BRUSSELS: Make it a destination, not just a layover
I was hard pressed to find suggestions on this beautiful Belgian city. Many friends failed to add this city to the European itinerary. After a visit of my own I can assure this bustling city shouldn’t be overlooked. Brussels features a vibrant mix of modern commercial and historic districts filled with architectural gems and old-world squares. The city features many lively and hip neighborhoods, each unique and multi-cultural. Art, design, culture, cuisine, shopping and beer abound in the capital of the European Union. With direct flights from Chicago, (and other major US cities) Brussels is a great destination and jumping-off point for the rest of Europe. Situated between Amsterdam & Paris, Brussels is easily accessible via high-speed rail. If you find yourself in the region, Brussels definitely warrants a short stop to experience all the city has to offer. I can promise the city is more than just chocolate & waffles (but also DO try and chocolate & waffles).
WHAT TO DO: Marolles Flea market
Skip the tourist and chocolate shops and opt for a more unique souvenir at one of Brussels pop-up flea markets. I visited the Marolles Flea market at Place du Jeu de Balle. It was stuffed full of antiques, African art, curiosities, nick-nacks, junk, and books. The market definitely has an authentic Brussels feel and is off the usual tourist path. Don’t be afraid to dig through the many boxes to find yourself a truly unique Brussels souvenir or gift. Haggling is expected. Arrive early in the morning for the best finds or come later in the afternoon to get yourself a deal. Lots of great cafes and more traditional antique shops in the area as well.
Location: Place du Jeu de Balle
Hours: 6am to 2pm
WHERE TO STAY: Jam Hotel
Located in the hip Ixelles neighborhood, Jam hotel is perfect place to rest, relax and recharge on your Brussels adventure. High design reigns in this recently converted boutique hotel. The buildings former life as an art school can be seen in throughout. Exposed concrete and reclaimed wood are highlighted in the entry lobby. A small bar and dining room round out the first level. Guest rooms feature a simple modern aesthetic and are accompanied by exposed concrete and raw wood. Private rooms, which feature en-suite baths, come in a wide array of sizes and can accommodate anywhere from a single guest to a group of 6. “Dormitory style” single beds in shared rooms are also offered. These are a huge upgrade from ordinary hostel accommodations. The hotel lacks air conditioning but features operable windows and fans can be checked out at the front desk. Ask for a high floor room and you’ll have picturesque city views over the adjacent buildings.
Jam hotel is all about the amenities. The basement features a funky game room equipped with vintage arcade games, ping-pong and foosball tables. This is the perfect place to relax and have some fun before heading out for sightseeing. Take the elevator to the top floor to enjoy cocktails at the posh rooftop bar, La-Haut. Menu features classic and creative drinks sure to satisfy any palette. The interior is an intimate lounge atmosphere with great music and weekend DJ’s. Move out to the adjacent outdoor space for additional seating and expansive rooftop views of the entire neighborhood. Down one level features a stunning lounge deck and heated lap pool. Grab a cocktail, get comfortable and soak up the summer sun. Nothing beats a pool with a view and this one sure delivers.
Private Room Rates: Starting at 79€
WHERE TO EAT: Café des Spores
If you’re a foodie or fellow mushroom fanatic, boy does Brussels have a special treat for you. Branch out from the ordinary and try Café des Spores, a true culinary gem. As the name suggests this restaurant focuses all on mushrooms. Every dish is prepared with a different species of mushroom, even desert! In some dishes the shrooms are prominent while others much more subtle. Every dish is high quality and made fresh in the open kitchen. Menu is inventive and expertly plated when it arrives at your table. Choose from multiple prefix menu options to customize your experience. Service is impeccable and they are happy to assist with recommendations, translations, and wine parings. The restaurant has an intimate atmosphere and occupies a cute vintage storefront. A small balcony on the upper level offers additional seating. As with most of Brussels, a reservation is recommended. Truly a dinning experience you won’t forget.
Price point: €€€
WHERE TO DRINK: Moeder Lambic
No visit to Brussels is complete without a few good pints. Moeder Lambic pours up a wide array of craft and local Belgian beers. The extensive beer list rotates to offer up selections for each season. Bar has a hip vibe with classic decor like checkered flooring, rustic woods and exposed brick. Seating is available indoors and outside along the street front patio. This popular spot is a favorite for both locals and tourists. So popular that they opened a second location near the city-center. Staff is friendly and happy to assist selecting the perfect brew. If you happen to be craving beer in the early evening Moeder Lambic has fantastic happy hour specials that’s hard to beat. Check out the original location on Fontainas or the new location on rue de Savoie.
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