The guest post series remains Eurocentric this week, as we head to Belgium to follow Alison of CheeseWeb for a ramble around some lesser-known parts of her adopted home city, Brussels.
OFF THE BEATEN BRUSSELS TRAIL
The tourist track in Brussels is a well-worn path, from the Grand Place to Manneken Pis to the Atomium. The culture vultures descend on the Bozar Art Gallery and the new René Magritte Museum while families head to Mini Europe. But Brussels has a lot to offer for visitors who are looking to wander off the beaten trail.
For those who don’t want to stray too far from Grand Place, there is a bit of undiscovered Brussels, right underfoot. The ancient palace of Coudenberg can be found under the current Royal Square and is accessed via the Belvue Museum. Visitors can head underground to tour the excavated archaeological site, which has been partially restored, and walk in the footsteps of ancient monarchs.
For 700 years, from the 11th century, Coudenberg Palace was the seat of government for the Duchy of Brabant. It was one of Charles V’s main and most beautiful residences. In 1731, Coudenberg was damaged by fire and eventually torn down to build the current Royal Square.
You can walk along the remains of Rue Isabelle in relative quiet while the tourist hustle and bustle passes overhead.
If art is your thing but the crowds at Bozar are not, head to the neighbourhood of Ixelles and visit their excellent municipal gallery. The Musée d’Ixelles hosts interesting temporary exhibitions but also has a surprisingly good permanent collection that includes works by Picasso, Magritte and more. An entire room is filled with fin-de-siècle posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec; famous for his participation in the Parisian Post-Impressionist art scene.
Many shoppers head to Avenue Louise for the posh fashion labels. If you are looking for something a little more original and offbeat, the shops in the nearby Marolles neighbourhood are worth a visit. In this area nestled under the impressive Palace of Justice, you’ll find everything from antiques and modern furniture to clothing, shoes and handbags. If bargain hunting is your thing, the flea market on Place du Jeu de Balle takes place every day from 6am to 2pm.
Speaking of markets… Every Sunday, one of the biggest markets in Europe takes place in Brussels, near the Midi (South) train station. Here you can find streets full of every food imaginable. There is a section for plants and flowers, another for clothing and you can even find household items, perfumes and bicycle parts. Even if you’re not in the mood to shop, wandering through the market is a feast for the eyes and camera. Plus you can hear just about every language under the sun being spoken around you.
On a sunny day in Brussels, people head outdoors. One of the nicest spots to escape the noise of the city is the park at Laeken. Although many people head to Laeken to visit the Atomium, far fewer take in the park itself.
If you tire of European culture, you can even take a journey to Asia. The Chinese and Japanese pavilions in Laeken once owned by King Leopold II are now open to the public. Inside you will find a collection of pottery and stained glass, in addition to the stunning architecture itself.
Brussels is an extremely diverse and unique city. Each neighbourhood has its own character and attractions. All it takes is a bit of investigation and curiosity and you can find your own hidden corner of the city.