A weekend in…
Still some time left?
Not everyone explores a city at the same pace. While some race from one hotspot to the next, others take their time to stroll slowly through the streets and alleys. If you are part of the former group, you might have some time left to kill before fastenin
MONTMARTRE OF BRUSSELS
The dream of King Leopold II (the megalomaniac monarch behind many a monumental building in Brussels) was to turn the hill of Koekelberg into a copy of Paris’ Montmartre district. In the centre, he foresaw a grand, neo-Gothic basilica, similar to the Sacré-Coeur. As it took a century to complete the church, the plans changed drastically along the way and the elegant basilica became a modern Art Deco temple. As the basilica rises high above the city, a trip up its towers promises magnificent views over Brussels and its green surroundings.
Elisabeth Park (Koekelberg) (Elisabeth/Simonis, metro 2 and 6). Free entrance to Basilica, €6 for panorama tower. Open daily from 8am to 6pm (to 5pm in winter). Panorama tower accessible daily from 9am to 5.30pm in summer and from 10am to 4pm in winter.
It used to be a post office, a warehouse and a port building, but today it is Brussels’ main innovation hub. The restored industrial site of Tour & Taxis attracts start-ups, restaurants, bars, design boutiques and other contemporary delights. Around it, a wide piece of wasteland serves as an urban park for young people to hang, skate or train whatever sport takes their fancy. If you walk all the way to the metal bridge, a few hundred metres away from the building, you’ll stumble upon a greenhouse that transforms into an alternative bar in the summer.
Avenue du Port 86c (Ribaucourt, metro 2 and 6). Free entrance. Park open 24/7; outlet schedules vary.
On the Coudenberg, one of Brussels’ nicest hills, once stood the elegant palace from where the Duchy of Brabant was ruled for nearly seven centuries. It was said to be one of the nicest palaces in Europe, until Maria-Elisabeth from Austria forgot to extinguish the candles before going to bed, thus burning the place down. Today, the Royal Palace, the city park and Mont des Arts (for all three, see page 19) are built where the palace used to be. But those who want to can still visit its underground remains. The entrance of the Coudenberg Palace is in the BELvue Museum, a museum about Belgium, situated inside the Royal Palace.
Place des Palais 7 (Parc, metro 1 and 5). €7; €12 in combination with BELvue (discounts available). Open Tuesday to Friday from 9.30am to 5pm. On weekends, in summer months and during public holidays, it is open from 10am to 6pm.
CULTURE AND NATURE
The botanical garden of Brussels, usually referred to as ‘Botanique’, is a crossroads of nature and culture. The charming, lower-lying park sets itself apart with romantic alleys and marvellous water features. While on a bench enjoying the tranquillity, you simply can’t ignore the impressive Manhattan neighbourhood (see the next page), the skyscrapers of which tower above the trees and hedges. The park’s elegant, neoclassical orangery, on the other hand, is now one of the city’s most important cultural centres. It hosts a range of concerts, plays and shows, often by illustrious, international names. Check the calendar before you travel to Brussels, and experience the intimacy of Brussels’ most atmospheric venue.
Boulevard Saint-Lazare (Saint-Josse-ten-Noode) (Rogier, metro 2 and 6 and tram 3, 4, 25, 32 and 55). Free entrance to park. Open daily. Prices and schedules of cultural centre vary.
BACK IN TIME
What few people know is that the Royal Belgian Film Archive is one of the biggest cinema collections in the world. At Cinematek, you can watch a selection of these gems daily – from golden classics to obscure masterpieces, from black and white to Technicolor. This is also the only film archive in the world that still schedules a silent movie with live piano every single day. If instead you crave more contemporary silver screen pleasure, opt for Cinema Palace, UGC, Kinepolis, Cinema Galleries or one of the many other exquisite film havens in the city.
Rue Baron Horta 9 (Park, metro 2 and 6). €4 per film. Open from 4.30pm on Saturday, from 2.30pm on Thursday and Sunday, and from 5.30pm on all other weekdays. Cinematek closes 30 minutes after the last film ends.
FLY A BOEING
Where better to go in anticipation of your flight than to the airport itself? A stone’s throw from Brussels Airport, you can take a seat in the cockpit and fly a Boeing 737 yourself. Thanks to an incredibly realistic flight simulator – the same as that which pilots-to-be use during their training – you can feel what it’s like to steer a mammoth aircraft. Experience isn’t required, and even kids can take the wheel alongside a professional instructor. Put your friends and family in the seats behind you and get ready for take-off.
Planet II – Leuvensesteenweg 542 Unit B.2 (Zaventem) (Sint-Martinusweg, bus 351, 358, 530; 616 and 652 (De Lijn)). From €59 for basic simulator; from €99 for Boeing 737. Open daily, timetables vary.
A PIECE OF NEW YORK
The Manhattan district is the lovechild of a pompous prime minister and a greedy project developer back in the 1960s. They decided that the authentic Nord Quarter had to make room for a forest of skyscrapers and business towers. Over 50 hectares of buildings were expropriated and destroyed to make space for numerous glass giants. Yet, as way too few companies were interested in settling in these towers and hardly any people lived there anymore, the neighbourhood turned desolate as soon as the clock stroke 5pm. Today, stunning, modern company towers ignite a renaissance in this district of deteriorated 1960s skyscrapers, but the authentic atmosphere that this neighbourhood knew yesteryear is gone, never to return again.
Manhattan Quarter (Schaerbeek) (Gare du Nord, tram 3, 4, 25, 32 and 55).