Brussels, Belgium - Stein Travel
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Brussels

Home of the European Union, Brussels has become a bustling centre for bureaucrats and businessmen and is a thriving cosmopolitan metropolis. The buildings in the city are a fascinating mix of architectural styles, and there are numerous museums of interest throughout. Within the 14th-century city walls is the compact centre of the old city with the beautiful Grand Place at its heart. Visitors rarely stray beyond the walls of the 'petit ring' of the city centre, clearly defined from the newer glitzy quarters by its narrow maze of streets. This is where the key sights can be enjoyed, together with the best bars and restaurants.

Visitors can experience the beauty of the art and architecture, marvel at the bizarre sight of the Mannekin-Pis statue, and spend time shopping for traditional souvenirs such as Belgian chocolate and lace. The National Opera House and many other theatres host a variety of events and concerts for those wanting some high culture, and there are plenty of restaurants offering gastronomic delights. These outings can be rounded off by a drink or two in any one of the lively bars located near the Grand Place.

Vibrant and energetic, Brussels is a city of museums and architecture among Europe's finest, a shopper's fantasy and a diner's capital.

Information & Facts

Climate

Brussels has a maritime temperate climate, characterised by warm summers and mild winters. The city has a high average annual rainfall, and visitors can expect a downpour any time of year. Temperatures range from highs of around 80°F (27°C) in summer to 45°F (7°C) during the middle of winter. Snow is possible, but not frequent, in winter.

Eating Out

Dining is serious business in Belgium where both the French and Flemish consider themselves qualified food critiques. Besides enjoying the national dish, beer, which in Belgium is thick enough to qualify as a full meal, eating out in Brussels leaves both food snobs licking their lips and the hungry patting their bellies. Known for large portions which don't skimp on quality, even cheap dining is held to a high standard. This all bodes well for hungry travellers on a budget although it would be a shame to miss some of the most well regarded, if expensive, of Brussels' restaurants. For quick eats, embrace street side cafés where Belgium waffles (not only in the morning), chocolate, French fries and beer all make great snacks. The fine dining usually revolves around French cuisine but not to be missed is the Flemish stew waterzooï, which translated to 'watery mess' is better than it sounds, and mussels with chips. Brussels restaurants are generously sprinkled about the city's districts but several fine dining clusters are close to de Broukére or many options surrounding the Grand Place. A service charge is included in the bill but great service is often rewarded.

Getting Around

The modern and well-organised public transport system of Brussels consists of the metro, trams and buses. The network is user-friendly with route diagrams and timetables posted at most stops, and there are free maps available from the tourist office. Trams provide an ideal way to get around and are faster than buses, especially when they travel underground in the city centre to become the prémétro. Both tram and bus stops are by request only. There is a separate system of local trains linking the inner city to the outskirts, although they are of minimal use to tourists, except for getting to and from the airport. Tickets are valid for any form of public transport except local trains, and once validated can be used for multiple transfers within an hour. Tickets are fairly cheap; strips of five or ten tickets or day passes are also available. Children below 12 years ride free. Taxis can be hailed from any of the taxi stands around the city; they are metered and expensive, and taxes and tips are included in the price. The city is relatively easy to negotiate by car, though renting a vehicle is unnecessary. The towns of Bruges and Antwerp are a short train or car journey from Brussels; they are fairly compact and once there it is easy to get around on foot.

Kids Attractions

Brussels is a great city for kids of all ages and nationalities to enjoy. Take the children for a stroll through the street of the city, and don't forget to stop and check out with Mannekin-Pis, which the kids will have a good chuckle at. A highlight for lovers of cartoons is a visit to the Belgian Centre of Comic Strip Art, featuring displays of favourites such as Tintin and the Smurfs - a real treat for children. During the summer months, a trip to one of Brussels' water parks is a must, such as Walibi Belgium where dozens of slides and rides can be enjoyed. A trip to Bruparck is not to be forgotten either, where attractions such as the Oceadium water park, Mini Europe and the Atomium can be seen and families are guaranteed a fun-filled day. When the weather is miserable and taking the children outdoors isn't an option, head to one of Brussels' fabulous museums, such as the Brussels Children's Museum for the little ones, or the Museum of Natural Sciences of Belgium for slightly older children where the dinosaur exhibit is sure to thrill!

Language

The Flemish, in the north, speak Dutch (60% of the population); the Walloons in the south speak French (40%). Brussels is bilingual, the majority of citizens speaking French. In the east there is a small German-speaking community. English is also spoken.

Money

Euro (EUR) divided into 100 cents. Most credit cards are accepted (Visa, American Express, Diners Club and Eurcard) as are travellers cheques (though it is best to carry them in Euros, US dollars or Pounds Sterling to avoid additional charges when exchanging). ATMs are available in all major cities. Banks are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm, and are closed on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Some banks close for an hour during lunch. There are however some foreign exchange offices that trade on Sundays.

Night Life

Like a jazz rhythm that defines so much of the city's music, Brussels' nightlife is impromptu, at times schizophrenic, alternately relaxing and cool or hot and fast. Although there are a host of choices for eclectic nightlife, the city after dark is often outshone by brighter and more vibrant European cities. Most Brussels locals anchor the afternoon to the night with a pint or two of their world famous beer. This is best done in one of the many Old World-style pubs or cafés littered about the city, such as in Place Brouckere. These are more after work meeting places, popular with all ages, than party destinations. A mellow evening can continue with jazz concerts in the many jazz clubs, or with theatre and dance shows. An edgier side of Brussels herds late night bar and club goers into eccentric themed venues. Rue du Marché au Charbon is a lively strip of bright bars. Upper-town clubs tend to be more trendy and expensive than lower-town, where a more casual clientèle dances the night away to electronic beats. Renowned DJ's frequent Brussels' clubs and a regular line-up of heavyweight bands play at the city's concert venues.

Shopping

Shopping in Brussels can almost be termed a sport, as a lot of the wealthy residents spend an awful lot of their time and money competing with each other for the best buys and designer goods. Head down to the Boulevard de Waterloo area Avenue Louise where all the designer shops and boutiques can be found. Here one can expect to see names such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Versace, Chanel and Bvlgari, to name a few. Specialty shops can be found in Rue Haute and Rue Blaes. The Rue Neuve is the main pedestrian shopping street and is coincidentally the longest one in Brussels. Here shoppers can find mostly international chain stores while more original independent stores are located between the Grand Place and the Rue Lemonnier. The Westland Shopping Mall boasts over 140 shops and has all the usual big department stores and trendy stores, great for clothing, jewellery, books and much more. Most shops close at approximately 6pm every day and sales tax is 21 percent, which can be refunded to non-EU citizens by any of the shops affiliated to Global Refund Belgium .Shops that participate will issue a global refund cheque and this can be stamped at customs and cashed upon leaving the country.

Sightseeing

Brussels is packed tight with historic buildings, monuments and museums making a nearly impossibly long list of worthwhile attractions. The best way to sightsee in Brussels is to pick several personal niche interests and follow a tourist map accordingly. Comic book fan? - there is a museum for you; chocolate connoisseur (who isn't)? - another for you. In fact, there are nearly 75 great museums in Brussels alternating between explaining Belgium's long history, showcasing its art and architecture, and just plain fun (more often than not, doing all three at once). Of course, several city landmarks cannot be missed, the most important is a visit to Mannekin-Pis, which when read carefully accurately describes the statue of a boy peeing. After that rather weird tradition, visitors are free to roam Brussels' larger highlights mostly walkable from the heart of Brussels, the Grand Place. The ancient Hotel de Ville is Brussels best example of early architecture and is almost as grand a sight as the Royal Palace. Several of the best museums in the world include the Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of Modern Art, both housing Brussels best art treasures. For the rest, much like the Belgians, relax, enjoy and take it all in between pints of the city's best attraction, Belgium beer.

Time

Local time in Belgium is GMT +1 (GMT +2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).

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