Brussels is one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities. With a wealth of world-class museums and a number of quirky sightseeing attractions, there’s plenty to keep visitors busy for a few days.
The city’s historic Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a variety of Gothic and Baroque buildings. The Grand Place is a must-visit and is easily reached by public transport, as are many of the city’s major sights.
The Grand Place
The Grand Place or Grote Markt is the historic and geogrfico heart of Brussels and is often described as one of the most beautiful squares in the world. It is surrounded by a harmonious ensemble of Baroque guild halls and two larger edifices, the City Hall and the Maison du Roi or King’s House.
The square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it remains a major part of the city’s social, political and commercial life. It is a great starting point for walking tours and receives tens of thousands of tourists every year.
The central edifice of the square is the Town Hall, built between 1401 and 1455 and transformed into the seat of municipal power. It is embellished by a bell tower. Surrounding the Town Hall are a series of opulent Baroque merchant houses with golden decorations.
The Flea Market
The Flea Market at Place du Jeu de Balle is one of Brussels’ most popular attractions and has become a staple of the city’s culture. Every day, over 300 stalls line the square selling an unimaginably eclectic selection of wares.
The stuff here ranges from bric-a-brac to plain junk and, if you’re looking for real treasures, it’s probably best to arrive early. You can find a wide variety of antiques, furniture, clothing, jewellery, interior decor and art here.
It’s a bit of a mess; the stalls don’t really fit into an organized pattern, so there’s often an element of randomness to shopping here. But it’s still an incredible experience to browse through all the jumbled up stuff.
The Place du Jeu de Balle
The Place du Jeu de Balle, or Vossenplein in French, was originally a square where pelote players (the predecessor of tennis) competed in the 19th century. In 1873, Brussels’ municipal council decided to move the market here, a decision that was viewed as having a negative impact on the city’s new central boulevards.
The flea market on the square is likely one of the oldest in the world and you can find all kinds of trinkets, old photographs, second-hand clothing, and bric-a-brac at the market. The square also hosts a number of cosy eateries and typical Brussels cafes.
The Galia Hotel is located directly on the square and features 33 rooms ranging from small to large. Some are barely big enough for queen-sized beds, while others have traditional Belgian split-level suites. The hotel is currently in the midst of a gradual renovation and features fun details inspired by Brussels’ favorite art form, “les bandes desinees” (comic strips).
The European Parliament
The European Parliament is one of the three central EU institutions, along with the Commission and Council of Ministers. The European Parliament is made up of 705 Members elected by direct universal suffrage for five years.
Each month, Members gather in Strasbourg for four days to vote and debate in a series of meetings called plenary sessions. Visitors are invited to sit in on these and to learn about this representative body during an informative talk lasting around 60 minutes.
In addition to Strasbourg, Parliament also works in Brussels. The main legislative work is done there, but preparatory work and committee and political group meetings are held in Strasbourg.
The Parliament has 27 buildings in its three places of work – Strasbourg (its official seat), Brussels and Luxembourg. The majority of its staff, however, are based in Luxembourg, which has traditionally hosted plenary sessions.