When I first told my friends that I was moving from London to Brussels, I was surprised by the general response. It’s a shame I’m leaving, sure, but there’s also a broader sense of disinterest. Of the many major cities in Europe, it turns out that Brussels doesn’t have the most alluring reputation. Even the fact that I moved for love didn’t inspire much excitement, let alone ask for a visit. I was told that the city’s role as the seat of the European Union made the place bureaucratic, featureless and formal. More glamorous than The Hague, perhaps, but it’s a modest and prim cousin of Paris, and certainly a distant cousin of fiery Florence or more romantic Rome.
My impression of the city is vague (I just passed by on a school trip). If I were to name one famous city “sight”, one (beer?) would definitely come to mind. But what I discovered in the first few months is that not only is it easy and fast to catch the Eurostar between London and Brussels, it is also good for the environment, and the city is far more attractive than the grit, glamor and tourist icons of cities like London and Paris . The pace is far less exhausting, too: a Scandinavian-adjacent, laid-back attitude mingled with a touch of French chic. The pace of life is slower, plans are made at the last minute, and the city center is entirely walkable.
Walking is how I discovered the unique Art Nouveau architecture and a range of local neighborhoods, beyond guidebook spots like the Grand Place, away from the endless high-end chocolate shops downtown. Instead, neighborhoods that capture Brussels’ unique brand of understated elegance. So here, find a local guide to Brussels with its coffee shops, pubs, galleries and more.
Marolles and Sablon
Park Place Petit Sablon. Photo: Getty Images