Like its seasonal foodstuff namesake, Brussels isn't the most popular or immediately appealing item on the European plate. It's a functional metropolis without the showy, turkey-and-all-the-trimmings appeal of Paris, Amsterdam or London. Think a little creatively, however, and the Belgian capital reveals charms all of its own. Ornate architecture, delicious beer, and quality street food (mmm, frites) are the obvious ones; superb vintage shopping, hip bars, and a buzzy, cosmopolitan vibe are more unexpected treats. Barely two hours by train from central London, Brussels is well worth a weekend of anyone's time, as MyDaily recently discovered.
Even for the ale-ambivalent, a Belgian beer cafe is an essential item on any Brussels itinerary. Blondes and brunes, wheat beers and fruit brews, sour Lambics and heavy-duty Trappist ales: Belgian brewing produces countless variations, served in an equally dizzying array of glassware, so you’re bound to find something palatable. Opt for a specialist bar like Moeder Lambic to get a sense of the sheer range of flavours and styles, but even the most basic bar will usually have a couple of interesting brands like Timmermans or La Chouffe on tap. We only ask that you don’t order a Stella.
Eat: Frit Flagey
It’s quite a trek out to Place Flagey, in the Ixelles neighbourhood south of the city centre, but we can assure you that the walk — and the inevitable wait in line outside the unassuming Frit Flagey stand — is worth it. Frites, of course, are a Belgian speciality, but this street stand stands out from the crowd for its extra crispy chips and dizzying array of flavoured mayos. The slightly eccentric proprietor fries each batch to order (and may mock your incompetent French when you finally make it to the front of the queue) but the anticipation only whets the appetite. Location: 1050 Ixelles, Belgium
Drink: Mappa Mundo
Right in the centre of town, and the right side of the main boulevard to avoid the majority of tourists, the Place Saint-Géry is as good a place to start a night out in Brussels as any. The attractive cobbled streets around here are stuffed with bars and restaurants, like the funky Zebra and stylish Café Central. MyDaily recommends <a href="http://www.mappamundo.com/">Mappa Mundo</a> for its relaxed atmosphere and delicious cocktail pitchers (in case you need a break from all that beer).
Sleep: Marriott Brussels
Beyond from the usual creature comforts you’d expect from a big international chain, <a href="http://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/brudt-brussels-marriott-hotel/">Marriott Brussels</a>’ biggest draw its location. Overlooking the imposing Brussels Stock Exchange, on the main Boulevard Anspach drag, it’s only a brief walk out the front door to the gilded glamour of the Grand Place. More excitingly — for MyDaily at least — it backs on to a warren of less-touristy streets and squares that hide some of the city’s best second hand stores and coolest cafes. <strong>Rooms start from £101 including breakfast. Check out <a href="http://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/brudt-brussels-marriott-hotel/">marriott.co.uk</a> for more information </strong>
Shop: Isabelle Bajart
It was happy accident that MyDaily found itself lodging amid a cluster of imaginatively stocked and well-priced vintage clothing emporia; it also meant that, for the first half of day one in Brussels, we didn’t make it further than about two hundred yards from the hotel door. Carefully curated <a href="http://www.isabellebajart.com/">Isabelle Bajart</a>, in particular, is a designer junkie’s dream (vintage YSL smoking jacket for €85? Don’t mind if we do).
In amongst the cheap-and-cheerful second-hand stores, hipster superstore <a href="http://www.huntingandcollecting.com/">Hunting and Collecting</a> brings some modern and minimalist vibes to the Rue des Chartreux clothes shopping party. Coming on like a Brussels Collette, this sparse white space stocks Belgian designers, international labels, photobooks and all the painfully hip lifestyle accessories you could shake a fistful of Euros at.
Visit: Horta House
Victor Horta’s influence is visible all around Brussels, but the bulk of the Belgian architect’s Art Nouveau masterpieces are private houses. Happily, his self-designed home and studio has been converted into a simple but fascinating museum. Rather than present a history of the man himself, the <a href="http://www.hortamuseum.be/">Musee Horta</a> offers the warren-like four-storey building as it would have looked in the 1910s — all romantic iron-work and elegantly sparse salons.
Walk: Place du Jeu du Balle
No tourist tat or overpriced chintz here: flea-marketing is a serious business at the <a href="http://www.brussels.be/artdet.cfm?id=5774&function=PICTUREBOOK">Place du Jeu du Balle</a>. Every day, hundreds of traders lay out there wares in this pleasant plaza; Much of it is diverting junk, but with serious bargains, too, for the hardcore collector. For the rest of us, it’s a spot to spend a happy hour wandering and rummaging amid vintage shop signs, Persian carpets and what appear to be the contents of people’s kitchen drawers, before retiring to one of the excellent bars that flank the square. Try La Brocante for an old school workers café vibe or the hip Chaff for some quality people-watching.
Further afield: Bruges
If you’re in Brussels for more than a couple of days it makes sense to hop on a train to Bruges, the charming, canal-centric city around hour away to the north-west. The picturesque cobbled streets make for an endlessly appealing afternoon’s wander, topped off with the obligatory beer or three at a traditional bar.
Passports and Papers: Eurostar
Getting to Brussels from the UK couldn’t be much easier. KLM fly from Birmingham; Ryanair, BA, Flybe and Brussels Airlines offer trips from Manchester. If you’re starting from London, meanwhile, Eurostar is the only option — city centre to city centre in little more time than it takes to get the tube out to Heathrow.