It wouldn’t be entirely misleading to describe Brussels as the unofficial capital of Europe. This Belgian metropolis is the de facto capital of the European Union, and a center for international commerce and politics. But don’t think this city is all work and no play – Brussels revels in contradictory beauty. Located at the confluence of Flemish and Walloon cultures, the city is officially multilingual in French and Dutch, though English is widely spoken. With artistry ranging from gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture to surrealist galleries, to a distinctive (and massively popular) array of comic strips, every visitor can appreciate the local style. And unlike other major cities whose attractions have been encapsulated for tourists, Brussels features many pockets of unexplored beauty, just waiting for visitors to discover.
Location: From Riverside Fortress to World City
First incorporated as a small fortress town in the 10th century, modern Brussels has developed into a colossal player on the world stage. The city has a population of about 1.2 million, a number that grows to over 3 million when accounting for the surrounding metropolitan area. Brussels is easily accessible via the European rail networks, with frequent high-speed arrivals from London, Paris, and Amsterdam – as well as through airports in the city itself and nearby Charleroi. Thanks to the city’s port on the river Scheldt, even ferries are available for those so inclined.
Business: An International Destination
Brussels is not only the capital of the European Union, but also the seat of its Council of Ministers and a meeting place for the European Parliament. A large, service-based infrastructure supports the international delegates, and the city is of course home to plenty of foreign embassies. Its international flair makes it a wildly popular location for international firms, and one of the largest convention centers in the world. But Brussels is renowned for craftsmanship as well, exporting luxury chocolates and Belgian-style ales across the globe.
Culture: A Distinguished, yet Quirky, History
Situating medieval and Renaissance masterpieces, like the guildhalls on the Grand Place (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), alongside post-modern EU institutions, Brussels showcases diverse and enigmatic architecture. The city has some very distinctive monuments as well, from the famous Manneken Pis to the Atomium (constructed for the 1958 World’s Fair, and named Europe’s “most bizarre building” by CNN). Don’t miss the Belgian Comic Strip Center – track the history and impact of this integral part of Belgian culture.
Activities: Fine Food and Fine Art
A sampling of the local flavors should not be skipped – visit some of the city’s oldest cafés on a beer-tasting tour, or browse amongst the rows of top-tier chocolate shops. Art lovers will find plenty of galleries and museums – like the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium or the Museum of Modern Art – displaying classic and contemporary pieces from Belgium and beyond. Try the BELvue Museum for a look at the nation’s history, or set out of one of the many walking (or biking) tours of Brussels itself.