Fancy travel guide to Brussels
There’s nothing like a fine autumn day. Maybe just a fine autumn day in a new place…
After arriving early in the morning in the beautiful royal capital of Belgium, we set up at the lovely hotel Thon Hotel Bristol Stephanie (room was huge and the bed so comfy) and started our walk to the city center. A walk that lasted more than it should because I was stopping at every corner to take pictures and admire every detail.
We were really very lucky to enjoy the nicest weather in October last year: after watching the alarming weather forecast the week before, we were welcomed with warm sunshine and clear blue sky, all combined with the soft touch of the autumn wind just to help us with the pictures (as you already know, I never adjust my travel photos that I post on the blog…I like to catch the natural beauty of a place, not to create false expectations with filters and photoshop).
And so we started our journey, with not so great reviews about his city from our friends who had already been to Brussels, but it turned out that having no expectations, was the best thing ever. Because Brussels was such a wonderful surprise and we left it after 3 days with the promise to come back some other time as well.
Modern city meets fairytale. That would be my short description about Brussels. My real description though it would be: green gardens, chic buildings decorated beautifully, art galleries, gold details and oh-so-many flowers! The scenery was complete with the unique autumn color palette of the leaves that looked even more dramatic during the golden hour.
Instead of all the touristic attractions you should see, that you will easily find with a simple Google search, I will write about my own Not-to-miss-places in Brussels!, that I will visit every time I will be in the city.
1. Brunching in style at Le Pain Quotidien
The IT place in Brussels when it comes to breakfast and brunch, Le Pain Quotidien is the perfect morning getaway. Founded by a Belgian who wanted to recreate the warm feeling from his childhood, when every Wednesday his grandmother waited him with a cup of hot chocolate and homemade bread, Le Pain Quotidien is a living memory of joyful times.
As the loaves are baking in the ovens, warm and fragrant, friends gather around the communal tables to share in the time-honoured tradition of breaking bread. The communal tables became the centerpiece of the place and they also share a lovely story with Belgian roots: the first communal table on Rue Dansaert in Brussels was built from wood salvaged from the floors of retired Belgian trains and even nowadays, the same rough wood continues to bring a rustic comfort to the place.
Their tables are witnesses of reconnections and even new friendships that start by sharing appreciation of the delicious food and good company. Music mingles with the melody of conversation, fresh-baked smells stoke the imagination, jam is passed around the table and in the middle of this…time slows. You just have to live in the moment, relax and enjoy the variety of healthy options like organic coffee, pastries, eggs, tartines, soups, salads and desserts.
2. Waffle time at Maison Dandoy
Weekends are for waffles and best friends. And what better place to enjoy a sweet sin than Maison Dandoy, the wellknown Belgian family affair. Jean-Baptiste, the great-great-great-grandfather of today’s owner was a baker. In 1829, he opened his first shop in the heart of Brussels. Thirty years later, he moved to Butter street (rue au Beurre) where he taught the job to his son Philippe. There, the Dandoy dynasty blossomed: 150 years later, butter and sugar still rule the roost under Saint Nicholas’ laughing eye. Built upon a family heritage of sweetness, Maison Dandoy it’s not just biscuits, it’s a way of life.
Famous for their Spectaculoos Speculoos, still made by the traditional way with real butter, brown sugar and handcrafted wooden moulds, Maison Dandoy awaits all the sweet lovers with a great variety of biscuits, breads, cakes and confectionery. The crunchy crispbread or speculoos is the real star of the past century because it was the only guilty pleasure during the World War II and flour stocks were rationed.
Although you can find waffles almost everywhere in Brussels, make sure to choose right and, in my opinion, the boutique is the perfect place to taste a delicious desert, made with fresh and natural ingredients and using the same old recipes. My favorite choice was definitely warm waffles with cream and homemade strawberry jam.
3. Dream with your eyes wide open in one of the many art galleries in town
I have never seen a city with so many art galleries like Brussels, all elegant and beautiful. Some of them decorated in a manner of “there is beauty in simplicity”, some of them like a wonderful chaos.
Whether you’re a curious visitor, an art lover or a discerning collector, a visit to these galleries is an aesthetic experience and the perfect way to understand the Belgian vibe. With its specialized national and international art galleries, Brussels is attracting more and more art lovers and collectors. Some even say that Brussels has become the new Berlin when it comes to contemporary art.
I was surprised to discover such interesting and fancy galleries all over the city center, so I ended up admire each and every window. All my friends know that I simply adore art and if I were to win the lottery, my eccentric dream would be to buy a famous piece of art. And, since I am dreaming with my eyes open, my billionaire whim would be to own a private gallery…but now, let’s get back to tell you about the magic of Brussels.
There was something about this city that made my soul happy and that something was…the artistic vibe. Artists give people something they didn’t know they were missing and at that moment I needed to channel my creative side and my imagination. For me, art (in any form) is a necessity…so one can only imagine why I loved Brussels so much.
Talking about Belgian art, in order to truly understand the nations psyche you must understand surrealism and no other Belgian artist put his stamp on surrealism more than René Magritte. Magritte’s work is inescapable in Belgium, and you’ll see references to his bowler hats, umbrellas, and green apples everywhere. For a full experience, you can visit the Musée Magritte Museum.
4. All roads lead to the Grand Place
The most authentic ways to experience any city is by exploring its markets, and Brussels is no exception. From antiques to clothing, food, and flowers, Brussels’ street markets have it all. Simply walk around the city and follow the pretty little streets in the city center…they will lead you to Grand Place and also to other chic markets.
Grand Place or Grote Markt is at the epicenter of the entire city and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The square is ringed by guildhalls, the Town Hall and the famed King’s House building which is home to the Museum of the City of Brussels. Despite the iconic image of the market, I enjoyed the most the fancy details: golden statues, red and green canopies, colorful flowers and chic windows. Grand Place is also a good place to have lunch and have a tasty Belgian beer under the autumn sun. A bit pricey, but definitely worth it. Here’s the heart if the city, where every day starts and ends.
5. Gotta hunt all the comic strips
Brussels loves comic strips so much that all the comic heroes are now painted on its walls and gables. Start your hunt by walking down the Brussels streets carefully. Don’t be in a hurry and raise your eyes so you won’t miss a building! You can even buy a brochure called « Brussels, the comic strip capital » that will help you find all the murals. Although I am not a comic book enthusiast, I have to admit that hunting some of the famous paintings was fun. This way, I got to explore some hidden places and also learn about the Belgian heroes that have taken possession over the city itself and became a real attraction for tourists and locals.
My favorite were Tintin – Belgium’s most famous comic strip hero, close to Manneken Pis; Ric Hochet – perfectly integrated in the street style looking almost real and Broussaille – the very first comic strip mural from July 1991.
6. Feel the vibe of the city – bookstores, fashion boutiques, street dance/shows, live music
The city has a great blend of culture, history and style. And you can experience all of that by simply stopping at the right moment and in the right place. So…just stop and admire the beauty. Stop and enter the fancy boutiques. Stop and have a break in a bookstore where you can forget the world. Stop and feel the beat of a live concert. Stop and let a stranger teach you dance techniques in the middle of a square. Just stop and live a little ore, feel a little more. Because this way you will understand that wherever you go, becomes part of you somehow. And the best way to do it is by taking all the good things from every place.
It’s up to you how you decide what to learn from every trip, but me…I am the incurable optimist, I’m always in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met. I start each day by thinking that something great is about to happen and I count by blessing each time.
Brussels has a unique elegance that you will stop to admire on each corner. But beyond the crowds and city lights, I find Brussels to be the perfect place to stop on a bench under a tree and enjoy the company of a good book. The bohemian vibe of the city will lift you up and make you relax as if you were the character of a novel.
Arina in Wonderland
PS: I have to admit that writing this post reminded me I have 2 or 3 books written by my favorite author, Eric Emmanuel Schmitt, waiting for me on the nightstand.