24 hours in Brussels
Written by Kimberley Lovato Illustration by Fernando Volken Togni
Belgium gained independence in 1830. Prior to that the territory was ruled by nearly every European power including the Roman Empire, France, Austria, Hapsburgian Spain, and the Netherlands. It’s fitting, then, that the capital city of Brussels has grown from its roots as a 10th-century fortified town along the Zenne River (now bricked over) into a bilingual metropolis of over one million inhabitants, half of whom hail from elsewhere.
It’s also the home of NATO, the European Union, and nearly 2,000 international companies and organisations, reflecting the multicultural and effervescent spirit of a city.
But don’t ignore its home-grown heroes. Brussels is the cradle of Art Nouveau, and opulent structures – such as the UNESCO townhouses of Victor Horta – dot the cityscape. Chocolate-lovers can thank Brussels chocolatier Jean Neuhaus for inventing the praline: the filling-stuffed chocolates we are familiar with today. And did you know The Smurfs, Tintin, and Lucky Luke are just a few of the comic characters created by Belgian authors and cartoonists? It’s no wonder Brussels is called the capital of Europe.
Often considered the ugly step-sister of more glamorous neighbours London, Amsterdam, and Paris, Brussels is viewed as a quick stop en route to somewhere else. But those who live and work there know the city possesses an understated sophistication not perceptible from a cursory glance. A patchwork of sundry neighbourhoods, top-notch restaurants, and cutting-edge cultural venues, Brussels presents a bevy of surprises for those willing to branch out beyond the main tourist traps and uncover her hidden beauty.
Taxis are found at the airport, hotels, or train stations, but can’t be hailed on the streets.
Brussels is compact, and the various neighbourhoods, squares, and green spaces are best discovered on foot – when it’s not raining.
For the very brave, there are 180 Villo bike stations around Brussels that charge only €1.50 per day and €7 per week.
The city’s buses, trams, and underground trains are efficient and affordable: only €1.70 per journey or €12.30 for ten rides