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Downtown Brussels

Brussels is the heart of Europe, the birthplace of Art Nouveau, the comic capital of the world and the headquarters for numerous EU institutions. A stroll around Brussels will enable us to discover its marvellous architecture, enchanting nooks and crannies and the typical gastronomical delights from the city, such as the chocolate, the beer or the mussels.

The centre of Brussels is home to two charming taverns that can be found on side streets off the busy Rue du Marché aux Herbes. The first is À l’image de Notre Dame, a place with traditional décor and a cosy ‘popular beer bar’ atmosphere that will transport you back in time.

Another of the taverns to be found near the Marché aux Herbes is the Toone Marionette Theater, a place full of history and owned by a popular puppet master dynasty. It comprises a typical tavern, a puppet museum and a small theatre with shows that are as popular with the locals as with the tourists.

The Saint Hubert Galleries link the area around the Monnaie Theatre with the Grand Place. They are a passageway between two worlds, linking a more modern Brussels to the most historical Brussels. The place is home to luxurious boutiques, traditional sweet shops, magnificent bookshops, avant-garde galleries and cafés.

Right next to the exit from the Galeries Royales, we will find the À La Mort Subite restaurant – a place with hundreds of years of history where one can enjoy the namesake beer as well as many others. The name comes from a 19th Century game of dice that the employees used to play during their break. This is one of the most traditional places in the city with long wooden benches, high ceilings and a collection of old mirrors. The thing to do here is try the Cherry or Kirk beers with a bit of cheese or one of their toasted snacks.

Steering clear of the bars around the edge of the Grand Place (which are mainly focused on tourist hunting and where the waiters try to catch you on the fly so you sit down to enjoy their typical and expensive mussels with chips), you will soon arrive at the Impasse de la Fidélité – the side street where you’ll findDelirium Tremens, one of the most famous places in Brussels and a paradise for all beer lovers. It is an enormous underground basement that is decorated in a very rustic fashion with barrels and flags on the ceilings. They serve hundreds and hundreds of different brands, which come in all different colours, aromas and flavours, each one served in a different glass that is especially designed to enhance the beer in question.

When leaving, don’t forget to visit the Jeanneke Pis fountain (Peeing Girl) at the end of the street. This is the female equivalent of the Manneken Pis, the most representative symbol of the city.

The time has come to visit the Grand Place, the main square in Brussels and considered one of the most beautiful in the world. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 and houses a large number of historic buildings, such as the Town Hall (Gothic in style and situated in the middle), the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula and the Royal Castle of Laeken (with its large greenhouses). Around the square, it is possible to see traces of the old city and an architectural style known locally as the ‘Spanish style’ due to the fact that the main historic buildings in the Flemish style date back to a time when what is now Belgium (then Flanders) was one of the provinces controlled by the empire ruled by Carlos V.

Moving on, we come to Le Roi des Belges, a modern café at 34 Rue Jules Van Praet where having a quick breakfast or lunch becomes a delightful experience. Pleasant music at the right volume, meticulous service and a selection of delicious and healthy dishes, such as salads, quiches and lasagne, make it the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat.

However, one of the most popular and central places in Brussels for enjoying small fish dishes is Mer du Nord. A few tall tables where you can stand up to eat in the square, just behind the Saint Catherine Church, mean you can stop and try the typical baby prawn croquettes, the delicious fish soup or the typical mussels. Did you know that the best mussels are eaten during those months that contain the letter ‘R’, such as December, January, February and March?

Surrounded by the exclusive shellfish restaurants of the Santa Catherine district a delicious gourmet hamburger restaurant called Ellis Gourmet Burger can be found.

These shellfish restaurants fill up with both locals and tourists at dinner time for a meal of exquisite quality. But if your budget won’t stretch to a table on one of their terraces, one of these enormous hamburgers will fill you up for between € 8 and € 10. You also have the option to order a trio of mini-hamburgers for € 13 in order to try the various specialities all in one sitting.

If you keep walking through the Place Sainte Catherine, you’ll find the Micro Market Marché culture centre and a bar-restaurant inside called Via Via Café where they serve international food and organic drinks. This centre organises parties, DJ sessions, concerts, screenings and seasonal exhibitions. It is a meeting place for young creators and lovers of more alternative art.

And if you prefer somewhere with more of a rock music atmosphere and American-style meat dishes, Le Corbeau is the place for you. Located on Rue Saint-Michel, it can be found in what was once one of the oldest breweries in Brussels.

One of the greatest attractions in Brussels are the journeys to be had along the side streets full of comic wall art. Brussels is the comic capital of the world and is the birthplace of such legendary characters as Tintin, Lucky Luke, Spirou and the Smurfs. One of the more fun activities to be enjoyed in Belgium is to discover the large-scale reproductions of elements and pages from comics that you can find on any street corner. The idea began in 1991 as a way to renovate old buildings but has now become an identifying symbol of the city.

We took it as a bit of fun and took photographs of the ones we encountered on our visit but there is an entire route to be followed that should not be missed by any lover of Art Nouveau.

Finally, we recommend you take the train to Gantes for a day trip. Gantes is the Flemish city with the largest number of historic buildings, a strong cultural vibe and a privileged location between Bruges and Brussels – 50 km from each. The city has five abbeys, three convents and eighteen museums, as well as numerous other attractions that are all concentrated in the central district.

 

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