I knew I’d like Brussels well before my first visit; it’s just one of those places with which I have always felt a connection. So it was never a question of whether or not I’d enjoy my week in the Belgian capital, it was to what degree I would fall in love with the city. The answer came quickly and with force, my love for the city emerged almost instantly and I can’t wait to return and further explore the nooks and crannies of this sometimes overlooked town. To help convince you to add Brussels, and all of Belgium, to your travel bucket list here are my top reasons to visit as soon as possible.
1. Food – The food alone is reason to visit Brussels and could, and has, consumed multiple tomes extolling the virtues of the wide variety of culinary yumminess found there. Belgians have pioneered several foodie revolutions, and it doesn’t matter if they may not be entirely healthy, it’s no exaggeration to say this influence is felt around the world. As I learned at the Fry Museum in Bruges, Belgians invented what we consider to be the modern French Fry, or chip if you’re British. But Belgian fries are unlike others found around the planet, they are double fried which results in a crunchy and extra tasty salty treat. To accompany these baskets of brilliance, the Belgians also have created a variety of sauces to pair with the fries. Whether you eat them plain or with a condiment, they are one of the best culinary treats in Brussels.
Fries aren’t the totality of rich Belgian food, but as I said to detail the food offerings in Brussels would consume many articles. Some foodie highlights include waffles, Flemish stews, beer and of course chocolate. Thanks to the worldwide distribution of Godiva, most of us are at least familiar with the legendary quality of Belgian chocolate, but to experience it firsthand is an entirely different experience. While the big name brands are of course good, wander off and look for a small, artisanal chocolate master for the ultimate in sweet creativity.
2. Art and Architecture – An important feature of Brussels is its dedication to art and architecture, a fact that eluded be until I found myself exploring the city on foot. Belgium is perhaps most well known for its great love of the cartoon, comic strips to be exact. While Belgians may not have invented the art form, they have indeed embraced it as their own and some of the best known comics in the world had their start in Belgium. Tintin, the Smurfs and Gaston Lagaffe are just a few of the famous strips to make their mark on global popular culture, no small feat. Love of the comic is seen all around town, starting at the Comic Strip Museum and extending to statues and murals placed almost randomly around town. Belgian love of design doesn’t stop there though; the city also embraces design just as fervently especially when it comes to one of its favorite sons, Victor Horta. Horta was a true master of the Art Nouveau movement and although many of his works have been lost to development over the years, walking around Brussels still reveals many of his original buildings. There are guided and self-guided tours of his masterpieces, but always make sure to look up when you walk around town so you don’t miss any architectural details.
3. Trendy but not obnoxious – The French usually consider Belgium in less than favorable ways, mostly because of the linguistic differences. Belgium recognizes both French and Flemish, and the French spoken in Brussels is definitely different from that spoken in Paris. But don’t let this unfair stigma influence your thoughts on Brussels, the city is just as hip and trendy as any in Europe, but without a lot of the attitude. This ability to be stylish without being rude is best seen in the ritzy downtown neighborhood known as the Sablon. A quick walk along the shady streets reveals packed cafes with Euro-hipsters, very high end confectioners and stylish furniture and clothing stores. But I just wasn’t referring to these outward appearances when I said Brussels is trendy, it’s also very trendy in its thoughts and habits. The LGBT population thrives in Brussels and there’s just a general, relaxed attitude that is felt almost everywhere you go. (Well except for the EU area, they’re uptight) So instead of a city behind the times or stuck up, when you visit Brussels expect to find some of the best experiences in the world with a warm, friendly attitude to match.
4. Festivals – Most cities have a variety of festivals throughout the year and Brussels certainly lives up to that expectation. The Brussels Animation Film Festival, Brussels Jazz Marathon and the Brussels Festival of the Arts are just a few of the many public events that take place throughout the year. We were in town for one of the most popular events of the year, the Winter Wonders Festival. This large Christmas Market lasts for more than a month around the Christmas holidays and features everything from great food to ice skating and plenty of crafts to buy for those special people in your life. Walking around with the lights and music, huddled up under warm clothes drinking Gluhwein and watching the general merriment wasn’t just a great travel experience, it’s one of the best moments I’ve experienced anywhere in the world.
5. Great Base – I’m sure the folks in Brussels won’t necessarily like me saying this, but thanks to its convenient location in Europe Brussels is the perfect location for short day trips. We spent a week in Brussels last year and thanks to Eurail and the great train system, we made several day trips around Belgium and even to other countries. Bruges is about 30 minutes away, Paris is a little over an hour, Amsterdam is two hours, Koln is about an hour – you get the idea. Rather than spend a lot of time and hassle, using Brussels as your European base makes a lot of sense and is easy to do. Just make sure you allocate enough time to explore Brussels properly.
These are some of my reasons to visit Brussels, what are yours?