48 Hours In...

Brussels, Belgium

Belgium's capital is not just for MEPs. Ben Ross reveals the fashionable face of the city, stopping off for some beer and chocolate on his way round


WHY GO NOW?

Because Brussels is a very fashionable place to be. The "Mode Design Brussels 2006" event is showcasing design in a series of exhibitions. From 8-17 September many of the strands will be brought together in Design Week 2006 ( www.modedesignbrussels.be). There's also the biennial Fashion Designers' Trail, from 27-29 October, when temporary installations are put up across the city ( www.modobruxellae.be). However, if urban cool leaves you cold, don't despair: Brussels has something for lovers of beer, art nouveau, comic books and - yes - even European democracy.

TOUCH DOWN

Eurostar (08705 186 186; www.eurostar.com) has up to nine services each day from London Waterloo and Ashford to Brussels' Gare du Midi (1). Direct services take two-and-a-quarter hours and cost from £59 return. From Gare du Midi, it's three stops on the Metro (€1.50/£1.05) to Bourse (2), the nearest station to the Grand' Place. Alternatively, BMI (08706 070 555; www.flybmi.com) flies to Brussels National from Heathrow, Leeds-Bradford, Nottingham and Edinburgh; British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies from Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh; and SN Brussels (08707 352 345; www.flysn.com ) flies from Bristol, Birmingham, Gatwick, Manchester and Newcastle. There are frequent trains (€3/£2.15) connecting the airport with the city centre.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

The Grand' Place in the Lower Town is the city's focal point. Here, the Hotel de Ville's Gothic tower (3) is a useful navigational aid while you wander the city, and more detailed assistance can be obtained from the tourist office (00 32 2 513 89 40; www.belgiumtheplaceto.be) housed on the ground floor. The Mannekin Pis (4), Brussels' incontinent mascot, does what he does best slightly further south on rue de l'Etuve. To the east is the Upper Town, which is split by the majestic rue Royale. The whole of the city centre is neatly contained by a ring road (the "petit ring"). Wherever you are, Brussels does her best to help out: signposts at virtually every junction also display a tourist map.

CHECK IN

For a five-star fashion experience, head for the Royal Windsor (5) at 5 rue Duquesnoy (00 32 2 505 55 55; www.royalwindsorbrussels.com). Ten of its 226 rooms have been remodelled by Belgian fashion designers, from Kaat Tilley's womb-like creation to the muted browns and reds of Nicolas Woit's retro-chic design. Standard doubles cost from €99 (£71) at weekends including breakfast; a " fashion addict" package, with one night in a fashion room, costs from €229 (£165) including breakfast. In the Ste-Catherine district, the Welcome Hotel (6) at 38 rue du Béguinage (00 32 2 219 95 46; www.hotelwelcome.com) has style of a different kind: the decor of each of its 15 rooms is inspired by a different country. Doubles cost from €85 (£61) including breakfast. In the upper town, try the elegant 19th-century town houses that make up the Hotel du Congrès (7) at 42 rue du Congrès (00 32 2 217 18 90; www.hotelducongres.com). Doubles start at €80 (£58) including breakfast.

TAKE A HIKE

From the imposing Cathédrale de St-Michel et Ste-Gudule (8), at Place Ste-Gudule (open 8am-6pm daily, free), head up along rue Treurenberg until you hit the rue Royale. Cross over to the shady pathways of the Parc de Bruxelles. At the park's south-east corner, rejoin the rue Royale. Opposite, at 23 rue Ravenstein, is the art deco bulk of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, aka "Bozar" (9) (00 32 2 507 82 00; www.bozar.be), the city's arts centre, which hosts an India festival on 7 October. Dominating the southern end of the park is the Palais Royal (10), and beyond is Place Royale, where you'll find Brussels' fine art galleries, the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts (11) (00 32 2 508 32 11; www.fine-arts-museum.be, open 10am-5pm Tues-Sun, €5/£3.50 admission). Tuck back down rue Montagne de la Cour and gawp at No 2, the Musée des Instruments de Musique (12) (00 32 2 545 01 30; www.mim.fgov.be), a sensuous art-nouveau building. The museum is open 9.30am-5pm Tues-Fri; 10am-5pm Sat-Sun; admission €5/£3.50. The views from the sixth-floor restaurant are fantastic.

TAKE A VIEW

For a panorama that doesn't involve a lunch bill, continue south down rue de la Régence to the Palais de Justice (13), a vast edifice currently shrouded in scaffolding. From Place Poelaert, the vista back over Brussels is impressive.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Cheap and tasty set menus can be found at the maelstrom of restaurants that is rue des Bouchers (14). On the one hand, it's a bit tacky; on the other, it's full of energy and a great place to watch the world go by. Chez Léon at No 18 (00 32 2 511 14 15) is more genteel than most: a three-course set menu, including the obligatory moules-frites, will set you back €13.90 (£10).

WINDOW SHOPPING

For the fashions that are making Brussels famous, head to the boutiques of rue Antoine Dansaert (15). Stijl at number 74 (00 32 2 512 03 13) stocks cutting-edge local talent, and measures its designer labels by the square metre in a useful list on the shopfront. Alternatively, admire the lace shops that line the Galeries St-Hubert (16), a beautiful 19th-century shopping arcade.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

One art form that has always been close to Belgians' hearts is the comic strip. Murals throughout the city are testament to this affinity, and the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée (17), at 20 rue des Sables (00 32 2 219 19 80; www.brusselsbdtour.com) gives focus to what is known here as the " ninth art". Tintin, one of Belgium's most famous sons, is given pride of place, and fans will love the paraphernalia to be bought from the ground-floor shop. The museum is open 10am-6pm daily, except Monday, admission €7.50 (£5.40).

AN APERITIF

Try one of the many Belgian beers on offer at Cirio (18) at 18-20 rue de la Bourse (00 32 2 512 13 95). The interior is a sober array of dark wood, mirrors and century-old fittings. Brews start at €2.50 (£1.80).

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

For exquisite modern cuisine, head for Cospaia (19) at 1 Capitaine Crespel (00 32 2 513 03 03; www.cospaia.com) in the Ixelles district. Dark wood and bright steel abound, candles line the stairs, and its first-floor dining room has a pleasant view. A main course of filo parcels of lamb stuffed with goats cheese is €28 (£20). For a more rustic ambience, the nearby rue St-Boniface is lined with cheery Belgian bistros: try Saint Boniface (20) at number 9 (00 32 2 511 53 66), where the cassoulet costs €18 (£13).

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Ste-Catherine (21) is a beautiful 19th-century church set in a pretty district to the east of the Lower Town. The elegant stained-glass windows inside contrast sharply with the neon lobsters suspended over the fish restaurants in the adjacent square. Open 8.30am-6pm Mon-Sat; 9am-noon on Sun day (service at 10am).

TAKE A RIDE

A €4 (£2.80) ticket gets you unlimited transport on the city's tram and underground system for a day. Use it to travel north on line 1A to Heysel station. Here, next to the ill-starred football stadium (rebuilt since the disaster of 1985), is the Atomium (00 32 2 475 47 72; www.atomium.be), a true design classic, recently reopened after a revamp. Built for the 1958 World Fair, its nine spheres (containing exhibition space and a restaurant) represent the shape of an iron crystal molecule magnified 165 billion times. Arrive early, as the queues are equally impressive; open 10am-6pm daily, entry €9 (£6.50).

OUT TO BRUNCH

It's not all high fashion down rue Antoine Dansaert (15): there are espressos (€2/£1.40) and croissants (€1.55/£1.10), too, available from the cosy Le Pain Quotidien at No 16 (00 32 2 502 23 61; www.painquotidien.com).

A WALK IN THE PARK

Parc Léopold (22) is at the beating heart of Europe. For here, looming above a pretty lake, rises the great glass edifice of the European Parliament Building. It's a humbling thought that, while you feed the ducks, vital political decisions are no doubt being taken a mere 100 yards away.

WRITE A POSTCARD

Write home from the discreet formal garden of Place du Petit Sablon (23), just off the rue Royale. Sit in the shade, and take inspiration from a bubbling fountain and a neat semicircle of noble Belgian statuary.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Chocolate is everywhere in Brussels, but the greatest concentration of chocolatiers is found at Place du Grand Sablon (24). Try Wittamer at number 6 (00 32 2 512 3742; www.wittamer.com), which currently has a giant chocolate model of the Atomium in its window. A 500g selection of some of the finest chocs you will ever eat costs about €28 (£20).

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine