After checking out the Grand Place, what else is there to see in Brussels? Quite a lot, in this interesting city. To start with, the things we experienced in our time there: the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries, chocolates (but of course), waffles (can’t be missed!), beer, the Manneken Pis, and our absolute favorite, the Atomium.
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
We passed this church everyday, on our walk between the hotel and the city center. We never got the chance to enter, but we did take a few minutes to admire it from outside, both from the front and the side, in daytime and at night. The Gothic cathedral is imposing from the front and reminiscent of Notre Dame, which I’ll tackle later on when we get to France.
Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries
These galleries are indoor, glass-roofed shopping arcades in the center of town, a couple streets off the Grand-Place. This is basically a very upscale, luxury shopping mall. Window shopping was never so pleasant! The glass ceiling, which lets in natural light and gives the galleries an outdoor feel, protects shoppers from the elements.
Belgian food and drink
Three essentially Belgian consumables: waffles, chocolates, and beer. We had a wonderful time dining in Brussels. We tried the Belgian waffles in their typical form (i.e. as a sweet, with chocolate and Nutella drizzled over it), and, awesomely, with Eggs Benedict at the wonderful brunch spot Peck 47. For chocolates, we browsed many stores around the Grand Place, though my favorite was, oddly, the Leonidas branch at the Brussels-Midi station. Get chocolate by the pound or buy them pre-packaged; all of them are delicious! The nougat at Leonidas is also exquisite, if nougat is your thing.
As for beer — we tried many all over Belgium. I found myself particularly partial to the Belgian beers because of the low IBU (International Bitterness Units). I am, unfortunately, not a huge fan of hops. David, who loves hops and bitter beers, was not as happy in Belgium, but lucky for him, we live in the Pacific Northwest… plenty of hops and microbrews!
This famous bronze fountain of a peeing boy is said to be the symbol of Brussels and of Belgium. The statue has a lot of cultural significance — the fountain used to be an essential part of Brussels’ water system, and is now “an image and symbol of the Brussels folklore, the joy of the inhabitants and their capacity of self-mockery,” according to the official City of Brussels website. This little statue has hundreds of costumes and is regularly dressed. It’s also a tradition for visiting dignitaries to donate costumes for it.
To be honest, we were slightly underwhelmed by Manneken Pis. It was a bit hard to find, being a fountain on an otherwise unremarkable street. It’s also quite small — only 61cm (about 24 inches) tall. There’s always a crowd around Manneken Pis, which does not help matters as you have to squeeze in to the front to see it. While I appreciate the symbolism, I truly wish Brussels had gone instead with the…
This structure was built for the 1958 World’s Fair held in Brussels (aside: why don’t we have World’s Fairs anymore? Some of the coolest stuff we visit in various cities were built for World’s Fairs, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Space Needle in Seattle). Made up of nine spheres connected by stainless steel links (which are, inside, escalators), the Atomium is a massive representation of an iron atom.
The amazing thing about the Atomium is that the whole thing is actually a building. Five of the spheres are accessible and one houses a restaurant. Some of the spheres are dedicated to a permanent exhibit on the Expo 58, while other spheres house temporary exhibits. The one we saw while we were there was called Orange Dreams, and it was about plastic design and art.
The Atomium is a photographer’s delight, and even such novices as David and I had a wonderful time. The different angles, the play on light, Arik Levy’s Rockgrowth sculpture superimposing it… The wealth of photos here were already carefully selected from the vast amount that we took!
We were so enamored with the structure that we came back in the evening to see what it looked like. Our photos don’t do it justice — clever Belgians illuminate the spheres and the base in such a way that it looks even more futuristic and otherworldly. Where the Manneken Pis is a testament to Belgium’s history and irreverent humor, the Atomium seems to embody their drive and forward motion.
There is, of course, a lot more to Brussels than these. The city is full of personality and charm. I hope these items I’ve enumerated can give you a glimpse of what is essentially Brussels, from past to future.