Belgium is a tiny country which has packed a massive punch on the world stage over the last century or so. When you tell someone that you are going to Belgium for a holiday they’ll probably look at you with more than a little confusion. The country is often seen as flat and boring. Brussels, the capital city is labelled as bureaucratic city and a bit boring. Put those stereotypes out of your mind and discover a quirky, bizarre, random and fun city.
In the last few weeks Belgium and Brussels have been in the news for all the wrong reasons and many tourists have been dissuaded from visiting. It’s easy to understand why. But I always think the best way to react to events like this is to not let them change how you live your life, what you do or where you go. Brussels has so much to offer visitors, much more than just chocolate, chips and beer. So take a trip to Brussels and discover one of the most unique, quirky and interesting capital cities Europe has to offer.
I combined my stay in Brussels with a few days Brugge too. This time around my travelling companion was my brother Adam. We haven’t been on a holiday together in a good fifteen or sixteen years. In fact a week’s holiday was the most time we’ve managed to spend together since I moved out of home a few years ago. Getting to spend some quality time and catch up with my brother was definitely the best parts of this trip.
Quirky, strange, bizarre and weird. All very apt words for describing Brussels. Having been to Paris, Rome, Madrid, Amsterdam, Dublin, Oslo and a few more too boot I think Brussels is the most unique capital city in Europe that I’ve been too. Step away from the streets around the Grand Place and Brussels has an irreverent and at time quite eccentric vibe across the city. Even though it is home to fabulous architecture and the seat of the European Parliament and Nato’s European headquarters, Brussels doesn’t take itself too seriously. At times – like the Manneken Pis – Brussels is unapologetically cheeky!
I first went to Brussels and Bruges way, way back in 2001. A fifteen year gap and I could only just remember their windy cobbled streets. In a way it made this trip much better as I could rediscover Brussels along with Adam. He certainly loved the city from the start and so did I! Brussels has the usual mix of imposing 18th and 19th century architecture, grandiose cathedrals, palaces and museums to visit. But Brussels quirkier underbelly will keep you guessing and asking what you’ll see next.
Compared to London or Paris, Brussels might seem small, if not downright tiny but the fact you can get most places on foot makes it so much better to get to know Brussels. You don’t have to go underground, so you get to see everything between the bits and bobs you want to visit. I’ll share some of the place we visited in a quick guide to Brussels very soon.
As much as we both liked Brussels, we loved Bruges. When I first suggested to Adam we have a weeks holiday in Europe one city came top of his list, Bruges. I think there are two reasons why tourists come to Bruges. A romantic getaway to one of Europe’s best preserved medieval cities, complete with horse drawn carriages, and stunning canals. The second draw? The film In Bruges. The black comedy certainly showcases the prettiness and beauty of the city. Adam fell in love with the city on screen. In real life I think he only loved it more.
If you haven’t heard of Bruges then the film is a pretty good place to start. The city serves as almost a main character, in that it is so much of the focus and so integral to how things play out. As Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson go about their business, you’ll see everywhere from the beautiful Minnewaterpark (a great spot for lovers to walk) to the Grote Markt with the famous Belfry to old bridges and cobbled streets. Bruges really is part of the film and as they describe it several times, a fairytale town. If you’ve seen the movie, In Bruges, does Bruges disappoint? Not for a single second!
We did quite a bit of walking in both Brussels and Bruges. Mainly because they are such beautiful places to walk around and explore by foot that you really don’t want to miss any of them by hopping underground.
I’ll be sharing more about both Brussels and Bruges very soon.