Northwest Europe is often forgotten as a destination for international travelers, unless they’re last-minute busy-season idiots who don’t book hotels in advance and suddenly have to spend their Eurotrip in Hasselt, Belgium. Of course, for others, it’s an entire Eurotrip on its own. The Benelux region (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) is a destination for its World War II heritage, its mishmosh of Dutch/French/Flemish/other-
The capital of Belgium is Brussels, and it’s a big city that turns out to be pretty manageable. Here are nine things you should know about it:
1) They take their local foods seriously. Belgian beer, Belgian fries, Belgian waffles – these are not a joke, and you should treat them with respect. The waffles are everywhere and generally start at about €1 each. Beer and fries are pretty affordable, but if you get outside the city center, it’s a little better.
2) It’s hard to tell if it’s cheap or expensive overall. The city center is chock-full of tourists and that means prices get jacked. Waffles may start at €1, but they go up to €3 when you put anything on it, including that gold standard and most expensive topping, whipped cream.
3) They know about chocolate and that’s great news for you. It might be bad news for your arteries and general health, but holy crap are there a lot of chocolate shops. Dark chocolate, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
4) There are monuments and statues like…everywhere. I rented a bike (impossibly cheap in Brussels) and it seemed as though every single block had another statue for some very obscure person from Belgian history: Teachers, writers, composers and probably acquitted criminals, based on how many there must have been.
5) Killer public areas. The main square, the Grand Place, is delightful. On summer weekends there is a near-constant stream of live entertainment, usually in the form of a small orchestra and sometimes playing such European classics as Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” There are also a couple of palaces, one with a huge park across from it that’s easy to get a little lost in, and then there’s a monstrous park outside the center where the 1958 World’s Fair was held.
6) The EU headquarters are there. This is something that people think you should know and it’s horribly uninteresting. The buildings go on for ages and they all look the same, which is weird because most of Europe has diversity and oh God I’m bored just talking about this.
8) It’s easy to get to. There are many trains from London, Paris, Amsterdam and others, while Ryanair flies there from all over and it cost less than €70 roundtrip from Milan. Hotels are affordable and sometimes very quirky (I stayed at a place called the FunKey Hotel, where your key is actually an old repurposed cell phone, hence FunKey. It was a totally normal hotel at an affordable price, but they had an always-open snack room with chocolate, cold cuts, yogurt, bread, Nutella, cookie butter, milk, beer, water, pop and more, and it was all included in your price. It was fantastic.).
9) The most famous attraction is the Mannekin Pis and it is the dumbest thing in the entire city. It’s a 20-inch tall statue of a naked boy peeing. That is all. People line up for half an hour to see it. To call it underwhelming would be like saying Donald Trump is only slightly out of touch with humanity.
That’s my roundup. Go see everything in Brussels in a day or two and then get out of the city and see the rest of Belgium – Brugges, Ghent, Antwerp or all of those incredibly important WWII sites that I don’t actually know the name of. As an added bonus, though, if you don’t like it in Belgium, you can be in at least four other countries in less than two hours.