Brussels might be at the centre of European politics but it’s not all about policy and procedure. This city is both a buzzing metropolis and a historical gem, and should certainly not be overlooked.
The city centre is divided into the upper and lower town, the former traditionally inhabited by the Francophile ruling classes who kept watch over the workers down below. Most of the city’s main sights are contained within what is known locally as the ‘petite ceinture’ and easily navigated by foot.
The Grand-Place is one of Europe’s most beautiful squares, four sides of magnificent baroque architecture. The spire of the Town Hall soars towards the sky, flanked by 17th century guildhalls with gilded facades and scrolled gables. Originally marshland, the square was drained in the 12th century and became a bustling centre for trade. The surrounding streets are a reminder of this past and are named after foods such as chicken, herbs and cheese. Every two years a flower carpet is laid in the centre of the square, consisting of over 600,000 colourful begonias.
Venture beyond the Grand-Place and discover the Royal Palace, the Stock Exchange and the tranquil Brussels Park. Head further north and you’ll find the futuristic steel-clad Atomium, the main pavilion of the World Fair in 1958. Nine interconnecting spheres represent an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times. Five of the spheres are open to the public and house exhibitions, a children’s play space and a restaurant. At the foot of the Atonium is Mini Europe, where you can go from London’s Houses of Parliament to rumbling Mount Vesuvius via the bullring in Seville and the windmills of Amsterdam, all in a few short steps.
If it’s museums you’re after then Brussels has them in abundance. Be sure to visit the Museum of Natural Sciences, the Royal Museums of Fine Art and the Horta Museum which is devoted to the design style of renowned architect Victor Horta, considered the father of art nouveau. There are also those that celebrate what this country does best, including the Museum of Belgian Brewers and the Museum of Chocolate and Cocoa. You can even relive the adventures of TinTin at the Comic Strip Museum.