5 amazing places to visit in Brussels
Brussels, capital of Belgium, principal seat of the Belgian Royal Family, and capital of the European Union, is a remarkably small, easy-going, and human-sized city for all its importance. Unlike beautiful Bruges and Ghent, with their hordes of tourists, Brussels is Belgium’s main economic and educational hub, which gives the city a more workaday feel than other towns. Here, you get a proper feel for Belgian life, especially its fantastic restaurant and café culture.
Right in the heart of Brussels Old Town, the city’s main plaza (known as Grand Place) is one of the best preserved in Europe. Much of the square’s elegant character is due to the unique architecture of its elegant Gildehuizen (guild houses) with their magnificent gables, pilasters, and balustrades, ornately carved stonework, and rich gold decoration. Most were built between 1696 and 1700 in the Baroque style but with some Flemish influences. The history of the Grand Place dates back much earlier though. It was first established in the 11th century and evolved soon after, to become the political and economic centre for the city.
Dedicated to St. Michael and St. Gudula (the patron saints of Brussels) this Gothic church was first founded in 1225 but only completed in the 15th century. The facade is impressive, rising majestically above a broad flight of steps and crowned with twin 69-meter-high towers designed by Jan van Ruysbroeck. The beautifully proportioned interior (108 meters by 50 meters) is lavishly furnished and is home to some outstanding stained-glass windows created by Bernard van Orley. Head to the transepts to see the finest examples depicting Charles V and Isabella of Portugal (south transept) and the Hungarian royal pair Louis II and Mary (north transept), and then into the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, to the left of the choir, where the window illustrates the story of the Miracle of the Host.
Belgian Comic Strip Centre
This gorgeous 1906 building, designed by Victor Horta, is home to the wonderful Comic Strip Centre, devoted to the history of cartoons and comic strips in the country that gave the world The Smurfs and Tintin. A constantly rotating exhibition of 200 original comic strip drawings by Belgian and French comic artists is shown here. In addition, the museum documents the rise in popularity of Belgian and French comic strips through a cleverly curated collection of original manuscripts, draft sketches, and imaginatively reconstructed sets including Lucky Luke’s saloon and Tim, Struppi, and Captain Haddock’s moon rocket.
A favourite attraction for photo-ops, the most important building on this square is the Royal Palace (Palais Royal), which is used by the Belgian royal family as an official residence. The Belgian flag, flown from the roof, signals the sovereign’s presence, and a ceremonial Changing of the Guard takes place every day at about 2:30pm. Surrounding the palace are an ensemble of cultural buildings boasting Neoclassical facades. The Palais des Académies, home of the Royal Academy of Sciences and once the residence of the Crown Prince of Orange, and the Palais des Beaux-Arts (Paleis voor Schone Kunste) on the west side of the plaza, designed and built in the 1920s by Victor Horta, are two of the finest examples.
Belgian Royal Museum of Fine Arts
Belgium’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts (1875–81) is one of the largest and best art galleries in the world. The museum grew out of a collection first set up in 1797 and was originally housed in the former palace of Charles of Lorraine. This was transferred to the newly established Musées Royaux in 1846. The collection is divided into two parts: the Musée d’art ancien (Museum of Ancient Art) with a famous collection of Flemish and Dutch Old Masters including works by Petrus Christus (Pietà), Rogier van der Weyden (The Mourning of Christ), Dirk Bouts (Judgment of the Emperor Otto), Hans Memling, and a fine Adoration of the Magi by Gerard David; and the Musée d’art moderne (Museum of Modern Art), which has a range of mainly 19th- and 20th-century Belgian works.
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