Brussels is an incredible city with a lot to offer. It is a mixture of the old and new; modern skyscrapers stand next to centuries-old cathedrals in Belgium’s capital. The city is a very quirky place full of character. Vibrant comic murals adorn the streets, and colorful people mingle about. The city has several notable spots that are worth a visit. It is easy to get around Brussels, and most places are within walking distance.
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula (pictured to the left) is a stunning and massive cathedral. It is incredibly tall (can you see the tiny speck that I appear to be next to the front doors?) and intricately decorated inside and out. The church is a must see spot. The picture really doesn’t do it justice; you have to see it in person to truly appreciate the building’s magnificence.
The Atomium is an interesting building that is designed like the arrangement of atoms in iron crystal. It is most impressive at night when its nine spheres are lit. The Atomium houses a museum and restaurants, which I was unfortunately unable to see. But the bizarre structure alone is worth a look.
Brussels Town Hall
Brussels Town Hall is a spectacular Gothic building in the city’s central square, the Grand Place. The town hall is one of several beautiful structures in the central square, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a lovely spot in the city during the day and at night. The town hall was my favorite building in the city square. Its tower is quite remarkable.
The travel guides will warn you, the Manneken Pis is tiny. But you aren’t quite prepared for how little the fountain of the peeing boy really is until you see it. How could such a small sculpture have such a big reputation? Perhaps it’s the shock value of a naked boy urinating into the fountain’s basin or any one of the many legends associated with the character. Whatever the reason for its fame, Manneken Pis is just one of those things you have to see. A trip to Brussels wouldn’t feel complete without a visit to the statue.
To get some incredible panoramic views of the city, visit Parking 58. The parking structure is in the heart of the city, and the top floor has a great vantage point for seeing the surrounding sights. There is a safety fence that encloses the structure, but the bars are spaced far enough apart to enjoy the city’s skyline. It is free to get up to the top of the car park, but hours are restricted based on the day. It usually closes some time around 8 p.m. for free access without a parking ticket. I would recommend taking in the views (and snapping some photographs) during the day and again in the evening as the sun sets. You’ll get some beautiful light and incredible shots of the city’s skyline.
And who can travel to Belgium without trying at least one Belgian waffle? I ended up eating three during my three-day stay in the country (one in Bruges and two in Brussels). I mean, I had to try the traditional waffle with just powdered sugar, but how could I deny myself the waffle topped with chocolate, strawberries and whipped cream? The waffles were all quite nice, but a bit crunchier than I expected. My point of reference for the Belgian waffle was the massive, fluffy ones I have had in the states. Suffice it to say that America once again took food to an extreme, and the waffles in Belgium were a bit more tame.
I also devoured a fair amount of Belgian chocolate, which was decent, but not the best chocolate I’ve ever eaten (so far Milka chocolate is my favorite). But the beer… that was delicious! I had a few tasty glasses of wheat beer during my stay; the raspberry wheat beer was my favorite. Belgium does wheat beers right, especially when fruit is incorporated into it. They are a wonderful treat, and it is nice to mix it up a bit in the beer scene every once in a while.
I stayed at Jacques Brel Youth Hostel, which was incredibly nice. I would highly recommend a stay here. The hostel is conveniently located and has comfortable beds and nice facilities. It also has a funky vibe that is representative of Brussels. And the staff are very knowledgeable about the city and can offer recommendations of what to visit while providing maps and travel guides.