The capital of Belgium is Brussels, the largest and most densely populated city in the country. Brussels is known for being a political, administrative, and economic center of Belgium and Europe. It is the de facto capital of the European Union, home to NATO headquarters, and serves as an administrative center for several other local and international organizations.
Where is Brussels?
In the above political map of Belgium, Brussels can be seen in the central northern part of the country. It lies along the small Senne River, which flows through the center of the city. There are three regions in Belgium, and the Brussels-Capital Region includes Brussels and 18 other municipalities. It is a part of both the French and Flemish communities in Belgium, but it is separate from the Flemish and Walloon regions.
History of Brussels
Human history in the area of modern-day Brussels dates all the way back to the Stone Age. Following the historical patterns of the rest of Western Europe, control of the area of Belgium changed hands many times before becoming the country it is today. There is evidence that the Romans occupied the area during late antiquity before it was incorporated into the Frankish Empire.
Local legend has it that the origin of the settlement of Brussels was near the year 580 when a chapel was constructed on a small island on the Senne River. The official founding of the city is mostly agreed to have been in the year 979 when Duke Charles of Lower Lorraine transferred the relics of Saint Gudula to this chapel on the river.
In the years following its official founding, the city of Brussels grew quite rapidly thanks to its location on an important trade route between Bruges, Ghent, and Cologne. Brussels was a commercial center for the trade of textiles at this time. The first walls of Brussels were built in the early 13th century to defend the city, and it grew rapidly from this point forward.
From this point on, Brussels was variously affiliated and ruled by the Burgundian, Habsburg, Spanish, and Austrian Netherlands as well as France and later the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Then the Belgian Revolution began in Brussels in 1830 and led to the founding of the Independent Kingdom of Belgium.
When did Brussels become the capital?
Brussels became the capital of Belgium in 1830. This was the year that Belgium became an independent nation, and Brusells was chosen as the capital and has remained so to this day.
Why is Brussels the capital of Europe?
Brussels functions as the de facto capital of Europe because it is where many European Union institutions are located, such as the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the second seat of the European Parliament. The European Union has no official capital, but one reason Brussels is a suitable location for EU institutions is because of its location halfway between France and Germany.
Is Brussels Dutch or French?
Brussels is officially bilingual, and both Dutch and French are spoken in the city. In fact, many foreigners live in Brussels, making it a multilingual city.
Historically, the city was Dutch, and it is the capital of the Flanders region of Belgium (the Dutch-speaking region) as well as Belgium itself. In present-day Brussels, however, about 80% of the population claims French as a first language, and Dutch speakers are in the minority.
Features of Brussels
Geography and Climate
Brussels in is in the north-central part of Belgium some 110 km (68 mi) away from the sea. It is on the Brabantian Plateau and has an average elevation of 57 m (187 ft), and its highest point is at the Drève des Deux Montages/Tweebergendreef in the Sonian Forest. The Senne River runs through the city and is mostly covered as it crosses the city center.
The climate in Brussels is oceanic with warm summers and cool winters. There are about 135 days of rainfall each year, violent thunderstorms can occur during summer, and nearby wetlands affect the local climate. June, July, and August are the hottest months, and December, January, and February are the coldest.
The estimated population of the Brussels-Capital Region in 2022 is around 2.1 million people. It’s in one of the most highly urbanized regions of Europe, sometimes called the “Blue Banana,” which includes Paris, London, the Rhine-Rhur, and the Randstad. The population of the city is younger than the national average.
Although the city of Brussels was historically Dutch-speaking, French has become the most predominant language over the past two centuries due to the assimilation of the local Flemish population as well as immigration from France and Wallonia.
The economy of Brussels is primarily oriented toward the service sector because it functions as the administrative center of Belgium and for Europe. There is a large number of headquarters located in the city: multinational corporations, European institutions, and various local and federal administrations.
Things to Do and See in Brussels
There are many reasons to visit Belgium, and the country’s capital is also full of interesting things to see and do. In this section, we’ll explore some of the top activities and sights in Brussels.
The Brussels Atomium
If you’ve ever wondered what an iron crystal would look like magnified 165 billion times, this is the place to see it! Even if that thought has never crossed your mind, the Brussels Atomium structure is an iconic landmark that offers panoramic views of the city from its multiple viewing decks. It was constructed in 1958 for the World Expo.
Brussels Park offers visitors a break from the city with 32 acres in the city center. It was formerly called Royal Park and is still sometimes called by this name; it is the oldest park in the region.
In addition to serving as a natural getaway in the city, the park features an impressive 60 sculptures, a theater, a live music venue, and places to eat and drink. There are also two fountains in the park, one at each end.
A statue of a peeing boy is an interesting thing to be famous for, but the Manneken Pis is just that, and it’s one of the most recognizable sights in Brussels. The name of the sculpture is Dutch for “Little Pissing Man.” The current design of the sculpture dates back to 1619 and is credited to Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder.
This is a great sight to visit for those looking for a unique experience or to get an insight into Belgian humor. There are at least two other urinating statues in Brussels, one of a girl and one of a dog, each of which were installed after the Mannekin Pis.
The Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula
Brussels is an exceptionally good city to see Gothic architecture as fewer of its buildings were destroyed in the two world wars than many other European cities. The Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula is a superb example of Gothic architecture as it is very well preserved and houses many relics.
Construction of the cathedral began in 1226 and didn’t finish until almost 300 years later in 1519. Visiting the cathedral is a great activity to do in Brussels for free, although donations from visitors are accepted.
It’s not a misnomer, Grand Place is said to be one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. It is the central square in Belgium’s capital and it’s where a number of exceptionally beautiful buildings are located, making it perhaps the most popular tourist destination in the city.
The Brussels Town Hall and the Royal Palace can be seen from Grand Place, and there are also a variety of restaurants that are perfect for enjoying Belgian waffles and people-watching.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world. It’s a covered shopping center that was constructed in 1847 and can make for a unique shopping experience. There are actually three shopping galleries located next to each other that house more than 200 shops, cafes, and restaurants.
It’s an iconic place to visit for buying souvenirs like some famous Belgian chocolate or just for enjoying an afternoon.
Belgian Waffles and Chocolate
Experiencing Belgian waffles and Belgian chocolate is something at the top of many tourists’ lists, and for good reason. Belgian waffles are special for being extra fluffy and delicious, and the chocolate is some of the best in the world. There is even a Brussels Chocolate Museum and several “chocolate appreciation tours.”
Just as famous as the chocolate and waffles in this country is the beer. Incredibly, there are over 800 varieties of beer brewed in Belgium, so you’re unlikely to run out of new beers to try during a stay of almost any length in Brussels.
Beer in Belgium is famous for its long history in the region (long before Belgium was a country) and for the diverse styles of beer available.
The Royal Palace of Brussels
Located in Grand Place, the Royal Palace of Brussels is the official residence of the Belgian royal fmaily, but it’s also open to tourists from April to September. It is the largest building in the main square of Brussels and is a great example of neoclassical architecture. Entry to the palace is free, and it’s possible to tour the royal apartments for a fee.