Brussels: Interesting Facts About The Belgian Capital

What is unique about Brussels?

Despite it being relatively smaller than most European capitals, many unexpected great things have come from Brussels. Here are some interesting facts:

Audrey Hepburn

Famous actress Audrey Hepburn was born in Brussels in 1956

Remembered as the iconic British actress, model, dancer and humanitarian that she was, Audrey Hepburn was originally born on 48 rue Keyenveld in Ixelles, Brussels. Although she is not Belgian, we still pride ourselves in knowing that she came from our city.

Foodie Central

Interesting facts about Brussels Belgium

The Belgian capital has an impressive 138 restaurants per square mile, boasting every possible cuisine imaginable and making it one of the hottest destinations for foodies. From cheap eats to gastronomic Michelin starred restaurants, Brussels can satisfy any preference.

A Peeing Obsession

Brussels fact Manneken-Pis-Statue-of-kid-peeing-in-Brussels-

You’ll probably recognise this famous statue of a peeing boy, also known as the Manneken Pis. Repeatedly stolen and dressed in all sorts of costumes, this little guy is one of the main tourist attractions in Brussels. But did you know that in Brussels you can also find a peeing girl (Janneken Pis) and peeing dog statue?

Don’t ask us why… It’s a thing.

The Oldest Shopping Mall in Europe

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The galleries Saint Hubert opened in 1847, making them the oldest shopping arcade in Europe. Tourists will find an assortment of high end brands like Delvaux, Belgian chocolate shops, like Neuhaus and Pierre Marcolini, and other artisanal Belgian shops.

Chocolate Hub

Packages of delicious Belgian chocolate

Speaking of chocolate, we’re obsessed with it and so are our tourists. The airport in Brussels is the largest chocolate selling point in the world. Whether you’re picking up your haul in the city or at the airport, you will be met with a vast choice of famous household names like Leonidas, Godiva, Pierre Marcolini, etc.

The Biggest Court In The World

Huge monumental building in the center of Brussels called palais-de-justice

Standing at 26.000 square metres, the justice palace in Brussels is the largest court in the world. Constructed in the 19th century by Joseph Poelaert, it is currently a candidate to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. Having been born after 1982, I have never seen this building without scaffolding, construction which is supposed to end in 2028.

Brussels sprouts

interesting fact: A bowl full of Brussels sprouts

Despite being the most hated vegetable in America, the success of our local veggie around the world is indubitable. Yes, Brussels sprouts were broadly cultivated here during the 16th century. Many people think that Brussels sprouts are baby cabbages, this is because they are part of the same family but they are different vegetables.

The streets of Brussels are waiting for you!

 

Brussels: Decorating Buildings With Our Favourite Comics

Belgium, the country that has the highest rate of comic book authors per square mile. From the Adventures of Tintin by Hergé (Georges Prosper Remi) to the Smurfs by Peyo (Pierre Culliford), most of our favourite childhood comic book characters came from the small country of Belgium.

Comic book buildings
Ric Hochet in Rue du Bon-Secours

The city of Brussels has for numerous years honoured the tradition of Franco-Belgian comic books by displaying its famous characters on building facades in the city. This initiative started in the 90s when the city decided to minimise the amount of publicity billboards that hung on buildings, disfiguring the old city center. Once these billboards were taken down, they uncovered dilapidated walls and facades that needed restoring. Thus was born the first comic fresque depicting Broussaile by Frank Pé.

A book with a comic book in the facade
Broussaille fresque by Frank Pé

What started as a creative way of crossing renovation with art soon turned into an intricate parcours that tourists could follow through the city of Brussels. Other authors from Belgium soon joined the project as well as foreign authors like Hugo Pratt, Zep and Uderzo.

Large building with comic book on it
Corto Maltese Fresque by Hugo Pratt
A building in Brussels with a comic book character
Le Scorpion by Marini and Dresberg situated at 14 Treurenberg street

Today more than sixty comic fresques can be found in Brussels as well as the comic book museum (Musée de la BD) and the special Tintin boutique next to the Grand Place.

A map can be found on the Brussels Tourism website.

EUROPEA Residences has many apartments in Brussels.

Where to find comic book buildings?

Brussels: 5 Places To Have Dinner Near The Grand Place

When it comes to diverse cuisine, Brussels has a very wide range of restaurants. The only problem is knowing where to go! As a tourist, it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the restaurants on Rue des Bouchers will be great (Stay away!). As Belgian locals, we become creatures of routine and end up going to the same place every Friday night and eating exactly the same food for years.

So here’s to changing habits and giving adventure a shot! Here’s to being a good local and telling tourists where to eat! (*Raises a Tripel Karmeliet bier glass*).

Fin de Siècle (Rue des Chartreux 9)

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Meat, potatoes and beer. You really can’t get any more Belgian than that. This authentic little restaurant has a very rustic atmosphere. Your chair will mismatch the one the person you’re with is sitting in, the place is loud and you’ll wonder if this was a good choice. You’ll question the art selection that changes every couple of months and seems to get stranger and stranger, until you taste anything that comes out of that kitchen.  This is where you’ll try real Stoemp (mashed potatoes and veggies with sausage in creamy beer sauce) and sumptuous carbonnade flamande (Beef stew also served in dark beer sauce). My personal recommendation: Agneau en papillotte (veal stew with potatoes and vegetables).

Bia Mara (Rue du Marché aux Poulets 41)

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This small low-key restaurant is the perfect place for a last minute late night snack. They have a variety of fish types to pick from as well as a range of sauces. Try the classic panko fish with seaweed salted chips and homemade garlic truffle sauce, it’s to die for!

It might not be comparable to authentic British fish and chips but it’s worth a try!

Kokob (Rue des Grands Carmes 10)

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Ever found yourself in the situation where you wanted to try new food but didn’t feel adventurous enough to actually go for it?

Kokob is a great restaurant with delicious Ethiopian food. You will experience the culture by eating with your hands and sharing food with your friends and/or family by eating from the same plate! Don’t worry, if this doesn’t make you feel comfortable, the kind staff will be more than happy to give cutlery and a plate.

Ricotta et Parmesan (Rue de L’Ecuyer 31)

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This Italian restaurant serves such good Italian food. With a wide range of dishes, oven baked pizza and endless combinations of pastas and sauces, this place will suit every person’s taste. The staff is dedicated to maintaining the classic standards of Italian cuisine. My personal recommendation: the combination panzerotti pasta stuffed with cèpes mushrooms and covered with truffle sauce. Mmmm!

Amadeo (Rue Sainte-Catherine 28)

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Five words: All You Can Eat Ribs. Bring your full appetite to this place! The portions are quite big and the servers will keep bringing you ribs until you beg them to stop. For those who aren’t fond of ribs, the restaurant also offers other meat or fish dishes.

 

Bon appétit!

Brussels: Top Gourmet Restaurant Picks For 2016

Although Brussels is described by many as small, the capital of Europe houses many innovative, modern restaurants that experiment with new flavours and dishes, all the while keeping a certain Belgian style.

Head down town to the Belga Queen, a refurbished building dating back to the 13th century and one of Brussel’s most famous restaurants. Its modern adaptation of Belgian dishes at reasonable prices will leave you wishing you had left more room for desert. For after dinner drinks, head downstairs to the bar where you can enjoy craft cocktails in a bank’s old safe room.

If you’re looking for something a little lighter, enjoy a glass of wine accompanied by exquisite tapas at Etiquette-Wine in Louise. Their vast selection of wines and carefully thought-out Spanish tapas will certainly leave you with an appetite for more. Opt for their patatas bravas with a mildly spicy sauce and selection of hummus, aubergine and olive dips to pair with your wine.

For a romantic and more luxurious evening out, two-star Michelin restaurant Bon-Bon is considered one of Belgiums best restaurants. Highest quality ingredients combined with a surprise menu will certainly make your evening eventful. Let your waiter know if you have any food allergies or dislike any ingredients upon arrival, and your meal will be fully personalised to your taste. Don’t forget to reserve, the popularity of this place makes it hard to get a table on short notice.

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A dish at Bon-Bon (credit: passiongastronomie.be)

Visiting Brussels for the first time will probably mean you’re eager to try the Belgian speciality dish ‘Moule et Frites’, mussels and chips. Although many restaurants offer this seasonally, Chez Leon by the Grand Place is famous for this dish. Look for the green logo, located in a more touristy part of Brussels amidst many Belgian restaurants, is it offers good traditional food that makes it stand out from the crowd.

Walking around town sightseeing, shopping and exploring Brussels’s unique charm might leave you peckish and wanting a pick-me-up lunch. You’re not looking for anything too snazzy, something quick but tasty. A few places can satisfy those cravings : if you’re in the St Catherine area and in a mood for asian delicacies, head straight to Makisu, a small yet charming create-your-own sushi boutique with great value for money. For fish lovers, wrap up warm and stand outside on high tables at Mer Du Nord, the small yet diverse selection of fresh fish tapas are highly recommended by locals.

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For a more traditional yet stylish evening out with friends, book a table at Skievelat in the Sablon area. Their elegant decor combined with their selection of Belgian beers will add a certain charm to your dinner. Their menu is composed of classic Belgian dishes with a small modern twist, you won’t be disappointed.

Last but not least, if you’re looking for something classy but aren’t too sure what you fancy, book a table at La Quincallerie. A treat for the eyes and the palate, their seafood platter and oysters will make heads turn. If you’re a meat lover, don’t worry, their meat dishes are equally as appetising.

A Few Tips And Tricks When Visiting Brussels

In a nutshell:

Belgium is a country of 30.528 km² located in the centre of Europe between France, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany. Tourism ranges vastly here, from the English tourists that visit Bruges to Dutch bike tourists in Limburg to the  French and German tourists in the hills of the Ardennes. Belgium has everything you could need, from the seaside to long countryside walks and even cross country skiing in winter.

Transport :

The road network in Belgium is very easy with major highways linking most areas in the country. From Paris, London or Amsterdam, it is easy to take high speed trains that are not too expensive and will bring you to Brussels or Antwerp swiftly and comfortably. The main airport is Brussels International Airport but the 4 regional airports of Ostend, Antwerp, Liège and Charleroi also offer a lot of international fights.  Charleroi (Brussels South) is particularly interesting as it is home to several low-cost airlines that have various routes to most European countries. Although flights from Ostend to Dover no longer exist, you can also hop on a ferry daily from Zeebrugge to Hull, on the British coast. Even the French ports of Dunkerque and Calais aren’t too far from the Belgian border, offering a direct line across the seas from Dover. Furthermore, there are ferries in the Netherlands that are also easy to reach from Belgium with the most important being from Rotterdam to Hull (UK), Hoek van Holland to Harwich (UK) and  Ijmuiden to Newcastle (UK).

Where to go :

Though there is a lot of tourism throughout Belgium, Brussels is always a big draw. The city is well known for its mascot, the statue of a little peeing boy called Manneken Pis. He stands very close the second most known place in Brussels, the Grand Place, with its Gothic town hall and baroque guild halls. Just outside the city centre you will find the area that was used for the 1958 Expo. The biggest landmark was built for this purpose and is still standing today: the Atomium underwent a complete restauration between 2004 and 2006. The building represents one elementary cel of pure iron and 5 of the 9 spheres are open to the public, a must-see for anyone visiting Brussels.

Events :

Belgian people are known for their relaxed, no-stress lifestyle and this means that parties are organised everywhere. A few of the best known events are music festivals like Tomorrowland, which has now spread to America and South America, Rock Werchter or Pukkelpop. These open-air festivals attract big international artists and have thousands of visitors every year. Another great event is the ‘Carnaval’ which is celebrated most towns in the country though the best known one is in Aalst. This is an event where everyone dresses up in costumes from the classic clown to the most ridiculous fantasy character. People create big floats and then drive them around the village where people are lined up in the streets, catching the confetti and candy that the floats throw out. This is an event that is loved by kid, as they are still eating the sweets two weeks later. Smaller events such as jazz festivals, art festivals and concerts are organised throughout the year so visitors can enjoy culture, arts and music alongside Belgian beer and snacks all the time.

Food :

Belgium is a country of food-lovers and in summertime many people will light up the BBQ to grill some juicy meat and eat outside on the terrace in the sunlight. The 4 internationally known products that Belgium is famous for are chocolate, fries, beer and waffles. Belgium has been said to have the best beer in the world and many people travel to Belgium just to buy the real Belgian beer. Might I add the fact that there are over 300 different beers made in Belgium so you have plenty to choose from. Head to Delirium, a well-known bar that offers the largest beer menu in the world, featured in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Restaurants are also everywhere in the country. Brussels’s main restaurants are ‘brasseries’ where you can enjoy ‘vol-au-vent’, mussels and fries as well as fish and pasta dishes. Head to Skievelat, Chez Lola or Belga Queen for traditional upscale Belgian cuisine or to La Quincallerie for fine seafood dining.  Some more hearty Belgian specialities include ‘gegratineerd witloof’, a locally grown chicory with ham and a cheesy sauce grilled in a very hot oven. ‘Stoofles’ is a Belgian meat stew served with fries. And last, but certainly not least, Belgian ‘bloedworst’, a black pudding sausage traditionally accompanied by brown bread for breakfast or lunch.

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Advice :

I have one simple word of advice for those visiting Belgium: bring a raincoat! Although in general the winters are pretty cold and the summers are pretty warm, you can never be certain and a rain shower is never too far away. Spring and Autumn can be very interesting if you want to avoid the crowds but, in general, summertime is the best time to visit Belgium, mostly because it is full of interesting events. So now you know all of this, get on that train, plane, boat or hop into your car and visit Belgium where there is something for everyone to do!

How To Visit Brussels In Two Days

How to get there?

You cannot visit Belgium without visiting the capital, Brussels, which has much to offer people of all ages. If you arrive at Brussels Zaventem Airport, you can take the train into the city, one of buses or a taxi. If you arrive by car, it is best to park outside of the city (Parc du Cinquantenaire or Jubelpark, as these are some of the few free parking spaces in Brussels) and avoid driving in the busy city.

The city centre in one day

You should spend a full day in the city as this allows you to visit the most important tourist attractions like the Grand Place, or Grote Markt, with its typical guild houses and classic city hall. Walking around the city centre you will notice that many buildings are covered by our favourite comic characters giving the city a unique atmosphere. Not far from the Grand Place is the famous Manneken Pis, the small statue of a peeing boy and maybe the most visited tourist attraction of Brussels. The surrounding streets offer shops of all kinds and nice cosy restaurants and bars where you can sit and enjoy a tasty Belgian waffle or the famous mussels and chips dish. For dessert, shop around for the best chocolate in the world with brands like Neuhaus, Leonidas, Godiva or Côte d’Or all within walking distance. Mind you, after a few days of eating Belgian food, you may need to lose a few pounds!

Chocolate shops at the centre of Brussels

For all the nature lovers, there is the option of visiting the Botanique, the botanical garden of Brussels with its wonderful greenhouse. If you walk from Rue de la Loi through the Parc de Bruxelles, or Warandepark, you will be venturing through some lovely green spaces, and, upon exiting the park, you will be faced with the grand Belgian Royal Palace on the Place des Palais. This is still the official residence of the Belgian King Philippe, though he usually spends his time in his palace in Laeken (also in Brussels).

The Parc du Cinquantenaire, or Jubelpark, hosts the Military and Aviation museum for anyone with a passion for World War history and classic aircrafts. The automobile museum  can also be found there. But, most of all, the grand arch and the neighbouring park itself are worth the visit. If you are interested in war history, you can visit some of the memorials across the city like the National Infantry Monument as well as the Palace of Justice with the Congress Column in front of it. The monument for the unknown soldier is buried at the foot of this column, and the location also offers a marvellous view over Brussels.

What to do in Brussels eat mussels with fries

The outskirts on the second day

If you are an adventurer and explorer like me, you can easily spend a full day in the outskirts of Brussels and visit some interesting places that are less well-known. One of these places is an ancient forest called Zoniënwoud located close to the city, where you can stroll around and enjoy some peace and quiet. The next big thing just outside of the city centre is the area that was used in 1958 for the EXPO world exhibit. Some traces are still to be found in the area that is now home to Brussels Expo. In fact, the most famous building left has since become a big national landmark. The Atomium consists of 9 spheres connected by tubes and representing one single unit cell of an iron crystal. The building has recently been renovated and hosts a range of exhibitions. What’s more, the highest sphere contains a restaurant that gives people a fantastic view over the city of Brussels, from a height of 102 metres.

Sonian forest in the outskirts of Brussels

The Heysel area around this national monument also houses a few little surprises. You can delve back into World War  history here, as a short walk from the Atomium through the green Parc de Laeken, brings you to a stylish triangular monument for the Belgian Airmen who served in the RAF during World War II, aboard famous aircrafts like the Spitfire and the Hurricane.

If, by now, you are feeling a bit tired, you can go relax with a cold Belgian beer before venturing onwards to a place full of history. Napoleon Bonaparte was finally defeated on 18 June 1815 in the Battle of Waterloo, and the site of this battle is located 17 km from the centre of Brussels. The location is important: it was chosen to prevent Napoleon’s troops from reaching Brussels. The famous hill on the battlefield has been transformed into a major tourist attraction with 226 stairs that lead to a statue of a lion facing France. This is  called the Lion’s Mound and it was placed on the top of the hill back in 1826. Every year, there is a live reenactment on the day of the battle to give spectators an idea of what the actual battle would have been like. It is best to go there on a mild sunny day as the site is in wide open space and the climb is about 43m high.

To top it all off, why not enjoy a typical Belgian dinner like steak and fries. After all, you have to put the weight back on that you just lost walking around!