Brussels – The capital of Europe
(For more photos from Brussels, scroll through the slideshow at the bottom of this post)
Fellow backpackers told me more than once not to visit Brussels. “It’s just a big city,“ they said. “Pass through it, but you don’t need to spend the night.“ This worried me, as I was booked to stay not one night in Brussels, but three. I thought about changing my reservations, but figured it was easier to just stick with the plan.
Maybe their opinions got to me, but after visiting Paris and Bruges, Brussels just didn’t have the same umph. Brussels has a stunning square called Grand Place. It’s home to guild houses from the 1600s that are now UNESCO world heritage properties. Some people say Grand Place is the prettiest square in Europe. And I probably would have agreed with them, except they were setting up a concert stage right in front of city hall that blocked half the view.
This is terrible, but after being awestruck by architecture in Paris and Bruges, I found myself suffering from pretty-building-fatigue in Brussels. You can only take pictures of so many buildings before they start to blend together. I went on a walking tour in Brussels, but my guide was so-so and I didn’t learn as much as I normally do. So for whatever reason, I couldn’t get as excited about Europe’s capital.
I wouldn’t say don’t come to Brussels, it has some great sights and you can eat and drink all the delicious things Belgium is famous for. But one or two nights would definitely be fine. Visit Grand Place, take your picture with Manneken Pis, tour the European Parliament, eat some mussels for dinner and be on your way.
I didn’t find Brussels as pretty as other cities, but I have loved my time in Belgium as a whole. I met some great people in Bruges and Brussels and spent two great nights out drinking the finest Belgian beer. And what’s not to love about a place where drinking beer and eating are top priorities?
Other things Belgians are famous for besides beer and chocolate:
- Cartoons: Belgian artists are the masterminds behind the Smurfs and Tintin
- Fries: They cook them at two different temperatures and serve them with a side of mayonnaise. Very low-cal.
- Waffles: The Brussels waffle is square-shaped with powdered sugar on top. The tourist waffle is square-shaped with ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce
***Travel alert: Do not come to Brussels if dieting***
MANNEKEN PIS: (Statue of a boy peeing.) This is a tourist classic, although it’s a much smaller statue than you expect it to be. This guy dates back to the 1600s, and is sometimes dressed up in one of 700 costumes. Wiki it.
EUROPEAN UNION PARLIAMENT: Brussels is home to one of the three headquarters of the EU, and there’s an incredibly interactive exhibit on its history and function called the Parlementarium. It’s also free.
Day Trip to Ghent
Because I had been told repeatedly that there wasn’t that much to do in Brussels, I decided I would day trip to nearby Ghent. Ghent is a small city located between Bruges and Brussels, so it was an easy stop on my route. I simply hoped off my train to Brussels in the morning, left my backpack in a locker, and hoped back on a train to Brussels at night.
Ghent, like Bruges, is a postcard city. It has a canal system and an old harbour that made it a hot spot in the 1100s for importing and exporting goods. Today its big draws are a giant bell tower and several pretty churches. I visited a medieval castle and did a walking tour. It was 25 degrees and sunny outside. A perfect day.
NEXT STOP: Amsterdam, Netherlands