Beneath the hustle and bustle of European affairs lies the treasure one would expect in a European city with a one thousand year history. Elaborate guildhalls line the Grand Place of Brussels, the most beautiful city square in Europe. Every European architectural trend since the tenth century is represented in the city's streets. The city's museums feature paintings, sculptures, and artifacts from all over the world. Brussels maintains a style of life that is distinctly European.
As a political entity, it is relatively young, existing as an independent state only since 1830. However, as a geographic entity, it is ancient and it has occupied a prominent place throughout European history. Indeed, it is said that Belgium has provided the stage and the actors for the greatest dramas in European history.
It was here that Julius Caesar encountered “the most fierce of the Gauls.” It was here that William I of Orange launched the rebellion against Spain that would lead to the independence of the Netherlands. It was here that Louis XIV battled the Spanish and the English. It was here that Napoleon met his Waterloo. It was here that the British Empire lost a generation of her finest young men in the trenches surrounding Ypres. It was here that the American army drove back the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge, to this day the largest battle in American military history.
Markets: Brussels features over 100 open air markets, operating on various days of the week. Here is a small list of some of the best:
- Everyday in Brussels at the Place de Jeu Balle, 8am-1pm
- Every Saturday and Sunday in Brussels is an antiques market at the Grand Sablon, 7am-1pm
- Every Sunday in Anderlecht: at the Westland Shopping Center, 8am-1pm
- Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays in Stockel at Place Dumont, 9am-1:00 pm
- First Saturday of the Month in Schaerbeek at Place Daily, 7am-6pm and in Woluwe St. Pierre at Parvis St. Alix
- First Sunday of the Month in Auderghem at Pl. Pinoy, 6am-1pm, in Uccle at rue Vanderkindere 8am-6pm, and in Woluwe St. Lambert at place St. Lambert, 7am-1pm
- Third Sunday of the Month in Auderghem near the Carrefour on Bd. Souverain, 7am-1pm, and in Woluwe St. Lambert at the Woluwe Shopping Center, 9am-1pm
Galleries: A shopping specialty of Brussels is the indoor shopping galleries and arcades. Galeries Saint-Hubert (rue Arenberg) is the oldest gallery in Europe, built in 1846. Galleries Louise (off of Place Louise) is more modern.
Shopping Malls: For an American-style shopping mall, you have four options in Brussels: The Woluwe Shopping Center at the Roodebeek metro stop, the Basilique Shopping Center near the Basilica, the City Two Shopping Center near the Rogier metro, and the Stockel Square Mall at the Stokkel metro.
Shopping Areas: The high (and very pricey) society of fashion is near Place Louise on Av. Louise and Boulevard de Waterloo. Otherwise, the main shopping street is the Rue Neuve pedestrian street with department stores and specialty shops.
Belgian Specialty Stores: Some stores specialize in typical Belgian products. For Belgian chocolates try Neuhaus in the Galleries Saint Hubert or Pierre Marcolini off of the Sablon or Mary's near the Congress Column. For tapestries, there are many stores around the Grand Place. For lace, go to Bruges which is filled with lace shops! For Val St. Lambert crystal, try Art & Selection. For Belgian beer and beer glasses, there is Bières Artisanale.
Rue Royale: Several museums are found in this area, especially the Musée Royaux des Beaux Art, the Musée d'Art Ancien, and the Musée d'Art Moderne. The King's working palace is open to the public during August and early September. You can also learn about the history of Belgium and visit the remnants of the Emporer Charles V's palace at the BELvue museum.
Art Nouveau: Belgium is world renowned for its Art Nouveau architecture and one of its founders was Belgian. His home, the Victor Horta House, is a museum on rue Américain and worth a visit.
Waterloo: The Butte de Lion is an artificial knoll which commemorates Wellington's victory at Waterloo. Climbing the 226 steps offers a view of the plain where Napoleon was defeated. The Visitors Center has a museum and movie that gives background about the battle.
Cinquantenaire: A 90-acre park with the Triumphal Arch commemorating Belgian independence. Three museums are here: Royal Museum of Art and History, Autoworld, and the Military History Museum with an impressive collection of artifacts from every army that has ever been in Belgium.
Sablon: The Grand Sablon is a lovely square and center of an antique market on weekends. It's fun to browse the market or have coffee in one of the old craftsmen houses that surround the square. The Petit Sablon is an attractive park surrounded by 48 statues representing the different Medieval guilds.
Les Marolles: This area is the old working class quarter. The Palais de Justice (law courts) dominates the skyline. The Porte de Hal is the only part of the 14th century wall to remain standing.
Around the Grand Place: In the center of town is Brussels' market place with its beautiful Flemish town hall, guild halls and Maison du Roi. Near the Grand Place is the legendary Manneken Pis. This area also offers several lace and tapestry shops. There's a flower market here on Sundays.
Anderlecht: It doesn't get a lot of foreign visitors, but the sixteenth century humanist Erasmus lived here. If you want to see what a sixteenth century home looked like, learn about the enlightenment and see some rare historical artifacts from the period, visit the Erasmus House.
Bruparck: An entertainment complex with four separate facilities: MiniEurope (scaled down European cities), Oceadium (water park), the Village (Belgium of the 30's) and Kinepolis (27-theatre complex).
Lakes and Forests: The Bois de la Cambre, the largest park in Brussels, adjoins the Forêt de Soignes, a beech forest which stretches to Waterloo. The Bois is great for picnics, walks, jogging, etc. Finally, don’t forget the Park at Tervuren where you will also find the Museum of Central Africa filled with artifacts from Belgium’s colonial days in the Congo.
Laeken: The Royal Palace is the home of the royal family. Although the palace itself isn't open for visits, the Royal Greenhouse opens in May to the public. King Leopold II bought two oriental monuments from the Paris Exhibition in 1900, a Japanese Tower and Chinese Pavilion. The Atomium, built for the 1858 World Fair represents a molecule of iron crystal--335 feet high!
Using the train, tram, bus and metro, you can get to anywhere you would like in Belgium!
Public transportation in the Region of Brussels is provided by the STIB (Société de Transportation Intercommunaux de Bruxelles), and the STIB operates the metro, tram and buses. The metro is a subway, and it is clean and efficient. Metro stops are clearly marked on the map and stations are identified above ground by a white M on a blue background. Metro station names are in both French and Flemish. Although fast to use, the metro does not cover the whole city. But trams and buses do. A tram is an electrified car that runs on rails above the ground. The tram's number and final destination are shown on the front of the vehicle. Buses serve the area of Brussels that the trams and metro do not. Their number and final destination are likewise shown on the front of the vehicle.
STIB tickets to ride the metro, trams, and buses are interchangeable, meaning that one ticket will allow you to ride all three without obtaining any transfer tickets or any other special formalities. The tickets should be purchased in advance from the STIB by buying a MOBIB card. Monthly STIB passes are available and are usually the most economical form of riding the metro, trams and buses for students. Information about the current price of monthly passes and other tickets can be found on the STIB's web. In the upper right-hand corner of the web site, click EN for English. (If you are adventurous you can use it in French by clicking FR and Dutch by clicking NL.)
For traveling to other cities in Belgium, the train is the best method to use. If you are under 26 years old, you can buy a Go Pass that allows you to travel anywhere in Belgium for a flat price of €5. You can find information about destinations, timetables, other ticket options etc. by visiting the Belgian Railways website. (If you are adventurous you can use it in French by clicking FR and Dutch by clicking NL.)
In those places that are not served by the train, regional bus services will get you where you need to go. In Wallonia, the regional bus service is known as the TEC, and information about tickets, destinations, and timetables can be found only in French only. In Flanders, the service is provided by De Lijn, and information can be found in English by clicking on EN in the upper right-hand corner of their website.
Exterior of the Alma Metro Stop, where the AU Brussels Center is located
Some of the best opera performances in Europe can be found at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie, and wonderful concerts are performed at the Palai des Beaux Arts and the Royal Music Conservatory. If you want to experience a theater performance in French or Dutch, there are a wide number of theatres in Brussels. However, English language theater can also be found, particularly the Brussels Light Opera Company, the American Theater Company, and the Irish Theater Group.
Movies: Brussels has several large movie theater complexes. Films are usually shown in the original language with subtitles, but are sometimes dubbed into French. If the theater listing says "ov" or "vo", it means that the film is in the original language (origineeel versie/version original). If it says "vf", it has been dubbed into French. The largest theater is Kinepolis at Brupark. It is a 27-theatre complex with large screens, business-class seating, and an IMAX theater. Closer to downtown are the UGC theaters, one at avenue de la Toison d'Or and one at Place de Brouckère. There are also smaller theaters like the Arenberg in the Galerie de la Reine which allow you to see 10 films on the cheap. The Film Museum shows old classics. You can find which films are playing on the theaters' websites or on Cinebel which lists all movies playing in Belgium.
Nightlife: As an international capital city, Brussels boasts an international nightlife. Young people from all over the continent come to Brussels to intern at the European institutions and related organizations. Place Luxembourg (Place Lux), Schuman, and the area around the Grand Place are all places to find them. You will have the opportunity to meet people from everywhere!
Belgium is a land of festivals with each town, city and community hosting its own unique display. Some are historic like the Ommegang Procession in downtown Brussels during the Summer. Some are frivolous like the famous Carnaval (Mardi Gras) in the Spring. Some celebrate Belgium's treasures, like the Beer Festival in September. The Tourist Information Offices of Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia provide listings.
Sports: In addition to the sports center on campus, each community has its own local sports center, many with swimming pools. There are also bowling allies, pool halls, climbing walls, fencing, etc. In short, there is nearly every sport that you would expect in a major city.
Rock Concerts: Despite its small size, Belgium hosts a large number of rock concerts every year. In Brussels, they are usually held at Forest National or at the Ancienne Belgique. However, you can also find them an easy train ride away in Ghent, Oostende or Antwerp. In the warmer months, outdoor concerts and major concert festivals can be found through out the country.
- The area surrounding the Grand Place, where there is always something to do at the various festivals, restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs, and concert venues
- Place Luxembourg (Place Lux), near the European Parliament. During the day, MEPs and their staffs frequent the establishments. At night, interns rule. In between, both happily coexist.
- Geneva, Kandersteg and Strasbourg
- Schuman Circle, near the European Commission. A variety of establishments where Commission officials, journalists, lobbyists, interns, and students can all find a place to roost
- On campus. Belgian universities in general, and our campus in particular, host a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, bars, and party venues.