Brussels is the capital of Belgium and the administrative center of the European Union, often nicknamed ‘the Capital of Europe’. Brussels is also the political seat of NATO. The city has an important international position: it is the the seat of the European Commission and the Council of Ministers of the EU.
The city lies at the crossroads of cultures: the Germanic in the north and the Romanic in the south. It plays an important role in Europe and is truly multicultural while still retaining its original image and character. Brussels is strongly characterized by the coexistence of two cultures, the French and the Flemish. Consequently, there are two official languages, French and Dutch. In addition, the city has now become home to numerous nationalities from around the world, gaining a cosmopolitan atmosphere and English is widely understood.
The city is also an architectural marvel; it is rich in beautiful Gothic cathedrals, and churches as well as marvelous and fantastic Art Nouveau buildings and villas. The heart of the city is the Grand Place, a Gothic square surrounded by splendid guilt houses and an impressive Gothic Town Hall. The square is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. The city is also a gourmet paradise. It is famous for hot waffles, exquisite chocolate pralines, thousand of sorts of beer and exquisite seafood.
Brussels has a maritime temperate climate characterized by mild winters and warm summers. It is has quite a lot of grey rainy days. Summers are warm, with temperatures around 27 °C whereas winters see a lot of rain and some snow with temperatures around 2 to 4 °C. The warmest month is July, January is the coldest and November is the wettest.
January average temperature 2.7 deg Celsius, 66 mm rainfall February average temperature 2.7 deg Celsius, 53.3 mm rainfall March average temperature 6.7 deg Celsius, 73.7 mm rainfall April average temperature 9 deg Celsius, 58.4 mm rainfall May average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 71.1 mm rainfall June average temperature 16 deg Celsius, 78.7 mm rainfall July average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 76.2 mm rainfall August average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 63.5 mm rainfall September average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 58.4 mm rainfall October average temperature 11 deg Celsius, 71.1 mm rainfall November average temperature 6.7 deg Celsius, 78.7 mm rainfall December average temperature 4 deg Celsius, 76.2 mm rainfall
The main Brussels airport is Zaventem, located 14 km to the northeast of the city. It handles most international flights and also European carriers. http://www.brusselsairport.be/en/
Train: leaving every 15 minutes to downtown Brussels. The ride takes 15 minutes and costs 3.20 eur. Bus: Bus lines no. 12 and 21 leave every 20 to 30 minutes to the Place de Luxembourg district from where you can catch a metro or bus to the city center. (The same ticket is valid for another 30 minutes). Taxi: a ride to the center will cost from €20 to 30.
The second airport of Brussels is Charleroi, 55 km south of the city and serves low budget airlines.
Shuttle bus: A ride from the airport takes one hour and costs about €10. Taxi: a taxi can cost up to €100.
Brussels public transport is efficient and modern. It consists of 3 metro lines, numerous buses and trams, all run by STIB (MIVB). Tickets and passes can be bought at the stations, kiosks, several newsagents, and also directly on the buses and trams. There are various hourly/daily/weekly passes available at the metro stations. www.stib.be/
Car rental offices are located at Gare du Midi, at the Brussels airport and at several other locations throughout the city. Street parking is metered; additionally there are parking lots that charge for parking there.
Taxis are expensive. They can be found at the three major train stations, around several hotels and elsewhere in the city or they can be ordered by phone.
The easiest way of seeing the city is with the bike. Since 2009 the city offers cheap short term bike-rentals – Villo - at 180 locations in the city. The bikes can be rented using chipped Smart cards. Registration for a day is 1.50 eur and 7 eur for a week, first half hour is free, additional half hour is 50 cents. Year long ticket costs 30 eur. http://en.villo.be/abonnez_vous/les_tarifs/consultez_les_tarifs
Chocolate is Belgium’s great pride and joy. There are dozens of chocolate shops throughout the city. The praline, created by Jean Neuhaus in 1912, is a piece of chocolate filled with various mixtures of nuts, fruits, or chocolate cream. The quality of chocolate comes from the materials and preparation of the cocoa beans taken from Old World recipes. The Musée du Cacao et du Chocolat (Rue de la Tête d'Or, 9/11) offers an explanation of the history and manufacturing of chocolate. But better still, stop in (as many as possible) chocolateries and try for yourself what makes Belgian pralines famous around the world!
Belgium boasts around 125 breweries, ranging in size from tiny ones to international giants. Together they produce around 800 standard beers, but adding the special one-off beers, small Belgium produces amazing 8700 different beers! Among the unique beer flavors one can find chocolate, raspberry, and cherry beer. There are plenty opportunities for beer tasting in Brussels, from local pubs to brewery tours throughout the city.
The Grand Place or Central Square is a beautiful baroque square, surrounded by a maze of cobbled alleys. The square itself is encircled by beautiful richly decorated baroque palaces, buildings and museums, dominated by the town hall. The square is the heart and soul of Brussels where often markets, stalls and various events are held.
Address: on the corner of Stoofstraat/Rue de L'Etuve and the Eikstraat/Rue du Chênecorner
The little bronze statue is the landmark of Brussels. Just a short walking distance away from the Grand Place, it is always surrounded by a huge crowd of tourists. Its origins are lost but numerous legends surround it. The statue has over 500 costumes stored and displayed in the Musée de Ville. The statue is usually dressed in a costume on special occasions and on public holidays.
The museum was the home of the famous Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta. It is considered the cradle of Belgian Art Nouveau and provides an interesting insight into the life and work of this architectural pioneer. You can see fabulous, graceful pieces of furniture, stained glass, and other details. It is a wonderful place that few visit.
CENTRE BELGE DE LA BANDE DESSINÉE THE BELGIAN COMIC STRIP CENTER
Address: Rue des Sables 20 Open: Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
The Comic Strip Center is dedicated to Belgium’s favourite art. It is housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau building designed by Victor Hugo. The museum’s extensive collection features works by best loved Belgian comic strip artists, including the famous Tintin, Lucky Luke, Smurfs, Suske en Wiske (Bob and Bobette), and Gaston Lagaffe. You can also see how cartoons are made, and learn a lot about production techniques. The museum aslo features a good gift shop.
The museum occupies the house where the artist lived and worked for almost 24 years. The ground floor holds his apartment. In the next two floors a permanent exhibition shows over 400 original documents, mascots, surrealist brochures, advertisements, correspondence, and over 30 paintings, gouaches and drawings. In addition the museum also features a room dedicated to other surrealists such as Mesens, Mariën, Paul Delvaux, Rachel Baes and others.
PARC DE BRUXELES
Located south of the Grand Place, this is city’s largest urban park. Many notable buildings are situated around the park, including the Royal Palace where Belgian royalty once resided, the Belgian parliament, and Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon, one of the most beautiful churches in Brussels. The park was built in the 1870s; it has long avenues perfect for walking which provide a peaceful getaway from the bustling city.
Brussels is a melting pot of cultures and so it abounds in ethnic and international restaurants. However, if you are looking for something traditionally Belgian there are loads of specialties to look forward to. The best known Belgian delicacies are mussels, French fries, rabbit in cherry sauce, and chocolate.
You can find numerous moderately priced eateries in rue des Bouchers and Petite rue des Bouchers, the best are probably ‘Chez Vincent’ and ‘Aux Armes de Bruxelles’, the latter was frequented by the famous singer Jacques Brel. For seafood restaurants look around the Marché-aux-Poissons (Fish Market).
Who hasn’t heard of Belgian waffles? Delicious warm waffles, sold on street corners are an absolute must. Fabulous chocolateries abound throughout the town as well. Head to Place du Grand Sablon-Grote Zavel for the ultimate choco-holic experience! There you can find chocolate shops by Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini and Wittamer, selling the best chocolate in the world.
All around Brussels, cafes serve sandwiches, salads, and omelets for a reasonable price.
Date: biannually (even-numbered years) in mid August Location: Grand Place Web: www.flowercarpet.be
Every two years the Grand Place becomes a giant colorful bed of begonias. Each time a new theme is chosen and a new pattern is created. The best place to view the beautiful flower carpet is from the City Hall balcony.
A beach in the heart of Brussels, where everyone can find something for their liking. There is culture, sports, water games, children program, straw huts with exotic drinks and palm trees! Located along the Brussels channel, it is the perfect urban chill out zone.
This annual festival, held since 1969, showcases visual and performing arts of various countries. Every year the festival features a different country. There are various events held throughout the city at various locations such as exhibitions, film screenings and concerts.
Ommegang is a historical procession, which recreates a celebration which took place in 1549. It commemorates the visit of King Charles V to Brussels. It is a medieval folkloric festival, full of Belgian history, culture, arts games and entertainment, with a parade running from Sablon church to the Grand Palace.
Located in the beautiful historic city center, the festival features modern and traditional jazz, blues and Latin. Concerts are located both indoors and out, and are performed by local and international groups and artists who fill the main squares, streets, bars and theatres of the Belgian capital.
Celebrations last for a week and take place throughout Brussels and Belgium. After the Carnival week, there are mid lent carnivals held three weeks before Lent.
Date: beginning of October
This annual marathon is known for a challenging but scenic trail mostly located in the eastern suburbs. It starts at the Parc du Cinquantenaire and finishes at the Grand Place, downtown. You can choose between a full marathon (42km), a half marathon (21km) and mini-marathon (3km). There is also a children’s run (1km) available!
COMIC STRIP FESTIVAL
Fans of strip gather every year to study the work of 70 comic strip artists and illustrators. There is also a fair and numerous activities for children.
Brussels is not really famous for having a vivacious nightlife, but it does have its bright moments. The entertainment at hand is mostly of high quality. The most obvious nocturnal activity is beer tasting, due to Belgium’s incredible number of beers. In addition, Brussels has a fair share of cocktail bars ranging from the established, to the avant-garde and even bizarre ones, to almost nightclub venues. There are also cafe theaters, dinner shows, a traditional puppet theater, cafe cabarets, nightclubs, concerts, cool jazz clubs, opera, and ballet.
Have a taste of delicious local beers. The most famous brand of beer is made by the Trappist monks and is usually very strong. A favorite local beer is Brussels Geuze or fruit beer which is made from cherry, raspberry, or peach. The best known beer bars are La Morte Subite (rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères), A La Bécasse (Rue de Taborastraat 11) and Bier Circus, (57 Rue de l'Enseignement-Onderrichtsstraat)
MUSIC, CLUBS, JAZZ
Brussels is a cultural hub drawing many international top artists. The club scene is new but thriving, with many clubs and top DJs. The live music scene is dominated by jazz. The jazz scene has been around since the 1920s and is still very strong. The highlight of the year is the annual Jazz Marathon held in May. There are various clubs playing live jazz music during the weekends, for example L'Archiduc (Rue Antoine Dansaert 6).
Brussels was first mentioned in the 7th century. Its name is derived from a Flemish word for marshland. Officially Brussels was founded in 979 when a small castle was built near the Senne River. The settlement grew into an important village and in the 9th century it developed into a town. A new castle and a wall were built in the middle of the 11th century. In the 12th century it already had 5,000 inhabitants and in the 13th century the city had already outgrown its walls. Due to its geographic position at the crossroads of Europe, it became a prosperous trade and transportation center. A new wall was built, which stood until the 19th century when it was replaced by a ring road. In 1302 the rebellion of craftsmen against the bourgeoisie led to a short-lived victory but eventually they were defeated by the army of Jean II at the battle of Vilvoorde. A restless period followed and the wars threatened trade with Britain. Economic depression ensued. Things turned brighter when Duchess Joan came into power. She initiated a charter for workers’ rights which allowed them some power in the running of the city. At the end of the 14th century the town was attacked by the Count of Flanders and fortifications around the city were strengthened. The city came under Burgundian rule with the marriage of Phillip the Bold and the heiress of Duchess Jeanne. Brussels became the capital of Burgundy in 1430 and rose to unprecedented importance. The city passed to Habsburg rule in 1477 with the marriage of Mary of Burgundy to Maximilian of Austria. People were not happy with the change of power and started rebelling after Mary’s death. Power was retained but Maximilian’s daughter had to move the capital elsewhere.
In 1515 the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V became the ruler of Burgundy and restored Brussels as the capital. The city drew many immigrants and became known as an intellectual center and a tolerant city. During the Reformation Protestants were persecuted - over 8,000 were killed. In 1695 the city was attacked by the French King, Louis XIV resulting in 4,000 destroyed buildings. The 18th century was marked by Austrian rule after the Utrecht peace treaty. The city was rebuilt and its economy restored. The War of Austrian Succession ensued, and an era of poverty followed. The 18th century Enlightenment, however, brought new hope. The Brussels court invited numerous intellectuals and artists to the city.
After the French revolution the Belgian working class started to rebel as well. In 1830 the War of Independence saw an independent Kingdom of Belgium with Brussels as its capital. Brussels began to grow; old walls had to be torn down as new city districts emerged. The city was a haven of libertarian thinking, and became home to such people as Baudelaire, Marx and Hugo.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
The beginning of the 20th century saw the Art Nouveau movement flourish. But this proliferation came to a sudden end when Belgium was occupied by Germans during WW I. In the 1919 Peace treaty Belgium gained the German speaking area in the southeast. In 1940 the country was again occupied by the Germans. In the post-war years Brussels started growing and modernizing. It hosted the 1958 World Fair and in the same year became headquarters of the European Economic Community (now the European Union). In 1967 it also became the seat of NATO. In the same period many multinationals established their offices in Brussels. In 1992 a new Europe without borders was formed.
Today Brussels has a multinational population. The city still continues to grow in terms of international relations, industry and trade. The city is a successful mix of old tradition and multicultural, multiethnic coexistence.
Tipping: Tipping is not common in Belgium. Service charge is already included in the restaurant, taxi and hairdresser bills. Service staff in Belgium are well-paid, in comparison with the USA, and do not rely on tips to make up their income. But if you are very pleased with the service, it is customary to round up the bill or leave a few euros.
Brussels is a relatively safe city. However, you should be aware of the usual street crimes and take the usual precautions. Look out for pick pockets and muggers, especially on public transport, on major train stations and on remote metro stations at night. There are some areas that are better avoided at night, the Gare du Nord and the industrial district around the Canal de Charleroi, but tourists rarely wander there.
The best weather is between May and September but this period is also the peak of the tourist season. The best time to visit is either late spring or early autumn when the weather is still nice and crowds are much smaller. During the summer many Belgians go on holiday. The hotel prices are somewhat lower but also many restaurants are closed. Between November and March the weather is usually nasty: low temperatures, and plenty of rain. The number of visitors drops dramatically so, if your prime goal is museums and galleries, this is the best time to visit. Just remember to pack an umbrella and plenty of warm clothes.