Brussels, Belgium

Showcasing a characteristically European blend of history and modernity, Belgium’s capital city is a fascinating lesson in perfecting the art of balancing the two.

Although dotted with remnants of buildings that speak of a time gone by, Brussels is an honest representation of Europe’s multicultural reality. More often than not, looks do not deceive here in this city of Brussels, which is known for its deadpan sense of style and humor. Despite a lingering vibe of historical wealth and prosperity that dominates many European capitals, Brussel’s comes across as a city caught up in the cycle of revival and decline, coupled with a fluctuating definition of both.

The cityscape is an ironic blend of concrete, glass, street art and gothic 19th century mansions, all competing in a contest to define the city’s architectural identity. The capital of the European Union, Brussel’s is sometimes called the Europe’s Gotham City and in parts the city, where there is an entire museum about comics, tends to live up to that moniker, though not without a hint of sarcasm. Bizarre is trendy, and the Gotham city of Europe embraces the movement without any pretence whatsoever. If it’s not for you, then c’est la vie.

Moving on, the more universally palatable attraction of Brussels is the beer. Famed for its eclectic diversity, Belgian beer is unanimously the most interesting selection of beer in the world and Brussels is where it all happens. There’s more beer than you can ever try and to be honest, you won’t remember most of their names anyway. For a guaranteed good time and some of the best selections of local beer, visit the Délirium Café, which boasts of offering more than 3000 beers, frequently featured in the Guinness Book of World Records.

And then there’s chocolate. For a taste of authentic pralines, there’s Wittamer – a hundred year old chocolatiers whose clientele include the Belgian royal family. And just so you know, Brussels has an entire Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. Of course it does.

Even with all the beer currency and all the art-nouveau stylishness, the layers of culture are Brussels’ most defining characteristic – the French je ne sais pas, coated with a dash of Flemish attitude, creamed with a film of Eurocracy and topped off with a dollop immigrant plurality. Located at the center of a unified European experiment, Brussels is neither a standard tossed salad nor a common melting pot. It is more like a tiered cake, with an ironic cherry of top.