Rick Steves’ Europe: Brussels: From politics to good living

Brussels is a city of 1.2 million, the capital of Belgium, the headquarters of NATO, and the political center of the European Union. It may be easy to skip as you zip from Amsterdam to Paris by train, but its rich brew of food and culture pleasantly surprises those who stop. Its magnificent grand square, aptly named Grand Place, alone makes a visit worthwhile.

The city is understandably proud of its Magritte Museum. With more than 250 paintings, it has the world’s largest collection of works by surrealist René Magritte, who famously painted a picture of a pipe and wrote on the canvas “this is not a pipe.”

Take time to wander through Brussels’ other excellent museums. The Old Masters Museum, featuring Flemish and Belgian art, has a dazzling collection of masterpieces by Van der Weyden, Bruegel, Bosch, and Rubens. The Fin-de-Siècle Museum next door, covering art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, also makes for an enjoyable stroll.

The Atomium, one of Brussels’ offbeat attractions, looms on the edge of town. This gigantic, silvery steel “molecule” has escalators connecting the various “atoms,” fun space-age videos, and a view from the top sphere. If you’re scared of heights or tight spaces, tell your friends you’ll wave to them … from the ground.

If you’re hungry, muscle your way into a restaurant to order mussels in Brussels. They’re served everywhere. You get a big-enough-for-two bucket and a pile of fries. Use an empty shell to tweeze out the rest of the mussel