Tips on travelling to Brussels from Maria L'Episcopo
How well do you know Brussels?
I only moved to Brussels last October (2012) but I've been discovering it a lot during the past 7 months since I had lots of visitors to entertain almost on a weekly base coming over from different countries, with different cultures, tastes and ages .
Why should I go there?
It's a great city with a lot to offer and many hidden spots. It's extremely attractive because of its cosmopolitan dimension. It attracts people from all over the world and as such can satisfy a different range of interests.
The culinary scene is extremely wide and accessible to every pocket. The amount of outdoor markets (from food markets to antiquities markets) is big. It will entertain architecture and art passionates due to its rich collection of Liberty buildings and the variety of exhibitions, museums, concerts, festivals, ballet and opera theatres. It hides
a lot of essai-secret cinema spots.
Finally, for those who would like to enjoy some outdoor activities, the amount of parks and green spaces is huge. You can run, hike or bike a full day from Bois de la Cambre all across the Forest des Soignes.
What time of year should I go?
The whole year is suitable depending on what you are looking for. The winter has shorter and chiller days, but you can always warm yourself up with a tasty cup of hot chocolate in one of the many chocolate boutiques around Place Sablon, have some hot fish soupe in one of the stalls in Place Saint Catherine, or have a nice walk even during a rainy day in Galerie St. Hubert. You could always opt to visit an exhibition in one of the many museums or galleries of the city. Finally, you should not miss the Christmas markets around Grand Place.
Spring and summer time are more suitable for outdoor lovers. Days are extremely long, the city blooms and you can find many restaurants where you can taste a nice meal in their quiet and peaceful backyards. Do not miss the large offer of outdoor concerts and events. Every neighbourhood is different and organise its own from May on.
Anything special I should pack?
An umbrella and a rain jacket- you never know in Brussels! If you want to feel local no matter where you go, don't forget a French and Dutch dictionary, even though English is widely spoken everywhere.
What is the first thing you do when arriving?
After you checked in the hotel, take a cab or a bus to Place Royal, walk down Rue Montagne de la Cour where you'll find on your right hand side an amazing multistorey Liberty building: it's the Musical Instrument Museum. Go through the foyer, ask the concierge the way to the top roof brasserie. He'll guide you to an old beautifully designed lift. Hop on it (it's free) and you'll discover on the top floor one of the best views of Brussels while tasting a nice meal or drink. Once you leave the building, follow the way to Place de l'Albertine and from there
walk your way down to the majestic Grand Place. You are in the heart of Brussels now.
Where is a good place to stay in Brussels?
Pantone Hotel, 1 Place Loix, 1060 Belgium.
Nice designed hotel, central location, walkable distance from downtown, a few steps from chic Avenue Luoise and from bobo Saint-Gilles bars and brasseries.
What's the best way to get around?
Walking if you need to stay around downtown. Public transport (metro, tram, buses) is efficient and reliable most of the times. Trams are usually faster than buses since they have always dedicated lanes. Taxis have decent prices. If you are into biking, Villo! offers cheap bikes that you can hire from several docking stations scattered around the whole city.
Where would you send a first-time visitor?
It depends on the visitor. If he/she is not looking for anything specific and just want to have a tour around the city I would suggest dowtown (from Place Royal to the Grande Place, with a few must stops in Galerie St.Hubert, Place Saint Catherine, Place Saint-Gery and a visit to the Magritte Museum), a visit to the European Parliament and the Atomium.
If he/she is into art, music, architecture, I would suggest a visit to the Musee d'Horta and a walk around Place Chatelaine to see some of the best examples of Art Nouveau from architect Horta and his followers. I would also suggest a visit to the Musee des Beaux Arts and check out the latest exhibition at the ING Cultural Centre.
For some good quality concerts I would recommend a look at the programme at Flagey and Bozar. For antiquities lovers, a must-do is a visit on a Sunday to Sablon and Marolles. Food and nigh-life lovers? Plenty of opportunities around Place Saint-Gery and Rue Dansaert!
Anything I should avoid?
There are some neighbourhoods that are not highly recommended for tourists, such as the area around Gare du Nord and Gare du Midi and generally the neighbourhoods on the west end side of the Charleroi Canal.
What is the best thing to do with children?
If it's spring-summer time, spend a day at the Cahteau de la Hulpe, you'll find beautiful green meadows where the children can play or around one of the many parks of Brussels.
For colder days, don't miss the Comics Museum. Le Theatre Royal du Peruchet organises puppets' shows for kids every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
Where is the best place for lunch?
Gaudron, Place Brugmann.
Where is the best place for dinner?
Belgian cuisine: Henri Ier, Avenue de Messidor 181, Uccle.
Brasserie: Les fils a Maman, Chatelaine.
Mushrooms: Cade des Spores, Saint-Gilles.
Where is the best place to have a drink?
Le Roi des belges, Place Saint Gery.
Potemkine, Porte de Hal.
What should I bring home?
Trappist beer and Pierre Marcolini chocolate.