Brussels is an easy, three hour train ride from London on the Eurostar, with a change at Midi to hop a local train for one stop to Brussels Central Station. The city center is just a short walk from central station. There, you will find the Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is impressive, even on a gray, rainy day. It is a great place to begin your tour of Brussels, and see what remains of the city’s medieval architecture.
Here, you will also find the Galeries Royals Saint Hubert, one of the oldest covered shopping areas in Europe. When you have completed your shopping, (or, in our case, when the rain has stopped), exit the tunnel and wander the alleys off the main corridor. The restaurants here are not as tourist driven as those near the city center and you will find a wide variety of very good food.
Brussels is the capitol of the European Union, headquarters of NATO and a bustling big city. It appears divided between “strictly business” and tourism. It is also divided among its languages and although Dutch is the 1st language of the region, French is the majority language in Brussels followed by English as a close second.
The biggest, and smallest tourist attraction, after the Grand Place is Manneken Pis, translated as “peeing little man.” It is not easy to find, and you might just pass it by, except for the droves of tourist taking pictures. Originating in the mid 1400’s this little guy has seen a lot of history. Drum roll please….
Obviously he did not have a full bladder when we visited, so we missed what the fuss is about. Apparently, there is plenty of fuss, and he has quite a mysterious background and an extensive wardrobe (about 800 pieces) that he dons throughout the year. One of his costumes was gifted by Louis XV of France in 1747 and is stitched with gold thread. He also has a Santa suit.
Let’s put things into perspective:
Yep, that’s it. If it weren’t heavily guarded, you could hold the entire thing (no pun intended) in one hand. Actually, more than one culprit has done just so. This bronze image is far removed from the original. The reproduction was created in 1965, when someone decided to place the other (not original) piece in the Grand Palace for safe keeping. If you read the long history of theft and vandalism, you will wonder what took them so long.
Why, you ask is this tiny might so important to Dutch culture. That seems to be a mystery of debate. There are several versions of his importance ranging from mystical to practical. But, the one I favor is that he is a tribute to the tanners of medieval times who allowed little boys to pee on their leather to make it more pliable for them to work with.
However he came to be and why, he is a Marketing Manager’s dream with almost every shop in town capitalizing on its popularity.
Not to change the subject, but those are two of the most popular consumer goods found in Brussels – chocolate and waffles. Along with those and French fries, you cannot walk more than ten feet without encountering a chocolate shop, waffle stand, or French fry vendor; all of which are entirely fine by me.
Mont de Arts is one of the prettiest vantage points in the city and a great place to just chill. Walk toward the Palace from the city center and you will notice a series of very wide, tiered steps, surrounded by both modern and historic buildings, with a beautifully manicured garden as the centerpiece. Walk to the top and turn around for stunning views of the city (even in the rain).
Performers use the stairs as a stage to present nightly entertainment.
Doing my happy dance to ward off the rain. It didn’t work.
Continue past the Mont de Arts in route to the palace and you will stumble across the Jardin du Petit Saldon, a peaceful small garden surrounded by bronze statues. There are 48 statues in all, representing historical professions throughout the ages. The two gentlemen in the center represent the resistance of protestants against the Roman Catholic King of Spain in a clash of cultures which eventually resulted in a Dutch Republic. It is a pretty place to sit and contemplate life.
The gates of the Royal Palace are striking with their ornate gold finishes. If you want to go inside, you will have to visit Brussels between the end of July and the first week of September.
The Royal Palace, home of the Royal family of Belgium.
Largely due to in-climate weather, and because of a self-imposed one-day schedule, we have given you a cursory view of this city. There is much to see and do and we encourage visitors to take a look at some of the resources below to plan your visit. It is worthy of at least two full days exploration.
As always, you have been patiently reading/scrolling for Thursday doors, so here they are. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I loved finding them on the streets of Brussels. Thank you Norm 2.0 for providing the forum to showcase beautiful doors around the world.
Beyond the lavender door is the hotel courtyard. You can read a little of its history here and see photos of the exterior of the hotel, which was once the home of an aristocrat and birthplace of Ann of Cleves, (one of Henry VIII’s wives who wasn’t beheaded).
St. Mary Madeline Church below was originally a convent founded in the 13th Century. Notice the ornate carvings of angels on the entry door. It was near our hotel and we passed by several times, always stopping to admire these doors.
The church against a starless evening sky.
A plain, but beautiful, side entrance.
Resources for visiting Brussels:
The Man in Seat 61 (for trains)