Paris, London, and Madrid are perhaps the most common destinations for those visiting Europe, but Brussels is not a city to miss. Brussels is in the center of Belgium and lies at the intersection of the Flemish and French regions of the country. As such, Brussels is a vibrant city with a plethora of activities, but it has also become one of the most important cities in all of Europe since it has become one of the headquarters of the European Union. Because of this, the city has become even more well known for its culture and diversity.
Brussels became a mercantile powerhouse throughout the Middle Ages. Brussels’s importance has shifted, but its history remains. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the city, and an area where its history is most observable, is the Grand Place. The town square is one of the best in Europe and contains the Town Hall, the Bread House (now housing the Brussels city museum), and numerous guild houses. These were restored to their 17th century glory at the end of the 19th century after the square was damaged. The Grand Place lives up to its name and is quite a sight to behold-it remains one of the most spectacular sights we have seen in Europe.
Just down the street from the Grand Place is Brussels’ most famous resident, the Mannekin Pis, a small statue of a boy peeing into a fountain. The statue often dons strange costumes, making for a quirky, but must-see stop. We also stopped at a nearby bar, Moeder Lambic, a place known for its excellent beer selection. Belgium is known for several different styles of beer, but perhaps its most distinctive is lambic ales, beers brewed with the natural yeast in the air. We sampled two beers, a gueuze (a traditional lambic ale) and a kriek (a cherry lambic ale), from one of Brussels’ lambic brewers, Cantillon. Despite our puckered faces from the sour ale, we enjoyed both of the beers and agreed that we had never had anything like them.
Given the fact that we enjoyed our beers so much, we were excited to go to Cantillon. Despite the fact that we had a bit of difficulty finding the brewery, we had an enjoyable time there. The brewery is located in a small, three story building no bigger than an average-size European house. All of the brewing equipment is around one hundred years old, so you can really see the tradition behind the brewery. After the self-guided tour, you walk through a long row of barrels and make your way back to the tasting area. In addition to the beers we had tried previously, we tried the Rosé de Gambrinus and the Lou Pepe Framboise, both different types of raspberry lambics. We also bought a few bottles to drink along the trip and bring back home with us.
Since Brussels is home to one of the European Union parliamentary headquarters, we decided to tour the building. While we weren’t able to sit in on any parliamentary meetings, we were able to learn about the history of the EU, the recent history of Europe, and the ways in which the EU works. We decided to do the tour rather last minute (for us at least, since we plan our trips so far in advance) and, though it was different than most of the attractions we visit on our trips, we had a great time there and highly recommend going. While we were near the EU, we also walked to the large Cinquantenaire Park to check out the beautiful Neoclassical structures there.
While we were in Brussels, we also stopped at the Royal Palace, along with the remains of the old palace, Coudenberg. The Royal Palace was opulent, but tasteful. The palace was also free of charge, which was a nice bonus. Underneath the palace lies the remains of the old palace. Visitors are able to wander between the stone walls, some of which are still largely intact, allowing visitors to get more of a sense of what the palace may have looked liked.
Finally, during our time in Brussels we stopped by some of the city’s cathedrals, as we usually do when we visit European cities. We visited St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, a beautiful gothic cathedral with soaring ceilings and lovely stained glass windows along the aisles. We also visited Notre Dame du Sablon, another gothic cathedral with large stained glass windows.
Brussels is a cosmopolitan city with much to offer, from culture to art to cuisine. We enjoyed visiting Brussels and would love to return to explore more. Although Brussels is not necessarily a “must-see” destination compared to London or Paris, it is a place that should be just as popular.