We visited Brussels for four days in January of this year after finding incredibly cheap flights to and from Charleroi with Ryanair. The city was still decorated in the beautiful Christmas decorations, and most striking was the Grand Place. The area surrounding the main square was pedestrianised and filled with a Belgian Christmas market, selling mulled wines, furs, Christmas decorations and waffles to name a few.
Unlike most of the other places we’ve visited in Europe, we took our time in Brussels to relax. Instead of packing our itinerary to the brim, instead we walked through the opulent city centre streets and parks. We explored the Greek quarter that lay just outside of the main square and tried some freshly made giros. We tried traditional pomme frites with mayonnaise and Belgian hot chocolate, watching the people around us in the restaurant and looking outside the windows onto those rushing by on the streets.
The Grand Place (or Grote Markt) is a beautiful blend of Flemish and Gothic architecture, with the two faces of the square housing intricately decorated guildhalls, embossed in gold and topped with sculptures. The city’s Town Hall can be seen from almost anywhere else in the city and is a truly defining work of Belgian art, and opposite it stands the Breadhouse, in which is the Museum of the City of Brussels.
My favourite part of the city was undoubtedly the Palace of Justice. Access to this incredible building is free of cost, and undoubtedly worth visiting. The building’s facade looks over the entirety of the city, and stands tall above the Mont des Arts. The building still functions as a courthouse and is the largest one in the entire world. It has incredible proportions and stepping inside from the shopping streets of Brussels feels like stepping back in time. Towering columns lead your eyes upwards towards enormous whitewash stone walls, embossed with quotes from the great thinkers. The building is very reminiscent of much of those in Rome, and although the artistic style of it is described as eclectic the influence of Classical architecture is evident both in the proportions and the designs used across the building’s exterior and interior.
We used Brussels as a base to travel to both Amsterdam and Antwerp, to where we took two separate day trips. We took the train from Brussels Central Station to both locations, Amsterdam requiring three hours of rail travel and one transfer, and Antwerp requiring only 45 minutes by train. Paris, Rotterdam, several locations in Germany and Bruges are also easily accessible from Brussels. If you’re thinking of choosing a European city as a base to travel elsewhere when planning a trip, then Brussels is certainly worth researching.