Brussels isn’t just about beers and EU institutions, Brussels itself is an outsider. Nestled between the famous neighbouring cities of Paris and Amsterdam, Brussels had to find its own way of being. This is why I always tell friends visiting that Brussels is not a city to visit but a reality to live! There aren't many mainstream touristic spots, and what there is you can visit all within a day of sightseeing. What is magic about Brussels are the hidden places not covered by touristic guides - parks, local breweries, cultural events of all sorts - a trip to Brussels will be a unique experience. Here’s five hidden gems to check out if you’re visiting the city!
Bois de la Cambre
Photo credit: bestofbrussels.wordpress.com
Belgians, like a lot of Mittel-european folks, are not used to good weather but believe me, the moment the forecasts announce a ray of sun you will see flocks of people pouring out into the parks and terraces. And when it comes to parks in Brussels you’re spoiled for choice. One of them, Le Bois de la Cambre or in Dutch Ter Kamerenbos, is the most interesting for social, historic and natural reasons. It’s one of the biggest parks and has a small lake with Robinson Island in the centre where, at a wooden bar, they'll serve you exquisite Belgian ales. Linked to the park is the Cistercian Abbaye de la Cambre with the National Geographic Institute which is also worth a visit. Easily accessible from downtown by bus, Le bois de la Cambre will give you an insight into how Belgians relax. If it’s not raining, of course.
Bar Verschueren-Parvis de Saint Gilles
Photo credit: radissonred.com
Brussels is a very small city. In fact, many people don't know that the Belgian capital is actually the Federal Region of Brussels, composed of 19 different bilingual municipalities. One of the most charming ones is Saint Gilles with a princely city-hall and a castle-like prison. But the most lively part of the "commune" is le Parvis, a pedestrian square dominated by a Neo-Roman church. There’s many well-known bars there, but De Verschueren is the only one that still preserves its original art-deco furniture. With its minimal effort and an amazing vibe, the bar is unmistakably Belgian. If you’re lucky, the owner could be around and a little chat with him is really not hard to start! The walls are covered with old football team’s metals and French speaking people are predominant. You’ll certainly feel like a Belgian here.
Photo credit: talktotim.co.uk
Steven Spielberg's "The Secret of the Unicorn" is one of the best known adventures of Hergé's hero TinTin, who is fictionally based in Brussels. You’ll find graffiti, statues and all sorts of references to his stories all throughout the city centre and beyond. The movie begins with Tintin taking a tour in the most well known flea market in the city, Le Jeu de balle des Marolles. It's a must see and it's well known as the heart of this very fancy neighbourhood. But while you’ll see it described in all tourist guides, the surroundings of the main square are very much less known. Narrow streets and hidden vintage shops are scattered all around. One of these, located in Rue des Capoucins (it's the only one there so easy to find) hides a spectacular shop where you will find all sorts of vintage items. Have coffee in the bar of this shop then ask for the toilet and you’ll be catapulted into something surreal along the external corridor which will make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time to a beguiling "decadence". Unmissable!
Hidden Bars in Place Flagey
Photo credit: visit.brussels - Le Murmure
Place Flagey is a big square in the municipality of Ixelles. It hosts the best hand maker of french fries in Brussels. The old TV tower, a charming building of red bricks which heralds from the fifties overlooks the wide square. After a stroll around the ponds make a tour of the best bars in town. Check out Le Pantin for its underground atmosphere, Le Murmure for its easy-going attitude and L'Amère à Boire for the list of completely unknown Belgian beers coming from all the corners of the country. You just need to leave the centre of the square and get lost, and possibly tipsy, discovering a real Belgian way of life.
52 and the Secret Garden
Photo credit: brusselskitchen.com
Brussels hides several places that you normally wouldn't spot if nobody brings you there. There's a secret garden on Chaussée de Vleurgat at the number 52 and only few people know about it. The owner of the little Italian restaurant will host you as if it was his own house and he will delight you with simple and inexpensive regional Italian dishes. Book a table before going and if it's a sunny day ask for a table in the terrace. You will swiftly pass from a noisy and loud street to a calm and relaxing environment - the welcoming and hospitable atmosphere at 52 and the Secret Garden is an experience not to be missed.
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