- Cityscape Mediaeval meets modernist
- City life Franco-Flemish heart of Europe
As the de facto capital of Europe, Brussels has a lot to live up to, but it steps into the role of Euro-culture melting pot with architectural, gastronomic and cosmopolitan élan.
For all the ‘heart of the EU’ brouhaha, the capital of Flanders, Belgium, and Europe is surprisingly small. Home to a relatively teeny 1.3 million people – less than half of them Belgian – it’s nevertheless a thriving metropolis, where French and Flemish culture meet, greet, and try to sit down to a long lunch together without arguing. Despite the bilingual identity crisis (trilingual if you count the ubiquitous English-speakers), Brussels rewards the wanderer – there’s something interesting down every winding alley or cul-de-sac, and the magnificent (and magnificently busy) mediaeval Grand Place is as impressive as any town square in Prague, Warsaw or Siena. Wide boulevards link landmark to landmark with a Parisian swagger, and, as with Berlin, you need to deviate from the tourist trail to get to know Brussels on its own cosmopolitan terms.
Do go/Don’t go
Brussels’ climate is mild and maritime, meaning that while the summers are warm and the winters are gentle, rain can come tumbling down at any time. It’s hardly monsoon weather, though, and the city can make a rewarding visit at any time of year.
Planes Brussels Airport carries flights from a wide variety of airports in the UK and US, and is 25 minutes by train from the city centre. Charleroi (where a lot of budget carriers (such as Ryanair) touch down, is south of the city centre, about an hour’s coach ride away from Brussels Midi station. Antwerp’s airport can be handy too.
Trains Eurostar services link Brussels Midi station to London, Paris and Lille. Tickets to Brussels include travel to any other Belgian station. You can also hop on high-speed intercity services to Amsterdam, Cologne and Frankfurt.
Automobiles The Fast and the Furious wasn’t filmed in Brussels, but it could have been – ‘Belgian road sense’ is on a par with ‘Zimbabwean political transparency’. Traffic laws are lax and confusing, pedestrian crossings are primarily street art, and – in any case – the city’s compact and navigable by foot and public transport. You can, however, rent cars at the airport from companies such as Avis (www.avis.com).
- Taxis You can flag down taxis in the street – if you can find them – and ranks are rare too. Book a cab at your hotel, or try Taxi Verts on +32 (0)2 349 4949; it also runs a limo service.