Brussels, hands-down, has one of the most spectacular market squares of anywhere in Europe. The Grand Place, bathed in opulence, is the central market square of Brussels. It is home to the Town Hall and the Breadhouse, where you will find the Museum of the City of Brussels. The Grand Place is the most popular tourist destination in the city and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. What took so long, guys?!
WHAT IS A UNESCO WORL HERITAGE SITE
Like me, you’ve probably heard of dozens of places with the UNESCO World Heritage Site distinction… and maybe, like me, you don’t entirely know what that means. So here is a brief description: “A World Heritage Site is a landmark or area which has been officially recognized by the United Nations, specifically by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Sites are selected on the basis of having cultural, historical, scientific or some other form of significance, and they are legally protected by international treaties. UNESCO regards these sites as being important to the collective interests of humanity.”
HISTORY OF THE GRAND PLACE
The history of Belgium’s most iconic landmark is vast, with roots beginning in the 10th century with the initial founding of Brussels. Open-air markets were set up in the 11th century, and in the 13th century, indoor markets formed along the edge of the Grand Place. From the 14th century on, the market was of great importance to merchants. In 1695, the French army bombed the Grand Palace and left nothing more than a skeleton of the original structures. Late in the 19th century, it was once again returned to its original state. At the beginning of World War I, the Grand Place was turned into a makeshift hospital to care for wounded civilians and military personnel.
Up until 1959, it served as a market. In 1971, the “flower carpet” was created. Made from over a million of colorful begonias, the “carpet” covers over 1,800 square meters of ground. As a result of its popularity, it has since turned into a bi-yearly tradition. While I haven’t had the chance to witness it in person, I can only imagine how stunning it truly is. In 2010 the Grand Place was voted the most beautiful square in Europe. Would you agree?
FOOD & DRINK
Eat, drink, and then eat some more…. waffles… beers… fries. And then repeat. But seriously, the fries are to die for! I wouldn’t call myself a french fry connoisseur per say, but I dabble. The Belgium fries are hot and thick with a little crunch and go great with the ever popular mayonnaise dipping sauce. Wash them down with a few Belgium beers, and finish it off with a hot waffle (or two)!
Manneken Pis is a small bronze statue of a little boy urinating into the fountain below him. He was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy in the early 1600’s and has been stolen multiple times throughout his long life. Manneken Pis is the subject of many legends. The most noteworthy story is when the infant was placed in a basket hanging from a tree and he urinated on the rival troops, thus resulting in their loss. While he’s not the most impressive piece of art, in my opinion, I’d still make it a point to see him. You will also find Manneken Pis replicas made out of chocolate in many store windows.
CATHEDRAL OF ST. MICHAEL AND ST. GUDULA
The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula is a Roman Catholic church built in the French Gothic style. St. Michael and St. Gudula are the patron saints of Brussels and St. Gudula’s relics were housed in another church before resting here. The church was built over the course of 300 years and was completed in 1519.
DAY TRIPS FROM BRUSSELS
The beauty of Europe is the close proximity and ease at which one can travel the continent. Brussels is no exception. With so many destinations close by, I recommend exploring Ghent and the charming town of Bruges. Ghent is about 50 minutes from Brussel by train and is on the way to Bruges, making both cities just over an hour outside of Brussels.