Discovering Brussels: A Multilingual Capital with Rich Culture and European Charm.
Explore Brussels, Belgium’s Capital City
Brussels is a dynamic multilingual city that straddles both the Dutch- and French-speaking regions of Belgium. Located at an important economic crossroads, it’s appreciated by international enterprises and congress-goers for its accessibility and open, cosmopolitan character.
Its tourists make a beeline for the Grand Place (my favorite town square in northern Europe) and blitz the city’s numerous museums. They also snap pictures of the Manneken Pis, a curious statue of a peeing boy.
Belgium’s capital city offers many ways to explore its rich culture. You can go to a museum, watch an independent film at a nearby cinema or book a guided tour. Or you can have your hair coiffed and back massaged or try out a trendy restaurant or bar.
One of the most famous sights in Brussels is its Grand Place. Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful squares in the world, it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. It’s lined with opulent guild houses and City Hall, decorated with statues, guild signs and house names.
The tower of the Town Hall is adorned with a gilt bronze statue of St Michael, the patron saint of Brussels. It has a square body that narrows to a lavishly pinnacled octagonal openwork at its summit. Many of the Guilds’ Houses have become museums, drawing locals and visitors alike to learn more about the history of the square and its surroundings.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Designed in Florentine Renaissance style, the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert remains the most elegant example of a shopping arcade before the advent of department stores. The Galleries, less than a mile from la Grand Place and open year round, house numerous boutiques from designer leather goods to classic Belgian chocolates. In addition to the retail shops there are a number of cafes including the unpretentious and delicious Bistro Arcadi and a Belgian beer establishment called la Mort Subite.
Founded around 1836, the project was designed to rehabilitate a poor area of Brussels and give it the feel of a European city. It took ten years for the Societe des Galeries to acquire the land and construction began in 1846, with the King’s Gallery, Queen’s Gallery and a smaller side Gallery of the Prince inaugurated on June 20, 1847 by Leopold I and his sons. These were the first public glazed passages in Europe, inspiring later developments such as the Passage de l’Empereur in Paris and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan.
The Palais Royal
It’s possible to visit the Palais Royal (Koninklijk Paleis van Brussel/Paleizenplein) only during summer, but it’s well worth the trip. The palace is Belgium’s official residence, although the royal family actually lives in a different house on the outskirts of the city.
The palace’s imposing proportions and decor are beautiful. The entrance is framed by two full-length portraits of the current monarch. Inside, the rooms are decorated in many styles. The Throne Room is used for state receptions and ceremonies. The Grand Staircase is a showpiece with its gilding and mirrors.
The palace is surrounded by pretty courtyards and gardens that are inhabited by various small shops. The gardens are especially lovely with a large fountain, gorgeous flower beds, and rows of trees that echo the columns of the galleries running parallel. The entire complex is a fascinating illustration of bourgeois society in the late 17th century. It displays virtue and vice living on easy terms and in close proximity to each other.
The European Quarter
Brussels is a de facto capital of the European Union, housing the offices and headquarters for many EU institutions. Visit the Parlamentarium for free to learn about how the EU functions and explore the House of European History, an Eastman building dedicated to the continent’s past events.
The European Quarter’s architecture also draws visitors, with beautiful houses and mansions designed in the Art Nouveau style by architects like Victor Horta. His exquisite Horta House and Villa Empain—where iron and glass intermingle—are remarkable examples of the style.
The area is also a hub of restaurants, bars, and cafes. For a more informal experience, head to Liu Lin for Taiwan-inspired street food, or try Humus x Hortense—Brussels’ first plant-based restaurant to receive a Michelin star. Those seeking eco-friendly souvenirs can browse the BE-HERE sustainable village, which features organic and fairtrade stores, a brasserie, a brewery, and even a yoga studio. The Mixua Eco Tour is one of the best ways to get an in-depth look at the district’s sustainable offerings.