Last year, during the notorious month of July-the high point of the European tourist season, my boyfriend and I took an incredible twelve day vacation to Brussels, Belgium. People wondered why we chose Brussels. It didn’t seem like an obvious choice at first-particularly since, while I had previously visited Paris, Rome, London, and all of the other major European tourist cities familiar to Americans-my boyfriend had not. This was his trip to Europe.
Our reason for choosing this vacation was two-fold. The first was that Brussels was situated in a part of the country that I wanted to explore further. I’ve wanted to explore Benelux further since I took a train from Berlin to Amsterdam and back a few years ago, and I assumed correctly that it would be bustling with culture, history, and old city charm that nearly all European capitals seem to have, though each in their own way. The second, and most important, reason we chose Brussels is because we found a vacation package that was an incredible bargain. Airfare and ten nights in a four star hotel located right in the city center for less that a thousand nights per person. The price for a six night vacation would have been $870. This is less than the price of airfare alone. It is the equivalent of being paid to stay in a luxury hotel.
Brussels is indeed a charming city. The grand place, perhaps the most beautiful of the open-aired plazas that European cities are famed for, was literally steps away from our doorstep. The spectacular fifteenth century town hall is the highlight of the spectacular buildings that surround you there as you wile away a lazy summer evening, enjoying the local delicacies: notably beer and chocolate.
Brussels offers world class architecture, museums, dining, parks, and it’s share of quirky unique attractions like the Atomium and the Manneken Pis (that is that statue of a urinating baby that has been copied and parodied so many times), but that isn’t all of it.
One thing that Americans often fail to take into account when planning European travel is how small Europe is-and how close everything is to each other. Not only a is Brussels a great city in and of itself, Paris is around one hundred miles South of Brussels and Amsterdam is the equivalent distance to the north. Cologne is nearly the same distance to the East, and in roughly the equivalent position to the west, you will find yourself in London. Therefore, you can easily rest your head in your Brussels hotel every night while spending your days making trips elsewhere.
It goes without saying that you can visit anywhere in Belgium in this manner which is remarkably diverse for such a small country. All of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and much of France and Germany are also available in the same fashion. This is especially convenient since nearly every European town of any size is conveniently linked by passenger rail.
If we had made the same trip to Paris – airfare and 10 nights in a four star hotel in the middle of everything downtown, it would have cost us at least twice as much. And, in prime tourist seasons like July you can expect Paris to be absolutely overrun with tourists. You will see tourists in Brussels, and any other European city but they will be in much saner quantities.
Brussels, now the Capital of the European Union, can be expensive from time to time. However, since the infrastructure is built up more for business crowds than for tourists, the crowds and the prices are less likely to correspond with major tourism seasons. Therefore, it is wise to be on the lookout for travel bargains to this great city, but not to assume that it will be the most cost-efficient destination every time.