From a 10th-century fortress town to a modern metropolis, the Brussels of today is the capital of Belgium, the de facto capital of the European Union and home to 1.1 million inhabitants. And that’s not nearly all. The city, dubbed “European Village,” is way more than just chocolates and beer. It’s a center of international politics, home to many E.U. institutions and the headquarters of NATO. To boot, there’s a lot to see and do in the bilingual (Dutch and French) city of Brussels.
Brussels International Airport (BRU) is about 10 miles from city center. Brussels Airlines now serves the United States from New York (JFK) and Washington, D.C. (IAD), with direct service. Airport bus service departs every 30 minutes and costs around $7. The Airport City Express bus departs every 20 minutes for an 18-minute ride to Gare Centrale, at around $5, daily from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Train service takes 30 minutes and ranges in price from $3.50 to $6. Look for cabs with orange and white airplane stickers; they offer reduced fares. Other cabs will charge about $60 for the journey.
The Brussels metro system is operated by the Société des Transportes Intercommunaux de Bruxelles. A one-way pass is around $3.25; one-day passes cost nearly $7. Brussels is also a joy to explore by bicycle. Rentals are available citywide for $9 (per hour) and $20 (per day). If catching a cab, consider the three factors in their cost: price per kilometer (about $2.15), the fixed charge (around $3) and the waiting time charge (around $40 per hour).
The Baroque and Gothic guild houses of this beautiful square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, were built as a merchants’ market in the 13th century. The city center of today is filled with terrace cafés and a daily flower market in the warmer months. It is also a popular venue for concerts and events throughout the year. Visitors can also check out the Gothic Town Hall while here.
This famous statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain is a symbol of the Belgian sense of humor. A feature of the city since 1619, the statue can be found at the corner of Rue de L’Etuve and Stoofstraat. His wardrobe, consisting of more then 700 outfits, is on display at the Brussels Museum.
Town Houses of Architect Victor Horta
Another UNESCO World Heritage site, the four major town houses of the architect — Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel Van Eetrelde and Maison & Atelier Horta — feature open plans, curved lines and a diffusion of light. Those design elements are hallmarks of the Art Nouveau movement, of which Horta is considered the initiator. Learn more about him at the city’s Horta Museum.
EVENTS AND FESTIVALS
Stalls of wares line the streets of Brussels from Bourse Stock Exchange to Marché aux Poissons fish market and beyond to Place Sainte-Catherine. Entertainment, food and ice skating round out the annual experience.
Biannual since 1971, landscape architect E. Stautemans started the flower carpet of begonias in Grand-Place. Preparations begin a year in advance.
Started in 1549, the festival takes place on the first Thursday in July and honors Belgium’s Charles V and his son. More than 1,400 revelers wear costumes for a procession through Place du Grand Sablon.
For more information, visit visitbrussels.be
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