Brussels is a hub of business activity but also a great place to visit on a city-break. It offers plenty of shopping, sightseeing and seriously good food, and with its train connections to the rest of the continent, it makes an ideal first stop on a modern European tour.
BREAKFAST LE PAIN QUOTIDIEN 16a rue Antoine Dansaert; 11 rue des Sablons and 124 avenue Louise; plus six other venues (00 32 2 502 23; www.lepainquotidien.be). In 1990 chef Alain Coument set up his own bakery, with a long, scrubbed wooden table where customers could sit and sample bread and lots of home-made jams, pastries, quiches, salads and sandwiches. The concept has spread across Brussels and the world, and the cafés are excellent for breakfast. All shops/cafés open from around 7am to 7pm. MUSSELS Brussels is the home of mussels. Here are some of the best restaurants to find them: RESTAURANT FRANCOIS 2 Quai aux Briques, Brussels (00 32 2 511 6089; www.restaurantfrancois.be). Dating back to 1922, this brightly-lit restaurant has its own fish shop next door. Dishes include starters of moules parquées (raw mussels) as well as traditional casseroles of mussels. LA BELLE MARAICHERE 11 Place Sainte Cathérine, Brussels (00 32 2 512 9759; www.labellemaraichere.com). One of Brussels' best fish restaurants, this 19th-century-style, wood-panelled bistro, serves simple mussel dishes. Open Fri-Tue. SCHELTEMA 7 rue des Domincains, Brussels (00 32 2 512 2084; www.scheltema.be). An elegant brasserie off the Grand' Place, open Mon-Sat. AU VIEUX BRUXELLES 35 rue St Boniface, Brussels (00 32 2 503 3111; www.auvieuxbruxelles.com). This is one of the best places to have mussels and chips in a quaint café dating from 1882, in the heart of Ixelles. Open Tue-Sun. IN'T SPINNEKOPKE Place Jardin aux Fleurs, Brussels (00 32 2 511 8695; www.spinnekopke.be). A traditional and inexpensive restaurant with Belgian specialities on the menu. BEST LUNCH COMME CHEZ SOI 23 Place Rouppe, Brussels (00 32 2 512 2921; www.commechezsoi.be). The style of cuisine is sophisticated, modern French with an accent on top-class Belgian produce, like Coucou de Malines, grain-fed chickens. The dining room, in true art nouveau style, is a touch cramped. Real foodies should try for places at the long table in an alcove in the kitchen, where you have a view of the action. Open Tue-Sat BEST DINNER DE BIJGAARDEN 20 Isidoor Van Beverenstraat, Groot Bijgaarden (00 32 2 466 4485; www.debijgaarden.be). Located just outside the ring road that surrounds Brussels, De Bijegaarden is a trek to get to and dauntingly expensive, but is a superb restaurant in the traditional mould. In the spacious dining room, where oak panelling glows softly in the light cast by chandeliers, you'll experience service of a kind rarely encountered today. The cuisine achieves a form of synthesis of the traditional and the modern. Specialities include baked turbot with a lobster-flavoured Béarnaise sauce and saddle of lamb with truffles. The best way to get a real feel of the cuisine (and to keep the cost within reasonable bounds) is to select one of the prix-fixe menus. LES BRASSERIES GEORGES 259 Avenue Winston Churchill, Brussels (00 32 2 347 2100; www.brasseriesgeorges.be). Les Brasseries Georges has all the buzz and bustle you would expect in a brasserie. Perennially popular, Georges offers a wonderful seafood platter and lots of typical brasserie dishes, among them shoulder of lamb and steamed cod with potatoes purée.
BUILDINGS AND MONUMENTS GRAND' PLACE Start your tour of Brussels at the Grand' Place, the magnificent main square, which is on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Many of the sights listed below are all within short reach of this central hotspot, which is surrounded by guild houses. HOTEL DE VILLE/STADHUIS Grand' Place, Brussels. An impressive building located at the middle of Grand' Place, the town hall was built in the early 15th century by Jacob van Thienen, while the interiors were updated in the 17th and 19th centuries. The façade is adorned with numerous statues of saints and noble figures. MANNEKEN PIS Rue de l'Étuve/rue du Chêne, Brussels. The famous statue of the little boy peeing, that has become Brussels most famous citizen. MUSEUMS BELGIAN COMIC STRIP CENTRE Rue des Sables 20, Brussels (00 32 2 219 1980; www.comicscenter.net). The Comic Strip Centre is not to be missed by Tintin fans, and charts the history of comics in general. Open Tue-Sun. BELVUE MUSEUM Place des Palais 7, Brussels (00 32 7022 0492; www.belvue.be). The BELvue is a good place to go for some Belgian history. The exhibits take you through exciting events in the country's history, while the building and Place des Palais itself are also worth closer looks. BREWERY MUSEUM Grand' Place, Brussels (00 32 2 511 4987; www.beerparadise.be). Visitors come here to learn everything there is to know about the Belgian beer trade. The café is the perfect spot to sample the local beer culture. HORTA MUSEUM Rue Americaine 25, Brussels (00 32 2 543 0490; www.hortamuseum.be). Based in the Belgian architect Victor Horta's actual house in St Giles, the Horta Museum comprises two organically inspired buildings. Inside, the art nouveau movement is brought to life by swirling iron stairways, delicate woodwork and breezy spaces. Open from 2pm to 5.30pm Tue-Sun. MUSEUM OF THE CITY Maison du Roi, Grand Place, Brussels (00 32 2 279 4350; www.brussels.be). The museum traces Brussels history and exhibits every piece of clothing ever worn by Mannken Pis (see above). ROYAL MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS Rue de la Régénce 3, Brussels (00 32 2 508 3211; www.fine-arts-museum.be). The Royal Museum of Fine Arts has four subsidiaries: both the Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of Modern Art can be found on rue de la Régénce, and boast work by Brueghel and Rubens. Open Tue-Sun.
Brussels enjoys a relatively temperate maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters, making it an ideal city-break destination all year round.