50 reasons to be proud of Brussels

Written by Frédéric Solvel - 22 Jan 2014, 00:00 (Updated: 12 Jan 2022, 04:29)
50 reasons to be proud of Brussels
Each and every inhabitant of Brussels, the old and the new, is proud of this city (even if it takes them a second to admit it.) Sometimes we like to make fun of Brussels, but we won’t let anyone attack her! To boost your pride in this city, we have come up with 50 arguments you can revert to when the occasion presents itself. Obviously, we could have included dozens of other reasons, but our gut told us these 50 gems were just right…

1. Discovery of the endive

When we are enjoying our chicons au gratin cooked or raw, we often forget that this vegetable just happened to be discovered on a Schaerbeek farm. In the difficult period preceding Belgium’s independence, Jan Lammers left his farm. When he went back, the chicory roots that he had left in his cellar covered by a layer of soil had grown. The head gardener at the Botanical Gardens in Brussels chose to place endives on baptismal fonts. 


2. Birth place of the post

In the Sablon, the family Thurn und Taxis orchestrated the system of mail all over Europe between the different holdings of the Habsbourg family. The land belonging to the Thurn und Taxis around the canal served as the grazing land for the postal horses before it became the Tour & Taxi train station. After the decline of railway and river transportation, Tour & Taxi experienced the rebirth of success we know today. 


3. 20% of the land in the
Brussels Region is green space. 


4. A museum for underwear

When other capitals offer tasteless erotic museums, Brussels plays the surrealist card with a display space completely dedicated to underwear. For Jan Bucquoy, everyone is equal before underwear! So he decided to hang up famous underwear and put them in display cases - everyone’s from Noël Godin to Brigitte Lahaie to Dider Reynders. Alongside this below-the-belt museum, Brussels does include many other more “serious” museums. 


5. Brussels around the world

Even if the Brussels that we know is Belgian, it’s not the only city in the world with the same name. Over the centuries, many members of the Brussels diaspora brought a little part of Belgium with them on their trip across the Atlantic. A little part that sometimes became as prominent as the name of their new home. You can find Brussels in the United States and in Canada!


6. The most beautiful square in the world: the Grand Place

“The Brussels town hall is a jewel (…); a poet’s splendid fantasy that fell into the mind of an architect. And the surrounding square is a marvel…”

Victor Hugo, 1837


7. Pieter Brueghel

A great amongst the greats of Flemish painters, Pieter Brueghel the Elder lived on Rue Haute (n°132). When his paintbrush was to paint no more, he was buried in the Notre-Dame of the Chapel Church. 


8. Lambic, gueuze et kriek

Brussels cannot be beaten as the capital of beer kingdom. Lambics, gueuze and krieks are the foaming proof.  In the heart of the city, there is the Cantillon Brewery and Brasserie de la Senne which perpetuate the Belgian savoir-faire. We enjoy these two breweries while we wait for the Brussels Beer Project to finish fermenting… 


9. The deepest pool in the world

When we talk about a 33 meter swimming pool, we usually mean the length.
In Uccle, we are talking about the depth! Nemo 33 is the deepest pool in the world.


10. Capital of comic strips

Between the Belgian Comic Strip Center, the comic strip walking trail, and the Comic Strip festival, Brussels is a city where speech bubbles abound. Tintin, the Smurfs, Boule & Bill, and Quick & Flupke are just some of the heroic characters born right here.


11. “I had a wonderful childhood despite it all… I was raised in the countryside outside of Brussels. I grew up around dogs. Animals don’t talk too much. They “speak” with their feelings, but they
don’t have a language for our funk. Right now I’ve got a dog next to me. I’m petting it.” 

Jean Claude Van Damme


12. A replica of Rodin’s The Thinker

If you’re around the streets by the Laeken cemetery, you will quickly notice a replicate of The Thinker by Rodin. Well what do you know, this is actually an original copy. 


13. First railroad line on the continent

On May 5th, 1835, the first line of railway on the European continent was inaugurated. It was from Brussels to Mechelen. For this occasion, King Leopold I took part in the first trip: three trains with 30 cars each! History doesn’t tell us if they were on time. Anyway, they certainly weren’t on a schedule! 


14. Waffles from Brussels

Waffles have two styles: from Liege or from Brussels. Obviously, we prefer the Brussels type: spongy, rectangular, without pearl sugar and piled with fruit, chocolate, or whipped cream.


15. A gigantic Palais de Justice

“At the top of a hill towers an enormous building, with columns so beautiful that the ensemble evokes a royal Assyrian palace or an illustration by Gustave Doré.” 
Sigmund Freud


16. A great singer

The French tend to hog him, but let’s remember that Paul Van Haver, alias Stromae, is in fact Belgian! From Brussels to be exact! 


17. Folklore stamped in history

Meyboom is the oldest folklore tradition in Brussels. Since 1213, the “planting of the May tree” takes place every year on August 9th, the day before Saint-Laurent. It was enough for UNESCO to include Meyboom to their list of humanity’s oral and immaterial heritage. 


18. The greatest athletic competition

Ivo Van Damme, an 800 m. and 1500 m. runner, won two silver medals in the Montreal games in 1976. He was close to gold during the following international meetings. A couple months afterward, he died in a car accident. The next year, journalists started up an athletic event in his honor. Thirty years later, the Mémorial Van Damme has become a major event and one that has witnessed 17 world records! For local athletes, like the Borlée brothers, it’s the chance to perform in front of their audience. The future of the Mémorial is darkening as we approach 2020 with the construction of the new national stadium (where there will not be a track...)


19. "With the 2,700 meters of underground road, the Leopold II tunnel is
the 4th longest urban tunnel in the world."


20. Greek style bread

Don’t go looking for the origins of this sweet treat near Athens. The “pain à la grecque”, the long golden bread dusted with sugar, is indeed from Brussels!


21. The best audience in the world

Even if we sometimes have a hard time believing the compliments of artists who admire the quality and warmth of Brussels audiences, the numbers don’t lie. Wednesday, November 18th, 2009, the audience at the Prodigy concert at Forest National got so excited that their jumping caused a mini earthquake. 


22. Manneken-Pis

With his 55.5 cm and 17 kilos, this big bronze baby has a full wardrobe. Manneken-Pis can brag about his 800+ outfits. 


23. A tapestry in the Sistine Chapel

Way before rue Antoine Dansaert became a haven for fashionistas, Brussels was already a big name in the fabric industry. In 1531, the tapestries made by the Brussels native Pieter van Aelst came to garnish the Sistine Chapel. Later on in the 18Th century, lace from Brussels, as well as from Bruges and Binche, becomes a country pride.


24. Audrey Hepburn

This British actress was born on May 4th, 1929 in the building located at 48 rue de la Keyenveld between Place Stéphanie and the Porte de Namur. She was named Audrey Kathleen Ruston. A commemorative plaque on the side of the building reminds us of this happy event. 


25. Atomium

This iron crystal enlarged 165 million times was built for the Universal Expo in 1958. Since the renovation in 2006, the Atomium has regained its former luster. Only the charming hostesses from ’58 are missing. Along with Manneken Pis and the Grand Place, the Atomium is a symbol of Brussels. 


26. La Zwanze

Zwanze is a word describing the typical type of humor characteristic of French speaking Belgium, in particular Brussels. All sorts of history and jokes come out of this humor. 


27. Eddy Merckx’s training field 

While momma and papa Merckx were taking care of their grocery store at Place des Bouvreuils, little Eddy was taking care of the bicycle delivery after school and on the weekends.  It was in this Chant d’Oiseau neighborhood that this boy grew up to win a number of victories. 


28. The Ixelles Abbey Road

In 30 years, the ICP Recording Studios made a solid name for itself in the European microcosm of this genre. Bashung, The Cure, Maurane, Noir Désir, Renaud, The Stranglers and many others have sung a song in this Brussels Abbey Road. 


29. Brussel sprouts

The memory of these in school lunches isn’t very appetizing, but adulthood forces us to give them a second try… These little green sprouts are cute, and are something everyone can learn to like.  


30. At Zaventem, 860 tons of chocolate are sold each year.
A world record!


31. Art Nouveau

With Victor Horta as the leader of the pack, Art Nouveau was born in Brussels. Four Horta works are classed as world heritage. Among the four is his house, which was transformed into a museum. Despite several unfortunate destructions, more than 500 Art Nouveau buildings exist all over the city. Every two years an event is devoted to Art Nouveau.


32. First Radio emission

March 28, 1914, the radio station in Laeken diffused the first radio concert in Europe. This is repeated from the Royal Palace each Saturday. 


33. One of the biggest jogging races in the world

With 20,000 runners fighting for record time, the Brussels 20 kilometers is not just one of the most important sporting events in the city; it is also one of the biggest races in the world.


34. "The term Zinneke in Brussels dialect refers both to the Senne (the river that skirted around Brussels)and mixed-breed dogs that often lost their life in the Senne. By extension, the Zinneke is someone who has multiple origins, a symbol of a cosmopolitan and multicultural Brussels figure."

Myriam Stoffen, Zinneke Parade


35. Palais Stoclet

After Art Nouveau there is Art Deco. The Palais Stoclet is a master piece, as well as a monument classed by UNESCO. The building, the furniture and the garden were designed to go with one another - they form one unit. The building is closed to the public, but some privileged few get the chance to visit. This was the case for President Bush during one of his visits to Europe. 


36. Jacques Brel

It was in the Ancienne Belgique where the great Jacques Brel gave the most concerts. However, it was at the Bozar where his good-bye gala occurred in 1966. He wasn’t the only one to sing about his love for Brussels. The Snuls, Marie Warnant, Léopold Nord, Bénabar, Dick Annegarn, Daddy K and many others had a go at it. Go ahead, sing along!


37. Une place à l’art urbain

Between pencils, Bonom and collages, urban art has found a place in the sun in the Brussels streets these past couple of years.


38. Massive beech grove

A huge beech grove makes up a large part of the Forêt de Soignes (Sonian Forest), the lungs of the capital. The beech trees (some dating back 200 years) add a unique charm to Brussels.


39. A city of Nobel prizes

Three Brussels natives can boast a Nobel Prize. In 1913, Henri La Fontaine received the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to the Mundaneum and to the International Peace Bureau. Ilya Prigogine hit the jackpot in chemistry in 1977. And last year, Francois Englert was recognized for the Higgs particle. 


40. "Trop is te veel"

Trop is te veel (“Too much is too much”) is a combination of French and Dutch words by Paul Vanden Boeynants, known as VDB. This Brusseleer was Prime Minister for two terms. In 1989 his kidnapping hit the headlines and inspired the Brussels Sounds Revolution. 


41. A sonata by Mozart

In October 1763, the little Wolfgang and his family passed through Brussels. While waiting to meet Charles de Lorraine, Mozart composed a sonata that will be called, naturally, Brussels sonata. 


42. Mens sana in corpore  sano

Eddy Merckx is not the only Brussels native to have hit the highs. Jacky Ickx, Raymond Goethals, the Borlée brothers, Paul van HImst, Nicolas Colsaerts, all these names to go down in the records for different sports. 


43. A world village

This is the home to many European Union institutions and NATO. Some stats will make you dizzy:

               -15,000 - 20,000 lobbyists
               -300 regional representatives
-5,332 diplomats
-2,500 international agencies
-150 international offices for lawyers


44. Plastic is fantastic

For Brussels natives, plastic is fantastic- whether we are talking about the song by Elmer food beat, the singer Plastic Bertrand, or the Plasticarium museum that displays everything and anything made of plastic! 


45. Flowers on the cobblestones

On even numbered years, the cobblestones on the Grand Place disappear for the weekend of August 15th and cede their spot to a carpet of a million flowers


46. The fifth biggest church in the world

The National Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Koekelberg is the fifth biggest church in the world. 
A pontifical visit even occurred there once. 


47. Fuse

Brussels didn’t wait for the huge Tommorowland deal to have her own electronic music temple. The most popular DJs have played at this club on rue Blaes: Laurent Garnier, Jeff Miles, Paul Kalkbrenner…


48. Invention of the praline

In 1912, Jean Neuhaus, chocolate maker in the Saint Hubert galleries, invented the praline. At the time they looked like little balls filled with a crushed nut mixture. To hold these creations in an appropriate container, he also invented the typical praline box (ballotin in French) three years later. 


49. Mademoiselle Beulemans

Created in March 1910, this theater play had great success in Belgium and abroad. The story goes that a Parisian becomes infatuated with the daughter of his boss, who was already engaged. A light comedy in a brewery setting follows. The French writer Pagnol admits that he tried to paint Marseille the way that Fonson and Wicheler painted Brussels with their play Le Mariage de Mademoiselle Beuelemans


50. "Brussels + Life = BrusselsLife"
Jean Claude Van Damme, 2015

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