Next time you’ve got a layover in Brussels and you’re thinking to just spend the few hours in the airport and sneak off to your next flight, think again! With Brussels being a popular transit destination for European flights, a layover might be your best chance to wander around Europe’s capital city and binge on some ambrosial Belgian chocolate.
A 20 min train ride will take you to the heart of Brussels where you’ll be drowned in garish facades and exquisite architecture with plenty of Belgian delicacies to nibble on.
I have to say my first impression of Brussels wasn’t so satisfying but as soon as I stepped foot in Place centrale I was head over heels! We had deliberately booked a hotel right in the center to have everything at our walking distance and to make the best of our stay – Turns out it wasn’t the best idea. While we were surrounded by some of the main attractions and had an extensive range of options in restaurants and shops to choose from, the neighborhood wasn’t exactly the nicest. It was a bit dirty compared to other places and It turned out to be a hassle in the evenings with all the shop owners chatting outside their shops until midnight. It was a challenge to get a good night sleep.
If you’re ever in town and you’re wondering where you to stay, I would highly recommend choosing a place around the Royal Palace. The neighborhood is relatively nicer and you’re still close enough to walk to the central square with the bonus of having the park of Brussels right at your feet to go for a stroll whenever you wish.
Belgium was my very first experience of an official multilingual country and I was blown away by the idea right off the bat. Due to my long living passion for languages I was also extremely envious of the kids that get to be educated in 3 different languages, while the rest of us have to pay a fortune for classes and work our ass off to reach a decent level in our second language.
Belgium has 3 official languages: Dutch(59%), French(31%) and German and it’s bilingual capital is mainly French with Dutch as a minority. All signs and directions are written in all 3 languages plus English in some places. You might even find places that hold different French and Dutch names!! Ironically I found Belgian’s level of English quite weak considering their fluency in 2-3 tongues which consequently meant having difficulty when asking for directions.
Brussels is relatively expensive and easy to get lost in. Public transportation fares where higher then any other European capital I have visited and accommodation was just as costly. Number of immigrants in Brussels and Belgium in general is also extremely high which means there are tons of foreign restaurants, book shops and pastries to be found.
Brussels is the capital of the European Union and hosts major institutions of the Union including the parliament. Hence visiting the European quarter is an exceptional experience. Visits to the parliament are allowed at certain hours through guide tours, however the Parlamentarium is open to individual visits. Visiting the Parlamentarium was probably my most unique experience in Brussels. The exhibition is wisely designed and you’ll be learning heaps about the European Union and it’s each and every member. Irrespective of whether you’re interested in politics or not you’ll find this place quite amusing and extremely informative.
Belgium is a federal monarchy and the Royal palace is the official palace of it’s King and queen, although it’s currently not used as a royal residence. The building is humongous with plenty of rooms to visit, however it’s open to public only a few months of the year. Good news is: It’s free of charge! Due to Belgium’s geographical location it has been the battle field of many European battles and therefore has a history filled with grief for the Belgian people. Thus I’d recommend further reading on the history of the Royal palace before heading to it’s doors. There’s lots to explore in the palace, but the building itself is nothing extravagant compared to other Royal palaces in Europe, hence it’s the history that counts!
Belgium is largely a secular country with Catholicism holding a major role in it’s history. Catholics still make the majority of Belgium’s population with much stronger beliefs between the Flanders then the French. I was extremely surprised to see the amount of Muslims living in Brussels and due to my curiosity I did my research right away and realized that 1/3 of Brussels Population are Muslims! Nuts!
Whenever I visit a new place, I try to manage my time and make it to at least one art museum. Now I could’t go to Brussels and miss out on the biggest collection of Belgium’s most famous surreal artist, Rene Magritte. Belgium’s royal museums of fine arts consists of 4 museums each dedicated to a selection of artworks. You’ll have to buy separate tickets for each museum. Make it to here on the first Wednesday of the month and it’s all free!
3 days in Brussels will have you covering most of the main attractions. Stay a little more and you can make a day trip to Bruges and Antwerp. Although Brussels is not cheap by all means, it’s considerably accessible from other European cities. Trains are also a great way to come to Brussels if you live in any of the neighboring countries.
Brussels doesn’t make it to my top European cities but it’s certainly worth spending a few days in. Would I go back? Probably not! But I’d be more the happy to find my way to other Belgian cities such as Bruges or Antwerp.
Have you been to Belgium? What’s your favorite city? Should I be expecting a lot of difference in Bruges or Antwerp compared to Brussels considering how small the country is?