If you’re anything like me, you love your European cities to be beautiful but with a slightly rough edge à la Berlin or Budapest.
One that you can get to from Manchester for only £25 return is an added bonus too.
The best way I can think of to describe Brussels is like a chilled-out Amsterdam. There’s plenty for the discerning tourist to soak up, with a wealth of history, some fantastic restaurants and an abundance of bars.
If there’s one thing that Belgium is famous for – it’s their beer and so the first place anyone with a dry mouth should head to – it’s the world famous Delirium Village, home to 2,000 beers and of course – Delirium Tremens.
The ‘village’ is a narrow little street in the heart of Old Brussels and feels like Sodom and Gomorrah in comparison to the rest of the city’s grand and gothic beauty. The street is awash with copious neon signs of the amazing little pink elephant (we dubbed Deli Ele), but they’re also in abundance the city over.
As you’d expect from a Belgian ale, these 9% beers make anything lower just taste like hoppy water, and you’ll find them in pretty much every single bar, cafe and restaurant the city over.
Similar to the likes of Budapest and Berlin, most bars in Delirium Village (and across the city) have a distinct kitschy but cool feel to them. You’d be hard-pressed to come across one that isn’t bathed in neon light, covered in beer mats of old, signs that date back to the 19th Century and glasses in all shapes and sizes kept in cabinets like trophies.
Delirium Village itself houses the original Delirium Café and around it several other bars with too many beers on tap to even register. There’s also the Floris Absinthe Bar (which we frequented) just in case your 12% beer isn’t hitting the spot.
The street also has, hidden behind bars, many statues of urinating children that are dotted throughout the city. What does this mean? Well, we struggled to interpret this at first too, but it’s actually quite a nice story.
The most recognisable landmark in the capital is Manneken Pis, a little urinating cherub with washboard abs, which is a symbol of the Belgian sense of self-mockery. Manneken is centuries old, but joining him in the 1980’s was his sister Jeanneke, found in Delirium Village and Zinneke, a dog. As Jeanneke is harder to find, throwing a coin into her… fountain is considered good luck.
Across from Manneken is another odd but fantastic bar, Poechenellekelder, which has more than its fair share of creepy as hell puppets every which way you turn. Not hand or sock puppets, but large, wooden, almost lifelike things that would put the fear of God into anyone left alone in the dark with them.
Don’t let that deter you though because the food and obviously beer was worth the moment of terror. I stupidly didn’t think to read up on the significance of puppets in Brussels, as they did seem to be everywhere, but that’s one for my next imminent visit.
A thorough recommendation if you’re travelling to Brussels would be brunch on the top floor restaurant of the Musical Instrument Museum. It’s €30 for a glass of champagne and all-you-can-eat buffet with 365 degree views of the entire city as an illustrious back drop.
Another obviously famed aspect of Belgium is the food. Waffles and chocolate primarily, but also Moules Frites. There is a tonne of restaurants that offer this fishy delicacy and none compare to the aptly named Mussel Mongers.
I’m not talking about the Muscles from Brussels Jean-Claude Van Damme either. I’m talking about 99 recipes and 850g of steaming mussels served in a huge pot with chips to dip in the sauce after. It’s of little wonder why these mussels are so good, as the restaurant is situated on the water of the Ancien Marche aux Poissons. Great stuff.
For more seafood, a stone’s throw away from Mussel Mongers and on Place Saint-Catherine is Mer du Nord, where you can get takeaway Oysters and Mussels fresh from the North Sea that morning, to be enjoyed whilst taking in the Flemish style church on this quaint little market square.
My trip wasn’t all just beer and food I promise (kind of). On our last day we visited the Opera House which is now showcasing a wonderful and immersive Van Gogh exhibition.
All Van Gogh’s most revered work including ‘Starry Night’ is projected onto every wall of the opera house and moves poetically in time to a stunning piece of music from one painting to another. So you can make the most of the experience, picnic blankets and deck chairs are laid out so you can while away the hours and soak it all in.
Flights to Brussels from Manchester Airport start from as little as £28 return with Ryanair