Grand Place (Grote Markt)
Right in the heart of Brussels Old Town, the city’s main plaza (known as Grand Place) is one of the best preserved in Europe. Much of the square’s elegant character is due to the unique architecture of its elegant Gildehuizen (guild houses) with their magnificent gables, pilasters, and balustrades, ornately carved stonework, and rich gold decoration. Most were built between 1696 and 1700 in the Baroque style but with some Flemish influences. The history of the Grand Place dates back much earlier though. It was first established in the 11th century and evolved soon after, to become the political and economic center for the city.
The most recognizable building on the square is the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), built in 1402 with the intention of upstaging the Stadhuis in the rival city of Bruges. Inside are several magnificent rooms. Among the most impressive are the Maximilian Chamber, hung with Brussels tapestries; the large Council Chamber with a superb ceiling by Victor Janssens and tapestries to his designs; the great banqueting hall and the Marriage Chamber, both beautifully paneled; and the Escalier d’Honneur, with murals illustrating the history of Brussels.
Along the Rue de l’Etuve is Brussels’ best-known landmark, the Manneken Pis, usually besieged by a throng of tourists. Although he can be traced back to at least 1388, nothing much is known about the origin of the figure of a little boy urinating, popularly referred to as “the oldest citizen of Brussels.” The Manneken is, however, surrounded by various legends. According to one, the fountain is a memorial to a courageous infant who averted a conflagration, according to another, it commemorates the son of a count who succumbed to a pressing urge while taking part in a procession. The present statue was made in 1619 by Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder and has been stolen on several occasions though always recovered. During major celebrations, events, and festivals in Brussels, the statue is famed for being dressed in costume.
Saint-Michel Cathedral (Sint-Michiels Kathedraal)
Dedicated to St. Michael and St. Gudula (the patron saints of Brussels) this Gothic church was first founded in 1225 but only completed in the 15th century. The facade is impressive, rising majestically above a broad flight of steps and crowned with twin 69-meter-high towers designed by Jan van Ruysbroeck. The beautifully proportioned interior (108 meters by 50 meters) is lavishly furnished and is home to some outstanding stained glass windows created by Bernard van Orley. Head to the transepts to see the finest examples depicting Charles V and Isabella of Portugal (south transept) and the Hungarian royal pair Louis II and Mary (north transept), and then into the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, to the left of the choir, where the window illustrates the story of the Miracle of the Host.
Surprisingly, you’ll find the most penny-pinching way to see all of the continent’s most prized architectural achievements in the shadows of the Atomium. Suitable for both children and adults, the theme park Mini-Europe – and its adorable turtle mascot – present to you the ‘best of the best’, a pantheon of Europe’s most famous monuments, shrunken down to 1/25th of their size.
The most regal-looking park in all of Brussels is again a brainchild of Leopold II. The Cinquantenaire Park’s grand triumphal arch commemorates Belgium’s 50th anniversary as a nation, and the historic goodness continues in three sprawling museums (Autoworld, the Royal Military Museum and the Cinquantenaire Museum). Sunny days see the vast lawns fill up with picnickers and frisbee players.
Although the Château Royal, home of the Belgian Royal Family, is not itself open to the public, the park surrounding it at Laeken is.
There are delightful footpaths and a number of attractions worth seeing, such as the monument to Leopold I at the center of the circular flowerbed in front of the palace.
The Japanese Tower, in the northernmost corner of the park, was originally built for the Paris Exhibition of 1900.
The hothouses, erected in Leopold II’s time, are the highlight of the gardens and are open to the public during April and May when many of the plants are in flower.
Along with Manneken Pis, the Atomium is Brussels’ best-known landmark attraction, and although it’s a bit of a journey by tram to get out here, the bizarre 102-meter-high steel and aluminum structure, designed by the architect André Waterkeyn for the 1958 Brussels World Exhibition, is the city’s most surreal sight. The building represents a molecule of iron magnified 165 million times, and visitors may enter the interior where four of the nine spheres are now used for the presentation of a show about human life called Biogenium.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is Europe’s first covered shopping arcade and if you are a shopaholic you should totally visit this great spot in Brussels. Designed by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer in the years of 1846 and 1847 and since then it attracts a lot of tourists every year. You must visit all the three galleries which are called The King’s Gallery, the Queen’s Gallery and the Prince’s Gallery on your shopping spree to make the most out of it.
Mont des Arts
The Mont des Arts was created between 1956 and 1958, occupying the elevated site between the Place Royale and the Place de l’Albertine. The architecturally imposing complex of large buildings includes the Bibliothèque Albert I and the strikingly modern Palais de la Dynastie and Palais de Congrès. From the square between them is a fine view of the lower central city. The Bibliothèque Albert I was founded during the period of Burgundian rule and comprises more than three million volumes together with a valuable collection of manuscripts and several interesting museums.
Notre-Dame du Sablon
The 15th- to 16th-century church of Notre-Dame du Sablon (Onze Lieve Vrouw op de Zavel), generally considered one of the loveliest Late Gothic churches in Belgium, was built as a replacement for a small chapel first erected on the sandy expanse of the Sablon by the Crossbowmen’s Guild in 1304. The interior of the church is breathtaking, in particular because of its marvelous stained glass. Also of interest is the burial chapel of the Thurn und Taxis family, partly the work of Luc Fayd’herbe. Kept in the sacrarium is a figure of the Virgin, a copy, so legend has it, of a Madonna brought to the chapel in 1348 by a woman from Antwerp, Baet Soetens, to whom the Virgin had appeared.
COMME CHEZ SOI
The exciting three-course and à la carte menus alone have not won Comme Chez Soi such acclaim; equally impressive are the variety of exciting dining locations. The private rooms are ideal for intimate meals and banquets with their charming wood paneling and low-beamed ceilings. Less intimate and far less quiet is ‘the kitchen table’, quite literally a table in the kitchen where diners can admire the chefs at work as if they were on a theater stage. The main dining room is fashioned in the exotic art nouveau style of Victor Horta and is architecturally the most admirable of the three. Despite the awards and architecture, it is history that has assured Comme Chez Soi’s reputation. Since Georges Cuvelier gave the restaurant its name, which literally translates as ‘like home’, it has been passed down through the family and today it is run by Lionel Rigolet, a chef passionate about Belgium gastronomy.
The resulting dishes have been highly-praised and earned the restaurant a star in Michelin’s 2011 Belgium Guide. The dining room in this art nouveau house is small, seating only 40, but separating the kitchen from the dining room is a bar opening into the kitchen at which diners can sit and admire Hardiquest in his element alongside Chef Pâtissier, Nicolas Moreira.
SEA GRILL YVES MATTAGNE
Where better to forge a career and reputation out of seafood gastronomy than in a country that celebrates shellfish like no other? This year Yves Mattagne has been given two stars in the Michelin Guide and an award from Les Grandes Tables du Monde.
From his intimate and recently refurbished restaurant in the Radisson Hotel, Mattagne offers a changing and fresh seafood menu, but one fixture on the menu remains Mattagne’s dish extraordinaire: Homard à la Presse. This translates, with less delicacy, into ‘lobster press’, a contraption that is essential to this dish and used in only four other restaurants in the world. For lovers of lobster this is a must, not only for the exquisite taste but all the theatrics that go with it. When ordering ‘Homard à la Presse’ the lobster is brought to your table where it is pressed in the elegant silver device, the juices collected are then mixed into a fresh mousse that accompanies the meat. The result of this theatrical flair is an extraordinary dish with flavors you are unlikely to experience anywhere else.
LA TRUFFE NOIRE
La Truffe Noire is a restaurant dedicated to one ingredient – the truffle. After a relentless search to fuse black and white truffles with the finest ingredients in the most inventive menus, La Truffe Noire has finally been awarded a Michelin star for its work.
A range of tasting menus will open your eyes to the astonishing taste of black and white truffles. Try, for example, carpaccio of bleue des près (a rare variety of Belgian beef) with shaved black truffles, or carpaccio of wild salmon à la façon de Liugi with parmesan cheese and summer truffles. The truffle theme continues in the desert menu with delights such as black chocolate truffle in a spun sugar nest with fresh raspberry sauce. Private events at La Truffe Noire are as extravagant as the truffles themselves: a private dining room can accommodate up to 20 guests or the whole restaurant can be reserved for 50. Three types of inclusive menu – Silver, Gold and Platinum – ensure that any event is as memorable and impressive as this magical ingredient.
After opening its doors in May 2010, Alexandre had already been awarded a Michelin star by the time the guide was published in November of the same year.
To have achieved such a prestigious award after only five months bodes well for Alexandre’s future; indeed the restaurant is already well established on Brussels’s culinary map. Chef, founder and the man behind the restaurant’s name, Alexandre Dionisio, cooks according to the greatest principle of gastronomy: fresh and seasonal produce. The menus are built around the availability of fresh produce and are therefore subject to change on a daily basis.
In a nation that celebrates shellfish, oysters do not have the associated extravagance that they do elsewhere.
Instead, dining on oysters is often the norm – many of Brussels’s restaurants have oysters in addition to other shellfish. However, Toucan-sur-Mer is one restaurant that does not take oysters lightly; on their menu you can find more oysters than most know exist, such as Belon No 5 Cadoret, Colchester Naze, Normande Helie and Fine de Claire Barrau. These are preceded with a delightful variety of entrées, also emphasizing shellfish and accompanied by the restaurant’s carefully selected caviar and vodka. Toucan-sur-Mer is not to be missed by seafood lovers.
With two Michelin stars under its belt, it’s no wonder this chic little eatery has won the hearts – and stomachs – of foodies in Brussels. The star of the show is undoubtedly the restaurant’s specialty ingredient, the truffle. Guests can savor this in exquisitely crafted surf and turf dishes prepared with artistic flair. The plush atmosphere, impeccable service, and intimate setting of Le Rabassier make it the perfect choice for a romantic dinner for two. Whether you opt for the five, six, or seven-course menu, you are sure to embark on a gastronomic journey you will never forget; paired, of course, with the finest French wines. Just make sure to book ahead to avoid missing out.
With its sprawling tiled murals depicting amusing scenes of how the venue’s surf and turf are caught, Restaurant Vincent is bursting with character. The eatery specializes in traditional and hearty Belgian dishes with a focus on seafood and steaks. These are prepared in a traditional way without any fuss. That said, you can expect some theater when the meat is cut and flambéed by your table in the dining room. The menu features all the Belgian classics you might expect. These include Mussels Vincent served with a pesto and parmesan cheese topping, Américain préparé steak tartare, and Chateaubriand steak. There are also several vegetarian options on offer, too. Round off your feast with a delectable Crêpes Suzette – flambéed tableside – and you’re in for one unforgettable feast in Brussels.
Le Chou de Bruxelles
For hearty Belgian fare and authentic Belgian Ales, few places top this cozy hidden gem. Located between the Avenue Louise and Châtelain, Le Chou de Bruxelles is one of the best restaurants in Brussels for delving into the nation’s most popular dishes. These include cheese and shrimp croquettes, seafood casserole, and scampi with lobster sauce. The real star of the show, however, is the extensive moules frites menu. There are 30 different kinds to choose from that all come with homemade fries. This specialty dish has earned the restaurant a glowing reputation over the past 25 years. The charming, small garden terrace also attracts crowds of al fresco diners during warm sunny days. And with the three-course ‘Menu du chou‘ setting you back just €32, you certainly get a lot of bang for your buck.
Fin de Siècle
Another popular hidden gem that serves hearty Belgian classic without the eye-watering price tag is Fin de Siècle. The extremely generous portion sizes make this one of the most cherished restaurants in Brussels among locals and tourists, alike. The venue also boasts an impressive selection of authentic Belgian beers to enjoy with numerous local delicacies; including its famous classic sausage and stoemp (mashed potatoes) and carbonade flamande (beer-based hot pot). The decor is just as eclectic as the food; creating a cozy and rustic setting in which to enjoy all the culinary delights on offer. Just make sure you arrive early as the restaurant doesn’t take bookings and there is always a queue thanks to its popularity and location.
Take a walk at the edge of Brussels
Brussels is one of the greenest capitals in Europe.here is even a ‘be green map’ where you can locate Brussel’s greenest places.One of its parks I enjoy the most is the Duden park. It’s one of the oldest in town, and also one of the hilliest. These remains of an old forest once belonged to a rich lace merchant, Guillaume Duden who donated it to King Leopold II on the condition it would be turned into a public park carrying his name, and so it happened a century ago.
Brussels Grote Markt
De Grote Mark is a really enchanting place. The City Hall, or Hotel de Ville, is the most impressive building in the square and it is a sight to behold inside and out. The Gothic architecture of its exterior will capture your attention on each and every tiny detail. Inside, sculptures, old tapestries and paintings adorn the walls. The tales told during the guided tour make it come to life, from Renaissance to present day.
Several of the other buildings at De Grote Markt are guildhalls, used long ago by early professionals to perfect their craft and pass their knowledge to future generations. You can spot them by the gold details on the facades. Directly across from the City Hall, another building captures our attention: the Bread house or Broodhuis which today hosts the Museum of the City of Brussels.
From necropolis to jungle
More than 200 different plant species can be found. They overgrow the dilapidated tombstones, chapels, mausoleums, and rusty Jesuses. this 1866 graveyard has slowly grown into a unique jungle since it was closed down in 1958.
Centraal Brussels Station
Brussels Central Station, officially Brussels Central, is a railway and metro station in central Brussels, Belgium. It is the second busiest railway station in Belgium and one of three principal railway stations in Brussels, together with Brussels-South and Brussels-North.
Vilvorde, historically known as Filford in English, is a Belgian municipality in the Flemish province of Flemish Brabant. The municipality comprises the city of Vilvoorde proper with its two outlying quarters of Koningslo and Houtem and the small town of Peutie. The nickname for inhabitants of Vilvoorde is Pjeirefretters (horse eaters) because horse meat (specially steak) is a beloved food in Vilvoorde.
Coffee at the counter
I love standing at the bar, selecting my coffee from one of the 20 or so varieties available, and soaking in the atmosphere of its refreshingly diverse clientele. The strong aroma of coffee creates an oasis of contemplation amid the hustle and bustle of the city’s medieval center.