I made my first trip to Brussels back in July. I had arrived by train from Amsterdam (those pics will be included in a forthcoming blog post) and discovered that I was staying smack in the middle of the European Union district.
There are lots of great restaurants and bars in this area, so I can certainly recommend staying in this part of the city. Fortunately, I stayed very close to a subway station, too, and it was very easy to get around the city that way. On one of my flights getting over to Europe, I sat next to a gentleman who had spent several years living in Brussels and was returning to visit family. The top suggestion on his list? The Grand Place, reputed to be the most beautiful city square in all of Europe.
It is indeed quite beautiful, but when one travels, sometimes the timing isn’t so good. During my one full day in the city, the square was full of tents, metal railings and a huge stage that really put a dent in the ambiance. It made for some less-than-ideal photos, too.
There are lots of things to see in and around the square, so if you have a short period of time, you’ll have to prioritize.
Fortunately, once you get into this part of the city, there are helpful signs directing tourists toward some of the area’s most popular attractions.
Just a short walk away from the Grand Place is Manneken Pis, likely the world’s most famous statue in the “children urinating” genre. This kid draws a crowd and is dressed in a different uniform every day.
And somebody made a pretty shrewd move setting up an authentic Belgian Waffle operation right next to Mr. Manneken. That’s Nutella, by the way.
If you find yourself in Brussels and you have the time, the Musical Instruments Museum is utterly fascinating. I found it by accident. It was one of those “When are you going to be back here again, dude? Just walk up the hill and see what’s there” moments.
Instead of having to read long (and potentially boring) histories of each instrument, you carry a wireless headset with you. When you get close enough to the displays, you will hear what the instruments sound like. I stopped at every single display. If you’re a musician or simply love music, you can eat up some serious time here. But, it’s incredibly fun. And getting back to that “just walk up the hill” moment: here’s the view.
My last visit of the day took me to the outskirts of the city to experience the Atomium, which was built for the 1958 World Fair. Physically, it represents an iron crystal, but it was also built to represent the peaceful use of atomic energy.
The really cool thing (other than the design) is that it offers some great views of the surrounding countryside. You can see Brussels’ historic city center off in the distance.
Belgium has a long history of producing great comics, and you can see some of the country’s most famous comic characters depicted in various paintings across the city. This wall painting features Tintin (top), his dog Snowy, and Captain Haddock.