Brussels is the bilingual capital that delights in contradiction. Its streets are signed in French and Dutch (to everyone’s confusion); its most iconic landmark is a tiny statue of a boy urinating (the Mannekin Pis), which symbolizes not just its people’s attitude to authority but their enduring deadpan humor; and it simultaneously boasts some of the grandest and ugliest architecture in Europe. This is the city that inspired one of the finest architects of the Art Nouveau movement, Victor Horta, as well as an endless series of "Brussels’s Ugliest Buildings" blogs. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find not contradictions but context: a rich history that stretches back long before World War II devastated much of the capital, prompting rampant postwar redevelopment.Brussels has a reputation for being "boring"—a rather tired cliché that stems from its being the main home of the European Union—but it's a vibrant, multiethnic metropolis. One-third of its population are non-Belgians, and its hip Congolese Matonge quarter and North African Marolles flea market are now as much a fixture on the city’s tourist trail as its iconic Grand’Place. And then there's the nightlife. The beer-frazzled masses will find no complaint in Brussels's myriad city-center bars, while the cafés of the St-Gilles area have become a Mecca for local hipsters. It has soul, too. This is, after all, the birthplace of artists ranging from the Surrealist René Magritte to Tintin-creator Hergé, and in recent years a number of impressive art museums have opened, with more said to be on the way. Brussels is unpredictable, but therein lies its appeal. The city’s mishmash of ideas and images can seem a little slapdash at first glance, but from it comes a sense of urgency. It's this mix of grand and quirky, old and new, rich and poor, together with some of the most beautiful buildings in Europe, that makes it perfect for just wandering. And in doing so, it’s hard not to fall in love.
Copyright © Fri Mar 24 12:00:20 EDT 2017 by Fodor's Travel, a division of Random House, LLC. All rights reserved.
Things You Can't Miss
Choose from 400 varieties of local brew at the Delirium Café, just off the Grand Place, the city’s 15th-century town square.
Arterra Picture Library/Alamy
This is a city with a chocolate store on every corner. Ask about tours and classes at Chocolatier Mary, founded in 1919.
Small, perfectly Flemish cities are a short drive from Brussels. Tour their charming cobbled streets and market squares in a day or two.
Robert Harding World Imagery/Alamy
Remember when buying a plane ticket didn't include a bunch of extra airline fees? Follow our tips on avoiding the most ridiculous charges.
Legend surrounds the 17th-century fountain — a naked boy urinating into a basin. City workers dress him in special outfits for important events.
Air travel rules vary by airline, but follow these common standards to avoid being prohibited from flying.
Stroll, or hop on a yellow city bike and tool around the 74-acre park. You’ll find several museums, including one displaying vintage cars.
When packing for your trip, don't overpack. Light travel is much more enjoyable. These travel tips help eliminate items you don't need to keep your luggage in check.
Savings on British Airways and more
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