At the heart of Europe and home to both the European Union and NATO, Brussels is renowned as a leading force in politics and business, but perhaps not your first thought for a short break destination. etc’s Tegan Chapman takes a closer look.
Think of Brussels and it conjures up images of drab, grey buildings, and suited business men in stuffy meeting rooms.
But put your preconceptions to one side, and embrace this intriguing capital, and it will reward you with stunning architecture, a laid-back atmosphere and multiple culinary delights that make it a perfect place to spend a relaxing few days away.
The heart of this city is the stunning Grand Place, which is an architectural fan’s dream.
Guild Houses line the square, and the buildings are an ecclectic mixture of Gothic and Baroque.
The stunning view makes it the perfect place to sip on a nice cool Belgian beer in one of the cafes that line the square, allowing you to soak up the sights and sounds of the city.
Each beer in Belgium has its own uniquely shaped glass that it must be served with as it’s believed to improve its flavour. It’s a nice quirk, and it also gives you an excuse to sample many varieties under the guise of researching beer glasses - the best I found is Kwak beer, which comes in a duck beak shaped glass complete with it’s own stand.
The town is renowned for its many fountains, and off the Grand Place is Brussels’ most famous fountain, the Manneken-Pis. The statue of a young boy has become one of Belgium’s most famous inhabitants, as according to legend the young boy extinguished a bomb fuse by urinating on it, and was rewarded with a fountain in his honour.
The naked statue even has its own wardrobe of more than 800 outfits housed in the nearby Museum of the City of Brussels - and it’s fun to see what he will be wearing from week to week.
While not particularly impressive, the statue is still a must-see for anyone visiting Brussels, and is usually most easily found thanks to the crowd of tourists gathered around it.
A short walk outside of the main town leads you to the Parc du Cinquantenaire, with it’s incredible Brandenburg Gate-inspired archway, that is well worth a look.
Nestled beside it is the Royal Military Museum, which is hosting a special exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One, which will run until April 2015.
To experience everything Brussels has to offer, you need to visit the back streets which are dotted with huge, impressive comic strip murals - perhaps the most famous of all is on Rude de l’Etuve, of Belgian’s top comic hero, Tintin.
If what goes on in Brussels isn’t enough for you, you can head to the nearby city of Antwerp.
For great designer shopping, stunning art galleries and Rubenshuis - the former home and studio of Peter Paul Rubens, Antwerp can’t be beaten, and is well worth taking the time away from the capital.
It’s a great place for a day trip or longer from Brussels, and takes just 40 minutes by train to get to.
Antwerp is a culinary dream, and at the Grand Café De Rooden Hoed we took the time to enjoy a snail starter (not for the faint-hearted, but definitely worth a try), some delicious shrimp croquettes, and then indulged in a dame blanche ice cream.
Belgium it not a place where you should fight temptation, and for a true taste of proper Belgian chocolate, The Chocolate Lime is really where it’s at, with reasonable prices for decadent flavours.
Often overlooked in favour of Bruge or Prague, Brussels has many of the delights the more popular city break destinations have to offer - and more besides.
Put your preconceptions about this being a drab, grey city to one side, and enjoy the cosmopolitan capital for all it has to offer. Be it a break with friends or a romantic weekend away, it’s certainly somewhere I’ll be returning to.
bmi regional operates twice-daily flights Monday to Friday and on a Sunday afternoon from Newcastle International Airport to Brussels in just 75 minutes, with one-way fares starting from £80pp including taxes, 20kg hold luggage, full in-flight bar service and snacks. For further information visit www.bmiregional.com
More information about Antwerp visit: www.visitflanders.co.uk