Located in the heart of Europe, Brussels is an uncomplicated place to conduct business. Everyone speaks English, it’s easy to navigate, and there’s an abundance of artistic options for meeting with clients.
Belgium’s capital boasts a population of 1 million, but more than 60 million Europeans live within 186 miles of Brussels — less than two hours by high-speed train. One of 19 municipal communes, Bruxelles-Ville (the City of Brussels, population 150,000) is full of contrasts and contradictions: historic and contemporary, French and Flemish, fine art and comics, chocolate and beer. Somehow this charming city maintains its freshness, melding the old with the new, quickly gaining a reputation as one of Europe’s must-see destinations.
As the headquarters for NATO and the seat of the European Union, Brussels attracts dozens of multinational companies from all over the world such as Toyota, Bridgestone and Levi Strauss & Co., which all have offices in the city. It is also home to 50-plus intergovernmental agencies and more journalists and diplomats than Washington, D.C. The population is equally diverse, with one in three residents possessing foreign nationality.
The compact city is easily navigable via public transportation or by foot. Fly into Brussels International Airport (BRU), and the Airport Line (Bus 12) will take you to the city center in 20 minutes. The eight-mile trip by taxi will set you back about $60; but the STIB, the public transport system consisting of the metro, buses and trams, is an extensive, convenient and affordable alternative. All operate under the same ticketing system, making it convenient to make transfers with the same ticket. Purchase your ticket from a GO vending machine. Day passes cost $6; a single ride is $2.40.
When riding the metro, look around for an introduction to the city’s art de vivre, a network of the country’s largest art gallery with more than 60 works of art decking the platforms and corridors of the stations. Famous artists include Delvaux, Folon and Hergé.
While the European institutions are mostly in the east around Rond-Pont Schuman and Place de Luxembourg, the financial district and the Belgian parliament are located in the old city center.
Business deals are sealed during power lunches at restaurants or cafés often open only for lunch on weekdays. Nearly 20,000 hotel rooms are available city-wide, and most properties offer on-site expansive dining, many with private meeting rooms.
Five-star restaurants are as prevalent as waffle stands in Brussels. With more than 1,500 eateries, your choices range from casual sidewalk cafés to Michelin-starred restaurants.
A maze of six narrow alleys brings you into the heart of the historic city, the Grand-Place, a centuries-old square and UNESCO World Heritage site. Gaze on the impressive Baroque guild halls and the Gothic intricacy of the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall).
Ensconced in the enticing scents of chocolate, waffles and frites, you and a client can dine alfresco or sip a Belgian beer at one of the many terrace cafés, including the always popular and casual Le Trappiste.
In the Grand-Place area, lunch at a Brussels institution, Aux Armes de Bruxelles. Tight schedule? Order un complet and minutes later dive into a pan of steamed mussels and fries and a beer. Other nearby classics are the Taverne du Passage and La Roue d’Or.
A few steps away on Place de Brouckère, find the mythical 5-star Hotel Metropole with its sumptuous French Renaissance décor. The hotel offers an early-morning meeting option, Le Jardin Indien, serving fresh fruits, cereals and yogurts along with a steaming breakfast buffet. Impress your clients with lunch at the hotel’s L’Alban Chambon, an award-winning French cuisine classic.
One block from the world’s most beautiful square and close to the financial district is the exclusive Hotel Amigo. Built in the 1950s on the site of a 16th-century prison, the Rocco Forte hotel’s lobby is laid with the granite stones once adorning the Grand-Place. On the ground floor, the first-class Bocconi Ristorante serves delicious Italian fare.
Surround yourself with mahogany, oak and regal décor at the Royal Windsor Hotel Grand Place. Enjoy an American-style breakfast at Salon Grand Place with its dramatic stained glass ceiling guarded by wrought iron gates. For a touch of England, invite your client for an intimate high tea in Chutney’s Restaurant.
Dine in an Art Nouveau building with a panoramic view of the city from the rooftop restaurant at the Musical Instrument Museum. A short stroll from the bustle of the Grand-Place, this Grand-Sablon area also offers dozens of petite bistros and antiques shops.
The rich opera world comes alive at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, but you don’t have to go to a production to experience theater. Behind the theater, a 15th-century Dominican convent and former home to famous neoclassicist painter Jacques-Louis David is now The Dominican, a magnificent hotel. The lounge bar is a perfect nightcap stop for theater-goers and business travelers.
Venture beyond the Grand-Place for two classic Italian restaurants in the heart of Brussels’ European quarter. Taste southern Italy at Dal Padrino or Barbanera, located inside a charming, century-old house, or outside on the terrace on the corner of Rue Archimède, and be sure to sample mouth-watering scampi or filetto.
Brussels’ laissez-faire attitude is also in its street art, not in graffiti form but with artists using the city as their canvas and creating remarkable art in unusual places, hidden corners, dark alleys, sidewalks, metro stations and, of course, framed on a building’s façade. The Comic Strip Walk, spread throughout the city, features more than 40 houses decorated with the greatest cartoon characters, including Tintin and Lucky Luke.
If time allows, enjoy the city’s thriving art scene by visiting one of its 80-plus galleries and museums, including the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, the Magritte Museum, the Musical Instrument Museum, Musée Hergé and the Belgian Center for Comic Strip Art, celebrating the city’s status as the world’s comic strip capital.
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