Brussels, the capital of the Kingdom of Belgium, is also referred to as Europe's capital, as it hosts a number of principal European Union institutions and is a major center for international politics and home of numerous international organizations.
The city has a population of 1,2 million people and is officially bilingual in French and Dutch, even though French is now the main language with over 90% of the population speaking it.
English is also spoken as a second language and in some parts of Belgium close to the German border there are small communities that speak German.
Belgium is one of the six founding countries of the European Union and hosts the official seats of the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the European Council, as well as a seat of the European Parliament. Belgium is also a founding member of the Eurozone and NATO.
Apart from being a seat of the EU and a major hub of international politics, Brussels is an interesting city with plenty of medieval buildings and Gothic churches that blend well with fine museums, art galleries and beautiful parks.
Belgium is also world-renowned for its fine chocolate production and beer brewing offering a great number of beer styles.
The main attractions you should see during your visit to Brussels include:
The Grand Place
The Grand Place ( Grote Markt ) is one of the Brussels landmarks, a must-visit place, always packed with people.
The city's central square is located in the heart of the Old town and is considered one of the most beautiful and best-preserved squares in Europe, listed also in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Beautiful buildings in Baroque and Gothic style dominate the square.
The two most recognizable buildings are the Town Hall (Hotel de Ville) and the City Museum. The majestic Town Hall was built in 1402 and it resembles a cathedral. Its high tower can be seen from most corners of the city.
The square is lined with many cafes, making it a good place to sample traditional Brussels’ foods, such as moules (mussels), waffles and french fries.
Every other summer, on the weekend of August 15th, the square is filled with carpet made from flowers creating an extraordinary and stunning view of the square.
Manneken Pis, the Peeing Boy Statue
The Manneken Pis is another major attraction Brussels is famous for. The little peeing boy is a small bronze fountain statue from the 17th century that is tall just 61cm (24 inches). It is located meters away from Grand Place and attracts a lot of tourists. There are several stories ( legends ) about the peeing boy statue. One story tells of a tourist father who lost his son in the city and after receiving help from villagers to find the boy, he gifted this statue to them. According to another story the fountain is a memorial to a courageous infant who averted a conflagration by urinating on the explosives.
A third version tells that the statue is simply a drinking fountain, centrally located and that became a popular place for local people to gather around, drink water and chat. During major celebrations, events, and festivals in Brussels, the statue is being dressed in over 700 costumes.
The Atomium is the city's most surreal sight. The silver structure was built for the first post-war universal world exhibition (EXPO 58) and is designed in the form of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.
The structure measures 102m. in height and has 9 spheres representing atoms that are connected by tubes with escalators and lifts.
Some of the spheres host a permanent exhibition about the history of the building as well as
temporary exhibitions with different themes.
In the top sphere there is a restaurant that offers a beautiful panorama over Brussels and its surroundings.
Next to the Atomium is located another interesting attraction - Mini Europe
Mini-Europe is a theme park with miniatures of the most famous monuments, sites, and scenery of Europe. Some of the most famous include the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Mount Vesuvius, and of course the Grand Place.
Place Royale (Koningsplein) & Royal Palace
Place Royale is a central square in Brussels that offers some of the best views of the city.
It is surrounded by impressive neoclassical architecture buildings.
The Church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg is a catholic church completed in 1786 and is the principal building on the square and right in the center is situated the equestrian statue of Godfrey of Bouillon, the leader of the first crusade in 1096.
Several other buildings make an impression - the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Magritte Museum and Bellvue Museum.
The square is an important place for Belgium royal events such as coronations and funerals.
The Royal Palace of Brussels is the King’s administrative residence and main workplace, where he works daily and meets official guests.
However it is not used as a royal residence, as the king and his family live in the Royal Palace of Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels.
The Royal Palace is the capital's most iconic building, a must-visit place, especially in the summer when it opens doors to the public and visitors may see the palace's interior and some of the grand rooms and halls.
The construction of the Palace was completed in 1934 on the initiative of King Leopold II and features stunning neoclassical architecture.
A large green park ( Brussels park ) with ponds and fountains surrounds the palace giving it a sense of serenity and beauty.
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula ( Brussels Cathedral )
Dedicated to St. Michael and St. Gudula (the patron saints of Brussels), the Brussels Cathedral is a magnificent Gothic church standing atop Treurenberg Hill.
The main part of the church dates to the 11th century while the towers were constructed in the 13th century.
The Cathedral is the royals’ favored coronation, marriage, and state funeral spot.
Palais de Justice
Palais de Justice is another remarkable building in town and it serves its original purpose as the high courts of Brussels. It has a distinctive golden dome and many columns decorating its facade.
Next to the Palais de Justice there is an area from where a beautiful panorama of Brussels can be observed.
Mont des Arts
Mont des Arts or the Hill of Arts is located in the heart of Brussels on the elevated site between Place Royale and the Place de l'Albertine offering scenic views of the city.
It is an architectural, art and historic complex that comprises large buildings including the Royal Library of Belgium, the National Archives of Belgium, the Square – Brussels Meeting Centre, and a beautiful public garden.
Notre-Dame du Sablon
Notre-Dame du Sablon is a beautiful 15th-century Gothic Catholic church located in the historic Sablon district of Brussels. Built in the same style as the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula, the church has been a site of pilgrimage since the middle ages
Parc du Cinquantenaire
The Parc du Cinquantenaire or Jubelpark is not only a park but a national landmark in Brussels. The name means 'Park of the fiftieth anniversary' and it was built in the late 19th century during the reign of Leopold II to commemorate fifty years of Belgian independence.
The main highlight is a monumental triumphal arch. From the arch, two arms extend out giving the whole complex a U-shape. The arch houses 3 museums: the Autoworld, the Museum of Art and History, and the Military museum.
You can climb to the top of the arch for free from an entrance in the army museum to enjoy a nice view of the European Quarter and the park.
The Parc du Cinquantenaire is located near the European Quarter where are located the buildings of the European Commission and the European parliament. The nearest metro stations are "Schuman" and "Merode".
The surrounding 30-hectare green park features picturesque gardens, ponds and waterfalls.
It's a beautiful place where you can take a walk, practice some sport or just relax.
Galeries Royales St.Hubert
The Saint-Hubert Royal Galleries are glazed shopping arcades in Brussels, designed and built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer between 1846 and 1847.
They are the first covered shopping arcade in Europe preceding other famous 19th-century shopping arcades such as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan and The Passage in St Petersburg.
The Saint-Hubert Royal Galleries is split up into three magnificent halls – the King’s Gallery, the Queen’s Gallery, and the smaller Prince’s Gallery.
The gallery is lined with cafés, a wide assortment of chocolatiers, theaters and luxury stores.