Okay… so Brussels- it’s a government city, it’s a transportation hub and it’s sprawling. It may not have the design or fashion reputation of Antwerp but that did not deter your trusty Lamb411 tour guides from packing their rain accessories, jumping on a plane and spending a weekend touring the city. Our goal was to hunt architecture (specifically Art Nouveau) and cartoon graffiti.
Typically when we travel, our exploration revolves around food and design. Perhaps living in Copenhagen, a city full of both food and design, has spoiled our eyes and stomachs slightly, because if I were to judge Brussels on this criteria, I would not rush back. It doesn’t have the bakeries of Paris or London. We both found the food in Brussels rather mediocre- as in fine, but nothing to write home about. The customer service was also veering on the very laissez fair side. We very much enjoyed spending time around Rue Antoine Dansaert, and the Sablon, Ixelles and Uccle areas- they seemed to have more action going on and had a nice mix of retail/residential/arts/design, otherwise we found the city to be rather quiet, a typical touristy center and a tad boring- The mobs of tourists clustered around the little peeing statue- I don’t get it! Haven’t people seen a statue with water coming out of it before? I believe it is called a fountain!
However- with a big BUT- if you like looking at buildings and appreciate street art (and of course antiques), Brussels is a wonderful place with a little from column A and a little from column B- throw in all the antique stores and markets and it can make for an exciting little weekend trip. At the bottom of this post, I included my extensive Brussels map with lots of restaurant, retail, coffee, bakery and gallery recommendations. We tried to visit as many as possible but like all good European cities, Sunday most things are CLOSED- which is why we save the museums/galleries for the city’s day of rest.
Lunch of champions at God Save the Cream: British inspired cafe
On to cartoon mural and graffiti hunting in Brussels…. Brussels is the comic book capital of the world and throughout the city you will see the most beautiful cartoon murals on the facades of buildings. There is an official comic book mural walk which you can follow- We did not do the walk because we wanted the challenge of finding them ourselves. You can see more of the murals on the Mattador website article about comic book murals too. We were not as successful as the article but made a nice dent in tracking them down!
There are lovely details on and around the buildings throughout the city including decorative cast iron doors, and random artistic adornments on the exterior of buildings.
Another thing that stood out to me was the use of symmetry in the design of public spaces and buildings. Here are a few of my favourites in the photos below.
I admired how diverse the architecture of residential buildings were in the various neighbourhoods. You could be looking at the style and architecture of 10 different decades on one street!
We found beautiful examples of street art in the most random places. Graffiti that tells a story, in contrast to tagging adds to the feel and community of a neighbourhood.
There were also several examples of tiles on the street and on the sides of buildings which I thought was neat. I walked into an antique store and the guy had a big box of individual tiles that came off buildings. I was tempted but did not purchase one.
My favourite was hunting for examples of Art Nouveau around Brussels- a great reason to visit the city if you are into that style/time period. We visited the residence and museum of the famous Belgian architect who championed the Art Nouveau style, Victor Horta to get a better understanding of the public and private houses and buildings he designed around the city. Four of his buildings are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Brussels is, no doubt a great starting point and base from which to travel to other places around Belgium or western Europe. Two days is more than enough in my humble opinion to observe, walk, taste and see. Next time I visit, I would rent a car or buy a train ticket to see the countryside and other smaller cities. Even in the rain- and there was a consistent mist-like rain, the city is a beauty. As for the hair- that is another story….
Sunday NOTE: There is a new cafe called JAT’ that is open on Sunday. We visited twice and it is a wonderful spot (free wifi, good snacks, nice atmosphere/design).
My Map of Everything Wonderful in Brussels
View Brussels 48 Hours in a larger map