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Brussels – 5 insider tips for the EU's cozy capital

Belgium - Brussels, Mont d'Art - travel
What to see in Brussels? What are the best insider tips? You will find that here in this guide.
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Brussels – 5 insider tips for the EU's cozy capital is written by Jens Skovgaard Andersen.

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Belgium - Brussels

Brussels is definitely worth a visit

Belgium and the EU's capital is perhaps not as well-known a destination as Paris, Rome, Berlin og Vienna, but don't let that fool you. Brussels is definitely worth a visit.

Enjoy a Belgian beer in a cozy square and a waffle or a round of fries on the walk around the city. And remember to treat yourself to the world's best chocolate.

At the same time, you can fill your head and soul with cultural impressions at the very high end and go exploring in both world-renowned architecture and modern history.

And yes, there is also a peeing boy, the famous statue "Manneken Pis".

Brussels is in many ways a melting pot and a mixture of everything. That is the attraction and that is what makes Brussels Brussels.

I've collected some classic highlights and spiced them up with my own tips. Have fun and enjoy Brussels.

European building - EU - European Council
Copyright: @European Union

The European Quarter – the heart of the EU

When you are in Brussels, you are also in the heart of the EU. Brussels has in many ways become synonymous with the EU, and it is here that many of the EU's institutions are located. They are located almost side by side to the east of the city center in the part of the city called Quartier Européen – or the European quarter.

You will find both the EU Council, the EU Commission and the EU Parliament, where you can learn everything there is to know about the EU's past, present and future. And the best place to visit is EU Council.

Here you can explore the heart of the EU in the European building, where the really big decisions are made. The visitor center has educational exhibitions with lots of interactive elements and is worth a visit for both adults and slightly older children.

Tip: Come early on Friday and get a free tour - so you get even more out of the visit. The tour starts at 8 a.m. and requires prior registration.

Read more about how to visit the EU Council here

Close to the European building is the Berlaymont building, where the European Commission is located. And not far from there you will find the small collection of gray domiciles which together make up the EU Parliament. Here, too, you can visit a visitor center and learn more about the EU.

There is a buzz of politics in the streets and squares of the European quarter, and there is a rush of politicians, officials, assistants and lobbyists.

If you want to feel the political atmosphere for yourself, go to the bar on Place Luxembourg right in front of the European Parliament on Thursday afternoon, when the parliamentarians go home, and the atmosphere becomes a little more loose.

When you need a break from the EU and politics, you can take a break in the large Parc du Cinquantenaire – also called Jubelpark – or the somewhat smaller Parc Léopold just behind the Parliament.

On Place Jourdan you will find the city's most famous French fries bar - more about French fries and other delicacies later.

Africa is in the middle of Brussels

As a former colonial power, Belgium has historical links to Africa, and it can be felt. As Brussels is also part of francophone Belgium – where they speak French – the city attracts many people from the French-speaking part of the world.

Just south of the European quarter lies the district of Matongé, which is named after a town in The Democratic Republic of the Congo – former Belgian Congo. It was from here that many refugees and immigrants came to Belgium throughout the 20th century, and a large number settled in the same place.

Matongé has a distinctly African atmosphere, lots of African restaurants, shops, grocers, travel agents and not least a whole range of African hairdressers, who draw full houses all day long.

It's a fun place to explore.

Right in the middle of the Matongé district you will find one of Brussels' best cinemas. Cinéma Vendôme is in the old style with a small ticket window, worn plush chairs and often some alternative films on the poster. It is definitely worth a visit.

North Africa is also well represented in Brussels.

Not least Morocco and Moroccan immigrants have left their mark on the city. It is most clearly felt on Rue de Brabant close to the northern railway station and in the district of Molenbeek west of the city centre.

Here you will also find a small piece of Africa right in the middle of Europe.

Classic Brussels – around the Grand Place

Inside the center of Brussels lies the old medieval city center, which still houses most of the classic sights.

This is where you will find the Grand-Place, which is absolutely a must see on the trip to Brussels. Here you stand in the middle of history and in the middle of the beautiful historic guild houses for the various craftsman guilds. The square is dominated by the impressively detailed town hall, the Hôtel de Ville. And opposite is the equally impressive 'Royal House' Maison du Roi, where the city museum is housed.

Around the Grand-Place you can get lost in a tangle of narrow streets and you will come across beautiful churches and medieval houses along the way.

One of the most famous – and smallest – sights in Brussels is the Manneken Pis, which is a fountain depicting a little boy peeing in a basin. He's often dressed for various holidays and special occasions, so it's worth stopping by to see what he's wearing today.

In the name of equality, it must be said that there is also a female version of Manneken Pis. Her name is Jeanneke Pis, and she sits well hidden near the Delirium beer bar right by the Grand-Place.

Shopping is of course a reason to visit Brussels, and in the old center you will find several architecturally beautiful covered arcades with old specialty shops.

Close to the Grand-Place is also the old church of Sainte-Catherine and the associated cozy square, where locals and tourists gather in the sun.

Around the Royal Palace and Place Royale you will find the classic powerful Brussels with the dominating Palace of Justice, Parc Royale and the many ministries.

In the southern part of the old center lies the district of Marolles with a well-known flea market and the southern railway station Gare du Midi, where high-speed trains connect Belgium with France in one direction and The Netherlands og England in the other.

On a rainy day, I can recommend visiting both the Bozar art museum and the Cinematheque, which are located in the same building.

Both have a changing programme, so check the daily programme. If you want to watch movies, remember to check which language is spoken and subtitled. French films, for example, are often not subtitled or only subtitled in Dutch/Flemish.

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Beer, fries and chocolate – Brussels for those hungry for deliciousness

Of course, you must also experience Brussels with your taste buds. Fortunately, there is plenty to get you started.

Let's start with the drinks. Belgium is a beer country. From the light Stella Artois over cherry beer, Geuze and Leffe to the darkest Trappist beer; Belgian beer comes in all varieties. And almost everyone has their very own glass.

Beer culture is taken seriously in Belgium, and beer is of great importance to the country's economy. Perhaps that is why Brussels' Old Stock Exchange has recently been transformed into a beer museum.

Close to the Grand-Place is the beer bar Delirium with as many as 3000 different beers, so if you want to try something different, you won't go here in vain.

One of the most well-known dishes on Belgian menus is 'moules frites' - steamed mussels with fries. You can get it almost everywhere.

French fries are an institution in themselves in Brussels, and the most famous place to get a portion of fries in a hawker's house is the pavilion on Place Jourdan. Be prepared to stand in line, but it's worth the wait.

The sweet tooth must also be indulged with the ubiquitous waffles – with or without various accessories – and of course chocolate. Belgium is one of the world's chocolate meccas, and you won't run out of treats in the first few weeks.

You will find the best chocolate next to the Grand Sablon church in the small shop Passion Chocolat. An obvious gift idea if you can refrain from unwrapping it yourself.

  • Belgium - Brussels

Belgium is a cartoon country

All over Brussels, you'll find signs that comics are a big part of the culture in Belgium.

There are murals throughout the city with motifs from Tintin, Splint and Co., Lucky Luke, Asterix, Blake & Mortimer, The Smurfs and much more.

The comics have their own museum, and there are specialist comic shops in many places in the city. Brussels is pure slafferland for comic lovers, and it's obvious to go on a comic themed trot and see what you find along the way.

If you want to be a bit more cultured, I would definitely recommend the Magritte Museum, where you can see a lot of the best and most famous works of the surrealist painter René Magritte. His style is humorous and can easily be combined with an interest in comics.

René Magritte's house in the suburb of Jette is also set up as a museum, but it is not as exciting as the Magritte Museum in the city centre. So spend the time at the museum - there is plenty to look at there.

The cozy capital of the EU awaits you

No matter what you are into, there is something to experience in Brussels. The city has a bit of everything and is a nice mix of everything we love about it Europe.

Have a nice trip to the capital of the EU, the capital of Belgium, the capital of chocolate and the capital of comics. Good trip to cozy Brussels.

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EU The Council of the European Union, the European building
Copyright: EU – The European Union

You must see it in Brussels

  • Grand-Place / Grote Markt – Brussels' central market square in the middle of the city
  • Parc du Cinquantenaire / Jubelpark – large park close to the center
  • Quartier Européen / Europese Wijk – the European quarter with the institutions of the EU
  • Matongé and Molenbeek – Brussels' African quarters
  • Manneken Pis – the city's most famous little inhabitant
  • The cartoon route
  • Magritte Museum
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About the author

Jens Skovgaard Andersen, editor

Jens is a happy traveler who has traveled to over 70 countries from Kyrgyzstan and China to Australia and Albania. Jens is educated in Chinese studies, has lived in China for 1½ years and is a member of De Berejstes Klub. He has extensive experience in the world of travel as a tour guide, lecturer, advisor, author and photographer. And, of course, most importantly: As a traveller.
Jens often looks for places where there is also the opportunity to watch a good football match in the company of other inveterate fans and has a particular fondness for the FREM football club, where he sits on the board.
For most people, it's obvious to look up to Jens (he's barely two meters tall), and he's a 14-time champion in the TV quiz Jeopardy, so if you can't find him out in the world or in a football stadium, you can you will probably find him touring the Copenhagen quiz environment.

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