Brussels – The Capital of Europe
If you have to choose one single place to see in a super-fast visit to Brussels, you should probably pick the Grote Markt or Grand Place, which is one of the most beautiful public squares in the world, and a place that has seen much history. Here you will find a triad of exceptional architecture styles – Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque. You will be instantly dazzled by the beauty and grandeur of the surrounding buildings, which include the Town Hall, The King’s House (La maison du roi), and the guildhalls.
It is fascinating to learn that this magnificent square was once bombed beyond recognition by Louis XIV’s artillery. This happened in 1695, and most of the square was flattened brutally. Ironically, the stone shell of the Town Hall remained standing, even though it was the main target of the attack. Rebuilt during the following years, the square is a symbol of resilience and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If time is completely on your side, then we recommend you expand your visit to other areas of Brussels, because the experience will be completely rewarding. It is true that you might find yourself back to the Grand Place, because all roads seem to lead to this wonderful landmark. In 1846, four passageways were constructed, inviting tourists to come to the square that is heart of the city. However, it is entirely worth it to ‘break out’ of this remarkable Markt and start exploring the great capital.
The history of the city starts somewhere in the 6th century with the construction of a chapel on River Senne. However, its official founding happened somewhere around 979, when the first fortification was built around the settlement. Being located on an important trade route on the river, Brussels grew at a rapid pace, and as it extended farther away from high flood risk areas, it started to drain marshes, making room for more homes and new buildings. In the 13th century the first walls were ereceted around the city, followed by another set of fortifications in the 14th century. Little of these walls is still visible today.
Brussels continued to grow, but it had a very hard time gaining independence from the Burgundian, Austrian, French and Dutch rulers that kept a good grip on it for a long time. It was only in 1830 that a change happened, after an inspiring opera performance took place at La Monnaie, determining people to fight for their freedom. This led to the Belgian Revolution, which resulted in the independence of the Kingdom of Belgium.
Later, on the same hill where people would once see numerous hangings, the largest building of the 19th century was built: the magnificent Palais de Justice (Brussels Palace of Justice). This is another must-visit for everybody who has the chance to go to Brussels. If you like museums, you definitely need to go to the Mont des Arts, a historic site with breathtaking views. From here the Royal Palace of Brussels and the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula are within walking distance. The city’s Stock Exchange was ironically built on the site of a former monastery of a mendicant order of monks who were entirely dependent on charity.
Maison& Atelier Horta on Rue Américaine, the Belgian Comic Strip Center, and L’Avenue Brugmann are some of the many exquisite examples of the Art Nouveau movement that was strongly represented in this capital. If you want to get a taste of the famous Belle Époque, you must stay a night at Metropole Hotel. Later you can do a little shopping on Avenue Louise and Chausée de Waterloo. Here you should have a delicious brunch at Pain Quotidien before returning to your cultural visits and shopping sprees.
Don’t leave the European metropolisuntil you also take the chance to see the spectacular Église Notre Dame du Sablon that dates back to the 15th century, the Atomium Monument built in 1958 for the World Fair, and the spectacular Flower Carpet that is set up in the Grand Place every two years in August. The floral spectacle only lasts for a few days and it truly is awe-inspiring, measuring 79 by 253 feet. And finally, when the day is over and you start looking for a nice place to have dinner, don’t forget what the locals proudly say about this city: that the fabled French cuisine is best represented here, not in Paris.
- Wondering which is the best time to come to Brussels? People say that spring and early summer is the safest bet for a perfect experience.
- Don’t miss the Marollen flea market that is organized every Sunday, or the Place du Grand Sablon antique market that happens during weekends.
- The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken are monumental steel and glass constructions that are open to the public for a very short time every year.
- Want some souvenirs? Buy some Brussels lace, Neuhaus Belgian Chocolate, and spicy Speculoos biscuits.
- Luxury hotels to choose from include the Metropole Hotel, Hotel Silken Berlaymont, and Pacific Hotel on Antoine Dansaert, the city’s most fashionable shopping street.