I admit it upfront. I am one of those people who has been working in our capital for +5 years without really getting to know the city. Will the ‘political heart’ of Europe make my heart beat any faster? Or will I forever stick with my prejudices which I like to call my 3 B’s about Brussels: too boring, busy and for business-people only?
To some extent, they are still a little bit true. But I am so glad Karel convinced me to pick Brussels for our day trip. I finally learnt to appreciate the other façade of Brussels. Here’s why:
Cosmopolitan city: diversity rules!
I (mis)judged Brussels as boring, because I always found it quite hard to give an identity to the city. But that’s just it: Brussels is so diverse that it is impossible to give it one clear identity. After Dubai, it’s the city with the highest percentage of residents from foreign origins. A lovely melting pot of different cultures which you do not only see in the cultural offer, but also in the food scene. Foodies travel from the Asian to the Latin American cuisine in Brussels.
So do what we did: start your day with a walk through the Marollen, the oldest working-class area of the city. Traditional and trendy comes together in this quarter. Don’t miss out on the famous daily flea market at het Vossenplein.
Afterwards, you can easily walk to the Place Poelaert which gives you a panoramic view of the entire city. Continue by heading to the Zavel region. A quick 15 minute walk transposes you from the working class local vibes of the Marollen to the majestic grandeur of the Zavel and the neighboring Royal Region with the Royal Palace and the Warandepark. Diversity rules!
People commuting to Brussels and standing still in the endless traffic jams will understand my prejudice about our capital being too busy and too crowded. However, the last few years, Brussels worked very hard to make the inner city (the so-called ‘Vijfhoek’) more livable and enjoyable. The best example? Take a stroll on Boulevard Anspach or head to Place de la Bourse to enjoy some shopping or a cocktail in the sun. The cars have been replaced by hipsters on e-scooters, definitely a change for the better. You can't go to Brussels without discovering the beautiful historic center with landmarks such as la Grande Place, Manneken Pis, la Rue de Boucher or les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert.
Our three tips for giving an added value to the historic city center:
1) Best starting point? Le Mont des Arts, it gives you a nice view on the city center. If you have some more time, it’s also a pretty place to chill on the stairs and catch your breath.
2) There are plenty of lunch and dinner options, but you will also find a lot of ‘tourist traps’ restaurants. Go for quality, go to Bia Mara on the Kiekenmarkt. Run by two Irish men, Bia Mara is a fish and chips restaurant ‘to the next level’.
We are big fans of street art. Brussels sure has it fair share of graffiti, turning the city into an open air museum. Some are in the historic center, so don’t miss out if you are also fond of these creative artistic expressions. For a complete overview, check out this map: https://visit.brussels/en/article/street-art-in-brussels-artworks
From stiff business behavior to chill barista coffee places
I used to work in the European quarter in Brussels, always surrounded by men in suit running from one place to the other. Although people recommend going to the Saint Gilles area to break this prejudice, we chose to stay a little bit closer and discover the Antoine Dansaert quarter.
We particularly loved Place Saint Catherine with plenty of good (fish) restaurants and bars and the Oude Graanmarkt. Don’t forget to go through the Rue de la Cigogne, a little but cool street which is often overlooked.
We decided to end our day at one of the many barista coffee places in this quarter, MOK Coffee bar!