For anyone who has never been to Brussels before, the first time visit usually offers a pleasant surprise. Because, despite all the less than favourable comments which you may or may not have heard, it is an interesting city which serves as a unique melting pot of the old and the new, the traditional and the modern.
Brussels began as a town on the trade route between Cologne and Bruges and under the rule of the Hapsburgs it continued to flourish. It went on to become the capital of the Spanish Netherlands and then took turns with The Hague as the capital of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. In the 1800s it became the official capital of the new independent Belgium and since then it has also become the headquarters of the EU and NATO. All of these aforementioned developments in the city’s history have seen it develop in the manner that most European capitals have, and it’s always for the better.
The Grand Place is regarded by many as the most beautiful square in all of Europe and the preserved fourteenth century city centre with its narrow cobble stoned streets make walking through the city a thoroughly enjoyable experience. In stark contrast to the old part of the city, however, are the new Parisian style boulevards which house the embassies, banks and are situated close to the ultra modern EU quarter. But, strangely the two different areas work well together and offer a wonderful sense of the process of change which is synonymous with the city’s history.