Brussels is a multicultural, multilingual city full of unexpected sights and attractions. The people are wonderfully hospitable, the bars and restaurants diverse, and the shopping opportunities impressive, certainly much more than its reputation as the uninspiring headquarters of the EU implies. For a great shopping break, follow this guide to the many charms the city has to offer.
Where to shop
The elegant Grand Sablon area offers antiques at every turn. A great shop is Galerie des Minimes (Minimenstraat), which is perfect for pottering about in and is packed with an assortment of treasures.
An antiques market is held in the area’s square every weekend (Saturdays 9am-6pm and Sundays 9am-2pm) if you fancy haggling. Castermans (5 Grand Sablon) also has antiques galore, plus lovely soft furnishings.
All of this is just a short walk from the buzzing city centre, which is packed with pavement bars, restaurants and shops but never seems overcrowded. For shops,
Le Jardin des Cadeaux (59 rue Gentry) is perfect if you like the flowery, feminine look – their plates, bowls, utensils and glasses are stunning. Also visit the oldest shop in Brussels (or so it claims) — a laTentation (galerie du Roi, 27-33 Koningsgalerij). It dates from 1858 and has a great selection of fabrics, throws, lace, curtains and trims.
Of course, you can’t leave Brussels without buying beer glasses. Head for Le BierTempel (56b rue Marche aux Herbes) which has a whole host to choose from, as well as a range of beers to fill them.
Sight worth seeing
Soak up the atmosphere and architecture while you people watch in the Grand Race. For fans of architecture, another place to visit is the Musee Horta (25 rue Americaine). The museum is actually the house that acclaimed Belgian architect Victor Horta built for himself in the late 1890s, and is a true example of the Art Nouveau style of architecture.
Art lovers should visit Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts (3 rue de la Regence) to discover Belgian painting and sculpture from the Middle Ages to recent times
The Musical Instruments Museum, or MIM, (2 rue Montagne de la Cour) is a fantastic Art Deco building packed with instruments and information, ideal for music fans. lf you want to learn about surrealist painters and have a drink at the same time, visit the cafe La Fleur Papier Dore (55 rue des Alexiens) – one of Magritte’s favourite haunts.
Where to eat
La Kartchama (Grand Sablon) is great for morning coffee or fabulous light meals in a relaxed atmosphere. The fresh pasta is particularly good. Bonsoir Clara (22-26 Antoine Danseartstraat) has huge bay windows and coloured glass mosaics adorning the walls. The food is modern European, with dishes like vitello tonnato and carpaccio.
Just off the Grand Place, Drug Opera (32 Kleerkopersstraat) is good for salads, steak and chips, as well as Belgian specialities. It’s on two levels, very atmospheric and open late. Try out some of the many local beers here.
Tour D’YVoir (8-9 Place du Grand Sablon) is in the heart of the antiques district and serves traditional Flemish cuisine in a converted chapel.
Le Pain Quotidien (Grand Sablon) is a bread shop and cafe in the same area. Good for people watching and continental breakfasts.
How to get around
Central Brussels is quite small, so walking is the best way of getting around, especially as you’ll discover all sorts of attractions along the way. There’s an efficient metro system, and underground trams, of all things. You can even go on a day trip to Bruges, which is only about 20 minutes away by train. Be warned, though, taxis are quite expensive.