Ever the bon vivant, Brussels makes no secret of its passion for the good life, whether you're immersing yourself in Victor Horta's sumptuous Art Nouveau interiors, devouring melt-in-the-mouth pralines or huddling over a lambic beer in a gloriously old-world pub. Beneath the historic pomp of the Grand-Place and the bureaucracy of the EU lies an eccentric city itching to get out, as the Surrealist art at the dreamlike Magritte Museum and the wickedly humorous Manneken Pis confirm.
Things to Do
Bruxellois have an irreverent attitude toward sightseeing. Where else would you find a national monument in the form of a peeing boy? You'll find the Manneken Pis statue not far from the uplifting and enormous Grand-Place square, fringed by the Gothic Hôtel de Ville. Museums cluster around the Mont des Arts district, where the bright star is the Magritte Museum -- arrive Tuesday morning for shorter lines. But it's the little gems that will surprise you, like the intimate Horta Museum, former home and studio of Brussels' famous Art Nouveau architect.
Luxuriating in the experience and pausing for tea and cakes between purchases is how the Bruxellois go about their shopping. While big-name designers cluster on the smart avenue Louise, the rue Antoine Dansaert favors Belgian fashion gurus such as Olivier Strelli, whose well-tailored styles have a distinctly flamboyant edge. Tie in brunch with wandering around the bustling antiques market on Grand-Sablon square, ducking into famous chocolatier Pierre Marcolini for a gift-wrapped box of irresistible spice-infused pralines.
Nightlife and Entertainment
There's no greater pleasure in Brussels than sipping a refreshing lambic or cherry-flavored kriek beer in a cozy estaminet. Each pub has its own history and character, from the puppet theatre's quirky Estaminet Toone to the Art Deco splendor of the beer café A la Mort Subite. The scene is more champagne cocktails, club beats and people-watching around the image-conscious avenue Louise and rue Antoine Dansaert. For top-drawer ballet and opera, head to the neoclassical La Monnaie.
Restaurants and Dining
Bruxellois love their food. Beyond mussels and frites around the St. Catherine Square, find innovative flavors in voguish restaurants on the avenue Louise and classics like creamy waterzooi stews in cozy wood-paneled brasseries. French food comes with panoramic city views at the rooftop Musical Instruments Museum restaurant, set in a graceful Art Nouveau Horta building. A short stroll from the bustle of the Grand-Place, the romantic Grand-Sablon's petit bistros are a great place to indulge.
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