Who could conjure up Brussels better than a surrealist? Jean Cocteau considered its Grand-Place to be the “most splendid stage in the world”. What a nice promise! Victor Hugo said of its majestic town hall, as proud as the St Michael slaying a dragon which adorns its spire, that it was a “poet’s magnificent fantasy fallen from the mind of an architect”; proof that the city also knows how to charm romantics.
Many fantasies fell from the minds of the architects of Brussels. If painful “Brusselisation” has done its work and destroyed major buildings, the city is still happily packed with architectural gems. Thanks in particular to Victor Horta and Paul Hankar, Brussels saw the plant-like curls of Art Nouveau flourish over its façades, which then spread all over Europe. The districts of Ixelles, Saint Gilles and Schaerbeek are the finest examples of this major trend. There was also a good measure of exaggeration in the minds of certain engineers, encouraged among others by Leopold II, the Builder King. As witness by the Cinquantenaire with its triumphal arch, its park and its buildings built to celebrate the jubilee of a young nation born in 1830. For a different era with different obsessions, the Atomium was constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. It has become the steel symbol of the city symbolises faith in science and the future. In its shadow you’ll find a miniature version of it alongside a tiny Eiffel Tower in Mini-Europe, a park which reminds you that Brussels, though unique, is also the capital of the European Union. Though alterations are in full swing, the Parliament district is not, however, forgetting its roots and houses a magnificent Museum of Natural History.
The land of fashion, Brussels has seen the birth of great designers who can be found in the fashionable Rue Dansaert and its surrounds, as well as around Châtelain. But the city also welcomes big international and popular brands along Rue Neuve or at the Woluwé Shopping Center. Brussels might thus be summarised: chic but not snobbish, with wonders to be found under a veneer of modesty, and self-deprecation in a bag of chips. “Whilst Paris makes you Parisian and London a Londoner, Brussels does not make you a local but will allow you to be yourself. Its inhabitants cultivate a warmth which is lacking in the climate”, wrote Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt with accuracy. He must have been thinking of the welcome in the traditional taverns – the estaminets – around a gueuze beer, the fervor of the Marolles flea market, creative chefs’ restaurants, the “frenzied” matches at the King Baudouin Stadium or at Anderlecht and the numerous events which liven up the Brussels annual calendar. Whilst the city glistens under its regular December snowflakes thanks to its Christmas market, in summertime it is the Ommegang, a costumed procession, which colours the capital. Brussels is a land of concerts and also welcomes numerous festivals of renown, from Couleur Café to the Brussels Jazz Marathon. It also offers a suitable range of Nuits Blanches night-time events as well as an ode to its preferred drink during Brussels Beer Weekend. Whether Hemingway liked it or not, Brussels is undoubtedly a perennial party
With an oceanic and temperate climate, Brussels is a great city to visit all year around, especially from May to October when the temperatures are superior to 15°C and can reach 22-23°C during the summer. However, from January to March the temperatures are cold, and can drop to 2-3°C.
The average number of rainy days is high in Brussels compared for example to Paris. Rainfalls are generally at their highest from November to January, and don’t be surprised if it snows in Brussels during the Christmas period.
Brussels Jazz Festival, 13 - 23 January 2016
Brussels Book Fair, Foire du Livre, 18 - 22 February 2016
Eurantica, Brussels Fine Art and Antique Fair, 5 - 13 March 2016
Brussels Design Market, largest vintage market in Europe, 23 - 24 April 2016
Brussels Jazz Marathon Weekend, 22 - 24 May
Couleur Café, world music concerts, late June/early July
Ommegang Royal Pageant, medieval festival, early July
Brussels Bad - Bruxelles Les Bains, urban beach atmosphere, July and August
Belgian Beer Weekend, early September
Brussels Marathon and Semi Marathon, 4 October 2016
Innova, world exhibition on inventions, 17 - 19 November 2016
Grand Place Christmas market and New Year's Eve Party, December
Transportation is very convenient and easy to organise in Brussels. Expect a wide range of methods of transportation, including: local cabs, private car services, rental car, metro, trains, trams, buses and bikes.
Operated by STIB/MIVB, inner-city transport uses the same ticketing system, so you can use the same ticket for bus, metro or tram, or a combination of all methods of transportation. A single ticket entitles the traveller to take any inner-city transport for 1 hour and will cost 2,10€ or 14€ for 10 tickets. Unlimited one-day passes cost €6. Tickets can be purchased at metro stations, STIB/MIVB kiosks, and directly on buses and trams.
Brussels’s metro offers 4 lines, plus 2 tram lines, serving around 110 stations that cover Brussels city center. Metros run every 3 minutes at peak hours and every 10 minutes after 8pm, and operates from 6am to 12am, 7 days a week.
Keep in mind that when driving in Brussels, you must drive on the right side of the road.
Licensed taxis in Brussels are usually black and have a “taxi” sign at the top. Taxis can be hailed on the street, found at taxi ranks or booked in advance through one of the several Brussels taxi companies.
The initial charge is 2.40€ and then add 1.35€ for each kilometer within the 19 cummunes of Brussels and 2.70€ per km outside. Some additional charges may apply. Credit cards can be accepted and an additional charge fee may apply.
Brussels Airport is located 15 kilometers from the city center. Expect a 30 minutes journey and a fare of 45€ (depending upon traffic and the time of day). Metered taxis are available and private transfers can be arranged at the airports.
Another convenient option is the Aiport City Express trains which run every 15 minutes in both directions, betwwen the airport and the main train stations such as Brussels-Nord, Central and Midi. Expect a 17 minutes journey to central Brussels. The standard ticket price for travel between the airport and the Brussels Zone is €8.50 per journey, which includes the Diabolo fee.