The Best of Brussels

The name of Brussels is usually coupled together with the legislative and political bodies of the European Union. Familiarizing yourself with the buildings and the practices of the Union can be very interesting and rewarding indeed, but there is so much more to Brussels – for those who are interested in European politics but also for those who prefer some other forms of culture! Here is a five-item list of some of the best aspects of Belgian and Brussels culture!

 

Visual Arts

The number of famous Flemish and Belgian painters is stunning, and Brussels is one of the definitive spots to see their works. For fans of flashy religious art there are paintings of Peter Paul Rubens, Jan van Eyck and many others. Classical and Flemish Joie-de-vivre are captured in the works of Pieter Brueghel and Jacob Jordaens. Famous Belgian symbolists include Fernand Khnopff, Jean Delville and Léon Spilliaert. Fans of surrealism will delight in the works of René Magritte and Paul Delvaux. Besides a big, royal museum, Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels has a lot of different galleries for different genres and epochs. A recommendation is to choose one era or style of visual arts you are interested in (e.g. Old Flemish masters, symbolism or modern art) and pursue those exhibitions. You can also find productions of other famous European painters, such as The Death of Marat by the French master Jacques-Louis David – one of the most famous pieces in the royal museum.

Brussels has some must-see symbolism for art-lovers. Fernand Khnopff: The Sphinx or The Caresses (1896). Source: Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain.

Art Nouveau

To see some of the best sights of Brussels, you don’t even have to spend a dime. Simply walk around the city center and its surroundings, and you will see baffling sights of splashy Art Nouveau architecture. This ornamental style was all the rage in the end of the 19th century and before the Great War. The followers of this style prided themselves in creating something entirely new, modern, and different, and the charming peculiarity of this genre continues to animate specialists and tourists alike. The most famous Belgian art nouveau architect was Victor Horta (1861–1947), whose former house is now Musée Horta. Buildings such as Hôtel Saint-Cyr, Hôtel Tassel and Hôtel Ciamberlani are in private possession but worth checking from the outside.

Hotel Saint-Cyr close to Square Ambiorix in Brussels. It is said to be the most bizarre Art Nouveau building in the city.

Chocolate and Sweets

If you can, do not miss Belgian chocolate! High quality chocolate and pralines are full of delicious cocoa butter. Brussels Airport Zaventem has probably the largest amount of high-quality chocolate stores in the world. Leonidas, Godiva, Neuhaus are among the most famous and prestigious manufacturers, and their chocolate is admittedly expensive but divine. The brand famous for its seashell pralines, Guylian, is also originally Belgian and a bit more affordable.

Have a taste of other delicious Belgian sweets, such as speculoos cinnamon cookies, cuberdons with dark puple color and berry-like taste and of course waffles, waffles and waffles. Actually, the repertoire of Belgian sweet delicacies is so impressive, it is difficult to choose a favorite!

Cuberdons also come in different colors and flavors. Picture: Arouet, Wikimedia Commons, under Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Music and Jazz

Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, was a Belgian, and you can listen to this controversial instrument in different jazz clubs around Brussels. For fans of this instrument and others, there is also the Musée des Instruments de Musique, a huge museum full of instruments, where you can listen to the sound of them with special headphones! For the aficionados of French chanson, there is for example the foundation of the popular singer-songwriter Jacques Brel (1929‒1978), that hosts a small documentary museum.

Saxophone was invented in the early 1840s by Sax, who also invented several other instruments. Picture by aaron00023 on Pixabay.

Comics

Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée is a museum focused on the “ninth art”, comics. It introduces a wide range of Belgian comics and changing exhibitions display the art and stories of different cartoonists. Hergé’s Tintin is the most famous of the Belgian comic book heroes, but there are many others too. Official Tintin stores and several book shops sell merchandise and comic books in French, Dutch and English. Where ever you move about in Brussels, you are sure to discover the refreshing fact that comics are truly respected in this beautiful country.