BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to explore the capital of Europe, with its unique combination of looks, architecture, culture, food and language?
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help you get the most out of a two-day stay in the heart of the European Union, where EU institutions and the many new buildings built to accommodate the bustle of Europe’s capital sit alongside elegant 17th century houses, alleys, cafes and restaurants.
12 p.m. - Take a walk in a park of one of Europe’s greenest cities. From Gare Midi, you can take the metro (4.50 euros or for a one-day ticket) to Schuman and enjoy Cinquantenaire park. On your way from the metro to the park you’ll see the European Commission, the European Council Julius Lipsius building with its E-shaped facade decoration (E for. Europe) and also the few English and Irish pubs loved by “Eurocrats” on Friday evenings.
1 p.m. - After a breath of fresh air, you are now ready to discover the Flemish capital. French is widely spoken in Brussels, but the city belongs to the Flemish part of Belgium. Jump back on the metro, but this time get off at Sainte-Catherine. This used to be a famous fish market, and at this time of the year the large market place becomes the venue for the Christmas markets, where you can stop for a quick “wurst” and “gluhwein,” a sausage and mulled wine. But don’t expect to find anything other than fish, mussels and fruits of the sea in the surrounding shops and restaurants. La Barcamole restaurant, built in a 17th century house does a lobster soup for 10 euros - just what you need to warm up.
3 p.m. - Sainte Catherine is surrounded by churches - the most impressive is the gothic Eglise Saint Jean Baptiste, from 1657 and Sainte Catherine Church, with its impressive baroque painted ceiling. Next to it is the Museum of Contemporary Arts, La Centrale Electrique. The building was the first electrical station of the city, and was built in 1901, but now serves as a meeting place for works of art of national and international contemporary artists.
4 p.m. - If you keep walking straight from place Sainte-Catherine you will come to Rue Dansaert, a famous shopping street garnished with French brasseries, bookshops and Belgian pubs. ‘Passaporta’ bookshop hosts cultural lunches with the public and famous writers. You can pop in for a literary brunch for free, or for usually just five euros. If you are lucky, the culinary treat will be on the house.
6 p.m. - For a really colorful choice, go on the parallel road to Rue Dansaert, Rue de Chartreux, which is crammed with everything from clock and candy shops or houses of chocolatiers, art galleries and vintage clothes stores. For a quick sugar fix pop in chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud's café- your senses will be melted and you will eventually give in. (www.chocolatsgerbaud.be)
7 p.m. -You are just a few steps away from Saint Gery, an old butcher’s market, which has now been transformed into an exhibition venue for contemporary artists. You can have a look at the exhibits, but also enjoy one of the café’s 52 coffee cocktails on one of its Chesterfield sofas.
8 p.m. - That big building in the square that you can see from where you are now is the Stockmarket of Brussels, ‘La Bourse’, built on the place where the old Butter Market used to be. The narrow, cobbled streets converging to La Bourse are packed with lace and biscuit shops. On Rue du Beurre, in the Belgian Art shop you can buy hand-made lace with lavender pot pourri for 4.50 euros. Next to it, why not try one of Belgium’s best original treats, the speculous biscuit? The 180 year-old Dandoi house, famous for these biscuits, sells a 100 gm speculous for 3.50 Euros and a giant 1 kg one for 29.40 euros. But don’t waste your sweet tooth on biscuits alone. Here, you can also find the freshly baked Belgian gauffre.
You are now in Grand Place. Take your time to have a wander around the place and take photos, you are in the Baroque heart of Brussels and a UNESCO world heritage site. The impressive City Hall built between 1401 and 1455 used to be known as the “King’s House,” although no king ever lived there. The guildhouses around the square add to the charming character.
9 p.m. - Now take the metro to Louise and then the 22 bus to Chausee d'Ixelles. The Marni Theater, on Rue de Vergnies 25, hosts cultural evenings such as jazz concerts with talented contemporary artists. Usually the tickets are so sought-after that people will even take a seat on the steps in the show hall just for a slice of Brussel's cultural wealth. (www.theatremarni.com/). Nearby is Place Flagey, one of the city's most cosmopolitan areas by night. You have to stop for a pint (2.60 euros) or a cocktail (7 euros) at Café Belga, where it gets so busy some people have their drinks seating on the floor. But before heading back to the hotel, why not, take a stroll by the channel, which is beautifully lit at night.
10 a.m. - In the mood for a coffee, some fine chocolates and a flea market? Head to Place du Grand Sablon, world famous flea market, built on the site of a 13th century cemetery. Now have a lazy morning and take your time to leaf through the old books, the fine crystals, and antiques, art deco objects and pieces of furniture which belong to the fashionable 20th century and beyond.
Antiques go well with chocolate, and what could be better than Pierre Marcolini, one of the world's finest, whose shop is just by the Grand Sablon flea market. (www.marcolini.be/)
12 p.m. - From Grand Sablon, you can walk up to Magritte museum in Place Royale to see the largest art collection of Belgian surrealist René Magritte. But there is more. The Flemish and French of Belgium flock to the newly inaugurated Musée Magritte museum every time they get the chance. The over 200 works of art are sheltered in the 2,500 sq m building of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium. To avoid queuing, you can buy your ticket online for 2 euros if you are under 25 and five euros if you are an adult. (onlineticketing.fine-arts museum.be/tickets1.aspx?&lang=EN&CDBEventID=1MAGRT)
3 p.m. - If you get hungry, you have two options. But don’t worry, you don’t necessarily have to choose, you can take both.
One is to grab some Frites (French fries) for 2.20 euros at the 62-year-old Maison Antoine in Place Jourdan, which you can easily reach by getting off at Schuman and walking down Rue Froissart. Locals say they are the best chips in the world.
The other option is to go at Les Brassins (Rue Keyenveld 36, +322 2 512 69 99), a cozy Belgian restaurant serving traditional food and a wide range of beers in funnily shaped glasses. Take the metro to Porte De Namur and keep walking on Avenue Louise until you turn left on Rue du Prince Royal, a narrow cobbled street. Turn right on Rue Keyenveld and prepare to eat well. Actually, it’s a struggle to eat badly at all in Brussels, and an even harder to eat expensive, especially at lunch. Try Belgian classics like lapin à la Kriek, rabbit stewed in flavored beer or the stoemp, a potato, onion and carrot stew accompanied by sausages.
You are now on the same road where Audrey Hepburn was born. After your meal, have a wonder around and find her memorial plaque on Keyenveld 48. 02 512 69 99
5 p.m. - Visit Musee Horta, the home and studio of Victor Horta, one of the Art Nouveau's finest practitioners and also one of the founders of Belgian Art Nouveau. The facade does not do the house any justice, but then which Belgian facade does? His house has been restored to its original condition and is now open to curious visitors who want an insight into the artist's original "breakaway" style. The entrance fee is 7 euros or 3.50 euros with a discount. (25, rue Américaine, St.-Gilles, www.hortamuseum.be/ ) Just in time for the sunset, you will be charmed by the way the sun pours down through the stained glass windows.
8 p.m. - Grab the metro back to Bourse and head to Rue Dansaert, where, at number 6, you will find an ancient door inscribed with an elegant A- it stands for Archiduc, the turquoise painted jazz club which started as a glamorous location for smoke and music-filled 'soirées' in 1937 and has played host to such music luminaries as Miles Davis. The Art deco room, with its ceilings and century-old sofas has kept its looks, its charm and...its function. Look up the programme on the internet before coming here. (www.archiduc.net) You will want to stay for more than just one drink. So have a Belgian cherry beer, an original Kriek and enjoy a jazzy night at L'archiduc.
10 p.m. - Wake up early and head to the Galeries St. Hubert for a delicious breakfast. Tea room Mokafe (Galerie du roi 9, +322 2 511 78 70) has the most scrumptious handmade cakes in Brussels. You can go for a Belgian gauffre served with fresh fruit and cream and a cup of tea. Don’t be surprised to find buskers playing different instruments in the St Hubert galleries, as well as many chocolate shops (that shouldn’t be a surprise anymore), art galleries, book shops and antique brasseries. From here, you are within walking distance to both the Grand Place, if you want to throw a last glance and to Gare Centrale, if you are ready to pack you bags (with the chocolate, biscuits and other little souvenirs) and go.