Bonding with beefy Belgian boys in Brussels
Brussels is one of those cities that we hear a lot about – it’s always in the news, with correspondents reporting the latest developments from the front-line of European politics.
But it may not be a city that you automatically think of when planning a city mini-break. Why would you spend a weekend in Brussels? Actually, the question should really be – why wouldn’t you?
Get your diaries out, here’s a quick round-up of some of the highlights that you might want to include in your Brussels mini-break itinerary.
Established in 1994, Chez Maman has become the benchmark cabaret cafe for the city. Every weekend, Maman and her team put on a proper show.
A former cinema that was converted into a nightclub in 1981, the Mirano has a has a special place in the heart of the nightlife of Brussels. For nearly 40 years, the Mirano has played a central role in kick-starting the music,
fashion and club trends that have emerged from Belgium. Closed for renovations for over 18 months, in September the Mirano reopened its doors in all of its art déco glory. It’s stunning, and worth checking out. Friday nights at Mirano are Moskow Diskow – an electro experience with big-name DJs. Saturday nights are More – serving up Hip Hop, Afro and R&B rhythms. Keep an eye out for special events.
For special occasions, La Demence holds massive well-organised warehouse-style parties, while their normal monthly parties are held in town where it’s a much sweatier and more intimate affair. Both options are good, and a big weekend of dancing is reason enough to add Brussels to your itinerary. Their next party is on 13 March.
Brussels is a real hub of art and culture, with a huge range of museums and galleries to explore.
The influential photographer has created a massive show at Wiels. It spans 30 years of his career but also looks forward with new work and immersive installations. The exhibition runs until 24 May.
Celebrating the Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture of Brussels, BANAD is a festival that runs from 14-29 March. Small group tours provide a unique opportunity to explore the hidden interiors of some of the most exclusive private residences of the city.
Presented by Kanal, this is a major exhibition from one of the key members of the Fluxus art movement. The exhibition runs from 2 April – 1 November.
Villa Empain – an art deco masterpiece.
Alice Gallery – specialist in contemporary art
Centrale – contemporary art museum at Place Sainte-Catherine
MIMA – contemporary art museum in Molenbeek
The rainbow village
The LGBTQ community of Brussels is vibrant and visible. Most of the action is centred around Rue du Marché au Charbon in the Downtown precinct – the bars and businesses of this precinct proudly adopting the collective identity of the Rainbow Village, or the Saint-Jacques district.
There’s a laid-back and friendly vibe to this lively neighbourhood. The bars are small, everyone drinks outside. It’s good fun.
A good base is Cafe au Chabron. A warm and welcoming cafe and bar in the heart of the Rainbow Village. The perfect spot from which to plan your exploration of the city.
The bathhouse or sauna is called Macho – it’s busy, especially on weekends.
In terms of local media, the magazine Ket is a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about Brussels. Ket – which is a term that refers to a guy from Brussels – is published quarterly.
In 2020, the main weekend of Pride celebrations in Brussels will be 23-24 May.
Pride in Brussels is an event that’s embraced by the city. If the weather is good, the streets of the Rainbow Village become rammed with people and the pumping music turns it into an all-day outdoor party.
As you would expect, you will find a lot of chocolate, pomme frites, beer, moules frites, and waffles in Brussels. These are all delicious and worth enjoying, but there’s a lot more to the food scene in this city.
Eating out is part of daily life in Brussels, whether that’s stopping for a substantial lunch during the day, or getting together with friends for dinner in one of the cities numerous top-quality restaurants – there’s a huge range of choice and cuisines on offer.
On this trip, we had a great dinner at Pasta Madre – a new craft beer and pizza joint. This is a concept that has been road-tested by the Pasta Madre team in Bologna and it’s clear that it’s already found a strong following in Brussels. This is a proper Italian food experience – let the staff guide you through their menu and be open to trying some exciting dishes that really take pizza to the next level.
There’s no shortage of great shopping opportunities in Brussels. On this trip we were very happy to stumble across Smell Stories on Rue des Teinturiers. This is a small, independent store that specialise in scents – perfumes, candles, soaps – anything that smells good. It’s all gender-neutral, and it’s all about showcasing boutique, small-batch perfume houses that you probably haven’t heard of. It’s surprisingly welcoming, accessible, and affordable.
On Wednesday evenings the main square in the Châtelain district is taken over by a food market. The area becomes packed with a young, after-work crowd, all out on the street, drinking. There’s a great range of bars and restaurants. This is the kind of neighbourhood where you’d want to live.
If you’re looking for vintage treasures, the flea market on Place du Jeu de Balle is a popular destination. There’s been a market on this square since 1873. Surrounding the market are a number of vintage stores that are also worth exploring.
The old indoor market of Les Halles Saint-Géry has been transformed into a going-out destination. Once a month, they hold a market for vintage clothes.
If you’re looking for a few Instagram-worthy moments, Brussels won’t let you down.
The Grand Place – with its imposing Gothic town hall , this is the postcard-worthy tourist hub of the city.
The Mannekin Pis – the famous fountain of a small bronze boy happily urinating into the water below. A surprising but popular choice as a symbol of the city.
Place Royale and the Coudenberg Palace – The palace of the dukes of Brabant is an impressive reminder of the history of this part of the world, and how to build with an eye for grandeur.
Place du Grand Sablon – this is chocolate central , you’ll find shops by Pierre Marcolini, Leonidas, Godiva, Neuhaus, Maison Dandoy, Frederic Blondeel, and Wittamer. While you’re here, the Eglise Notre-Dame au Sablon has an enormous carved wooden pulpit that’s worth a look.
Parc de Bruxelles Warandepark is the ideal spot to watch the energetic joggers pounding out the miles.
The Atomium – this futuristic construction was built in 1958 . It was designed as the Belgian pavilion when the World Expo came to Brussels that year. Today the Atomium is the most visited attraction in Brussels and, thanks to a recent renovation, it still feels as otherworldly and cutting edge as ever .
You get the sense that Brussels is a place where worlds come together – sometimes they collide, but mostly there’s an easy co-existence of cultures and communities.
This isn’t a new thing. Established as a fortress town in the 10th century, Brussels and its surrounding regions has been caught up in various power struggles through the ages between Austria, France, and The Netherlands - becoming the capital of the newly-independent Belgium in 1830.
Today, with a population of just over one million people, the city is officially bilingual – historically Dutch speaking, these days French is equally prevalent. English is also widely-spoken.
With the gravitational pull of the European Union, there’s a fluidity about the population of Brussels. People come, people go – there’s always new faces, a fresh perspective. There seems to be a very international perspective on life, it’s easy to meet people, to start a conversation, to share experiences.
Where to stay
On our most trip, we were staying at 9Hotel – just near Central station.
This is a relatively simple hotel but it has everything you need and in a great location – walking distance to pretty much everything you’ll be interested in checking out.
Modern, contemporary, and comfortable, with friendly multi-lingual staff that made everything easy.
We can help with flights, accommodation, tickets, and anything else that you might be interested in.