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Things to see in Brussels

See also: Brussels, the capital of Belgium and of the European Union, is the second international city in the world, as measured by the number of headquarters of international organizations. About a third of its 1 million of inhabitants are foreigners, most of which are either Islamic immigrants or civil servants, expat business people and diplomats working for the European Union, NATO, or one of the many other multinational institutions or firms that are located there. The city is officially bilingual (all official announcements and street names are in French and in Dutch), but almost everybody understands and speaks English, and you will hear many more different languages when strolling through the city center.

With its more than 1000 years of history the city offers many fascinating sights to visit. It boasts the most beautiful historic market square and the highest concentration of restaurants in the world.

The "Petite Rue des Bouchers" (street of the butchers) in the medieval center of Brussels is famous for the fact that every house in the street is a restaurant. The street is closed for traffic (anyway it is too narrow to let cars pass), and this allows the restaurants to exhibit some of their products (especially sea-food and fish) in a rather spectacular fashion in front of the passers-by. In some of the wider parts of the street it is also possible to eat and drink outside, watching the crowd strolling between the quaint, narrow houses.

The "Rue des Bouchers" is just a few minutes walking from the Grand' Place, the central market square of Brussels, which is said to be the most beautiful in the world. The square is dominated by the magnificent 15th century Town Hall, with its hundreds of little statues. The most beautiful part of the Town Hall, the elegant tower, has recently undergone a much needed renovation. The splendid 17th century buildings, with their golden inlays, surrounding the square, will certainly enchant you.

Not far from that magnificent Grand'Place in the medieval center, you can also find the tourist attractions of Manneken Pis (a not very impressive but quite funny statue of a pissing boy) and the cathedral of Saint Michel, part of which is being renovated. Other interesting places to visit include the Atomium, the imposing Palais de Justice, and for the nature lovers the many parcs, especially the splendid Bois de la Cambre, which is not far from the university, and the beautiful forest to which it once belonged: the Forêt de Soignes, with its centuries-old beech trees. The border of the forest, near the abbey of Rouge Cloître, is at walking distance from the Hermann-Debroux metro terminal.

The Atomium, an enormous steel construction representing an iron atom with 9 spheres connected by corridors, is situated in the parc of the Heysel, north-west from the center, which can be reached directly by metro. Here you will also find the Bruparck amusement park, which offers among other things Mini-Europe, a permanent outdoor exhibition of small scale (1/25) precision-made replicas of Europe's most famous architectural sights, such as the British Houses of Parliament, the Brussels Grand' Place, the Palace of the Dogues in Venice, the Eifel tower, the Greek Parthenon, and many others.

The "European quarter" around the Schumann metro station is also worth strolling through. It is possible to visit some of the buildings in this area, which house the European Parliament, Council of Ministers, European Commission (the "government" of the European Union) and its administration. Perhaps most impressive is the recently erected European Parliament building, towering over the pretty parc that also houses the Natural History museum.

Brussels offers numerous musea. Special mention deserve the (integrated) Royal Musea of Ancient and Modern Art (with a special section on the well-known Belgian surrealist Magritte), the museum of natural history with its collection of dinosaur skeletons, the museum of Art and History, near the impressive Cinquantenaire arc, Autoworld, which boasts the largest collection of old and new cars in the world, and the Museum of Comic Strips in a beautiful Art Nouveau building.

The most characteristic feature of Brussels is perhaps the rather anarchistically distributed architecture, sometimes splendid, sometimes ugly, but never boring, with medieval houses next to futuristic constructions, and with different houses of different heights, widths and styles, fraternally the one next to the other in any street. The endless variety and surprise you encounter when strolling through the diverse quarters will make you understand why Brussels was a fertile ground for the Surrealist movement (see Belgian Art).

The most well-known style is the Art Nouveau, represented especially by the famous architect Victor Horta. The city can be roughly divided into the "High Town" (the south-east part), which is the richest with many splendid villa's and parcs, and the "Low Town" (the zone around the canal), where the buildings are often in a rather bad shape, but which contains the oldest and most picturesque parts of town. The best way to appreciate all this is just to walk or drive around in any quarter of the town.

If you are staying in Brussels and have some time, it is worthwhile to make excursions to see some of the other famous sights in Belgium, such as the impressive Flemish Art cities, especially Bruges, but also Ghent, Antwerp and Leuven, or the forested region of the Ardennes, which begins upstream of the charming city of Namur, dominated by its citadel on a rock. All of these can be reached in about an hour by car or by train from the center of Brussels.

Copyright© 2001 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen,

Mar 16, 2001 (modified)
June 1991 (created)


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