Belgium’s fascinating capital, and the administrative capital of the EU, Brussels is historic yet hip, bureaucratic yet bizarre, self confident yet unshowy, and multicultural to its roots. All this plays out in a cityscape that swings from majestic to quirky to rundown and back again. Organic art nouveau facades face off against 1960s concrete developments, and regal 19th-century mansions contrast with the brutal glass of the EU’s Gotham City. This whole maelstrom swirls out from Brussels’ medieval core, where the Grand Place is surely one of the world’s most beautiful squares.
One constant is the enviable quality of everyday life, with a café/bar scene that never gets old. But Brussels doesn’t go out of its way to impress. The citizens’ humorous, deadpan outlook on life is often just as surreal as the canvases of one-time resident Magritte.
The cultural dynamic is fuelled by the city’s incredible diversity. With a little over 1 million inhabitants, but more than 180 nationalities, it’s a world city on a human scale.
The cityscape is pretty varied too. There’s not much left of the medieval core, but around it is an interesting mix of architecture from the last 200 years, with art nouveau and eclectic townhouses spicing up the neoclassical urban fabric, and more controversial modern and postmodern buildings. The city didn’t suffer much damage during the world wars, but was indeed partly ravaged by 20th century city planning. Several old neighbourhoods and even landmarks had to make way for office buildings and urban highways. This so-called ‘Brusselisation’ notably put its mark on the EU quarter. And speaking of the EU quarter, those supposedly bland bureaucrats compensate for their boring jobs come the weekend, unleashing a mostly young and cosmopolitan demographic into the local nightlife.