BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) - As both the capital of Belgium and the administrative heart of Europe, Brussels has much to offer the two-day voyager. Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a visit to the city that is the home of the European Union and the waffle.
9 a.m. Arrive at Gare Centrale - If your train takes you to this station, you’ll already be within a short walk of the city center.
For those who think “waffle” when you hear “Belgium,” you’re in luck. For a quick, warm breakfast bite you’ll find them on sale at stands near the station.
This should put you in good stead for a stroll up the hill to Place Royale, home to a cluster of cultural highlights.
10 a.m. - The Musee des Beaux Arts has a wealth of art from the southern Low Countries, through the lively townsfolk scenes Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Younger, the altar paintings of Peter Paul Rubens, the portraits of Anthony van Dyck to the surrealism of Rene Magritte.
12 p.m. - For lunch, head for the nearby Musical Instrument Museum. The top-floor restaurant offers a wide view of Brussels’s old city center.
1 p.m. - The museum downstairs is also worth a visit both for its collection of instruments from around the world and for its art nouveau architecture. Take a headset, approach an instrument and hear an example of its music.
2:30 p.m. - Head back down the hill toward the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula, which started life as Romanesque church in the 11th century and was transformed into its current Gothic structure in the 13th century.
In 2000 a new stone altar was consecrated for the crossing, adding a touch of modernity to antiquity.
3:30 p.m. - The steps of the cathedral look over the winding streets of the city center. It’s a short walk to the Royal Galleries of Saint Hubert, which provide a chance for some upscale shopping and sidewalk dining.
The maze of cobblestone streets are home to numerous shops and restaurants. Look out for the many windows full of chocolates, giving a chance to try one of Belgium’s other delights.
5:30 p.m. - The Manneken Pis (little peeing man) is reproduced in everything from candies to corkscrews, so you’ll want to find the original. The bronze statue of a urinating boy has become a symbol of Brussels. You’ll find it down the street from the Grand Place.
6 p.m. - Return to the Grand Place. The old buildings bordering the square are lit at night, creating a delightful scene. For supper, stop at ’t Kelderke’s basement dining room for its atmosphere and spread of traditional Belgian fare. Enjoy the stoemp (mixed mash potatoes and vegetables) and sausage while relaxing under the restaurant’s vaulted brick ceiling.
And no Belgian meal would be complete without a Belgian beer. Belgium is known for its beers, so you’ll want to try several types on your visit. The Grimbergens are always a good bet, but for a stronger brew you could try Delirium Tremens with its distinctive pink elephant label. For a fruitier beer try one of the cherry-flavored krieks, traditionally brewed with sour cherries from the Brussels area.
9 a.m. - A trip on the metro will take you to the Heysel plateau. The park here is dominated by the Atomium, a large monument built for the 1958 exposition, a group of giant balls bound together in the form of an iron crystal cube. www.atomium.be
Journey to the top for one of the best views of the city. Nearby Laeken park offer a break from the bustle of the city.
12:30 p.m. - Head back to the city for lunch and to Place Jourdan, not from the European Commission building. The friterie in the square is thought by some to serve the best fries in the city. A nearby pub allows customers indoors with their meal with a good selection of Belgian beers to wash them down.
2 p.m. - Just up the hill is Parc du Cinquantenaire, a small park with tree-lined paths and a giant arch at one end. The Military Museum, Art & History Museum and Autoworld, a car museum, flank the arch. The Great Mosque of Brussels is at the other end.
4 p.m. - The Belgian Comic Strip Center takes a bit of finding, but is well worth the trip. For fans of Belgian comics like the Smurfs or Tintin, the museum provides a look at the process of their creation. The collection is housed in a gem of a warehouse designed by art nouveau architect Victor Horta with iron columns and open light-filled spaces. www.comicscenter.net.
It's mussels night for dinner. In the vibrant Ixelles district, Au Vieux Brussels offers mussels and fries, the national dish, in 10 different styles. www.auvieuxbruxelles.com/
Your evening could end with a visit to Cinematek, the refurbished Musee de Cinema for a sampling of their collection of classic films. Offerings range from silent films of the 1920s to modern classics. www.cinematek.be
Or for those still with energy, amble around Ixelles bars, including those in Matonge, Brussels’ bustling African area named after a district in Congolese capital Kinshasa.
Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Paul Casciato