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A city guide to Brussels – culture, politics, architecture and chocolate

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This French, Dutch, Spanish and English speaking capital is of huge historical significance dating back to the 10th century. The city is split into 19 districts. It is a centre for international political institutions such as the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Fall in love with this quintessential European village style capita, full of luxury chocolates, delicate lace and beer. With over 175 nationalities here, Brussels is a real cosmopolitan hub.

Philippe Maters

My Destination local expert on

Brussels

City CenterThe center of Brussels is bursting with activity, monuments and people. Here, you’ll find the famous Rue Antoine Dansaert, where the real fashionistas head for designer boutiques and Halles Aint Gery, an indoor market cum bar at night-time. Place Sainte-Catherine is all year round local hang out; a beer drinking terrace in summer and a huge ice rink in the winter - something not to miss. There is also St Michael and St. Gudula’s huge cathedral here. Many walls here are adorned with famous Brussels’ comic book heroes, such as Boulevard Anspach and Ric Hochet.

 

European DistrictThis area of Brussels is literally teeming with museums such as the Natural Science Museum and Cinquarntenaire Museum (full of worldwide arts) and parks such as Ambiorix and Marguerite. Not forgetting to mention being the capital of Europe and the seat of the European Union. Huge modern buildings have taken over this area and have become a symbol for the city and its important political position in Europe. The whole area runs on ‘European time’. Head here during the week when it is at its busiest with European officials everywhere. Across the road is Archimedes Street, head here for bars full of local beers to try. Flemish BrabantThis area to the east of the city center was created in 1995 and is a province of Flanders (an area of Brussels) which even has its own coat of arms and flag. In this area, you’ll find plenty of historic culture and modern day culture such as famous beers. The official language in this area is Dutch. It is a mainly residential area, but it is also home to Belgium’s main airport. IxellesLocated next to the historic center of Brussels is the commune of Ixelles, south of the city center. There is plenty of historic architecture here such as Abbaye de la Cambre and the Boat, which is the National Institute of Broadcasting, which are located around the Flagey Square area. It has also been the cultural center of Brussels since the 19th century as it is home to many of the arts, from theatre to music and dance. There is also a French speaking university and a Flemish speaking university, where the students help make a vibrant and relaxing atmosphere in the cafes and restaurants. Saint GillesThis small little village was once a pilgrim like area for people wanting to cure various illnesses. Named after the monk, Gille l’Ermite, explore the different quarters of this little area for a real multicultural mixture of Brussels as it welcomed over 130 nationalities on pilgrimages. Located to the south of the city center and to the west of Ixelles a daily market is held around Van Meenen Square which is well worth visiting and is frequented by locals, making it an ideal people watching spot of daily life.