As the de facto capital of Europe, Brussels has a lot to live up to, but it steps into the role of Euro-culture melting pot with architectural, gastronomic and cosmopolitan élan.
For all the ‘heart of the EU’ brouhaha, the capital of Flanders, Belgium, and Europe is surprisingly small. Home to a relatively teeny 1.3 million people – less than half of them Belgian – it’s nevertheless a thriving metropolis, where French and Flemish culture meet, greet, and try to sit down to a long lunch together without arguing. Despite the bilingual identity crisis (trilingual if you count the ubiquitous English-speakers), Brussels rewards the wanderer – there’s something interesting down every winding alley or cul-de-sac, and the magnificent (and magnificently busy) mediaeval Grand Place is as impressive as any town square in Prague, Warsaw or Siena. Wide boulevards link landmark to landmark with a Parisian swagger, and, as with Berlin, you need to deviate from the tourist trail to get to know Brussels on its own cosmopolitan terms.
Brussels’ climate is mild and maritime, meaning that while the summers are warm and the winters are gentle, rain can come tumbling down at any time. It’s hardly monsoon weather, though, and the city can make a rewarding visit at any time of year.