Brussels is a city with many faces, and there are many fun ways to discover this quirky place – some impressive, some delicious. Brussels has enthusiasm for many niches – comic books, surrealist art, art nouveau architecture and top quality chocolates.
Early Morning: Sportive Cartoon Watching.
Tin Tin, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Belgium is famous for its cartoons, and in Brussels you can walk from street to street to see your favorite characters painted on the city walls. But who wants to walk through a busy city? Two young guides have convinced us to get out of bed early this morning so they can take us running around before traffic gets started. In a very easy, relaxing pace, but still enough to get a workout we run from place to place. It’s called sight-jogging, we learn. Running through Brussels is a lot like flipping through the pages of a comic book. Around practically every corner of Belgium’s capital, comic book characters spring to life on colorful murals on the exterior walls of houses and boutiques.
Brussels Cartoon Walk
Along Rue de l’etuve, a narrow street in Brussels, a sea captain hustles down a building’s fire escape, trailed by a young reporter and his dog. This is Tin Tin, Belgium’s most famous character. Tintin and his dog Snowy's lust for solving mysteries took them all over the world and beyond, including a 1950 space expedition that took place long before Neil Amstrong's moon mission. The red rocket was drawn by the creator of the cartoon long before a real one was ever developed. It now stands proud in the cartoon museum.
Paying tribute to the 700 Belgian cartoonists by showing them on walls around the city began in 1991. Titled the Comic Book Route, there were 10 murals back then. Today, there are nearly 60 murals of Belgian cartoon characters painted on building walls throughout the city. We also see the latest addition: a giant Smurf ceiling opposite the Central Station. The Smurfs made their world debut in 1958 and its inventor, the illustrator Peyo, never expected such overwhelming fondness for the blue dwarfs. The stories of the little men and one woman were translated into 25 languages and are still the symbol of Brussels today.
Cartoon walk (but you can run it too): www.brussels.be/comic-book-route
Running Tour: Brussels Sightjogging : www.brusselssightjogging.com
Noon: Food and Drinks tour by Electrical Bike
Food is something to experience in every city you travel to, but Brussels has the added advantage that you can find food from every nationality. At night, the center of Brussels is alive with people going out and we already enjoyed a sumptuous traditional Belgian dinner at aux Armes de Bruxelles and had lunch at Chez Leon.
Today, after a visit to the European Parliament and the European Quarter, it’s time for the hip restaurants with an international touch. By way of sightseeing, we bike past some beautiful art nouveau buildings, another scenic route in Brussels. Then it’s time for a beer in a real Belgian café that serves some of the hundreds of beers that Belgium is famous for. We are in the home country to some of the most historical breweries in the world and there are over 200 breweries cranking out all the classics, including lagers, Flemish red ales, sour brown ales, Trappist-style ales, abbey ales and lambics. We have ours at Chez Bernard, a lively meeting point of local residents and EU bureaucrats. Apparently, this is a favorite place for European heads of state or government after EU summits. No food is served, but you can bring your own fries from across the street, the most famous ‘fritkot’ Chez Antoine, situated at the Place Jourdan.
Then it’s on to Italian food at a long table in bookshop Piola Libri. Piola is an ancient Piedmontese word for wine bar, while libri means books, and this Italian bookstore in the EU quarter combines two popular pastimes: wine and reading. We have pasta for the occasion and sit back like the Italians do – relaxed, until our guide informs us that dessert is another bike ride away. Our international lunch ends with Scandinavian dessert in the newly opened GÅRD Brussel restaurant of the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel.
Art Nouveau Route: You can buy a mini map of the buildings at the 2 Tourism Information desks: BIP, Rue Royal 2-4 and the Tourist Information Desk at the Grand Place: visit.brussels/en
Chez Bernard: Place Jourdan 47
Piola Libri Bookshop: Rue Franklin 66-68
GÅRD Brussel Restaurant, l Rue Joseph II 32, gardtastescandinavian.com/nl/gard-brussels
Afternoon (and the next two days): Museum Tour
Brussels makes museums fun. When you think museums here, think tasting chocolate, discovering what is not a pipe, or walking under the city. Everybody seems to make their hobby or private collection into a museum here. There is a beautiful Musical Instruments Museum, an Auto World, a Train World, and the famous Fine Arts museum, which is actually four museums in one, where you can see Flemish masters and an impressive collection of Chinese pottery.
We start under the ground, because there is another Brussels here, we learn, called the Coudenberg archaeological site. These are underground roads which extend under Place Royale, Rue Royale and some of the buildings around the square and the Brussels Park. Here, we walk along medieval streets, through cellars and vaults that span 400 years, from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Dancers in historical costumes add to the atmosphere.
Inside the Coudenberg ruins
These are the ruins of a defensive castle called Coudenberg – or Cold Mountain, which dates from the 14th century, when the Dukes of Brabant gave Brussels a central political role and the castle was an important place for diplomats to come together. This until a fire in 1731 destroyed almost the entire complex – the story goes that governess Maria Elisabeth of Austria forgot to blow out her candles. Only the chapel and some cellars survived, but these also disappeared when the Koningsplein/Place Royale was built on top of the ruins in the 19th century.
Coming back up, the museum of the painter René Magritte is right around the corner. Magritte, who died in 1967 at the age of 68, was famous for surrealist paintings which made everyday objects seem magical. Among his most famous pictures are The Son of Man, depicting a bowler-hatted figure with an apple floating before his face, while other well-known images include Ceci n'est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe), depicting a pipe.
Galeries Royal St Hubert
Then it’s on to Belgium’s crown jewel centerpiece, Grand Place. The huge square is lined with imposing, gold-speckled buildings that once belonged to Brussels’ guilds. Also gorgeous, are the Galeries Royal St Hubert. These adjoined glass-roofed arcades, lined up with decorative marble pillars and arches, are the most evocative places in the city to shop.
The other place everyone must see is the Choco-story Brussels, where you learn everything about chocolate, from Mesoamerican sacred drink to modern day treat, before they let you taste the Belgian pralines yourself.
We soon understand that looking at museums in Brussels should take days, not one afternoon. For those lucky and smart enough to have planned for more time in this happy city, there is the Brussels card, which gives free entry to 41 museums, discounts to tourist attractions, guided tours, shops, restaurants, bars & clubs and an optional for unlimited travel on public transport or unlimited access to the Hop on Hop off buses. Buy the Brussels Card to visit all museums at a discount: brusselscard.be
The article was reproduced with permission from hi-europe.net.