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1 City 5 Ways: Brussels

Brussels

Photo by Ezequiel Scagnetti

Christmas market at Grand Place.

Brussels gets a bum rap as boring, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The streets are dotted with whimsical comic strip murals and stunning art nouveau buildings. A stellar culinary scene includes the world’s best beer, chocolate, fries and waffles, as well as one of the largest numbers of Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe. From the majestic Grand Place to the kitsch statue of a little boy peeing, the sights of Brussels are compelling, diverse and sometimes a little weird. From late November to early January, the Grand Place comes alive thanks to a Christmas market with quaint chalets selling holiday gifts and delicacies, a Ferris wheel and a magical light and sound show.


ARTS AFICIONADO

       
La Fleur en Papier Doré.        

Where to Stay: The Dominican
With soaring arches and Gregorian chants in the elevator, this contemporary hotel evokes the tranquility of the 15th-century abbey that once stood here. Don’t miss the murals of paintings by onetime resident Jacques-Louis David.

Morning: The Magritte Museum
This museum has a collection of more than 200 pieces, including advertising work René Magritte did during World War II to make ends meet. Paintings, letters and photographs provide insight into the surrealist artist’s life and influences.

Lunch: La Fleur en Papier Doré
The walls of this ancient café where Magritte is said to have sold his first painting are lined with thousands of artifacts and photos, including one of the artist and his fellow surrealists. It serves traditional Belgian fare.

Afternoon: Art Nouveau Tour
To appreciate Brussels’ art nouveau treasures, take a three-hour bus tour with a local guide from Le Bus Bavard. The Horta Museum is filled with architect Victor Horta’s graceful mosaics, stained glass and wall decorations.

Dinner: La Quincaillerie
This atmospheric restaurant in a former hardware store features an abundant seafood bar that’s one of the city’s best, piled with oysters and other crustaceans.


HIPSTER

       
Pantone Hotel photo by Sven Laurent.        

Where to Stay: Pantone Hotel
Guests at this color-themed hotel choose their rooms at reception based on their mood. White rooms are decorated with Pantone-hued photographs, textiles and toiletries. Public spaces, including the rooftop terrace, are a riot of color.

Morning: Brussels Greeters
This free service pairs travelers with local volunteers who are passionate about their city. Spend a few hours on a tour and they’ll show you some of their favorite restaurants, cafés, music stores, boutiques, bars and other hangouts.

Lunch: Pin Pon
Housed in an old glass-roofed fire station with views of the Place du Jeu de Balles, Pin Pon serves modern comfort food, including crispy fries with a choice of sauces. The unfiltered pilsner is made exclusively for the restaurant.

Dinner: Gramm
Japanese-Breton chef Erwan Kenzo Nakata’s menu of six small courses changes daily at this minimalist bistro. Pair his fresh, seasonal dishes with organic wines.

Nightlife: Madame Moustache
This bar/club right behind Place Ste. Catherine is open from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. and attracts Brussels’ young creatives. It’s a casual scene, and you can join the dancing without buying anything from the bar.


WITH THE FAMILY

       
Atomium.        
         

Where to Stay: Hotel Amigo
This hotel pairs elegant décor with whimsical images of Herge’s Tin Tin. The hotel’s kid-friendly amenities range from free baby meals to itineraries for teens.

Morning: Manneken Pis
Less than 22 inches tall, this 17th-century statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain is an unlikely Brussels icon. He’s often dressed in costumes, more than 940 of which are at the Museum of Brussels.

Midmorning: The Comic Strip Walk
Forgo the Belgian Comic Strip Center (great for adults but not designed for kids) and take a Bus Bavard tour of Brussels’ many comic murals starring, among others, Tin Tin.

Afternoon: Atomium and Mini-Europe
Built for the 1958 World’s Fair, the 334-foot-high Atomium was designed to resemble an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Nearby, Mini-Europe has models of 350 European monuments.

Dinner: Chez Léon
This classic spot for mussels and French fries (which should rightly be called Belgian fries) has been delighting locals and travelers since 1893. Kids under 12 eat free when accompanied by a relative.


HISTORY BUFF

       
Brasserie del'Ommegang.        

Where to Stay: Hôtel Le Dixseptième
This 17th-century house with a private inner garden was once home to the Spanish ambassador. Today, it’s a serene, sophisticated oasis filled with antiques and crystal chandeliers. A recent addition lends a contemporary option.

Morning: The Musical Instrument Museum
This museum is revered for its collection of musical instruments (some of which were given to Leopold II) and for its art deco architecture. The restaurant offers panoramic views of the city.

Lunch: Brasserie del’Ommegang
The best restaurant on the Grand Place is also where Karl Marx and Frederich Engels wrote Das Kapital. Marx also celebrated New Year’s Eve here in 1847—and his photograph hangs in the dining room.

Afternoon: Cantillon Brewery
Lambic beer is produced by inoculating wort with wild yeasts found only in Brussels. Cantillon, one of the few lambic producers, still uses 19th-century copper containers and wooden barrels to make its unique sour beer.

Dinner: Aux Armes de Bruxelles
Open since 1921, this brasserie was the first to get daily mussel deliveries and started serving them in pots and “escargot-style” in garlic butter. King Leopold III dined here once a month.


FOODIE

       
Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert photo by Arnaud Everaerts - PhotoGallery ASBL.        
         

Where to Stay: The Steigenberger Wiltcher’s
This modern hotel has large rooms and a prime location on Brussels’ top shopping street. In the hotel’s inner court are kitchen outfitter Home of Cooking and a Pierre Marcolini chocolate boutique. Behind it, Mig’s World Wines sells Belgian and international wines.

Morning: Chocolate Workshop
Laurent Gerbaud leads tastings and DIY workshops in a studio next to his shop. He also recommends chocolate and local beer pairings.

Lunch: WY
A Michelin-starred gem in a Mercedes-Benz showroom, WY serves Belgian dishes accented with Indonesian spices. The menu changes every two weeks, but expect out-of-the-box dishes.

Afternoon: Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
This glass-roofed arcade, built in 1847, was one of Europe’s first shopping malls. It’s lined with luxury shops, chocolate boutiques, theaters and bookshops. Cozy bistro Arcadi is a local favorite for quiche and homemade cakes.

Dinner: Comme Chez Soi
With two Michelin stars, this intimate restaurant is Brussels’ top spot for haute cuisine. Try the lobster salad with black truffles or sole with a riesling mousseline.

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