For some time, Brussels has had quite a reputation, but for all the wrong reasons: as the seat of European Union, it's often described as boring. Yet with its jumble of architecture, fascinating history and thoroughly cosmopolitan feel, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how exciting the place is.
In part thanks to its role as the administrative capital of the EU, Brussels is well connected by rail link to Western Europe's major cities, and at super speeds – 90 minutes to Paris, two hours to London. Official taxis in the city have a yellow-and-blue sign on the roof, and the integrated tram-bus-metro system runs until midnight.
Those who know Brussels usually talk first about the architecture. There are the old gems such as Grand Place, a lavish square whose buildings boast ornate facades, and the famous cathedral with its Gothic twin towers and impressive stained glass, which dates back to the 13th century (though it took a few hundred years to complete). Alongside these are the bold Art Nouveau buildings, and the ultra-modern towers of the Northern Quarter that highlight Brussels' EU credentials.
This is also the city of Jacques Brel, René Magritte and Tintin, whose legacies you'll want to soak up in the various cafe-bars and museums in the city. Of the latter, Brussels is home to many high-quality institutions, notably the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Modern Architecture, the latter being a good bet for understanding the story behind Brussels' Art Nouveau architecture.
Brussels also boasts its fair share of greenery, with old parks, a large beech forest called Foret de Soignes, and the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken housing a wide range of flora within 19th-century ironwork.
For from dull and bureaucratic, Brussels has of late been developing an image as one of Europe's coolest capitals. You'll see why during a night on the tiles, when the worldly hub comes alive with diverse clubs, bars and restaurants.
If after a few days in the city you've developed a taste for Art Nouveau, head to Ixelles, which is famed for some of the world's best examples of the style. Mostly built towards the end of the 19th century, they are largely the work of master architects Victor Horta and Paul Hankar, the founding fathers of Art Nouveau who constructed their first houses in Brussels here in Ixelles.
Fans of Tintin – whose creator was from Brussels – will not want to miss what is arguably the world's first museum dedicated to comic strips. In the Belgian Comic Strip Centre, a beautiful Horta-designed building, you'll find a serious history of comics, with more than 25,000 original works, including some of Tintin himself.
There is exceptionally fine dining to be had in Brussels, with the best restaurants based out of historic 19th century buildings, offering you something approaching the pomp of that era. But there are also many spots to enjoy more rustic fare, including Belgian stews and plenty of seafood. Also, it's thought that as much as a third of Brussels' population is non-Belgian, and so cuisine from nearly every part of the world can be found here. Finally a trip to Brussels would not be complete without a beer tour (or two). Dozens of local brews are an offer in the traditional bars.