Brussels: One of Europe’s great travel secrets

by William ASTON on July 30, 2009

Six hundred years ago, Brussels was just a nice place to stop and buy a waffle on the way to France. Today, it’s a city of 1.8 million, the capital of Belgium, the headquarters of NATO and the political centre of the European Union.

The city is still buzzing over the opening of its new Magritte Museum in June. With more than 250 paintings, it has the world’s largest collection of works by surrealist Rene Magritte, who famously painted a picture of a pipe and wrote on the canvas “this is not a pipe.”

Other museums such as the Ancient Art Museum, featuring Flemish and Belgian art, with its dazzling collection of masterpieces by Van der Weyden, Breughel, Bosch and Rubens. The Museum of Modern Art next door also makes for an enjoyable stroll.

Brussels has its silliness, too. Its mascot is the Manneken-Pis, a fountain statue of a little boy who lives up to his name. You’ll find him three blocks off La Grand Place, possibly wearing some clever outfit. By tradition, countries send him costumes from around the world.

The Atomium, another of Brussels’ offbeat attractions, looms on the edge of town. This gigantic, silvery iron “molecule” has escalators connecting the various “atoms,” fun space-age videos and a view from the top sphere.

If you’re hungry, order mussels in Brussels. They’re served everywhere. You get a big-enough-for-two bucket and a pile of fries. Use an empty shell to tweeze out the rest of the mussels.

Many more travel tips for Brussels can be found at

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