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Not everything is chocolate in Brussels. If during your business trip you find yourself with some free time, there are many ways to enjoy the Belgian capital. Its size makes it possible to see it within a short amount of time. With a quick walk through its central and busy streets, it’s possible to get a snapshot of the international spirit that is found in the city that’s considered the capital of Europe.
In 30 minutes
If you have half an hour to get to know Brussels, simply stop in the lovely surroundings of Grand Place (Grote Markt in Flemish). It’s one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, the geographic, historical and commercial heart of the city, and forms part of the most elegant 17th century architectural complex in all of Belgium. Among its buildings stands the Hotel de Ville which dates from 1459 and has a 96 meter-high imposing tower. Also deserving a stop is the arcade of the characteristic Maison du Rot with neoclassical design and Flemish roots. There you’ll also find the Maison des Ducs of Brabant and le Pigeon – home to the French novelist Victor Hugo during his exile in Belgium in 1852. On the left of the Town Hall is the bronze statue of Everad't Serclaes. It’s said that touching its arm brings good luck.
Another half-hour route will take you to the main points of interest of the historic city center or what’s known as the petit ring. A three-minute walk from Grand Place, Rue Charles Buls and continuing along Rue de l'Etuve you’ll find the popular Manneken Pis, also known as Petit Julien, a tiny bronze statue less than 60 centimeters high, which was created by Jerome Duqesnoy 'the Old', in 1619. On Rue des Alexiens, 10 minutes away on foot, you‘ll reach the Notre Dame du Sablon Church, one of the city's landmarks. And in another seven minutes, along the Rue de la Régence, you’ll find the Courthouse – one of the largest and most impressive buildings in Brussels. You can only visit its interior from Monday to Friday.
In two hours
In the event that your work commitments permit you up to two hours of free time, we suggest you head to the European Parliament area. It begins at the Schuman metro stop (line 1 and 5), which you can reach in 10 minutes from the Gare Centrale, near Grand Place. The stroll around the big buildings of this complex will take you only half an hour. Then you can head to Cinquentenario Park to visit Autoworld, one of the best collections of cars in the world. This building is a 20 minute walk from the business district.
Here you can stop or continue on the route towards the rear of the building, and take the metro in Merode to Parc, which in less than 10 minutes will take you to Brussels Park – the most lively in the city. The ends of the park are anchored by two important buildings. At the end closest to Place Royal is the Royal Palace, and on the opposite side is the Palace of the Nation – seat of the House of Representatives and Senate since 1830. If you still have some time left, you can check out the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula by leaving the park along the Rue des Colonies.
If it rains or you prefer to fill these two free hours with museums , you’ll enjoy a stop at the Magritte Museum and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium on the Rue de la Régence in the western part of Brussels Park.
A midday excursion
If you decide to extend your business trip in Brussels a half day more, you can follow all of the aforementioned itineraries or use this time to visit two of the city’s icons: the Atomium and Mini Europe. Both spaces are very close to one another and can be reached in about 40 minutes by train from Brussels Central Station.
Another day trip that will occupy an entire afternoon is an excursion to Bruges, one of the best preserved medieval cities in the world. Also called the Venice of the North, it’s currently the most visited destination in the country. In 2000 it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The town is small enough to see in three hours before returning to the capital. You can get there in about an hour by train, leaving from any Brussels station.
Chocolate is the star souvenir of Brussels. Hundreds of chocolatiers are spread throughout the city offering delicacies created by artisans and from well-known brands. The most exclusive chocolate shop in Brussels is Pierre Marcolini located on Place du Sablon, a 10-minute walk from Grand Place.
Brussels is also the capital of the traditional comic book. Along with dozens of specialty shops in the city, at the Comic Museum you can buy books or figurines of the heroes of the page.
If you prefer to visit the most elegant and exclusive shops in Brussels, head to Louise Avenue. Most shops are concentrated in the stretch from Metro Louise to the tree-lined part of the street.
Also, leaving Grand Place on Heuvelstraat, you’ll find the Saint-Hubert Galleries – the most beautiful and famous in Brussels. The interior includes several stores, boutique chocolate shops and also Mokafé, famous for its waffles.
In the Ixelles neighborhood you’ll find one of the most charming parks in the city: Tenbosch. This three hectare park has more than 50 cataloged species as well as sports facilities and playgrounds. The hills make a challenging course for runners.
To eat and drink
If chocolate is the Belgian sweet treat par excellence, beer is its drink equivalent. The Delirium Tremens brewery is the most well known in Brussels for its wide variety of beers. It’s not a fancy place, but it is representative as it has more than 2,000 kinds of beer, winning it a Guinness record. It’s two minutes from Grand Place and can be a good place to go before a typical mussels with fries or moules frites dinner.
A place to try this Belgian specialty is on Rue des Bouchers. There are dozens of restaurants, all with similar menus that include this star dish for a casual dinner. One of the most popular is Le Marmiton, which is mid-range in price. Another is Taverne de Passage, in the mid to high price range.
Those looking for a more exclusive venue should book a table at Le Rabassier, a Belgian and European restaurant where you can taste elaborate French and Belgian dishes.
Along similar lines, try Comme chez soi – with two Michelin stars – for a formal lunch or dinner. It’s on the Place Rouppe, mixes traditional and innovative dishes and has a large wine cellar.
And for a nightcap, one of the best areas to go is the Bourse quarter, two minutes from Grand Place. There you’ll find Celtica which also has live music. Another good area is the nearby Place de Saint Géry with smaller places like Mezzo, Café Central or more spacious ones like Les Halles de Saint Géry. The latter is the old market of Saint Géry converted into a cultural center by day and a drinks and music hotspot by night.
During your trip to Brussels – if your work schedule permits – this guide will help you discover the best of the city and its environs. Bienvenue à Bruxelles!
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