Eurostar runs up to nine departures a day from St Pancras International and the journey time is a measly one hour and 50 minutes, which — discounting Paris — makes it the nearest place from London for a weekend break in Europe. So why go there?
It’s at the centre of the action
Brussels sits at the geographical heart of Western Europe and is the collision point for Germanic and Latinate cultures — hence the two official languages (French and Dutch). It’s also billed as the world’s second ‘international’ city; home to the headquarters of more than 100 global companies and seat of the European Union and NATO. What a melting pot!
For the world’s best (and strongest) beers
Belgium and beer are synonymous and Brussels is bursting at the seams with bars and cosy traditional taverns serving Lambics, Guezes and Trappist ales — some of which are a whopping 12 per cent. Drink like a local and sip it like fine wine.
For Europe’s best food
It’s a bold claim to make, I know, but contrary to popular belief, it’s Belgium — not France — that wins the crown for Europe’s best cuisine, and Brussels alone rivals Tokyo with 12 Michelin-starred restaurants, including one for a burger! See Neil Geraghty’s excellent On the foodie trail in Brussels guide and my Top 30 restaurants for dining suggestions.
For world-class art
The Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts is billed as the best-stocked gallery in Europe: the Flemish Primitives, Rubens, Ensor, Delvaux — you can see them all here. And it includes a new wing devoted entirely to the works of Surrealist Réne Magritte.
For markets galore!
Choose from the pricey antiques in Place du Grand Sablon and the stinky Marché aux Poissons (Fish Market) on Place St Catherine, to the cleaver-wielding butchery halls along Anderlecht’s Rue Ropsy Chaudron and the sprawling Sunday-morning Marché du Midi, just a two-minute walk from Brussels-Midi train station. But above all, don’t miss the capital’s legendary Christmas markets, where you can sip spicy glüwein from plastic cups and tuck into steaming escargot (snail) soup.
For incredible architecture
From the UNESCO-listed guild houses of the Grand Place and the magnificent Galleries Royal Saint-Hubert (the first-ever shopping mall in Europe), to the space-age Atomium and the oval European Parliament headquarters — nicknamed Caprice des Dieux (‘whim of the Gods’) after a French cheese.
For the kids
Have an adventure following Brussels’s very own comic-strip walking trail, where kids can spot their cartoon heroes painted on walls around town; visit St-Josse-ten-Noode’s city farmyard; and let them have a splash in the pirate-themed swim park at Brupark. Plus, they’ll be chuffed to bits when you hand them a cornet of chips for dinner!
For the love of chocolate
If ever there was a location to indulge in the ‘food of the gods’, Brussels is it! Start the morning with chocolate-themed pastries and cakes at Wittamer Tea Room, learn about the history of the humble cocoa bean in the Musée du Cacao et du Chocolat and — when you’ve let breakfast go down — head to Pierre Marcolini, the shop of the world’s best chocolatier.
Brussels isn’t just limited to the Upper and Lower Towns in the city centre; it’s surrounded by 19 communes each with their own character. Rent a bike and explore their quirky museums, tourist-free cafés and report back here with your discoveries.