As the center of the European Union, NATO and other important political and economic organizations, a lot of people get the wrong idea and impression about Brussels.
They think it’s too serious and boring and that there really isn’t anything fun to check out in this very modern city. In fact, even I was kinda hesitant to visit the city because it lacks enough buzz and word of mouth from fellow travelers.
But in the interest of exploring Europe, beyond what I have already visited, I decided to throw away all of my preconceptions about the city, packed my bags and readied myself for a very uneventful, almost boring trip.
I made a decision to limit my stay to two days to avoid any serious heartache if I didn’t like it.
It was one of my biggest travel mistakes.
For a tiny city, Brussels packs a serious punch and I fell head over heels in love with it. There is so much to see, do and experience that I was zipping back and forth the city’s metro system just to maximize the time.
From medieval buildings to modern installations, Brussels has a lot of tricks under its sleeve and to help first-time visitors, here are some of the must-see sites in the city.
1.The Grand Place
Any visit to Brussels should start at its most majestic and awe-inspiring site, the Grand Palace. Boasting of ornate Gothic and Baroque inspired buildings, this is the main tourist destination of the city. It is also used as the main meeting place among locals. From its humble beginnings as a swampy sandbank between two brooks, it has become the center of commerce in the 13th century, and the medieval buildings were preserved perfectly up to this day. In the light of day, the buildings are a marvel to look at. When night falls, they become even more spectacular thanks to the light and sound display.
2. The Mannekin Pis
Even with the smallest of expectations, some people are shocked to realize how small the Mannekin Pis is. But no matter. This tiny statue of a little boy pissing peeing in a fountain, has won the hearts of many visitors since its installation in 1619, as it represents tiny Belgium, and it reminds people of Belgians’ irreverent humor. Moreover, this tiny statue commands so much attention that even visiting heads of states donate costumes for this little squirt. Since its too small, you may be lost for a few minutes finding it, but just follow the throngs of people towards Rue de L’Etuve & Stroofstraat and you’ll it.
3. The Atomium
Rivaling the Mannekin Pis in terms of popularity, the shiny Atomium is another well-known landmark in Brussels. Despite its location outside of the old town, and several metro stations away, people still exert the effort to view it. This mammoth 102 meter aluminum and steel installation was originally displayed in 1958 as part of the Brussels World Exhibition. But people loved it and they campaigned for it to stay where it is, and 58 years after, it still stands proudly, dominating the landscape of this modern city. Now, if you’re wondering what it is, the atomium is a scale model of the iron molecule magnified by 165 times. Visitors can go up the tower and check out a restaurant at the top.
4. The Royal Palace
In Central Brussels, you can find the Royal Square composed of various buildings and parks with connection to the Belgian monarchy. The grandest of these buildings, and I guess the most important is the Royal Palace (Palais Royal). The garden in front of the palace is impressive. The only drawback is that you cant get inside, but you can always pose in front of the grand wrought iron gates. Some of the buildings surrounding the Royal Palace are the Palais des Academies and the Palais des Beaux Arts.
5. Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Surprisingly, shopping in Brussels is quite a treat, thanks in part to the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. This 19th century glass-roofed shopping arcade actually precedes that of the famous Vittorio Emmanuel II in Milan Italy and is the first shopping arcade in Europe. This arcade has restaurants, chocolate stores, and clothing clothes catering to the affluent Belgians.
6. Mont des Arts
If you are searching for a good view of central Brussels, look no further than the Mont des Arts situated between the Royal Palace and the Grand Place at the Boulevard de l’Empereur. This hill features a striking garden, and a grand fountain with 9 jets of water. A granite statue of King Albert 1 serves as the centerpiece of the site. Surrounding the garden are the Royal Museums of Fine Art of Belgium, the Royal Film Library and the Museum of Cinema.