There’s lots to see in Brussels from the bizarre comic strip to enjoying its café culture in the Grand-Place. Here are our suggested must visits/dos.
Brussells wears three impressive hats, as the capital of Flanders, Belgium and Europe. It started life as a fortress, then developed into a market square and eventually blossomed into the economic, political and social centre of the Flemish capital. There’s lots to see in the city from the bizarre comic strip to enjoying its café culture in the Grand-Place. Here is a list of our suggestions:
1. Grote Markt (Dutch) / Grand-Place (French)
Grand-Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the main tourist attraction of the City of Brussels but its beginnings were less than glamourous. The area was just a swampy sand-bank between two brooks, known as ‘broek sella’ which gave Brussels its name. The sand bank was reclaimed and turned into ‘Niedermerckt’ (lower market) and sold French and English textiles, French wines and German beer.
In the Middle Ages wooden houses were built around the market and by the 14th century wealthy families took to building stone mansions which led to the market developing into the main commercial administrative centre. The town hall came in 1402 and by now it was also a political centre. This is where dukes, royalty and emperors were received but the square was also the site of executions.
Today the Grand-Place is a beautiful, wide open cobbled medieval and is Brussels’ main market square. It is a great place to hang out and admire the elegant guildhouses which replaced all the wooden homes. Many have admired its beauty including Victor Hugo and Baudelaire who rhapsodised about its charm and appealing looks.
There is a daily flower market between March and October and often accompanied with concerts and a light show in the evening.
Every two years, during the third week of August, Belgian begonia cultivators decorate the Market Place with a beautiful flower carpet using around 750,000 begonias. Visitors are greeted with 3,200 square feet of amazing plant tapestry depicting a theme. In 2014, Brussels’ Flower Carpet will be exhibited between 15th and 17th August.
The square is where daily business is done and where a flurry of local bars and cafés are a superb example of top quality café culture.
2. Hôtel de Ville – Town Hall
While at the Grand-Place don’t forget to visit the Gothic Hôtel de Ville. It dates back to 1402 and is the seat of civic government. It is an attractive building with arched windows, towers and adorned with sculptures including St Michael slaying a she-devil. If you are feeling energetic, climb the 96 metre high Brabantine Gothic tower and enjoy the amazing views over the city.
3. Manneken-Pis – ‘Pissing Boy’ aka Petit Julien
The cheeky, chubby-cheeked Manneken-Pis is a major character in the folklore of Brussels. He is probably Brussels’ most photographed statue, yet it is only 60cm high. He was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy and is a small fountain piece where the water emerges from a tiny metal penis that the boys points at the viewer. He is usually stark-naked but sometimes he gets dressed. He has an impressive wardrobe of 600 outfits displayed in the Maison du Roi.