As the capital of Belgium and the administrative centre of the European Union, the 10th century fortress town of Brussels has earned itself the title of 'Capital of Europe'. With a mixture of French and Flemish cultures since medieval times, today's Brussels is a very cosmopolitan city, made up of many different nationalities and numbering around 1.8 million inhabitants.
The city itself is a vibrant mix of lively market squares, tree-lined boulevards, medieval streets and cosy cafes and is split into the Upper and Lower Town, surrounded by the Petit Ring road which borders the line of the city's medieval walls. The Upper Town is home to royalty and many famous institutions, whereas the Lower Town is known best for its historic quarters and, of course, the majestic Grand Place - one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.
Brussels is well-known for its excellent restaurants and bars, offering the international traveller a wealth of culinary experiences and nightlife.
The climate of Brussels is generally mild, with warm weather from late Spring to Autumn and long, pleasant Summer days. Winter months can be misty, wet and cold with little sunshine; but this only helps to emphasise the beauty of the city as the traditional streetlamps cast a diffuse glow over the historic streets.
There are plenty of things to see and do but, for those of you keen to sample the local food and drink, a visit to Brusselsjust wouldn't be complete without sampling the famous Belgian beer, chocolate and moule frites!
If you're looking for a bit of sightseeing, the Grand Place square is a good place to start. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this central market square houses the Town Hall and many other beautiful buidlings and is one of the main tourist attractions in the whole of Belgium, dating back to the 15th century. The light show in the spring and summer make the Grand Place and Town Hall look even more spectacular than they do lit by the standard golden floodlights at night.
Brussels has many historic churches and religious buildings, including St Nicholas and Notre Dame de Bon Secours. St Nicholas is the oldest church in Brussels, dating back to the 11th century but now, since its renovation in 2005, it is home to a number of shops (St Nicholas was the patron saint of merchants). The Notre Dame de Bon Secours was rebuilt in the late 1600s following its partial destruction earlier that century. A baroque masterpiece, Notre Dame de Bon Secours is a perfect example of Flemish renaissance architecture.de
There is a very famous little statue in the Lower Town's Rue de L'Etuve, called the Manneken Pis ('little man pee' in Flemish). There are different tales about this little boy, depicted urinating into the fountain; one tells how, when Brussels was under siege by foreigners in the 14th century, a little boy named Juliaanske saw the attackers lighting the fuse that was set to detonate explosives to destroy the city - and urinated on it, thereby putting out the fuse. The original statue was made of stone but the current version is bronze as the original was stolen.
The magnificent Cathedral of Saints Michel and Gudule, in the Upper Town, is situated where a church has existed since before the 11th century. The mix of styles reflects both the Cathedral's original Romanesque origins and the growing significance of Gothic architecture in the years after its construction.
Parc de Bruxelles is the largest public park in urban Brussels. With neighbouring buildings such as the Royal Palace of Brussels, the Belgian Parliament, Théâtre Royal du Parc and the US Embassy, the park enjoys much tourist attention and free parties are arranged every weekend during summer months. The closest station is the Park Metro.
The King of the Belgium's official palace, the Royal Palace of Brussels, is right in the centre of the city, although the King and his family no longer live there (having moved to the Royal Castle of Laeken in the Brussels suburbs). Situated at the southern end of the Brussels Park, the Palace was renovated in the 1900’s. The Palace is used as the King's office and consists of four buildings, including a museum with a collection of the Belgian royal dynasty.
The Notre Dame au Sablon is one of the most beautiful churches in Brussels. Featuring a huge stained glass window more than 12 metres high, this 15th century church also once housed the famous statue of Mary, which people believed had healing powers. Unfortunately, the statue was destroyed during Protestant riots.
As well as historic monuments and buildings, Brussels is also popular with tourists looking for the finer things in life. The Place du Grand Sablon is a town square located just behind the Notre Dame, famed for its fine dining, art galleries and antique shops. Often decorated for festivals and seasonal events, the square is a big draw for visitors and lends itself well to a stroll and a bit of people-watching.
The 1958 World's Fair exhibition was held at the purpose-built Atomium in Brussels. Designed by the famous Belgian engineer André Waterkeyn, the structure is 102m tall and formed of 9 steel spheres in the shape of a crystallised iron molecule - magnified 150 billion times! The weight of the Atomium is an impressive 2,400 tonnes and it houses 9 exhibition halls, with the top sphere providing a panoramic view of Brussels and Brabant.
Mini-Europe can be found at the base of the Atomium and features miniature but highly detailed reproductions of the European Union's key monuments including the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and an erupting Mount Vesuvius! A visit to Mini-Europe is a must for a trip to Brussels, particularly if you are travelling with children.
There are many other activities available in Brussels including beer and chocolate tasting (of course!), indoor skiing and snowboarding, horse riding, go-karting, indoor climbing and water parks. The sports complex Centre Sportif de la Woluwe was established in 1981 and provides facilities for a host of different activities including football, tennis and basketball.
Perhaps the most important historic and cultural festival in Brussels is the Ommegang Festival, which is held annually on the first Thursday of July and has been an important event in the Brussels calendar since 1549. Held in honour of Charles V and his son Philip, the event is spectacular and features 1,400 participants in full costume with crossbows and antique weaponry, horses anbd carts and even giants! The best place to watch this is from the Place du Grand Sablon where the procession is attended by thousands of tourists, dignitaries and members of the Belgian Royal Family.
A more modern-day cultural festival is the Zinneke Parade. Held every second summer since 2000, and with over 4,000 participants, the festival is organised by the artists, schools, musicians and inhabitants of Brussels. A colourful, loud, vibrant and surprising event with spectacular costumes, the performers are known to spend up to a year and a half in preparation. As well as a carnival celebration, the Zinneke Parade was originally organised to help combat inequality and encourage participation from people from all walks of life. Watch it from the Rue de la Caserne.
Iris Day is held in May each year to celebrate the iris flower, the symbol of Brussels city. Heralding in the Summer season, this Spring festival is celebrated with live performances, street artists, music and other entertainment. The Brussels Parliament building is also open to the public.
Brussels' history of art is well-known throughout Europe, and the Antiques and Fine Art Fair held each January (organised by the Royal Chamber of Belgian Antiques) sees thousands of visitors from all over the world flocking to the Tour & Taxis district.
At Christmas, Brussels' annual market comes to town! With a plethora of market stalls, food and drink, live entertainment and fairground attractions stretching from the Bourse stock exchange to the Marche aux Poissons (fish market) and as far as the Place Sainte Catherine, the Christmas market is really special. Children will love the ice rink and everybody will feel festive! Don't forget to visit the Place du Grand Sablon at Christmas - it is often draped in white with magical decorations to celebrate the season.
There are many other events and celebrations in Brussels throughout the year including book fairs, an international music competition and the Innova fair. Visit this beautiful town and you'll be spoilt for choice.
Eurostar runs up to ten services each day between London St Pancras International (Kings Cross station) and Brussels' Gare du Midi. With a journey time of just 50 minutes, Belgium is really just on the doorstep. You can buy train tickets online from MyTrainTicket, just see the Eurostar page.
The SNCB train service provides rail travel throughout Belgium, with trams, buses and metro tickets also available at rail and metro stations.
If you're travelling into Brussels by air, the main airport is in Zavantem, just 9 miles north east of the capital. There are transport links to and from the city centre in the form of buses (Airport Line & De Lijn), taxis and train services (Airport City Express).
The best way to see Brussels is on foot - or in a horse-drawn carriage, to really soak up the atmosphere! The Grand Place has no vehicular access so walking here really is the only way to see the city's top attraction at its best.
Football is the most popular sport in Belgium, and Brussels is the home of the King Baudouin stadium, with a capacity of 50,000.