1. Be inspired by design
Created in 1958 for the Brussels World’s Fair, the Atomium, designed by Belgian engineer André Waterkeyn, is the only structure left standing after the event ended. The design – to represent a single unit of iron crystal magnified 165 billion times – was way ahead of its time and the artefact is a prominent symbol of Brussels. There are nine spheres that represent atoms, and they are connected by tubes with escalators and lifts inside. The surrounding park is a great place to relax and enjoy the structure.
2. Picnic in the park
Bois de la Cambre (Ave Louise, 1050 Ixelles) is an urban public park on the edge of the Sonian Forest in Brussels which is extremely popular with locals during warmer months. You’ll find residents enjoying ball games, picnics, music, sunbathing and walking around this little green oasis.
There is a boat that can take you over the lake to a gorgeous little island, Robinson’s Island. It is there we recommend popping open a bottle of Belgian bubbles and toasting with a loved one.
3. Take a Belgian beer tour
There are a number of beer tour operators which can be found all over the city and online. Most follow the general format of a visit to some of Brussels’ most vibrant and historic bars to sample a selection of beers. These are often paired with cheeses or cured meats. A local tour guide will talk you through drinking culture in the city and brewing traditions, as well as help you discover a palate of variety.
Global Enterprises Belgium offers a four-hour pub crawl with food tasting included for 65 euros (US$74).
Meeting point: Grand Place 21, 1000 Brussels
4. Step back in sound
There are a staggering 1,200 musical instruments on display at the Musical Instruments Museum (MIM) in Brussels. As part of the Royal Museums of Art and History, it hosts one of the most important collections of musical instruments in the world, including pieces such as the viola da gamba from the Court of Brussels to the 20th-century theremin.
5. Taste the world’s finest chocolate
Chocolate making is an art in Belgium and the standards are exceptionally high. In Belgium, all chocolate must meet a minimum level of 35 per cent pure cocoa; in comparison, milk chocolate in the US only needs to be 10 per cent chocolate liqueur. Belgian chocolates must also be made with 100 per cent cocoa butter – vegetable oil is forbidden. Our favourite chocolatier is Pierre Marcolini; the house creates the finest chocolates, including champagne truffles and pralines.
Stores all over Brussels including Maison Pierre Marcolini, Ave Louise 75 M
6. Watch a little boy pee
Not literally – the Manneken Pis (corner of rue du Chene and rue de l’Etuve) is actually one of Brussels’ most famous landmarks. It is a bronze statue of a naked little boy urinating into a fountain. It was put on its pedestal in 1618 and represents the rebellious spirit of the City of Brussels.
What will surprise you upon visiting is how small the statue is. During seasonal events and special occasions, it is dressed up in fabulous costumes. Its wardrobe consists of more than 900 outfits, so if you’re lucky, you may see the famous little boy sporting one of them.
7. Order a pot of Brussels’ finest mussels
Mussels are a national dish in Belgium, and Brussels has no shortage of the tasty shellfish. There are restaurants serving it all over the city, but the most famous is probably Chez Leon, not far from the Grand Place. It serves a variety of traditional Belgian plates, with the freshest mussels and most delicious sauces that come with them – our favourite is the garlic. Mussels are typically served with fries and washed down with a cold Belgian beer.
8. Frame yourself in an architectural masterpiece
This is arguably the most beautiful medieval square in Europe. The Grand Place in the centre of town features 17th-century architecture from the Baroque, Gothic and Louis XIV eras. Look out for the spectacular Town Hall perched on this wonderful cobblestone square.
The square is lined with cafes and shops which makes it a great place to sit and people-watch, or just explore. Three times a week there is a morning flower market, and seasonal festivities include Christmas fairs and summer music concerts.
9. Shop for unique souvenirs
The huge daily flea market in the Place du Jeu de Balle is the most famous in Brussels. From 6am until 2pm, go in search of hidden treasures and antiques. Naturally, there is a lot of junk to sift through in order to reach those rare and exciting finds, but that actually is half the fun of it. There are also local arts and crafts for sale, vintage clothing and food trucks for those more interested in eating.
10. Board a classic train
There is something about European rail travel that gives it a glamorous edge over the rest of the world. Train World is a railway museum in Brussels housed in a stunning, old train station. There are thousands of train-related pieces, including an original 19th-century railway bridge and the oldest preserved locomotive in Continental Europe, the 1842 Pays de Waes.
PHOTOS: BRUSSELS WALKING TOUR BY GLOBAL ENTERPRISES FACEBOOK, TRAIN WORLD FACEBOOK, LES AMIS DU VIEUX MARCHÉ FACEBOOK, THE ATOMIUM FACEBOOK, CHEZ LÉON 1893 FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, PIERRE MARCOLINI FACEBOOK, MIMBRUSSELS FACEBOOK, 123RF.COM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.