Brussels is one European capital that’s easy to miss on your grand tour of Europe. In fact, the whole little country of Belgium is easy to miss, but it’s one that you really shouldn’t. It has lots to offer. This grand old city is not only the capital of Belgium, it’s the capital of the European Union.
Something you’ll have to get used to in all of Belgium is that two languages, Dutch and French, used everywhere. You’ll often see signs in both languages. It’s Brussels in English, Brussel in Dutch and Bruxelles in French. You’ll get along fine in either language or English. Belgians slip from one language to another with an ease that will put you to shame.
“La Grand Place” or “Grote Markt” is the main square right in the heart of the old town where you will want to start your tour. This huge cobble-stoned square is surrounded by the city tower and 300-year-old buildings, most of which were guild (association of craftsmen) halls.
There are really only a few old streets left around the square, but they’re fun to wander. Don’t forget to shop for chocolates or eat some Belgian Waffles with caramelized sugar in the square. (Luikse wafel or gaufre de Liege). Definitely have a beer. The Belgians are known for their beers: there are over a hundred breweries in this little country, producing hundreds of different brands and many types of beer!
When you stop to eat, you’ll have to have mussels (moules). You can have French fries (fritjes or frites) with them, or have fritjes as a snack. If you want to eat those fries as the Belgians do, have them with mayonnaise. The first time I visited friends in Belgium, they made it a point to serve me Brussels sprouts, but you don’t have to eat those if you don’t want to! If you order any of these as a snack, you can take them and sit on steps or benches around the square just as the locals do.
Just a short walk from the Grand Place-Grote Markt is the Manneken Pis. EVERYONE wants to see this fountain with its funny little statue. And it is little . . . smaller that you think it will be . . . especially since its reputation precedes it all over the world. You know what we’re talking about: the funny bronze statue of a little boy . . . well, Manneken Pis says it all doesn’t it? Maybe he had one too many beers?
There is a museum full of little outfits that have been created for the little boy. If you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your viewpoint), you might even see him dressed in one, but they are usually kept in the museum. Signs will direct you to the corner where he stands.
For a little culture, visit the Royal Museums of Fine Arts off one end of the main square, which links two museums, the Ancient Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. If you like early Flemish masters, the Ancient Art Museum is for you.
You probably don’t need to spend more than two or three days in Brussels to see it well before you move on to other areas of Belgium or Europe, but really, it’s a great city that you shouldn’t miss.
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