There’s really nothing that can truly prepare you for the first time that you lay eyes on the Grand Place, which is the main plaza in Brussels. Belgium attractions don’t get any better than this square, which is enclosed by a dazzling array of buildings that boast different architectural styles. The Grand Place Brussels square is truly the heart of the city, and the fact that UNESCO designated it as a World Heritage Site should give you an idea of its worth. Elegant, ornate, and able to please even the most critical of travelers, the Grand Place in Belgium is something you will not want to miss when in the country’s thriving capital city. There are other Grand Places in other Belgian cities, such as Brugge and Antwerp, and while they are also impressive, the one in Brussels takes the cake.
The Grand Place, or Grote Markt as it is known in Dutch, is not only the heart of the city. It is also the ideal starting point for approaching Brussels tourism on a whole. The main Brussels tourism office is found at the square, and its competent staff can help you arrange tours of the Grand Place as well as extended tours of the city. The Grand Place is easy to find if you are staying at one of the Brussels hotels that are in the historic city center, and for those staying a bit further out, it’s a short walk from both the Gare Centrale and Bourse metro stops. This main plaza in Brussels is a major landmark so should you get lost on the way, just about anybody that you see on the street should be able to point you in the right direction. Once you stumble upon it, you’re in for a most impressive visual treat.
According to many visitors who are fortunate enough to enjoy the Grand Place Brussels experience, this square is one of the most beautiful in the world. In the Middle Ages, the Grand Place served as a stage for a local market, where goods such as wines from France and wool from England were purveyed. The small wooden houses that graced the square in the Middle Ages were far less impressive than the buildings that are found here today. It was in the fourteenth century that the square really started to become something spectacular, as wealthy families erected stone mansions around it. Once just a marketplace, the Grand Place eventually grew into the administrative center of Brussels, and in 1402, work on the stunning Town Hall began. The original structure was finished in 1420, though subsequent additions would be added in 1444 and 1452. Charles the Bold, who is known for his harsh punishment of the citizens of Liege in 1466, was responsible for the addition of the second wing of the Town Hall, which pertains to the 1444 renovations. The lofty Gothic tower that rises from the building was built in 1455 and it replaced a shorter belfry. Capping the Grand Place Brussels Town Hall like an angel atop a Christmas tree is a statue of Brussels’s patron saint, archangel Michael.
In addition to the mansions and the Town Hall, other fine structures were erected at the Grand Place plaza in Brussels between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, in 1695, the square would be the target for French gunners who were acting upon the orders of then King of France, Louis XIV. Cannons were fired and mortars hit their marks, effectively laying the defenseless plaza to waste. Some of the Town Hall was spared, though it was gutted by fire, and parts of other buildings also stood firm. The guilds, or city craftsmen were quick to rebuild the Grand Place over the next four years, making it grand as ever and more sturdy. The Town Hall’s tower managed to survive, and its Gothic appeal offers stark contrast to the equally as attractive Baroque style that characterizes many of the buildings found at the Grand Place today. One of the attractive houses on the square has been turned into a brewers museum, and there are open-air cafes in the square where you can relax with a drink or enjoy a bite to eat while you take it all in.
The Grand Place Brussels square attracts many tourists, especially in the summer, during Christmas, and when the “flower carpet” is laid down. The flower carpet happens every other year for a few days in August, and it sees hundreds of begonias on display in an artistic pattern. It’s really quite impressive, especially when you consider the overall setting that the square provides. In early July, the Ommegang Festival is held at the Grand Place, and it is surely something to catch if you get the chance. Come the Christmas season, a giant Christmas tree is placed in the middle of the square. Food stalls offering cuisine from all over Europe join the toy stores in the Christmas Market, and it’s simply a wonderful environment that is full of Yuletide joy. Plenty of fun events go on at this main plaza in Brussels, though it’s dynamic as can be regardless of whether anything special is going on or not.