As a lover of Art Nouveau architecture, Brussels has been on my to-visit list for a while. When I realized that one of the cheaper direct flights from SF to Europe was into Brussels I couldn't resist. Fries & chocolate are the best cure for jetlag, right? In this guide you'll find a few spots I discovered, and I think I did fairly well at avoiding the tourist traps. The crowning glory of the visit may have been my Airbnb: great location, clean, insanely amazing decor, friendly host, affordable...if it's available when you're passing through please BOOK IT. You can thank me later!
While I came to Brussels for facades, I think after reading this guide you'll see my trip was really all about interiors - from chocolate shops to my borrowed abode, the interior details of Brussels were a surprising treat.
Chocolate shops are a dime a dozen in Brussels, which is hardly a bad thing, but can make choosing one tough. I probably went in 6 different shops before I found my favorite: Mary. I was initially drawn to the pastel tones and the simple long counter covered in truffles. The location I visisted is in Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a 19th century marble arcade filled with chocolate shops, cafes, and fine goods.
Because I was the only shopper sniffing about, the nice man working there told me all about the history of the brand. Mary was founded in 1919 by, you guessed it: Mary. She was the first woman to be given the title of master chocolatier, and was inspired to make her chocolate confections with the best ingredients. She strove for luxurious combinations, which I can attest she achieved with her champagne truffles. I may or may not have gone back a second time for more - and when you visit please send me a box?
While strolling the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, I was intrigued by the cafe Chez Richard with perhaps the cutest color combination of those famous Parisian sidewalk chairs, robin's egg blue, seafoam green, and royal blue. I sat down for a pick-me-up coffee and to people watch. I highly recommend spending a lazy afternoon outside Chez Richard to people watch.
Now for something truly unique: my Airbnb. Aghast when I found this apartment for a shockingly low price, I booked immediately. It was the perfect refuge from which to nurse my jetlag and hide from the sticky midday heat. The host, David, is lovely and very friendly - he collects antiques and has a real knack for interior design and architecture.
I felt like a princess among all the portraits and crystal chandeliers, and have decided that the modern minimalist interior design craze is not for me. Give me knick-knacks! All the collections of funny items, like starched collars and sea urchins. Old books too decayed to open and centuries-old paintings of women who look keen to pop out and murder you in the night. This last one was a minor concern, there really were a lot of stern women in black.
Fun fact: I LOVE donuts. And tiles and rose flavored anything. I especially love donuts when they're served in a cute cafe like COCO Donuts with dozens of flavor options. I decided to try the rose donut, which was approximately the size of my face and as delicious as I'd hoped. I met the two ladies who run COCO and was told that they're the first female-run donut shop in Belgium! Although I'm curious how they're certain of this interesting fact, it did incentivize me to take a few more pictures to share with you all here. Definitely worth a visit, both for the donuts and to support female small business owners. And for all the pink :)
If you're the type that needs more than a giant donut for breakfast, I give you the lovely brunch spot La fabrique en ville. It sits in the middle of a small park, so on a nice day you can also sit outside.
On my way to the Horta Musem in Ixelles, I popped into the lovely paper shop Le Typograph. They specialize in traditional printing techniques using a Heidelberg press, and everything they sell is handmade, meticulously printed, yet still feels so modern. Great stop for notebook and card souvenirs for the paper nerds in your life.
The Royal Museums of Fine Arts is actually 6 museums in one interconnected set of buildings housing over 20,000 works. I visited the Magritte museum, the Old Masters, and the Fin-de-Siècle museum, which is dedicated to the 20th century and Art Nouveau.
I really loved the art nouveau details around the exit of the museums, designed by the famous Horta.
I'll leave you with the fine example of Horta architecture below - which like many of his works seem to be in construction limbo. I visited the Horta Museum, but sadly no pictures are allowed. It's a wondrous mansion, and was a standout highlight of my visit to Brussels - you'll have to go visit yourself for a sense of what I'm talking about!
I highly recommend a day trip to Bruges if you have the chance, there's a dedicated post about my day exploring the medieval alleys coming soon! Stay tuned xo