Ville de Bruxelles (a.k.a. Brussel, Bruxell, Brusselles...)
Bruxelles isn't only the capital of Belgium, but it is one of the most important economical and political centres of Europe. No mystery then, that several EU institutions are to be found there, and the NATO general HQ is in the city too. This capability of hosting people coming from all around the world makes Bruxelles a multicultural and prestigious city, where folklore and internationalism blend into everyday life.
The Grand Place is basically the heart of the city of Bruxelles, and usually the first hit for every tourist. Delightful example of architecture of the XVII century, it still holds the function it had back in the past, hosting markets (look for the flowers' market in the morning or the Christmas market in December), festivals (such as the Tapis des Fleurs in August or the Plantation du Meiboom) and government offices. Even though the buildings there - apart from the Hotel de Ville - were destroyed back in 1695, the reconstruction was conducted with the idea of recreating the same harmony that had reflected the richness of Bruxelles during the centuries, and its importance as commercial center. The Hotel de Ville - jewel of the place - was the result of works by Jacques van Thienen, and Jan van Ruysbroek and either the decorated exterior, or the interior are impressive. Given that it can be visited, do not miss a tour, since you will have the chance to see the Aldermen Room, the Meeting Room and several other chambers decorated with tapestries of the XVIII century (an art in which Belges excel) and several other masterworks. You do not have to leave the Grand Place in order to visit the Musée de la Ville. Hosted into the Maison du Roi - in front of the Hotel de Ville - it shows a collection of paintings of the XVI century, tapestries and the Manneken Pis's wardrobe (If you ignore who is Manneken Pis, just look for him in Rue de l'Etuve, where it crosses with Rue de Chene and remember that - now - Manneken has a female friend, Jeanneke Pis, in Rue des Bouchers). In the past, the building was the Spanish Monarchs' residence.
In Rue des Bouchers, the Galeries St. Hubert isn't only a shopping heaven, but the first one of its kind in Europe. Under its roof it hosts the Galerie du Roi, the Galerie de la Reine et the Galerie des Princes, where several boutiques, restaurants, coffees and leisure structures can be found, such as the Théâtre de Vaudeville, a theatre of the XIX century that has been recently renovated. The elegance that marked the Galleries in the XIX century made them a luxurious and elegant place, where the society met. Well, this hasn't changed during the years. Do not miss hence the chance to sit in one of its lavish coffees and enjoy some pastries or buy some chocolate pralines (for which Belgium is worldwide known). Otherwise, exit the Galeries and try among the several restaurants in Rue des Bouchers, a.k.a. the Stomach of Bruxelles...or buy some of those delicious salty or sweety snacks that can be found at every corner of the city, such as the frites, the caricoles, the pistolets (all salty), or the speculoos, the gaufres and the smoutebollen (for those who love sweets). Another suggestion, could be to go to Place Ste. Catherine, where you will find the best places to eat seafood in the city. Before or after lunch - do not forget to pay a visit to the Ste. Catherine church, whose Victorian interior are too pretty to be missed. If you walk to the Palais de la Bourse, or catch the metro to the station Bourse, you will discover one of the most beautiful buildings of the city. Built between 1867 and 1873, it hosts several sculptures by Rodin and Jacques de Haen. And, if you book, you will have the chance to see the stock exchange dealers at work.
Bruxelles has some incredibly interesting markets. One is to be found in Place du Jeu de Balle, and another one in Place du Grand Sablon. In Place du Jeu de Balle there is a daily flea market, which dates back to 1640, where everything can be found from baubles to whatnot, from antiques to zoology texts... And nearby, the Rue Haute offers several specialized antiques shops. But for antiques there is another flea market, which takes place on the streets around Place du Petit Sablon and Place du Grand Sablon. If the first one of these plazas is the trait d'union between the two zones of the city, offering several boutiques, restaurants, bars and pâtisseries; Place du Petit Sablon is much more calm. Beautiful gardens where "unwind" is the exact thing to do, among 48 different statues by the sculptor Paul Hankar. You're now just a stone's throw away from the Musée Royaux des Beaux Arts, where you will be able to admire masterworks by Rubens, Van Dyck, Brueghel, Hugo van der Goes, Ensor, Emile Claus, Rik Wouters, Magritte, Moore and many others. The Musée is worldwide known for its collections of artworks by the Flemish masters as Rubens and Van Dyck. In Place du Musée you will also have the chance to visit the Palais de Charles de Lorrain, some interesting rooms of the Governor of Bruxelles in the middle of the XVIII century. Walk East and you will meet the Palais Royal, official residence of the Belgian royalty. From July to September, it can be visited. The Parc de Bruxelles is a beautiful frame to cross, in order to see the Palais de la Nation. Enjoy the park, with its statues and fountains, whose construction was decided by Charles of Lorraine. The quarter's name is Royal. No wonder it's one of the most elegant zones alike in Europe... The Cathédrale Sts. Michel et Gudule is some minutes away. even though its erection dates back to 1226 (well, the works took 300 years...), it gained the status of cathedral in 1962 and is today the most important church of Belgium. Do not forget to enter a give a glance either to the glass stained windows or to the pulpit, born by the genius of the sculptor Henri François Verbruggen.
Walk north now, in the direction of Rue des Sables. At nr. 10 you will run into the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée (a.k.a. CBBD). First, a note about the building. It has been designed and projected by Horta, Art Nouveau Architect, in 1903 and is one of the few remaining storehouses of that period. Now, just step in. Lucky Luke, the Smurfs, and Tintin (just to name a few), are waiting for you inside the Cébébédé. Belgian like so much cartoons that, walking in the city, you wull have the chance to see 18 cartoons painted to the walls in a initiative that is sponsored by the city of Bruxelles.
It's from Rue du Belliard that you start seeing either the Quartier Européen or the Quartier du Parlement, where the European Parliament is. The building is also known as Caprice des Dieux, due to its roof, whose form resembles the famous cheese. It's in the zone around Rondpoint Schuman that you will have the chance to see the administrative heart of Europe, in form of the Berlaymont and Justus Lipsius buildings. Green zones aren't scarce all around, thanks to the Parc du Cinquantenaire, the Square Ambiorix and Parc Léopold. The first one was decided by Leopold II to celebrate the Belgian indipendence back in 1880. Inside, the Musée Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Autoworld and the Musée de l'Armée are worth a visit, as it is worth a walk along its promenades. Square Ambiorix is where one of the most beautiful part of the city is. Elegant houses compete one against the other, and some interesting examples of Art Déco architecture can be seen there. Parc Léopold isn't only a park, but the ground where several science institutes can be found. As you walk there, remember that Marie Curie and Einstein were hosts of the complexes probably walking along the same alleys.
In the outskirts of the city, several other landmarks are waiting. First of all, the Basilique Nationale du Sacré Coeur, if you like Art Déco. The glass stained window are impressive and the architecture too. And if back in the city center you were wondering about that big green cupola you were seeing far away, now you know where it is from. But if you dismount from the metro at Heysel, you will have the chance to visit three interesting places. The first one is the Domaine de Laeken, the royal residence. The gardens are impressive and inside them you will have the chance to see the Chateau Royal, the Serres Royales, Villa Belvedere and the Pavillon Chinois and the Tour Japonaise. You will have noticed by that time, an oriental influence visible everywhere. Bruparck is something completely different, in which you will like to go, specially if you have children with you. Inside Kinepolis, a megaplex theater, among which an IMAX screen; Minieurope, a truthful reconstruction (but smaller!) of the most important landmarks in Europe; and Océade, a water attraction park. Finally, the Atomium, is nearby. Symbol of the atom concept, it's the symbol par excellence of Bruxelles too, being for Bruxelles what the Statue of the Liberty is for New York. The engineer who designed it - André Waterkeyn - had in mind to erect a monument to the scientific conquests and discoveries of the Fifties.
Finally, a note about the evenings. First, if you wish to go to theater, the Palais des Beaux Arts and the La Monnaie will for sure be able to offer you great performances. But if you're interested in a lighter entertainment, glom some time to try the several Belgian beers, among which the Trappist's one are loved since Middleage....
You haven't packed your luggage yet? You still miss an hotel? Try in Place Rogier...there, several can be found...