The Belgians are playful people. Brussels with its pissing boy, paintings by Magritte and the songs of Jacques Brel, epitomises this playful spirit. Everywhere you look there is something funny to catch the eye.
The best place to start to explore the Belgian love of the absurd is at the Musee des Beaux Arts. It is one of the world’s great art galleries. After looking at works by Hieronymus Bosch, James Ensor or Breughel, you will wonder what it is that makes the Belgians so odd.
Perhaps it’s all that beer. Many of the visitors stumbling off flights to Brussels know that Belgium produces some of the greatest beers in the world and Brussels is the place to sample them. Try the perfectly-preserved 19th century bar, Mort Subite – literally meaning ‘Sudden Death’ – a short walk from the Gare Centrale. Here you can try the infamously strong beer, 8.5%, Delirium Tremens. After a couple, Bosch et al start to make sense.
You couldn’t fly to Belgium without trying Moules Frites. St. Catherine’s Square is crammed with excellent seafood restaurants. It is where the locals go to eat. Even here the Belgian love of the absurd is in evident in the enormous neon lobster above one of the restaurants. It is like a surrealist Piccadilly Circus.
There’s so much of architectural merit here that it is hard to know where to start. Why not take a guided architectural walk around the city? The one highlighting Brussels rich Art Nouveau heritage is unforgettable and lets you into houses that you would only otherwise see by appointment. The other great way to travel the city is by the efficient and cheap tram system. And finally you mustn’t miss the Museum of Musical Instruments and the Tintin museum.
The best thing about Brussels, however, is that it remains relatively unvisited so you don’t have to contend with the crowds. With something surprising around each corner, you’ll be glad to have it to yourself.