Brussels – Not Just Chocolate and Beer

July 5, 2009 · Posted in Europe, Travel 

Brussels is an ideal destination for British holidaymakers. With its location in the crossroads of different cultures, and as headquarters to many European institutions, it fits the archetype of a melting pot city, yet still manages to retain its own flavour. Renowned for its landmarks, chocolate, waffles and beer, it is just a short trip away on the Eurostar, perfect for a relaxing and fulfilling weekend getaway. In order to make a trip to Brussels more enjoyable, this article outlines some of the things to see and do while in the Belgian capital.

Brussels has two official languages, French and Dutch, meaning all streets have two names, but most citizens and tourists use the French. English is also becoming a commonly spoken language due to the international institutions, such as NATO and the European Commission based in the city. You can find out about upcoming events in Brussels by visiting the Brussels Agenda website.

In the heart of the city is the Grand Place, a central square surrounded by the city tower and a range of beautiful buildings. It is popular with tourists, and a good starting point to explore the city. The famous Manneken Pis statue, of a little boy piddling, is a short walk away, as is the town hall, Hotel de Ville. Dating back to the early 15th century, the striking gothic architecture makes it a popular landmark in the city, and during the summer months the city organises evening entertainment, including fireworks, light and sound shows free of charge. Other landmarks worthy of a visit are the Palais Royale and the Cinquantenaire Museum and Autoworld Car Museum.

Belgium is to beer what France is to wine and its capital city as a great place to sample some of the vast variety on offer. The typical beers in Brussels are the bitter Gueuze, the sweeter, cherry based Kriek and the Trappist ale. Another local speciality is the “half-en-half” which is a mixture of champagne and white wine.

To sample the best beers Brussels have to offer, the Belgium Beer Tour is a great place to start. The tour covers a wide range of breweries and appeals to connoisseurs and novices alike. Some local breweries, like the Cantillon Brewery, also have their own sampling tours. The city is full of restaurants, cafes, and brasseries that offer a large number of beers along with the traditional national dishes. The famous Delirium Cafe, just a stone’s throw from Grande Place, claims to stock over 2,000 different types of beer, and is popular with tourists and locals alike.

Brussels is also popular with chocoholics, with many tourists flocking to the shops around Grand Place selling chocolate Manneken Pis replicas, but to really experience the best chocolates the city has to offer, head to Grand Sablon. Considered Brussels’ chocolate Mecca, it is a small square near the beautiful Notre Dame de Sablon church, and is home to, amongst others, the three most widely renowned chocolatiers in the city – Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini and Wittamer, each with its own speciality.

Wittamer is the official supplier to the Belgium court, offering traditional Belgian chocolates and hot chocolate. Pierre Marcolini offers more exotic flavours, with cocoa beans sourced from around the world. Neuhaus invented the praline in 1912, and now offers over 60 different flavours in its shop. Other chocolatiers worth visiting in Grand Sablon include Godiva and Leonidas.

Gastronomes are also well catered for in Brussels, with approximately 1,800 restaurants, and local specialities include Belgian waffles, mussels, usually served with frites, and the frites themselves, locally known as fritkots. Waffles and fritkots can be bought from street vendors, and are ubiquitous in tourist areas. For the more adventurous, Belgian delicacies include river eels in green sauce and turbot fish in cream and egg sauce.

If you are planning on making a trip to Brussels on the Eurostar, remember that many hotels offer long and short term hotel parking offers near train stations, many with overnight accommodation, which can be a relief for early travel.

Hopefully this has given you some idea of what to do and see when visiting the Belgian capital and ensure you have memories and experiences to last a lifetime.


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