There's plenty to do in Brussels to keep visitors occupied. From museums and galleries to shopping in one of its many squares, the possibilities are endless.
Museums and Galleries
The Royal Museum of Art and History is the finest museum in the country, with 650,000 pieces of art and exhibitions that help visitors to learn more about the history of Belgium. The Museum of Costume and Lace is also a popular stop, since Belgium used to be known as a top producer of elegant lace in all forms, both clothing and decorative pieces. Part of the Royal Museum, the Jubelparkmuseum holds a massive collection of Asian, Greek and Roman art with everything but painting represented. For those interested in photography, Contretype is a must-see. Its extensive and unique collection of photographs has made it a world-renowned destination for photography buffs.
The Auditorium Jacques Brel frequently hosts concerts and other cultural entertainment. St. Peter's Church (Sint-Pieterskerk) is filled with 15th Century artwork and a common place for classical music performances, while the St. Franciscuskerk te Groningen (Eglise Saint-Francoise d'Assise) hosts smaller orchestral groups and has a 12th Century statue of the Virgin Mary that attracts many visitors.
Brussels boasts six opera houses, the grandest being the De Munt/La Monnaie. This opera house was fully renovated in 1986 and is now one of the most modern opera houses in Europe. The Grand Foyer upstairs, where you can enjoy an intermission drink, has not really changed. The parquetry flooring and rococo décor have been retained, but the original ceiling in the main dome has been restored.
The Brussels European Film Festival is an annual event where filmgoers can check out the latest in film from around Belgium. The Christmas Creche and Illuminations is an annual holiday celebration that is popular among families. Every December to January, a manger display and brilliant lights are strung to help mark the occasion. Another citywide celebration is the European Christmas Market which runs along the Place St. Catherine. All of Europe's different Christmas customs are represented.
On weekends there are many markets that take place throughout the city - it is hard to know which to visit first! The bird market held every Sunday is probably the best-known market and also a popular Sunday daytrip for neighbors from Holland. In Place du Grand Sablon you'll find the hippest of flea markets. Here, there's an abundance of the nicer, pricier things of life, such as paintings, antiques, objets d'art, etc.
Of course there are also a great number of wonderful shops in Brussels where you can purchase antiques, jewelry, infamous Belgian lace, the equally famous Belgian chocolates, books, crystal, and more. There are also a number of late night shops in Brussels, mostly situated in the vicinity of Grote Markt / Grand Place. They sell anything from groceries to books and tobacco.
Brussels is renowned for its chic restaurants such as Loui and its cozy little cafés in which you can enjoy anything from a simple snack to a three course dinner. With so many places to eat, you might ask yourself where to begin a "culinary trip" through Brussels?
A good place to start is with a seafood restaurant, such as Sea Grill. Brussels is well known for its fresh fish and diverse dishes featuring mussels, shrimp and many other types of seafood. A high concentration of restaurants can be found in Grote Markt / Grand Place and the surrounding area, where you'll find all sorts of international cuisine such as Greek, Chinese, Spanish and, of course, French.
Located on the Place Saint-Géry, the menu at Mappa Mundo is filled with many different selections from all over the world. La Maison du Cygne was constructed in a 17th Century building that's full of history: the country's Socialist Party was formed here in 1881. Het Warm Water used to sell warm water to locals in Old Brussels since heating water wasn't possible back then. Today it's a popular café that sells coffee and serves brunch. Pizzeria Mirante takes pizza-making very seriously, only serving pies made with the best quality ingredients. Comme Chez Soi is one of the city's best restaurants. It was awarded three Michelin stars. La Bécasse is known for an excellent selection of lambic and gueuze (Belgian beers) and tasty sandwiches.
Bleu de Toi has an aquamarine theme and an outside terrace where guests can enjoy a variety of delectable lobster dishes. For a unique dining experience try La Tour D'y Voir, a Belgian and French restaurant set inside an 18th Century chapel. You'll also find Belgian at Au Vieux Saint-Martin, where the specialty is well-seasoned meat dishes. Au Plaisir mixes it up with Italian and French offerings and is surrounded by a Japanese garden that you can view from your table. Located not far from the Zavel is Le Perroquet, a restaurant that has a relaxed lounge atmosphere. Chao Chow City has some of the best Chinese that Brussels has to offer, with a variety of dim sum options.
Le Prévôt serves a mix of Belgian and French cuisine in an elegant dining room. Fellini was named for the famous Italian director, and the interior has been designed to reflect the atmosphere of his films. Located close to the Avenue Louise and Avenue Waterloo, Le Fils de Jules serves French cuisine in a stylish interior that is ideal for couples and business lunches. La Canne en Ville takes the inspiration for its dishes from France, Italy and Belgium, while the 75 different kinds of beer at L'Ultime Atome keep people coming back. High quality Tex-Mex can be found at Pablo's.
The name Brussels is derived from the word Bruocsella meaning "of the marsh", because Brussels was originally surrounded by an extensive marshland. According to tradition, Brussels began as a Gallo-Roman settlement in the 7th Century CE. It wasn't until 977 that Brussels really began to take shape as a city. In the 12th Century the city already had 5000 residents.
During the 12th, 13th and 14th Centuries, Brussels was the main center for the manufacturing of luxurious fabrics, for exporting, finance and politics. New city walls were erected around the city to protect against enemy invasion. These walls stood until the 19th Century when they were replaced by a ring road round the city. The only remaining section of the wall still standing is the Porte de Hal.
The Grote Markt, said by many to be the most beautiful market square in Europe, is Brussels' historical center. In the 15th Century the citizens of Brussels obtained true power and the majestic town hall, with its 96m-high tower was built. Hastily destroyed by Louis XIV's army during a siege in 1695, the market place took three years to re-build. After this time, Brussels fell into the hands of a number of different rulers from various lands.
In her search for independence, Brussels was often the stage for fighting that continued until the arrival of Charles de Lorraine in 1744. In 1789 the people of Brussels followed the example of revolutionary France and took part in the Brabants' uprising against Austria. In 1790 the United Belgian States was proclaimed. There was much disunity amongst the groupings, and after a number of attacks from the Austrian side, the revolutionary French government took power. Brussels was now in the hands of the French.
In 1815 Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and after the Vienna Treaty, Brussels came under the dominion of The Netherlands. In 1830 the Belgian Revolution led to independence and Brussels was chosen as the new capital for the state of Belgium. The city began its modernization during the 19th Century. In 1865, the first European passenger railway was opened between Brussels and Mechelen. New streets were laid and road taxes were abolished. The Palace of Justice was built and the city was extended.
Brussels has survived two world wars. In the post-war years Brussels again began expanding and modernizing. In 1958, the World's Fair was held in Brussels and in the 1960s the city became the base for the EEC and NATO. More or less during the same period, many multinationals established their offices in Brussels. Up to the present day Brussels, with its one million residents, is where you run into people from all over the world. A new Europe without borders and trade restrictions between member states, the European Union, was formed in 1992.
This small land, divided into different languages, customs and governments is really not so divided. In Flanders, in the north of the country and north of Brussels, the Flemings speak Flemish, a Dutch dialect. Walloon in the south is inhabited by French-speaking people. After the First World War a small area formerly under German rule was handed over to Belgium, and German can still be heard in these parts. Flemish and French are both official languages in Brussels, so you will find everything in the city is bilingual.