A compact city that’s less than two hours away by train from Cologne, Brussels was a perfect day trip. I spent about nine hours in all exploring the major attractions, wandering the cobbled streets, tasting lots of chocolate, practising my rusty French and soaking up tons of 20 deg C sunshine.
Some random trivia: did you know it is the home of the Smurfs and also the Capital of Tintin? You can even folllow a comic book trail and discover some pretty cool wall murals, like this one.
There is a public bike rental scheme with several stations across the city, but the area is small and convenient enough to be covered and enjoyed on foot, which I did. (That way you also don’t miss the murals.) First stop: Grand-Place, via the Bourse de Bruxelles.
The Grand-Place is the central square of Brussels and a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is surrounded by guildhalls, the city’s Town Hall and the Breadhouse (Maison du Roi), and has a few alfresco cafes and restaurants too. Standing in the middle of the square, there’s a certain majestic and magical feeling… broken only by noisy mainland tourists, I kid you not.
Moving on: Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a shopping passage built in 1847. I picked up a couple of items here – a super delish hazelnut praline spread at one of the bakeries, and a Tintin comic book from a museum bookstore.
A short stroll from the arcade strip is the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, set atop a small hill and fronted by a grassy park with blooming purple and yellow flowers. The park was packed with people and their picnic lunches – what a great sunny spot that I wish Hong Kong had!
A couple of minutes down the road was a much bigger sunny lunch spot, the Parc Royal de Bruxelles. In addition to picnickers, there were many lunch runners trampling across the dirt/sand paths that criss-crossed the green space. It wasn’t the prettiest park – could do with better landscaping – but there were a few beautiful sculptures dotted around it.
Exiting the park on the other side, I walked past the Palais de Bruxelles, through the museum street, down the Jardin du Mont des Arts, to Manneken Pis – that famous 15th century bronze sculpture of a boy taking a piss.