Brussels, EU Headquarters & A Great Link to the Rest of Europe

By Steven Wright

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.

Gare de Bruxelles-Central offers rail links to visit other Belgian cities including historic Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. If you arrive early you can shop the booths of the open air market outside.

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.

Belgium posts:
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

Advertisements

One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow smaller – Mini Europe and Atomium

By Mike Kerr

Like Alice in Wonderland you too can feel the wonders of being smaller than a speck of dust, or taller than a house, and without all the trouble of figuring out which side of the caterpillar’s mushroom does which. Located right next to each other are two great attractions a short walk from Heysel / Heizel metro station in Brussels. The first being Atomium, which being a giant atomic structure can give you the feeling of being infinitesimally small, and the second Mini-Europe where even kids walk around buildings like giants.

In 1958 the World Expo was to be held in Brussels, and for the event, one of Brussels most modern buildings was born: Atomium. You will probably see this monument on the horizon almost everywhere in Brussels assuming you are high enough. The interesting shape is modeled after an individual iron crystal which has been increased in size by about 165,000,000,000 times the actual size. When we arrived we saw a very long line, but realized soon after it was moving very quickly, and our entry wasn’t far at all. When you purchase your tickets, you will have the option to use an audio guide, or join in on a guided tour. Steven and I have a history of going off the beaten path so we started heading up on our own.

From sphere to sphere you will find yourself confronted with a number of exhibitions; the permanent articles include pieces originally from Expo ’58. The number of cars, models, art pieces, and historical articles are all well preserved, and while a large crowd can limit the time you have to look, there is definitely more than enough. After being moved upwards by escalators you will eventually reach the top sphere where a 360° view of the city waits. Once you manage to get against a wall it isn’t hard to see the whole thing and get pictures of things you may not have seen from the ground. If you like to travel on a whim this is also a great spot to get an eagle-eye view of where you might visit next. When you are finished in top sphere head over to the elevator, and don’t forget to head to the gift shop (where many unique souvenirs can be found) before heading to the next stop, Mini-Europe.

Entering  Mini-Europe you will most definitely feel a change in scale from Automium, whether you have seen more of Europe or not, the miniature world is an entertaining stop. You can see all of the most famous landmarks and buildings in Europe, and even interact with a large number of the displays. All of the displays include a placard, telling you what and where you are looking at. You can find out the year the home country joined the European Union, the currency they use, and other interesting demographics. While you can pose with the monuments yourself, Steven and I like to carry around our little companion Mon Chi Chi, at his stature all of the monuments were life size, and for the first time in his life, he really felt like he fit in. Bringing along a similar toy can make Mini-Europe an experience for anyone; how will you pose them? Where in the the scene can you reach to place it? It can be tough taking a picture so you only see the monument in question, but for a realistic photo this is key. Each piece within Mini-Europe presents its own unique challenge, but those challenges definitely come with a reward. Check out the gallery below to see how we did.

Photo Galleries:
Atomium
Mini Europe
Belgium Posts:
Gnoshing in Brussels
366 Steps to Heaven in Historic Bruges
Antwerpen – The Diamond of Belgium
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe
Brussels, EU Headquarters & A Great Link to the Rest of Europe

Gnoshing in Brussels

By Mike Kerr

Steven and I have been to Belgium quite a few times. It is a great city for a stop-over and has great rail and air connections to most European countries being the capital of the European Union. Not necessarily known for its food, Belgium has a high standard for both the quality of its product, and the service to provide you with the good eats.

Some of the best food in the city can be found around Grand Place (locally called Grote Markt), whether you are looking for some famous Belgian chocolate, fresh waffles and other snacks, something more filling, or just take of your bag and grab a beer, this area has it.

On the streets on the outside of the square it is easy to find a nice patio to sit on and enjoy some pub fare, but due to the large after-work cocktail crowd it can be a bit difficult to find a table for more than 2. You can definitely stop in at the bar to chat up some locals, and enjoy a pint of one of the 140 delicious Belgian beers, which for some reason goes down so much easier than an American beer.


On your way to Brussels most famous fountains, the Peeing Boy, be sure to pass Everard ‘t Serclaes.  Touch his golden body for good luck and to have your wishes come true. You will be surprised at the crowds reaching Manneken Pis, also given its fame, it is surprisingly small.

Right across the street is a Godiva Chocolatier, walk up to the window and order some chocolate covered strawberries, or a steaming hot waffle covering in rich and creamy melted chocolate. If you have tried a “Belgian-style” waffle elsewhere in the world and not liked it, I implore you to try one from the homeland. Instead of making the waffle with a thin batter, a REAL Belgian waffle is made with a sweet dough, while they seem small with their authentic density just one could satisfy the hardiest of individuals.

No one back home would be satisfied if you came back empty handed, so Steven and I like to stop at probably the most amazing store we have come across anywhere in Europe for some gifts. What is this place? Located just outside of the Galeries Royales St. Hubert is Chocopolis, while the name might sound a little kitschy, but man oh man does this place know how to appeal to a high taste level. The staff in the store will do a great job at greeting you and offering up a sample.

You might want to ask for a familiar favourite, but I really recommend going for the chilli chocolate. I’ve never been a huge chocolate fan, but the spiciness of the chilli offset by the bittersweet dark chocolate is amazing. The heat really gives chocolate what it needs to shine, and if you think that is good, try a hot chocolate with some chilli powder instead of cinnamon. It is quite simply put, heaven in a cup. If you buy enough gift boxes, or make as many recurring visits as Steven and I have on our trips, they will even offer a 10% discount card, effective for making sure you get your full cocoa fix.

At the end of the day, when you are ready to grab a seat, head into the Galeries Royales St. Hubert. The mall has a number of high end stores that are great for window shopping, but most importantly you can grab a seat at one of the restaurants for some authentic Belgian cuisine. We chose the Taverne du Passage as the server encouraged us to dine during our stroll. With a number of chicken, beef, and seafood dishes there is something for everyone. Steven with his black pepper addiction couldn’t resist the massive steak with peppercorn sauce, and I enjoyed a chicken breast with asparagus and a buttery cream sauce so rich I could have eaten just that and passed on the chicken breast. Belgian cuisine is known for its rich sauces and buttery dishes, but after day of walking behind us we had already worked off the calories.

Whether you are in Brussels for part of a day, or longer, Grand Place and the surrounding streets are worth checking out for their great restaurants, pubs, and Belgium chocolate treats.

Belgium Posts:
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
Brussels, EU Headquarters & A Great Link to the Rest of Europe
Food Posts:
Quick Eats in Amsterdam

The Best Tomato Soup I Have EVER Experienced (and other good eats in Poland)
Pasta in Paris, Brunch in Blue – My guide to finding good eats