Our roving reporter Sian Collins takes in the sights and sounds of modern Europe in a series of guides for those looking to plan an enlightening journey… On a budget.
Like the naive traveller that I am, I didn’t expect much from the Belgian capital, and it certainly wasn’t the first place that sprang to mind when I thought of holiday destinations. It soon transpired that I’d been too quick to judge, and that this modest, unassuming city had a lot more to offer than I’d first assumed.
For many, this is Belgium’s biggest draw. There are almost 100,000 breweries in the country, and bars have hundreds of bottled beers packed into their (presumably extensive) cellars. Each is served in its own distinctive glass, and the bartender will hunt diligently for the correct receptacle in order for you to receive the full experience. However if you, like I, don’t drink alcohol, you can still enjoy the range of bars Brussels has to offer, as many sell a good range of local food.
- Try the Bier Circus for a beer menu as long as your arm, complemented by tasty, home-made dishes. http://www.bier-circus.be/?lang=en
Brussels’ residents must get fed up of tourists snapping away photos of their houses, but it’s for good reason – the city’s buildings are simply fantastic. A hotspot for the Art Nouveau style, you can’t turn a corner without being greeted by facades adorned with white carvings of flora and fauna. Rounded windows glint out from behind ornamental iron balconies, and painted frescoes make the streets an urban art gallery.
- The spire of the city hall can be seen from all over town. Follow its direction to where the winding streets unexpectedly open out into the vast Grand Place, dominated by the awe-inspiring hall. Constructed in the 15th century, you won’t see anything quite like this great structure. http://www.brussels.be/artdet.cfm/4292
Eurosceptics might want to skip this next bit. As the seat of the European Commission, Brussels is studded with national flags, and Europe’s ring of stars can be spied fluttering everywhere in the city. The Parlamentarium, the European Parliament’s visitors’ centre, offers a unique viewpoint on European history. Entry is free, and visitors are issued with media guides which translate the interactive exhibits into the holder’s native language, reflecting the theme of inclusiveness running throughout the museum. Not somewhere you’d spend a whole day, but nevertheless an interesting way to get an insiders’ perspective on the development of the EU.
- Walking is the best way to see Brussels, and there are many tours of the European Quarter. Self-guided tours are the most economical, so grab yourself a map and get a move on! http://visitbrussels.be/bitc/BE_en/walk/398/walk-europe.do
The Unmissable – Halle Gate. Once a gate in the city’s external walls, this historic building now lies in the capital’s suburbs. For a small fee, visitors can scale the spiral staircase to the battlements and visit each floor, which contain a museum of Brussels. http://www.opt.be/informations/tourist-attractions-bruxelles-halle-gate-royal-museums-of-art-and-history-in-brussels/en/V/17613.html
The Probably-Missable – the Atomium (controversial, I know). Visit the iconic exterior by all means, but the 8-euro ticket to ascend to the top isn’t worth the mediocre view. The awkward shape of the building means this isn’t a true panorama, and the structure is too far from the city centre to have a particularly exciting view. http://atomium.be