A day in Brussels • The European Quarter
The old Leopold Quarter might appear as of no interest to some as it is home to the European institutions and frequented mostly by Eurocrates, making it a little sterile. But actually there are plenty of interesting spots hidden in those supposedly soulless streets, such as parks, museums and ancient architecture that survived. Again, this is an area of Brussels with a very distinctive feeling, almost New York-ish if you ask me. And it is definitely worth a visit!
Brunch at Living Room | Place Jean Rey 8, 1040 Etterbeek
Open since February 2015, Living Room is a lovely place that combines two of my greatest loves: food & interior design. Here you can enjoy delicious food in a beautiful, cozy setting with a homey feeling and where everything is for sale. Meaning that if you love the mug you're drinking that chai latte from or the couch you're relaxing in, you can buy them! The style is clearly Scandinavian but still unique with items you don't see everywhere. As for the food, on Saturday and Sunday they serve a great brunch (€15,00 for the sweet one, €20,00 for the savoury one), whereas during the week it's à la carte.
Walk in Leopold Park
Located just behind the European Parliament, this charming park is the only part of the old Leopold Quarter that survived and a true haven of tranquility in the city. It is what they call an English Garden, complete with pond and rare trees, and it counts many historical buildings of architectural interest, such as the old Solvay Library.
Visit of the Wiertz Museum | Rue Vautier 62, 1050 Ixelles
The Belgian artist Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865) is an underrated one. Painter, but also sculptor and writer, he's known for his majestic, dramatic paintings that can reach more than 8 meters in length. With a fondness for dark subjects, he's a prominent figure of Belgian Romanticism that I quickly got fascinated by. Wiertz himself picked out this building to display his monumental works. These are gathered in a huge room that will surely make your jaw drop. There's just one catch to this museum: it is only open from Tuesday to Friday (10:00-12:00 / 12:45-17:00). But on the bright side, entrance is free!
Visit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences | Rue Vautier 29, 1000 Brussels
Located in the same street as the Wiertz Museum is the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences that is open all week (except on Monday). The museum has a rich collection of natural history with as center piece its dinosaur hall, the largest one in Europe. The hall itself was finished in 1905 and features a gorgeous iron structure, making it my favorite section of this large museum. For €7,00 you get access to the permanent collection, and for €2,50 extra you can visit the temporary exhibition on display at that time.
Walk in the Cinquantenaire Park
With its 30 hectares and its impressive triumphal arc, the Cinquantenaire Park has a royal vibe to it. This is no surprise as King Leopold II himself commissioned it to celebrate the 50 years of independence of the Belgian Kingdom. The arc came in 1905 and has been a famous Brussels' monument ever since. The park also counts three museums which are beautiful from the outside (but less so from the inside). In the warm seasons, its lawns are coveted by picnickers and other sun lovers. At the Eastern end of the park you can find the Maison Cauchie in the surrounding streets, a Brussels masterpiece of Art Nouveau. It was the home of Paul Cauchie, an architect and decorator, who used it as a means of publicity for his talents. The facade features a beautiful sgraffito (engraved drawing) illustrating the eight artistic disciplines.
Wander around Square Ambiorix
A little further North you'll find a beautiful, residential square surrounded by high class houses. All of them look rich, but a few stand out by their Art Nouveau curves. At nr 11 of Square Ambiorix stands a very special house: the Maison Saint-Cyr, only 4 meters wide, with extremely delicate ironworks. Just a few steps further, on the Avenue Palmerston, you'll find a colorful house called Villa Germaine at nr 24, as well as two hotels designed by Victor Horta at nr 2 and 4.
Drinks at Le Grand Central | Rue Belliard 190, 1040 Brussels
You can end your day not far from where you started it at Le Grand Central, a great place for food and drinks with an inspirational industrial interior. Here you can enjoy a milky cappuccino or a sparkling wine while looking out the window on the square surrounded by high buildings.
This day trip is suited for both Saturday and Sunday (except for the Wiertz Museum which is closed during the weekend). By train, the closest station is Bruxelles-Luxembourg. If you come by car, you can park for free in the streets around Place Jean Rey in the weekend.