When I arrived to Brussels in 2008, I felt at home. The first thing that attracted me to the city was the presence of contrasts and absence of uniformity – an amazing mix of nationalities, cultures and languages on every single corner. I moved to Brussels to work at one of the EU institutions; therefore, the first face of the city that I was introduced to was the-capital-of-Europe one. For the majority of political wonks, being in the powerhouse of Europe is very exciting. One can see corridors of power everywhere and even for tourists the EU district would be amusing to visit. However, Brussels has many other labels besides the ‘EU bubble’ label – in fact, it is a city-region with 19 distinct municipalities and many diverse districts. It’s hard to name the things that I love the most in Brussels, but first things that come to mind are its busy streets, beautiful Art Nouveau architecture, colorful shops, tasty chocolate stands, pop-up waffles & frites, charming Brusseleirs, funny Eurocrats, chic Sablon, pricey Louise, fashionable Dansaert, authentic Marolles, buzzing Ixelles, lively St Gilles, and I dare to say: one of the most beautiful squares in the world – the famous Grand Place/Grote Markt.
Certainly, the people are the most valuable asset for any city. Brussels is full of energy, creativity and wonderful people. This is probably the reason why Brussels managed to rise quickly after the unfortunate events earlier this year, which completely paralyzed the city. Locals were quick to respond with their unique spirit, which once again proved that Brussels is the real capital of surrealism. This city has a unique mix of residents; Belgians are often hard to find and commuters from neighboring towns and regions are present everywhere during the week. When you add numerous expats and tourists to this mix – one can easily see that Brussels is a true cosmopolitan city, a place that allows you to be who you want to be. In fact, this is what many people love about Brussels: it doesn’t have a uniform identity nor does it tries to impose one. The city is a real puzzle, a big one, made of many different parts, which are hard to assemble. And this is what I find unique and attractive.
Tourists usually fall in love with Brussels at first sight while visiting all the beautiful places and landmarks, seeing charming cobblestoned streets and awing the history. Below are some of the things, which probably most visitors and locals love in Brussels.
Chocolate! I am not talking here about the usual chocolate bars or other industrial cocoa products; rather, I am thinking of a top quality artisan chocolate. Some of the most famous chocolate-makers, whose stores any chocolate-lover should visit are Jean-Philippe Darcis, Pierre Marcolini, Laurent Gerbaud, Passion Chocolat. Since I am totally into dark chocolate, I recommend a flower-inspired Coquelicot (poppy seed) praline from Darcis and Biscuit Praline, dark chocolate from Passion Chocolat. Both shops are in Sablon area.
Frites, waffles, beer! You cannot love a city if it doesn’t offer a good food. So, apart from chocolates Brussels is famous for frites, waffles and beers. Yes, there are a lot excellent Belgian dishes that you can try in the restaurants, but I always highlight the food icons of this city: excellent frites on every corner, colorful waffle stands and trucks, and amazing selection of craft beers in authentic pubs and local bars. Even for a strict wine drinker, Belgian beer culture is inviting. I strongly believe that not trying some great beers from both well-known producers and small breweries would be a mistake. Consequently, I often meet expats who became beer-aficionados after moving to the Belgian capital.
Big city, small town. Coming originally from a small town and a rather small country, moving to Brussels was really a great step. Living in a big, global city offers endless possibilities and one can indulge in many social and cultural activities. Brussels can never get boring. Luckily, it also has a feel of a small town; for those who love walking, biking or using public transport, it is pretty easy to get by.
Location – a real European hub. One of the great advantages of Brussels is its super-cool location. Visiting neighboring cities of Antwerp, Ghent or Bruges is easy. The city also has excellent train connections to all major European regions. But for those of us who live in Brussels it really feels good to know that we can hop on one of many daily trains any time and just visit Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne or Maastricht for a day or a weekend.
Brussels Canal Zone. What fascinates me the most about this area is its transformation and diversity. Canal Zone is still a home to some of the less advantaged social groups but major urban projects are changing it into one of the most dynamic areas of the city. Examples of post-industrial regeneration are everywhere and it is a place where visions for future renewal can be turned into reality. It is worth mentioning that a new Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art – MIMA opened recently in this area and many other artistic projects are fostering open, dynamic, innovative and creative urban environment. All these developments will surely attract more creative people, businesses and capital to move into the canal district. It’s certainly an area to watch and a place to visit for anyone who is into urban trends.
Comics and murals. If there is one thing, which makes Brussels interesting and unique, it is the presence of comics all around the city. It is incredibly amusing to walk in the city and encounter beautiful murals with famous characters such as Tintin, Spirou, Smurfs or Lucky Luke and the Daltons. These kinds of wall paintings create a pleasant atmosphere and a whole ‘Comic Strip Route’ with more than 50 murals has been created. It is important to understand that comics are important part of the Belgian culture. Brussels has many small shops and bookstores offering wide range of comic strips, engravings and lithographs, miniatures and other items for the passionate collectors. Anyone who is into comics should visit Comics Art Museum, not just because of the comics art but also because of the exceptional beauty of its Art Nouveau building, designed by Victor Horta.