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Belgium Travel & Holiday Tips
 
 
 
 
 

Brussels

Brussels is more than a 1000 years old. Today the name Brussels stands for an agglomeration of 19 communes forming one of the three Regions of the federal Belgian state; the capital of the Kingdom of Belgium; the headquarters of the French and Flemish Communities.

Brussels also has an important international vocation : as the European capital the city is home to the European Commission and to the Council of ministers of the European Union (EU).

Brussels is the bilingual capital of Belgium. This means that both French and Dutch are the official languages of the city. Street names and traffic sings are always in these two languages. Furthermore, it is a cosmopolitan city where many different cultures live together and where different languages can be heard on each street. This liveliness and international flair is, of course, intimately related to its role as a crossroads for all of Europe.

The same variety and contrast can also be found in the different architectural styles that can be found in Brussels, the former capital of the medieval Duchy of Brabant. Gothic cathedrals and churches are next to – and sometimes in stark contrast with – gracious classical facades like the buildings around the Royal Square (Place Royale/ Koningsplein), or beautiful art nouveau and art deco houses.

The heart of Brussels and the place to start getting to know the city is the Grand'Place (Grote Markt). This historic market square with its splendid guild houses and the impressive Gothic beauty of the Town Hall, is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe.

Other key sights in Brussels include St Michael and St Gudule’s Cathedral and the Mont des Arts park, which links the upper and lower parts of the city. Then there is the elegant Place Royale, built between 1774 and 1780 in the style of Louis XVI, the Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of Modern Art. The Manneken-Pis, and his less heralded sister the Janneken Pis, are statues that hint at the exuberance and irreverence of the ‘Bruxellois’, a spirit that reaches its zenith in the city’s numerous bars which, along with the 1000 types of Belgian beer, are not to be missed.

Among other areas worth exploring are the Îlot Sacré, the picturesque area of narrow streets to the northeast of the Grand-Place; the fashionable Boulevard de Waterloo; the administrative quarter, a completely symmetrical park area commanding a splendid view of the surrounding streets; the Grand Sablon, the area containing both the flamboyant Gothic structure of the Church of Our Lady of Sablon and the Sunday antique market and, lastly, the Petit Sablon, a square surrounded by Gothic columns, which support 48 small bronze statues commemorating medieval Brussels guilds.

A more modern attraction is the bizarre Atomium, a futuristic, atom-shaped aluminum tower built for the 1958 World Fair. One important out-of-town attraction is the Battle of Waterloo site, 18 km (11 miles) to the south of Brussels, commemorating the battle that shaped the future of both Belgium and modern Europe, of which Brussels is now such a crucial hub.

The Brussels Card now gives the visitor free access to 30-plus museums and also the use of public transport throughout the Brussels-Capital region, within a 72-hour period. This ‘culture pass’ is available at all participating museums – at the six sales offices of the Brussels Public Transport Company (STIB), at certain hotels and at the Brussels International

Flanders

Antwerp

Although still Europe’s second-largest port, the city of Antwerp has moved on from its purely industrial past. Today, the inhabitants, or Sinjoors as they are known, are at the cutting edge of fashion and design with countless boutiques and shopping outlets across the city. This energy also surfaces in the trendy bars and hip nightclubs that have now joined the more traditional charms of the beer and gin bars that still pull in the more reserved drinkers. Beyond modern Antwerp the more traditional attractions complement the new, with the impressive Grote Markt, containing the Town Hall and the Brabo Fountain, which commemorates the legend of the city’s origin and also the 18th-century Groenplaats, with its Rubens statue. The work of local artistic luminary Peter Paul Rubens surfaces all over Antwerp, most notably at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, home to what is arguably the world’s finest collection of his work. The Rubens’ House, the magnificent 17th-century house where the painter lived and worked, contains works by the painter and his associates as do many other museums and churches. Antwerp’s maritime heritage can be explored on tours of the port and also at the Steen, a 12th-century fortress now housing the National Maritime Museum, that overlooks the buzzing new city of today.

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