Belgium may not be the most popular destination for Canadian’s traveling to Europe, but if you are planning to tour many countries, close proximity to France, The Netherlands and Germany makes Brussels a more interesting entry point. As Brussels is the home of the European Union, there are amazing air links to the rest of Europe, and rail links to The Netherlands, Germany and France, including a high speed link to Paris. Jet Airways now offers service from Toronto Pearson direct to Brussels.
Brussels is one of the few cities in Europe where it can be less expensive to stay over the weekend. As many hotel suites are occupied by the business of the EU through the week, when the weekend arrives and these officials go home you can get great rates on room nights, especially if you stay in the EU Quarter. We have stayed in a great one bedroom suite with a patio at Marriott Executive Apartments Brussels, European Quarter, a great king suite at Brussels Marriott Hotel, and hosted a group at Brussels- Le Palace.
Speaking of the EU, at Gare Bruxelles-Luxembourg Station, the European Commission buildings are worth a visit. Walk through the Esplanade to discover the circular walkway that resembles the EU flag, guided tours are available for Parlamentarium and Chamber. Continue behind the buildings and explore around the lake in Parc Leopold, a great little escape from the bustle of the Parliament. Then head over to Place du Luxembourg and grab some dinner at Quartier Léopold Brasserie, they have a great wine list and remember Belgium is the home of over 450 varieties of beer so it’s worth indulging the local culture.
For me the highlight of Brussels is the area around the Grand Place (Grote Markt). This square is called Grand for a reason and it is exactly that, the buildings that line the square are amazing, embellished with gold, there isn’t a bad vantage point from inside the square. The area surrounding the Grote Markt includes some great shopping, especially for lace, tapestries, beer, waffles and of course chocolate. My favorite place for chocolate is Chocopolis (Rue du Marché aux Herbes 110 Grasmarkt) and the Godiva at Grand-Place 22 for the chocolate dipped strawberries.
Other attractions around the Grand Place include Everard ‘t Serclaes (touch his golden body for good luck and to have your wishes come true), Manneken Pis (the famous peeing boy statue) and parts of the comic book walk and Tin Tin. This area is a hot spot for restaurants and bars, many restaurants looking to lure you in showing off their catch of the day in the small pedestrian walkways around the square. I like Taverne du Passage in the Galeries Royales St. Hubert.
The Parc de Bruxelles is the oldest park in the city, it filled with statues and is bordered by the Royal Palace and Belgian Parliament. Throughout the summer there are many events every weekend. On the outskirts of the city you can visit the site of the 1958 World’s Expo and the Atomium and Mini Europe.
For someone who never planned on visiting Belgium, I have now visited on many occasions. With a smaller airport hub than Paris, Frankfurt, London and Amsterdam and great rail and air links to the rest of Europe, Brussels is one of my favorite arrival destinations in Europe.
Gnoshing in Brussels
One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow smaller – Mini Europe and Atomium
366 Steps to Heaven in Historic Bruges
Antwerpen – The Diamond of Belgium
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe