It's frequently called the capital city of Europe due to the presence of many EU institutions, Brussels is a city that punches above its weight. After all, it's a medium sized city in one of Europe's smaller nations.
I spent a few days in Brussels thanks to a work trip and I have mixed feelings. Rampant homelessness, a lack of greenery and some drab looking buildings are balanced by good food, and a central plaza that ranks among the best I have seen. You can read my details notes from Brussels here, but read on for the 5 things I loved Brussels.
5. Seeing the city on an electric scooter
Electric scooters do the job! They're relatively cheap to hire, take traffic off the streets and don't add to pollution. But for some reason, they're banned in the UK - that means, other than on private land, electric scooters can't be ridden on the streets of Britain.
In many European countries, however, they are perfectly legal, and in Brussels they're a very easy way of getting around. Lime scooters are pretty much everywhere, and as long as you've downloaded the Lime App, it's as easy as picking up the scooter, scanning with your phone, and off you go.
I used it to get from the historic city centre to Parc du Cinquantenaire, an almost one hour walk which took just under 15 minutes on a scooter. The roads are safe as you can just use cycle lanes, and although roundabouts get a bit dodgy, it's not only a cheap way of getting around the city, but quite a fun one too.
4. Admiring the opulence of the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert
Designed in the mid `19th century in the Italianate style, this covered shopping centre looks incredible. You have the older shop fronts on either sides of an alleyway, all underneath a glass ceiling. The shops were too expensive and pretentious for my liking, but there's no doubt the architecture is something else - it just looks incredible.
3. The smell of fries and waffles
These are two things Belgium is famous for:.
What makes Belgian fries so special? They're fried twice and served with 'real' mayonnaise (I worked with a Belgian once, and she'd always complain about mayo in England). And I don't think I need to explain what Belgian waffles are.
The best thing is walking through the historic core. The narrow passageways create the perfect environment for the smell of freshly cooked fries, or waffles sitting on a vendors kiosk to hang around, trapped in the maze-like alleyways. The only thing that saved me from what could have a been a very unhealthy few days was the fact that neither are cheap to buy.
2. Taking a breather in Parc du Cinquantenaire
Every big city has to have a park, and while smaller than parks in London and New York, the character of Parc du Cinquantenaire gives it a grand feeling.
The park was created to celebrate 50 years of Belgian independence in 1880, but it wasn't until 1905 - for the 75th anniversary of Belgian independence - that the famous arch was added. There's a military museum, as well as an art gallery on the buildings to the side of the arch, and I was lucky enough to catch an exhibit in the grounds of the park of World War II era military vehicles.
1. Picking your jaw off the floor in Grand Place
I'll be honest, I thought Brussels was okay, nothing special - but the Grand Place is absolutely jaw dropping., particularly at night.
The two most spectacular buildings sit opposite each other; the 15th century 100 metre tall Town Hall on one side, and the 16th century King's House on the other. The latter, a Gothic masterpiece would probably make my top 10 list of favourite buildings in the world. Yep, it's that good! It's no surprise that this square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The rest of the square has a number of Guild Houses and some Private Houses. The house of the Corporation of Bakers is joined by houses for Greasers, Boatmen, Archers among others. At night, all of these houses are lit up - and I know this sounds corny - but they look magical, legit Disney levels of magic.
It's one of those places where even after seeing every building, you just want to stand there and admire the square. Yes, it's full of tourists - and sure the cafes and restaurants on the perimeter of square are massively overpriced, but this is history. A square that has seen German invasions, French destruction - a square that pre-dates Belgium as an independent nation itself. What's not to like!
I'm not going to sit here and say you should catch the next flight to Brussels. If I didn't have a work meeting there, I'm not sure I'd ever go - but I'm glad I did, even if just to see the King's House. The food is good and getting around on electric scooters will never not be fun, but compared to other cities on the continent, this falls a little short.
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.