If anyone has been keeping count, I wrote four posts about Bruges (see: one, two, three, and four). Yet Brussels – a larger city, the capital of Belgium, and the seat of the EU’s major institutions – gets this one measly post. Why?
The truth is…I did not love Brussels. It was a fine city, but it was also simply one of those places that I did not “click” with. My time there was pleasant but unremarkable, and, quite frankly, it was a bit of a letdown after the glory that was Bruges. I suppose it was inevitable: I absolutely adored the quaint charm of Bruges, and so Brussels was always going to have a tough time competing; to me, it just felt like any generic big city, and nothing more. So, while I am willing to be proven wrong (and I have been wrong about European cities before), for now, Brussels is pretty low on my list of favorite places in Europe. That said, despite my personal misgivings, there is still plenty to eat, see, and do in the city.
The Grand Place seems to be the center of all activity in Brussels – or all tourist activity, at least – and was one of my favorite parts of the city, crowds notwithstanding. The square is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, and it’s no wonder why, as the gorgeous, ornate buildings that line the square are quite impressive. And while, as I mentioned, Brussels would not necessarily be high on my list of cities to return to, I think it would be worth it to see the flower carpet that decorates the square each August.
(If the Grand Place has one major fault, it’s this: it is almost impossible to get a photograph that encapsulates everything. The square is just too huge!)
The other quintessential landmark in Brussels is an odd one: Manneken Pis, a bronze sculpture of a little boy peeing into a fountain. The statue dates back to 1619 and is often dressed in a variety of different costumes – there’s even a non-profit organization dedicated to selecting the tiny dude’s outfits! The statue felt to me much like the Mona Lisa: it’s really small, you have to fight through crowds to get to it, and you wind up wondering what all the fuss is about. Still, I suppose you have to see it at least once, so it’s worth a (quick) wander by.
Shortly after Manneken Pis, I made a left and then began to climb, heading to Brussels’s Upper Town. Here, I wandered through peaceful parks and peeked through the gates of the Royal Palace. There are also several museums in the area – none of which I visited this time around – including the Museum of Fine Arts and the Magritte Museum.
I headed back down via a different route, passing through Mont des Arts on my way back into town. I loved this area for two reasons: first, because it was home to beautiful gardens and second, because it offered some lovely views looking down toward the lower part of town.
While in Brussels, it seemed obligatory to eat mussels; unfortunately, though, I wasn’t in the city at peak mussels seasons. The first restaurant I tried to order them at told me that I could have them, but that they didn’t recommend it since the mussels weren’t at their best right then. I opted for another dish, but the next day, I decided to head for a different restaurant and just go for it; I wanted mussels in Brussels, dammit! So, I did indeed eat them (at L’Estaminet du Kelderke). They were good, but not necessarily great. Still, when in Brussels…
I also made sure to snap up some other Belgian favorites while in Brussels, such as:
And, of course, chocolate. Much like Bruges, there are chocolate shops everywhere in Brussels. Each shop is super fun to browse; I loved seeing all the unique flavors, creative concoctions, and beautiful packaging at each place. Of course, I made sure to grab a few pieces for myself and also nabbed a fancy-schmancy box to take home for my family.
(Manneken Pis is even creepier in chocolate form, right?!?)
Finally, while I generally don’t write much about hotels here, the place I stayed in Brussels deserves a mention. I stayed at Hotel Welcome because – I’ll admit it – I once saw it on an episode of Samantha Brown. Still, it’s no wonder my gal Sam featured it on her show, as the hotel is pretty cool. At Hotel Welcome, each room is named for a different country and decorated to match. There aren’t room numbers; when you get your key, the front desk will simply tell you: “You’re in Peru.” As for me, I started my stay in Cuba:
On my last night, the front desk kindly offered to upgrade me to the Tahiti room – an unexpected but welcome perk, as it allowed me to see an entirely new set of decór. In fact, I wish I’d gotten to poke around in all the rooms.
While my stay at Hotel Welcome was a fun experience, my overall stint in Brussels was, sadly, a bit less than I had hoped for. Ultimately, though, I don’t think I can complain too much, as I got to travel to a lot of amazing places this semester and it was all but inevitable that each one would not be a winner. I certainly didn’t hate Brussels, but nor did I feel any sort of “magic” there like I have with other destinations – and that’s okay, as I had more than my fair share of magic elsewhere.