As both the capital of Belgium and the administrative capital of the European Union, Brussels is a special city with a fascinating culture. Known for its chocolate and waffles, beer and fries, art and comics, and of course the peeing statues, a trip to Brussels is a particularly unique experience. After coming uncomfortably close to missing my flight from Madrid to Brussels, a good laugh was exactly what I needed to get back into my travel groove. Visit Brussels kindly provided me with a Brussels Card to explore the Belgian capital and if there is one thing I learned, it’s that those Belgians sure have a sense of humor.
The Grote Markt, Grand Place, is the core of Brussels’ historic center and is home to both the City Hall and the Maison du Roi. This UNESCO World Heritage site is stunning in itself, but the side streets are what really did it for me. As I weaved between the cobbled alleys, I couldn’t help but notice the street names – rue du Marché aux Poulets, rue des Bouchers, rue au Beurre, rue des Poissonniers, and the list goes on. Isn’t it comforting to know that chicken, butchers, butter, and fish are all within reach? Soon I stumbled upon rue du Marché au Charbon where I skipped across one rainbow sidewalk after another, quickly realizing that I had reached Brussels’ lively gay neighborhood. And adding even more life to the city are the colorful comics and the peeing statues in nearly every nook and cranny.
Ever since Belgian cartoonist Hergé created The Adventures of Tintin, comic strips have become part of the city’s identity and culture. Wander around town and let the walls surprise you, or follow the mapped out comic strip walk to make sure you see them all. I got caught in a downpour halfway through, as is to be expected in Brussels, so I slipped inside the Belgian Comic Strip Center to hang out with Tintin and the Smurfs some more. And that was just the beginning of my museum adventures.
Just like Brussels has a street name for just about everything, the city also doesn’t hold back on museums. For art, get lost in the 2500-square-meter Magritte Museum, and for history, discover the 200 objects of the BELvue Museum. When you’ve had enough of art and history, the Musical Instrument Museum and the Museum of the Belgian Brewers are close by. I personally enjoyed the Museum of Fashion and Lace because I went through a bit of a fashion phase in high school. From binge watching Project Runway to taking summer classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, I used to be quite the fashionista. I’m well aware that my style is cringeworthy today, that’s backpacking for you, but I thought it was fun to step inside of Jean-Paul Lespagnard’s creative brain.
At the top of the list for markets in Brussels is the Marolles Flea Market on Place du Jeu de Balle. This open air antique and flea market lies at the heart of Brussels’ traditional working-class district and is open 365 days a year. Starting at 6:00 every morning, antique lovers, treasure hunters, and collectors crowd the square in hopes of finding some hidden gems to bring home. If I’m being honest, I was shocked at the amount junk, but just start digging and you may be surprised by what you find. I also heard great things about the Book and Antiques Market on Place du Grand Sablon which I wasn’t able to check out since it’s only open on the weekends, but I did find several second-hand bookstores to browse.
Last but most definitely not least, you can’t visit Brussels without getting a good laugh at the statues around town. Manneken Pis is without a doubt the most famous, a bronze sculpture of a little boy peeing that stands 61-centimeters tall. This little man even has his own wardrobe accompanied by a dressing schedule so you may get lucky and see him in one of his 800 costumes. The poor guy has however been stolen multiple times but rest assured, he now stands behind a gate and is under 24-hour surveillance. Forming a triangle with Manneken Pis are his peeing sister and dog, Jeanneke Pis and Het Zinneke, respectively. This little peeing family is a perfect example of the Belgian sense humor that I was talking about, and then there was a monkey scratching his butt… not exactly sure what his deal was but how can you not crack a smile?
A special thank you to Visit Brussels for hosting me in Belgium’s capital. As always, all opinions are my own.