Brussels is the capital of Belgium and also the sight of the headquarters of the European Union. As such, it is a highly political city that has an air of importance and power. It's also an incredibly international city, with people from all over the world flocking to it due to its political, economical, and cultural significance.
Despite this, many travelers rush through, or even overlook Brussels. It has not yet made a major impact in the travel community, but that doesn't mean this city should be skipped. Despite its international feel, Brussels has a unique and personable atmosphere. It manages to hold on to its own unique culture and vibe. There's a deep routed history here, which can be seen not only in its architecture, but also the museums and art galleries that dot the city. Do yourself a favor and don't just rush in and out of Brussels. You can learn so much about the city itself, and Europe as a whole in just one visit.
Brussel's weather tends to be wet, with rain falling on an average of 200 days a year. This dampness means the city feels much colder than it actually is. Seasonal temperature changes are small, with summer temperatures rarely going above 22 degrees Celsius. After October the temperature drops and although snow is rare, it can still feel wet and cold.
Guildhalls in Grand Place, Brussels
Popular sights abound in the city and include the Grand Place-Grote Markt, Parc du Cinquantenaire-Jubelpar, Manneken Pis, Atomium, Basiliek van het Heilig Hart, and Cantillon Brewery. There are some interesting ways to see the city such as on a bike tour, doing an architectural tour, or taking the horse drawn carriage. This is definitely not necessary however, and many enjoy relaxing and visiting the sights on their own at their own pace. Brussels is an easy city to navigate, so if you don't feel compelled to do a tour, it is not a great loss.
Brussels is divided into 19 boroughs which are referred to as Communes or gemeenten. Bruxelles/Brussel is where you will find the most character and the highest concentration of attractions. Decorative buildings are found around Grand Place. Marolles/Marollen is near the middle of the city and it is still possible to hear people speaking Flemish here. There's a daily flea market on the Place du Jeu de Balle that is popular. Ixelles/Elsene is an energetic area with a lot of restaurants and bars. There is a lot of diversity in this area and some great ethnic restaurants. Molenbeek-Saint-Jean has a large Moroccan and Romani population and Saint-Gilles has French, Portuguese, Spanish, Maghrebi and Polish neighborhoods.
If you're interested in shopping, Brussels is a great city to pick up some fun souvenirs. The city is known for its lace which can be found at Grand Place-Grote Markt. Do make sure that you are actually buying locally produced lace as some places have outsourced the process. Chocolate is another Belgium favorite and you will find chocolate stores everywhere. It's something everyone should sample while they're in town. And of course, Belgium is known for its beer so make sure you allow yourself time to sit back, relax, and enjoy a glass in a good setting.
Food and Dining
Food in Brussels is delicious. There are three main items that Brussels is known for. These include mussels, fries, and chocolate. Each should be tried at least once during your time here. Fries are served with unique toppings and there's debate over which place has the best version. Some recommended places include the fritkot near Barriere de Saint-Gilles, St-Josse's Martin, and Antoine.
Mid range restaurants are found in abundance around Rue des Bouchers-Beenhouwerstraat to the north of Grand Place. It is sometimes possible to negotiate a price before choosing a restaurant. Do be aware of hidden charges.
Vegan options are almost impossible to find, but there are some vegetarian restaurants that offer some good selections if you don't eat meat. It's also possible to get sandwiches that are strictly vegetarian.
Most of Brussel's tourist attractions are close together and easily reached on foot. They're concentrated in the oldest part of town and walking is a pleasant way to explore. If you want to go to more outer regions, there is a good public transportation system that includes buses, trams, and metros. There are six metro lines and announcements are made in Dutch, French and English. It's also possible to rent a bike through a bike sharing program called Villo. There are more than 200 bike stations around the city and you can take a bike from one station and return it to another. There are daily and weekly memberships available.
Rent a Bike to Get Around Brussels
By backpackguru on Nov 16, 2011 in Local Transportation
Beginning in 2009, Brussels began offering Villo rentals around town. You need a Smart card to rent one, but the first half hour of use is free. From that point on it's about .50 euros for every half hour. You do have to pay a small setup fee of about 1.50 euros. The bikes are of good quality and they're available at over 180 locations around the city. It's a great way to see the city and get out and about for a very reasonable price.