Savoring a delicious bonbon while cycling along the amusing comic strip route, with more than 50 fresco paintings hidden throughout the city; going into wonderful art noveau and déco buildings to later relax in the Delirium café, facing an infinite choice of beers; finding  inspiration in the museum of surrealist painter René Magritte, and later being stunned by the nocturnal sight of Grote Markt, the most beautiful square in Europe… the list goes on! That’s Brussels, a dynamic city full of contrasts, with an almost endless cultural offering.

Elegant, cosmopolitan and imposing, as well as diverse and colorful. The capital of Belgium and headquarters of the European Union could look as contradictory as convulsed to the less daring tourist. Nevertheless, a spontaneous stroll, walking its streets without a map, is the best way to feel the spell of this city that gave birth, exactly a century ago now, to the great genius of literature, Julio Cortázar, a piece of information that, like some other secrets that await you, don’t appear in the guide books.

Certainly, if someone asks you whether you prefer to know a place with the touristy points marked on your map or wandering aimlessly, you’ll probably choose the first option. Nevertheless, dismissing the importance of the surprise factor -which is precisely what makes us return from our trip in love after feeling the magic of a corner or a moment we’ve discovered during our random stroll- would be a big mistake. And as luck would have it, just like many other European cities, Brussels gives us the opportunity for that entertaining and always fascinating meandering. In fact, its leisure and cultural offering is so vast that, on our first trip, it’s probably better to focus on the attractions that destiny grants us, leaving the rest for future visits. That’s the reason why ‘Broeksele’ (its original name, meaning “Swamp chapel”) is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world.

Grote Markt, the most enchanting square in Europe
As a starting point, it’s nevertheless good to always start this carefree route from Grote Markt, also called Grand-Place. It’s said to be the most beautiful in all Europe, maybe even in the whole world, as the writer Victor Hugo described it after staying at the Le Pigeon building during his exile. Bonaparte found it “the most beautiful hall in Europe”, and UNESCO declared it part of the World Heritage” in 1998, by virtue of having one of the best 17th-century architectural ensembles.

Endless cultural offerings
From Grote Markt, an infinity of surprises await the adventurer, like the small statue of the Manneken Pis peeing into a bar-protected fountain, and its curious legends related to the city; the fresco pictures depicting comic-book characters whose authors were born in the Belgian capital, among them Hergé, creator of Tintin; the curious comic-book museum “Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée”, located in a beautiful art nouveau building designed by Horta; the impressive Palace of Justice (bigger than Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome); the modern institutions of the European Union in the quiet Parliament neighborhood; the St. Hubert galleries, the Royal Palace with its neoclassical garden; the Atomium and its 9 steel spheres, simulating a single iron crystal; art déco builidings like the Old England, turned into the Instruments Museum… and a long list of surprising and really diverse places that will delight tourists on their first visit to the city.

Exquisite chocolate and more than 2,000 beers
Coquettish without a match, the Ville de Bruxelles, or Brussel-stad, as they are respectively called in French and Dutch (the two official languages of the city), also has an endless number of chocolate shops where you can taste the exquisite chocolate-coated strawberries. Nevertheless, the biggest culinary attraction in the city are the gofres, which were delicious some years ago, but have lost some quality due to the price war among establishments. The best chocolate shops are Neuhaus, Godiva, Leonidas or Guylian, whose pralines can’t be resisted when seen from the other side of the window.

The Delirium café, a dark 18th-century pub close to the Grand-Place, is well known by the locals. With an interior lit by lanterns and decorated with hundreds of beer signs and posters, it offers a beer menu whose thickness is comparable to that of a huge phone directory. Its catalogue, with more than 800 Belgian beers, features virtually all the brands in the world –  more than 2,000 varieties. And although the place is very noisy and always packed, it’s worth trying to get to one of its Jam Sessions, a cheerful way to finish the night, and maybe the perfect ending to a new and fascinating trip.

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