularly off Place St. Géry where many of Brussels' ultra-hip terrace bars are to be found; and Marolles in the Upper City, which, too, has some worthwhile bars. For jazz lovers, though, the pick of the bunch are L'Archiduc and the Sounds Jazz Club, which offer live jazz; while for beer aficionados, a bee line for the Déleirum Café on Impasse de la Fidélité is in order. Oh, and the place to be seen in Brussels is Les Jeux d'Hiver on Chemin du Croquet, consisting of a top-notch nightclub, gallery and restaurant.
For young travelers and backpackers, one of the best places to stay in Brussels is Sleephere (€20-€75), a centrally-located hostel-cum-B&B, housed in an Art Deco building. Among others, Jacques Brel Youth Hostel (€15-€25) and Brussels Hello Hostel (€20-€25) offer good, clean, dorm-style accommodations, together with bars and computer rooms. As for hotels in the city, the best addresses are the retro-chic boutique Hotel Be Manos (€150-€550), the supremely hip Tenbosch House (€150-€490), the elegant Hilton Brussels (€150-€450) with its Michelin-starred restaurant, and the uptown Conrad International (€170-€600) which counts among its guests the likes of Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger.
Brussels is the constitutional capital and largest city of Belgium, and the seat of both the French and Flemish communities of the country. It is a bilingual city, with Dutch and French as the official languages, even though the latter is clearly dominant, and at some level multilingual, with English widely understood and spoken as well. It is also the home of the principal institutions of the EU (European Union) – in fact, it is the de facto capital of the EU – and the headquarters of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), making it by far the most important center of internationalism in Europe.
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