Brussels could justly claim to be Europe’s most misunderstood capital – often outshone by Paris, London and Amsterdam, all just two hours away by train. But look beyond the cliché of this EU seat being boring and you’ll discover a singular city with a strong surrealist streak, superb shopping and a surprisingly diverse populace that counts amongst the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Indeed, first-timers are often wowed by Brussels’ cool – it may not exactly be the “new Berlin” that the New York Times proclaimed it to be back in 2015, but it is definitely buoyed by the constant influx of artists. Its famed exports – chocolate, waffles and beer – definitely merit your time, but these days the Belgian capital offers everything from natural wine bars to Michelin-starred plant-based dining. The best bit: owing to its compact size, exploring such riches on foot is a breeze.
When to go:
Weather isn’t really a factor here, with temperatures rarely rising or falling so far as to disrupt travel. The shoulder seasons of March–May and September–October offer cheaper accommodation and fewer crowds, though Brussels is also magical at Christmas.
How to get around:
If the cobblestones get tiring, the city’s public transport system, STIB-MIVB, combines buses, trams and the metro. You can purchase a 1-hour or 1-day paper ticket from metro station ticket offices and self-service machines – also aboard buses and trams – or tap in with contactless payment. If you’re lingering, consider buying a reloadable MOBIB card, or a Brussels Card, adding access to major sights. Though the city was slow to embrace ride-sharing apps, Bolt and Uber now operate, while Villo! is the official bike-sharing scheme.