Introduction Sitting at the centre of a nation that blends together French, Dutch, and Flemish cultural influences, Brussels is a city that deserves its unofficial status of being the capital of the European Union. Indeed, the architecture, religion, art and food here (among other aspects) are all reflective of this city’s deep cultural heritage, making it a near mandatory stop for travelers that take pleasure in the finer things in life.
Being misunderstood by outsiders as a “boring” place, Brussels actually has a citizenry that possesses an irreverent and whimsical attitude towards life. The Manneken Pis statue demonstrates their commitment towards not taking themselves seriously, as they proudly embrace a statue of a young boy peeing water into the basin of a fountain beneath it as one of their most famous landmarks.
Made of bronze, this two foot miniature statue can be found at the corner of Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat, and depending on when you visit, he might take different forms, as locals often dress him up in outfits on occasion. From a judo gi to a sailor’s uniform, the creativity of native Brussels’ residents will back up this place’s reputation as a fun loving metropolis.
Church enthusiasts will not want to miss checking out the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, as the exterior and interior of this landmark have many features that make it worth including in your itinerary.
With the main structure built in the 10th century and the two towers on either side being added over the course of almost 300 years from 1226 to 1519, this 210 foot high structure commands the attention of all within visual range.
However, the best aspects of this cathedral lie within, as it contains mausoleums for several dukes and archdukes, an exquisitely altar carved from marble and alabaster, and insanely detailed wood pulpit that tells the story of Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden, and above the speaking platform, the piercing of the serpent that betrayed them by the Virgin Mary and her son, Jesus.
It sounds epic, and it looks even better in person, so be sure to drop by to see it even if you aren’t into churches when touring Europe.
There are many museums in Brussels that cover the usual topics (history, art, war, etc), but if you are looking for a quality institution that departs from the typical, be sure to spend a few hours exploring the Musical Instrument Museum.
Lauded as being one of the world’s best collections of the implements that talented artists use to add beauty and emotion to the soundtrack of our lives, this institution contains over 8,000 pieces in house.
From Chinese stone chimes to the last surviving antique luthéal (a piano that produced sounds from keys positioned at its far end that more resembled what you would expect to hear from a harp), you’ll be taken on a tour of instruments that have been used around the world over the course of human history.
Other Attractions Once you have finished exploring the cultural highlights of Brussels, head down to Grand Place, which has long served as this cities’ central square. Skirted by elaborately built guildhalls and by the Old Town Hall, this public space is a social gathering place for citizens and tourists alike, both of whom happily munch on frites and sugary Belgian waffles in blissful harmony. If you are fortunate enough to be passing through Brussels during the month of August, make certain you head down here, as a stunning flower carpet is laid out in a different design each year … don’t forget your camera in your hotel room! Home to many of the institutions of the European Union, Brussels is known by many to be the unofficial capital of this geopolitical region. One of the most important of these governmental assets is the European Parliament, where representatives from across the continent come to debate issues of mutual interest and concern. Tours are available in all EU languages, but don’t neglect to bring your passport or national ID card to the Parliament buildings, as they are required for admittance to be granted. Those seeking a nature break during their time in Brussels will find it at the Sonian Forest. Located deep in the city’s southeast, the northern edge of these woods served as the background at the Battle of Waterloo, a confrontation that proved to be Napoleon’s last stand. Those that aren’t as interested in war history will appreciate this place for its 200 year old oak trees and contemplative silence, the latter of which stands in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the centre of Brussels.