Living only 20 minutes from the Belgian border, I am stoked about being able to take advantage of day-trips to various cities in Belgium. I had an entire weekend free, so I decided to venture solo to the Capital of Europe–Brussels, and officially check off Belgium as my 16th visited country.
The cheapest way to get to Belgium from Valenciennes is to take the city bus to the border and then trek about 15 minutes to the train station.
Belgium is known for its basic food groups- frites (fries), chocolate, waffles, and beer. Brussels is specifically home to the famous, picturesque Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as famous comics such as Tintin, among countless others. Brussels is dingy, but in a good way. It is full of street art, upcoming musicians, and hipsters. Overall, it feels lived in. It feels real. With a combination of French, German, and Dutch, Brussels is both a neutral and natural cultural hub–right in Europe’s center.
If you have time, be sure check out the comic book street art crawl– scenes from various comics painted strategically around the city. Hunting for them is a great and unique way to see the city!
Tintin is a very famous Belgian Comic, created by the very controversial cartoonist, Hergé. Tintin’s most popular adventure, Tintin in the Congo, was written in the 1930’s, and depicted as very racist. After the war, newer version (which is still quite racist) was re-published in the 1960’s.
The Grand Place
This is, without a doubt, the biggest and most popular attraction in Brussels. The central square of Brussels, it was the heart of European business and trade from as far back as the 14th century. Given the central location of Brussels, countries in all surrounding areas met in this square to trade their various goods and services.
The square is filled with Flemish-influenced, Baroque-style Guild Houses build around 1700. Most were homes to bakers, butchers, shopkeepers, etc.
The Town Hall is sort of a hot mess. One side is shorter than the other for the mere reason that the architects couldn’t block off the connecting street. Additionally, the windows, architecture, and designs are out of whack. They do not match at all because there were many different contractors coming in and out, changing the design.
Budget Travel Tip: Ask for free chocolate samples in the shops you visit!
After the Statue of Liberty and Statue of David, this little guy is the third most-visited statue in the world. At 61 centimeters tall, he has been stolen twice, smashed into pieces, and is dressed up in more than 175 outfits throughout the year. There are several legends surrounding this statue’s history, my favorite being about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, his then two-year-old self was captured during battle and hung into a tree. The little boy urinated on the opposing troops, who eventually surrendered. Manneken Pis also has a peeing sister, Jeanneke Pis.
The Palace of Brussels
The offices of the King, Queen and Constitutional Monarchy staff are housed here.
In the park just in front of the palace, you can see the European Parliament building peeking out.
Mont Des Arts
This area was once densely populated, and then became a garden in 1910, under the rule of King Leopold II and designed by Pierre Vacherot. This is where most of Brussel’s museums are found.
The Music Museum
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
The oldest shopping arcade in Europe, built for traders and visitors to keep out of the rain while still spending their money.
Have you ever been to Brussels? Did you enjoy it? What should I do next time?