Fotolia’s local guides to the cities of the world include some heavy-hitters on the global scene - Paris, London, Berlin, New York, Madrid, Seoul, Rome, Tokyo, and Cape Town - but our destination this time, while perhaps not quite as iconic is a uniquely European city.
Brussels is a twin capital – of the European Union and Belgium – so it’s no surprise that this beautiful, historic, and cultivated city, famous as the epicenter for European, as well as international politics, is a prime location for a Fotolia office.
We spoke to our Belgian team for their local tips on places to visit – not always the ones listed in the tour guides…
Fotolia: What are the ‘must-sees’ for a first-time visitor to Brussels?
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, the Grand Place located in central Brussels is often regarded as one of the most beautiful squares in the world. A vast area surrounded by magnificent buildings in gothic, Baroque and Louis XIV styles: the Town Hall, guildhalls, and the Breadhouse where, as the name suggests, bakers would come to sell their bread.
Historically, Grand Place was the central market place for buying and selling food, hence a lot of the surrounding streets are named after well-known dishes and types of food.
For a truly magical spectacle pay a visit at the beginning of August, because for four days every two years the plaza is covered with over 800,000 fresh begonias arranged in a beautiful design. The next is due to be held this year (2014).
The Manneken Pis is often thought of as the symbol of Brussels, and is an extremely well known landmark. Built in 1618-1619 it depicts a small naked boy urinating into the base of a fountain. Despite being just 24 inches tall, the boy certainly makes up in character what he lacks in size, and always attracts a large crowd.
Don’t be surprised if when you visit he is dressed in a costume – twice a week a committee chooses an outfit from designs submitted by people from around the world!
The Atomium is an incredibly unique structure, built slightly towards the outskirts of Brussels in 1958 . The best view from within the city is to be found at the Place Poelaert, home to Belgium’s Supreme Court, where, on a sunny day it reflects the suns rays making it appear gold.
The Atomium is a monumental example of design originality (CNN went so far as to dub it the world’s ‘weirdest building’). Composed of nine spheres connected by steel and aluminum tubes, you can visit the top via one of the high-speed lifts which whisk you up there and gaze out across the city. It represents an atom of iron, magnified 165 billion times, and dates from 1958, when Brussels hosted the 1958 World Fair.
Next door to the Atomium is another reference to Brussels’s status as the capital of European. Mini Europe is a fun and interesting place to visit, and despite its childlike appeal is a great place for anyone with an hour or two to spare and curious about the history and geography of Europe. As the name suggests, Mini Europe contains a condensed version of every European capital, with major landmarks depicted in miniature form.
Fo: Where can you suggest visiting for someone looking for some less touristy places?
Bru: If you’re lucky enough to be in Brussels from the 18th April to the 9th of May then definitely check out the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, situated in the Avenue Parc Royal. These magnificent glass buildings, the work of the famous 19th century architect Alphonse Balat, contain an amazing array of flora and fauna. You’re transported to another world while walking through these huge structures – a real unique experience for the senses.
The Magritte Museum displays over 200 works by surrealist artist Rene Magritte, one of Belgium’s most famous artistic figures. Located in the former Hotel Altenloh, a beautiful, neo-classical building recently renovated, the collection ranges from his early experiments in photography to his short surrealist films, as well as his most famous pieces such as ‘The Pilgrim’.
The Magritte Museum is conveniently located next to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium – also well worth a visit. Here you’ll discover a vast collection of 20,000 pieces, including those by Bruegel, Anthony van Dyck, and Robert Campin.
As mentioned previously, as home to the European Parliament Brussels is of vital importance in Europe. A visit will help you to understand the history as well as the influence it has on the daily lives of Europeans.
Admission is free and the Visitors Center caters to all 24 languages of the EU.
Brussels is also surprisingly close to other beautiful cities, such as Bruges and Antwerp (both about an hour away). Why not explore the canals in Bruges or pay a visit to the Musee Herge, dedicated to the life and works of one of Belgium’s most famous authors, Herge creator of Tin Tin.
Antwerp, meanwhile, is home to another of Belgian ‘gem’ – the Diamond Quarter. Over $16 billion worth of diamonds pass through the area’s exchanges ever year, and even if you’re not in the market for buying it’s a fascinating place to take a stroll.
And last but not least, no visit to Brussels is complete without sampling some of the city’s finest culinary delights including fries, beer, waffles and mussels! And it’s fair to say you’ll need it for all the energy you’ll be using exploring such a wonderful place!
For more treats on Brussels visit our dedicated gallery.