#1 My road to Brussels was never easy.
I failed on my first attempt to apply for a full scholarship in Belgium. One year later, I decided to give it another shot just to find out the Belgian Government had closed the scholarship permanently. Then the Brussels attacks shook the world and I had to think twice about living there. But there was something about this country I always felt compelled to visit. Late last year, I ended up backpacking Brussels for three cold and gloomy days running up to Christmas. A long held dream came true.
#2 Decent winter snacks
Brussels has an undeniable reputation for chocolate, waffles and fries. The long line outside the Waffle Factory caught my attention as I was looking for the Manneken Pis. So I tried a classic plain, powdered, made-on-the-spot waffle and returned there the next day to try another mind-blowing waffle, this time topped with melted chocolate that would sit in my belly a little longer. Those delicious sweet treats can be spotted anywhere within the 1km radius of the Grand Palace, but the most popular shops can be found on Rue de l’Etuve and Rue du Lombard.
#3 Illuminated Grand Palace at night
Traveling from France’s quiet countryside, I was suddenly exhilarated by the lively and buoyant Brussels’s nightlife. One night I was waiting for a friend in front of the city’s history museum when the uplifting melody of some billboard song started to play and all of a sudden the whole Grand Palace was lit up in vivid colors. The beam of red lights first shined the palace’s highest tower then quickly stretched through its main body, while beautifully choreographed to the cheerful music. The light display is open till 4 January in case you want to check it out this Christmas.
#4 Lots of green space
The public transport in Brussels was expensive so I chose to explore the city on foot and from time to time was rewarded with real quick escapes into nature. Gardens and public parks are everywhere. Brussels Park, opposite to the Royal Palace, was a perfect spot to rest and wait for the sun to set after a long day of sight-seeing. And Petit Sablon was more like a tiny hidden oasis of greenery, just a few minutes walk from the Justice Palace and Church of our Blessed Lady of the Sablon.
#5 Top-notch museums are a few mins walk apart
The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium is situated at Rue du Musée, housing thousands of masterworks from 15th to 21st centuries in the same building of eight floors. Tickets to each museum and exhibition are sold separately but at least you could have a glance from the turnstiles in between (once you’re in) and decide whether you should devote time and money into them. I’m not that into art but decided to visit Museum of Magritte after a local friend showed me some of the artist’s weird yet witty paintings. Two euros was all it took to access the huge collection of Magritte’s works, its beautiful terrace and other magnificient paintings in the hallways.
Another two worth-checking destinations include the museum of Brussels city and the Belgian Comic Strip Center, both situated in the heart of the city and just 10 mins walk apart from each other. For those who were wondering about the contemporary look of the Grand Palace, I strongly advise you to drop by the city’s history museum for a more insightful view. In late 17th century, a heavy bombardment devastated nearly a quarter of the city and left several monuments in its historic heart in ruins. The Grand Palace was just one of them. And cartoon art lovers, do you even know Brussels is the birthplace of Tintin, Lucky Luke and the Smurfs? The Comic book museum would tell you stories behind these characters.