Only a two hour train ride away is the dazzling city of Brussels, full of gastronomical and architectural treasures. The capital of Belgium is known to be small, but the three days I spent there wasn’t enough to visit everywhere I wanted to – though if you go all out on the transport, you might be more fortunate than me! Here are my top five favourite places – though they are more like a concentrated area of sights – in the historical city:
The most famous square in Belgium, the rectangular shaped Grand Place is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is unique in the fact that the square is surrounded by historical buildings starkly different from each other: most notable of them all is the Flemish Gothic City Hall taking up the South West side, with a 99 metre tall tower topped by the statue of Archangel Michael.
Opposite it is the House of the King; noted by its dark grey colour, it was the administrative building of governors but is now a small museum telling the history of Brussels, especially that of the Grand Place. It also houses a gorgeous collection of costumes for the famous Manneqen Pis statue. Next to the south-east corner is the House of the Dukes of Brabant, a row of six buildings with a uniform façade of gilded marble arches. The rest of the square is made up of unique gold houses, each different to the others.
Hills of Art
Virtually next to the Brussels Central Train station is Hills of Art, a small urban park that leads up to the Royal Palace and overlooks the lower town. The first things you will see are the equestrian statue of Albert I facing his queen, Elizabeth of Bavaria across the road. Behind Albert I is a neatly trimmed geometric grass patch lined with hedges and trees either side, leading up to a large fountain and staircase reaching up to the museum district with the Royal Palace visible from afar. Before you head up to admire the spectacular view of the lower town, you should head to the north-east corner of the park and visit the Carillon. This sun-shaped Art Deco clock mounted on the limestone building houses many small figures representing Belgian national heroes and chimes hourly.
Petit Sablon Square
A tiny green space nestled next to the busy main street leading towards Justice Palace, the Petit Sablon Square stands out immediately with its columned fence and statues.
The 48 Neo-Gothic columns surrounding the park are each topped by a statue holding a symbol representing a guild; you can easily entertain yourself by walking around and guessing which one represents what. At the high point of the park are the statues of Count Horn and Egmont, commemorating their execution in the Grand Square in 1568. With its small fountain and neat greenery, the square makes a nice rest stop between sights.
Bordering the east side of the EU district, a fair distance away from the town center, the park was built for the 50th anniversary of the independence of Belgium by Leopold II. Rectangular shaped and symmetrically laid out, this urban oasis is set atop the 2 km long Belliard Tunnel connecting Etterbeek district to downtown. The western end is home to several Congo monuments, with the east dominated by the Military Museum of Belgium and Cinquantenaire museum set either side of the Triumphal Arch of Tervuren. If anyone is a car lover, the Autoworld behind Cinquantenaire museum is not to be missed.
Galeries Saint-Hubert and Statue of Charles Buls
The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is the first covered shopping mall in Europe, built in 1847. With high glass ceilings, the two-tiered pastel beige neo-classical corridors are enhanced by the red stone columns and grey tiled floors. It now hosts many restaurants and chocolate shops as well as a bookstore and theater. Its main corridor is 200 metres long and connects to three smaller ones. Walking inside feels like you are back in the 19th century and the air oozes a kind of sophisticated atmosphere lacking in modern day malls.
Situated on a small square on the southern exit is a statue of Charles Buls accompany by his dog sat on a bench in front of a fountain. Charles Buls was the mayor of Brussels during the reign of King Leopold II in the late 19th century. The statue was created in 1999 by Henri Lenaerts, to commemorate the much loved mayor.