You might think of Brussels and think of the following: mussels, the EU, statues of small boys taking a tinkle and long, boozy weekends that start off decorously enough then become somewhat raucous at around the 3pm mark. Well, you’d be right – and as Belgium’s capital is only a few hours away from London on the Eurostar, it’s the perfect destination for a weekend break for couples and beer-loving friends alike. Here are seven sightseeing hotspots that you should tick off your list before you return to St Pancras.
The Mannekin Pis
Sorry, we’re going to start with this innocuous-looking statue as it’s all anyone talks about when Brussels is mentioned. This famous statue is located at the junction of Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat. To find it, either follow the gawping crowds or take the left lane next to the Brussels Town Hall from the famous Grand Place, and walk a few hundred metres southwest via Rue Charles Buls/Karel Bulsstraat. This fountain-statue of a little boy cheerfully taking a leak is ridiculously small, and a perversely perfect national symbol for surreal Belgium. However, in recent years his nakedness is often hidden beneath a costume relevant to an anniversary, national day or local event.
This long-standing brasserie, with a facade dating from 1909, is a great place to see and be seen; gilded columns and curved mirrors sit easily alongside polished brasswork and smiling, well put-together waiting staff. Expect friendly service in sumptuous surroundings, and a chilled out, relaxing atmosphere; locals and tourists are equally welcome here. There are a wide range of beers and the food on offer is pretty good – the rare roast beef platter will satiate any carnivore with a rumbling tummy. Prices aren’t terrifically high – expect to pay around €3.20 for the house speciality, a half-and-half mix of still and sparkling wines.
Ranked as Brussels’ second-most popular place to visit, the Delirium Café is the place to go if you’re after an evening of pure, unadulterated fun. Located at the Impasse de la Fidelite, beer fans flock here to try the mindblowing array of beers and marvel at the beer glasses and gadgets on display. Be warned – you will feel a night of overindulgence here the following day – but if the reviews are anything to go by, it’s totally worth it. There are over 2,000 beers on offer, so don’t go in expecting to try them all – and make sure you explore this place fully, there’s an underground section too.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is the city’s main tourist attraction, and for good reason. It’s a stunning cobbled main market square, and the perfect place to sip a coffee and admire the elegant guildhouses nearby. If you’re heading to Brussels between March and October, make sure that you catch the daily flower market. There are normally open air concerts during the week, and the occasional light show in the evening. The square is where daily business is done; if you need to sit down and relax for a while, take advantage of all the cafes and bars dotted around nearby.
The Musical Instruments Museum
The Musical Instruments Museum (MIM) is one of the most beautiful art nouveau buildings in Brussels. Here’s a cheeky tip – once you’ve enjoyed the exhibition itself, head up to the rooftop terrace. The view comes free when you buy a drink! When you’re leaving the museum, keep an eye on in front of the building for a hidden terrace with a few seats. It’s a lovely place to sit and admire its architecture or just watch people passing by.
The Belgian Comic Strip Center
Open every day from 10am – 6pm, this much-loved museum is a must-see – even if you’re not that fussed on the idea of comics. An accomplished attraction located in the heart of the city, the Comics Art Museum has been honouring the creators and heroes of comics for more than 25 years. Exhibitions are reviewed regularly and even if you’re a regular visitor to Brussels, you’ll always see something new on offer. Kids will love The Peyo Exhibition; it boasts a ‘highly realistic’ 3D Smurf village, which enables children to play inside a Smurf house.
Heysel Park and the Atomium
Heysel Park, located in the west of Brussels, is dedicated to relaxation, people watching and exploration – and one of the highlights of the park is the Atomium. As you might expect, this is a shimmering 102m high model of an atom, made out of chrome and steel. Erected in 1958 to symbolise a new ‘atomic’ age, the sculpture is an accurate depiction of an iron molecule that has been magnified 165 billion times. A high-speed, glass-roofed lift takes visitors to the top in just 23 seconds, where you can stop for a beer and a snack, take in the views and then get the escalators down, stopping off at the various spheres.
Vicky Anscombe is Editor-in-Chief at Columbus Direct.