Brussels - A view from our expert author
View over the medieval town © Neirfy, Shutterstock
Conventional beauty is banal and Brussels’ winning card – that trumps other capital cities – is her sense of intimacy.
A capital, an independent region, an island in a language-divide dispute, the centre of Europe and seat of the European Union – Brussels wears many hats. Which side you see depends on the purpose of your visit, but most first impressions agree that the city is something of an enigma. Seated at the centre of a cultural crossroads of Latinate and Germanic traditions and home to a million people – over half of whom are of foreign descent – Brussels has a mish-mash of eurocrat and Mediterranean blood that lends her a myriad of personalities.
Brussels may be an introverted city: one shy to share her secrets with those who live there, let alone with strangers on a weekend break, but therein lies the appeal. All romantics know the exhilaration is in the chase and what better thrill than to pace her streets in search of what makes Brussels tick? Look among the flea markets and the award-winning steamy kitchens of sweaty and passionate chefs, hang out in the Art Nouveau cafés and amble through the residential outer-lying communes. I guarantee that underneath the calm and composed surface you’ll find the murmured heartbeat of a city with a Bohemian and eclectic spirit.
Often described by city residents – known as Zinnekes – as a big village, Brussels is compact, easy to get around and not overwhelming like most European capitals and is best explored on foot and it’s easily done: all the main sights are within a 1km radius of the central Grand’ Place. However, walking on uneven cobblestones all day can become tiring, so if you find yourself at the opposite end of town from your hotel at the end of the day, then make use of Brussels’ excellent public transport system which combines a métro system, buses and trams. Beds in Brussels are plentiful, but don’t restrict your search to the options on offer around the Grand’ Place – try a hotel outside the petit-ring motorway and stay in a less-clichéd locale.