Arriving in Brussels mid-evening as the final stop over on my most recent European adventure, it was already dark when I emerged from the train and ventured out into the heart of the city after checking into my hotel.
My room looked out onto a dramatically lit stock exchange building in the Place de la Bourse/Beursplein and I was assured that wandering around the central area of the city would be perfectly safe.
On and off spitting rain had the cobblestones in the city glistening—adding to the misty charm of the night. I immediately embarked on my shortlist of must-eat and see items in the capital city of the European Union.
Passing chocolate shop after chocolate shop as I got my bearings, I became intensely aware over just a few blocks that all around me the streets actually smelled of rich, delicious chocolate! Chocolate fountains flowed with melted Belgian chocolate while brightly wrapped and shimmering boxes of truffles peaked out the glowing windows. Turns out that there is no other place in the world that sells more chocolate than Brussel’s international airport—somewhere at the rate of 1.6 kilograms sold per minute.
The chocolate tour continued as I made my way to see Manneken Pis—the bronze statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain. While the statue was small and somewhat of a letdown, I passed at least one chocolate shop on each block on my way—and an actual chocolate factory.
I contemplated pulling up at a small table on a narrow street for a sampling of Belgium beers but instead opted for a Brussels waffle (gaufre de Bruxelles) instead. More like the Belgian waffle we know as a breakfast food (but does not really exist in Belgium), the Brussels waffle is raised with yeast and doesn’t include the pearl sugar of the Liege waffle. As I waited for a speculoos cookie butter and whipped cream topped waffle, I sipped Belgium hot chocolate and chatted with the staff about the locally produced sweets.
Aside from the waffle, the spectacle of the Grand Place will forever be etched in my memory of favorite places. Mostly empty due to the weather and time of night, the Grand Place or Grote Markt which is the central square of Brussels, shimmered in the misty evening and reminded me of Christmas.
The city’s town hall and the Breadhouse (King’s House) building which contains the Museum of the City of Brussels are here along with various guildhalls. Unlike most city squares, there is no church in the square as the site emphasizes its mercantile (cloth and bread markets once were held on this site) and administrative functions. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage site and all the buildings are listed monuments. Not surprisingly, it is the most memorable landmark in Brussels and most visited tourist destination.
In short, Brussels was a charming end to my trip abroad. I’ll definitely return to try some beer and dine in the many well-regarded restaurants serving fresh seafood and other local delicacies.
Travel Tip: Do take the train into the city from the airport. It’s a fast and comfortable ride with just three stops and it only costs 8 euro. Beware that the ticket machine doesn’t take euro however and only accepts credit cards with a PIN. Uber is a great (and inexpensive) way to get around in the city if your destination is beyond walkable distance and/or the metro or tram can’t get you where you need to go.