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Brussels: The Three Capitals
Brussels is an important city for Belgium as well as the EU. It is the capital of the Flanders region, the capital of Belgium, and the administrative capital of the EU. Due to this importance, Brussels has a mix of government buildings, medieval architecture, museums, cafes, and everything in between. Hotels near the airport or in the city centre are scattered among this eclectic mix of very impressive buildings and the places important for the everyday lives of Belgian citizens. A visit to Brussels will leave you with the feeling of being in one of the most important cities in the EU, while also capturing the pace of life in Belgium.
Grand Architecture for a Grand City
This city, with its importance in regard to government, has architecture to match. The first stop on many people’s lists is the Grand Place. This plaza in Brussels Old Town is one of the most well preserved in all of Europe. Many of the beautiful Gildehuizen are still there, as is the Town Hall, or Hôtel de Ville . The Town Hall was built in 1402 and features many tapestries and murals illustrating the city’s history. Another area of the city that is just as grand is Place Royale. This square is surrounded by the Palais Royal , Royal Palace, the official home of the Belgian royal family, the Palais des Beaux-Arts , and the Royal Academy of Sciences. While not as grand as the previous two, Place du Grand Sablon is still a nice place to go and grab something to eat or drink while enjoying the architecture. One of the other most famous architectural landmarks in Brussels is Manneken Pis . No one knows exactly how and why this fountain statue of the little boy peeing was created, but there are many legends about its origin.
The Religion of the Region
Brussels has may impressive churches and religious buildings to explore, all representing the long history of religion in the city. Saint-Michel Cathedral was founded in 1225, but the Gothic church was not completed until the 15th century. It has a stunning facade as well as beautiful furniture and stained glass windows inside. Notre-Dame du Sablon is another famous church in the city and was completed in the 16th century. It has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows in the entire city. In the Koekelberg district of Brussels stands the Basilique Nationale du Sacré Coeur . This church is one of the biggest churches in the entire world as it is so tall that you can see Antwerp from the cupola. It also holds a collection of art and an exhibit on the history of the church.
The Unique Art of Brussels
Belgium and the city of Brussels has a long and eclectic history of art. There are many museums and art centres that capture that history. One such centre is the Belgian Comic Strip Center. What would the world be without The Smurfs and Tintin. Thanks to artists in Belgium we never have to find out. The centre holds exhibitions on various Belgian and French artists on a rotating basis. For fine art, there is the Belgian Royal Museum of Fine Arts. Completed in 1881, the museum has two sections: ancient art and modern art. It is known for its impressive collection of Flemish, Dutch, and Belgian works dating back to before the 18th century. If you are fans of Victor Horta, the father of Art Nouveau, or René Magritte, the famous Belgian surrealist, you are in luck. Brussels has two museums dedicated solely to these two men: Horta Museum and René Magritte House Museum. For a little outdoor art, one of the most notable sculptures in Brussels is the Atomium. This surreal sculpture, created for the 1958 World Exhibition, depicts a molecule of iron magnified 165 billion times. At the top, you can get a great view of the city and on the way down you can visit all the exhibits in each of the spheres. If you are interested in music, the Musical Instruments Museum should be on your list. Their collection includes thousands of instruments from all over the world, dating back to the 19th century.
So much Culture
Brussels is not lacking in cultural experiences. Step out of your hotel and you will see there are so many places here that are very unique to this city. If you are interested in politics and the culture of the EU, a visit to the Parlamentarium or European Parliament might be a good stop. Another spot could be Mini-Europe. This exhibit displays Europe and many of its most famous landmarks in miniature, 1/25th their original size. In the Mont des Arts, a beautiful garden area of the city, you can view many of the city’s most famous buildings: Place Royale , Place de l’Albertine , Palais de la Dynastie , and Palais de Congrès . The Parc du Cinquantenaire is another lovely park where you can view the triumphal arch as well as the Royal Art and History Museum, the Belgian Army Museum and Museum of Military History. The museum has weapons and other military artefacts dating back to the Middle Ages, as well as 80 aircraft. While not usually open to visitors, a trip to the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken are still worth it due to their enormous size and architecture. And for some famous Belgian chocolate and beer, Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert offers a variety of chocolate shops, while at Cantillon Brewery you can try a beer but also learn about its history.