Political Capital, Cartoon Crazy and Rich in Chocolate
Creamy chocolates, warm waffles, briny mussels. And of course, cartoons. The capital of the European Union offers these pleasures in addition to politics. In Le Grand Place, one of the most beautiful squares in all of Europe, you can take part in important debates, too. Like, “Which truffle is better? Godiva or Leonidas?”
This city has its share of quirky sights. Belgians love their cartoons, and you can see many on display at the Belgian Centre of the Comic Strip. You probably won’t get the jokes, but that’s almost part of the fun. The Atomium, built for a 1958 fair and recently remodeled, is really a giant atom. Have a bite in the restaurant that sits at the top. Perhaps the tourist attraction with the most folly is a little boy that can’t hold it in. The Mannekin Pis fountain is three blocks from the Grand Place, and stands not-quite-fully-dressed. What is covered of the little pisser is usually a silly costume – many of which are sent to him from fans the world over. Cases of his outfits are on display at the City Museum and are also worth the trip.
Just as Le Grand Place is the center of Brussels, the main rail stations are also at the heart of the city. This is a big advantage over airports. When you fly to your destination, forgo the cab ride and rental car – most places have frequent service to and from the airport by local commuter train.
From Brussels Airport, there are commuter trains that run every15 to 30 minutes into the city’s main stations, which include Nord, Midi/Zuid, and Central. The Midi Station is the largest hub of the three. Get a Brussels Card before leaving home so you’ll have access to the extensive local public transit network as well as entrance to museums. And Brussels has some of Europe’s unheralded best.
The Royal Museum of Fine Arts features Flemish and Belgian works that span from the 14th to 18th centuries. Showcased are masterpieces by Breughel, Bosch and Rubens. The Musical Instruments Museum is one of Europe’s best dedicated to music. With a pair of free headphones, walk through a history of Western musical instruments, as well as hear folk instruments from around the world. Just stand in front of a display, and you’ll hear the sounds through your headphones. Forget the information placards and simply listen to the music – beautiful in any language.
Belgium is a small enough country that you can cover much of its magnificent ground with a rail pass. The graceful UNESCO Heritage city of Bruges is just one hour by train. This well-preserved Gothic city is filled with fine chocolates – you might find a chocolatier on every corner.
The town of Binche, just a bit over an hour away from Brussels is known for its carnival that dates back to the 14th century. Performed the Sunday-Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, UNESCO has proclaimed it a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
If time allows, you can even travel outside the borders of Belgium and head to Paris or Amsterdam for the day. Using the Thalys train, these cities are easily reached in under 2 hours.
With a Eurail Benelux Pass – visit other highlights of the low countries. Think of the train as your fast track to frites with mayonaise and slow-moving windmills.
Contributed by: Eric, Specialty Desk Agent, loves to frequent European events on visits with family in wonderful Kassel and Dortmund.