Brussels provides the backdrop for the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, but this is no dull city. Brussels is a cosmopolitan capital, a melting pot, where its residents refer to themselves as Zinneke (mongrel), with a mix of origins – Flemish, Walloon, Italian, Spanish, English, German etc. There is even a bi-annual parade (the Zinneke Parade) of community groups and artists and schools that celebrates their multi-culturalness.
Cheap flights to Brussels are readily available with the low-cost airlines such as easyJet, Flybe and the national carrier Brussels Airlines.
Top sights include Grand Place, considered one of the most beautiful town squares; the Musées Royaux Des Beaux-Arts, with its priceless collection of Flemish and Belgian art; the Cantillon Brewery, a family brewery where Lambic, Gueuze, Faro and Kriek beers are made; and the Atomium, a huge silver structure, representing an iron crystal, magnified more than 160 billion times.
The Manneken Pis may very well be the best-known attraction in Belgium. This statue of a little boy urinating has a wardrobe of more than 700 costumes including Father Christmas and Elvis Presley suits.
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Brussels has a maritime temperate climate, with warm summers and mild winters. Early summer and early autumn are typically warm and mild. Summer temperatures can reach the high-20s (Celsius), and winter temperatures range from about zero up to 10 degrees or so. Snow is possible in winter, but is not a common occurrence. Brussels has a high average annual rainfall; January is usually the wettest month, but expect rain any time of year. Winter days are short, but the sun does not set until 9pm or 10pm in summer.
May and September have the best weather and the most visitors. These months can be downright crowded and cheap Brussels flights and hotel rooms hard to come by.
November to March is wet and cold with few tourists and quiet museums and markets.
Many Belgians take their holidays in July and August, making Brussels quieter to visit. You may also get a discounted hotel rate, especially over a weekend, but many restaurants and shops will be closed.
When you’re in central Brussels, it’s easiest to see the sights on foot. If you’re going across town or to outlying areas, you’ll be better off taking public transport. The Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles (STIB) offers cheap and easy transport around town with buses, trams and metro lines. The STIB runs from 5am to midnight, and a night bus operates after that. Most of the metro stations are a sight to visit in themselves, with decorations from leading Belgian modern artists. Avoid rush hour, both in the morning and at night, and don’t bother trying to drive. Aggressive drivers, heavy traffic and nightmare-ish parking make public transport even more appealing. Biking isn’t much different, but the city’s outskirts have some lovely bike lanes. Avoid taking a taxi too – they’re expensive.