Living North's Insider Guide to Brussels
While heading to a new country is exciting, it can also be a stressful experience
It’s the ‘capital of Europe’, where you might imagine the cobbled streets are lined with Eurocrat legislators and tourists dining al fresco on overpriced mussels. There’s more to it than that though, with funky shops, excellent dining, some of the best bars in Europe and a vast wealth of attractions, including great museums and galleries, most of which are just a walk away. Oh, and there’s chocolate.
Where to stay
Try the fashionable 9Hotel Central for boutique styling without boutique pricing (10 Koloniënstraat). If you want a little European tradition, head to the Hotel Metropole which is a feast of marble and gold leaf. It’s dated, but comforting (31 Place de Brouckere). Or blow the budget at the Steigenberger Grandhotel (71 Avenue Louise). Bill Clinton once stayed there. Probably in a bigger room than yours.
Where to eat
At the top end try a tasting menu at Cecila for some caviar, spectacular wine and plenty of foam accompanying the meat and fish (16 Rue des Chapeliers). A lot more modest, but very cool and with a superb menu, is the family-run Toscana 21 by the Grand Sablon (21 Rue de Rollebeek). And if you can’t resist mussels in Brussels, head to the elegant – if you like maritime decor that is – brasserie Scheltema (7 Rue des Dominicains).
What to see
To get your bearings head to the Grand Place, the incredible central square which is on UNESCO’s heritage list. From there you could throw a handmade chocolate at half a dozen superb attractions. Definitely have a look around the Museum of the City, which details Brussels‘ history. After that wander to the Manneken Pis, a little statue having a wee (on the corner of Rue de l’Etuve and Rue du Chene). It’s one of those things you have to see just to legitimately dismiss it. As you walk around watch out for the many comic book paintings on walls, then head to the Belgian Comic Strip Center for Tintin overload (20 Rue des Sables). If you’re not convinced that Belgium’s been worth the airfare, head to the Belvue Museum (7 Place des Palais) which will remind you how important this little country has been – make sure to visit the underground ruins while there. Head to the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate to learn why Belgian chocolate’s the best (9 Guldenhoofdstraat). Finally, head back to the Grand Place to sample a beer at the Brewery Museum.
Where to shop
The Rue Neuve is a pedestrianised shopping street, but it’s not that exciting, and mostly quite high street, so for something more unique try Rue Antoine. Other chic shopping can be found in the south of Brussels on Avenue Louise. The Ixelles area is the place to head for independent shops selling all kinds, and there are some lovely cafés and bars nearby. If it’s chocolate you’re after, it’s a hot debate in Brussels, but Living North’s favourite is Mary in the spectacular shopping arcade Galerie de la Reine.
Where to drink
Head to the wonderfully titled À La Mort Subite, which means ‘Sudden Death’, for a very traditional drinking experience (7 Rue Montagne). More fashionable is Moeder Lambic, a beer lover’s paradise, with over 40 on tap and many more in bottles (8 Place Fontainas). For a little live jazz and some Art Deco decor, head to L’Archiduc, just north of Grand Place (6 Rue Antoine Dansaert).