If you’re a fan of chocolate, beer, art or chips (or all of the above) then Brussels is the place for you.
Having lived there when I was a tiny dot, I’ve always felt drawn to the capital of Europe. Sadly though, it seems to get overlooked when selecting a city break. When my ex’s Dad found out we’d chosen to go there for a few days he scoffed “Why?! There’s nothing there but that anticlimax of a statue!”.
While it is true that the Manneken Pis is a bit of a bore, although they do occasionally dress him up which is fun, it is definitely not true that there is nothing else to do in Brussels.
Starting with the food, because that’s my favourite bit of any holiday, the chocolate is unrivalled. And there’s lots of it. Go to Leonidas rather than any of the other chocolate stores for nice boxes to bring home as presents (or scoff yourself) – they’re good quality, you can choose each chocolate individually and it’s a lot cheaper than anywhere else. Melted chocolate on waffles is also a specialty and a chocoholic’s nirvana. You can find waffle shops on virtually every corner in the city centre.
Chips with mayonnaise and of course moules-frites are also a must-have when visiting. You can find friteries everywhere and most are open ‘til very late. Not sure how they cook the chips there but they’re unlike anything we get in blighty.
Moving on from food, sites worth visiting are aplenty. There’s the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which is on top of the Koekelberg Hill and can be seen from various places across the city. It’s basically a prettier version of the Sacre-Coeur in Paris and is one of the largest churches in the world.
The giant Atomium structure is also worth a visit, it gives yet more incredible views and is structurally fascinating. Plus they do very good white chocolate waffle at the café there.
The city also has street art that would make even a loyal East-Londoner green with envy. There are Tintin cartoons and more dotted around, making for interesting sights even in the most unlikely streets. If you’re really into cartoons then you’ve definitely come to the right place, there are loads of cartoon museums as well as the various murals. This is the birth place of cartoons. The Belgian Comic Strip Museum is particularly good– much more interesting than any other museum IMO!
My top recommendation though, is the Grand Place in the evening. Voted the most beautiful square in Europe in 2010, it is stunning and romantic (not called Grand for nothing). The decorative buildings are all lit up and so many people are around socialising – I’ve never felt an atmosphere like it. It was here that I fell in love with Brussels. Also there are loads of good restaurants nearby (going back to food again) or else grab a beer and a cone of chips from nearby and go for a wander.
The Grand Place’s beauty doesn’t stop at its buildings though. If you’re visiting In August (which you should be if you can) then check to see if you’re there when the giant flower carpet is being laid out in the Grand Place. 77 metres filled with thousands of bright begonias. There’s nothing else as beautiful and it’s incredibly photogenic, great for making everyone else at home jealous.
The Grand Place , as well as other sites around the city, is also host to the famous free Jazz Marathon. With more than 150 concerts and 400 musicians these 3 days are really incredible. Everyone walks around very merrily with their beers, stumbling into different gigs and concerts. There are frequently very well-known musicians and did I mention that it’s free?! This year’s marathon will be held at the end of May.
Brussels is, in my opinion, ideal for a student’s weekend break. It’s accessible – cheap flights or, for the more brave, ridiculously cheap megabus. It’s the capital of Europe so very welcoming to tourists and virtually everyone speaks English (menus usually have an English section, although surely you haven’t forgotten all the French you learnt at school already?). It’s culturally important and always overlooked so a good place to visit for something different from everyone else’s weekend break to Paris or Prague.