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).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
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

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home