Welcome to my place . . . Brussels

Hannah O’Brien-Møller on what to eat, what to see and where to stock up on chocolate in the Belgian capital

Hannah (left) with her friend Jenny in front of the 15th-century town hall in the Grand Place, Brussels.

Hannah (left) with her friend Jenny in front of the 15th-century town hall in the Grand Place, Brussels.

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Hannah O’Brien-Møller is a 20-year-old languages student who is half Irish, half Danish. She grew up in Brussels as the daughter of two ex-pats, but then moved to Dublin to study, and is currently on her Erasmus year in Vienna.

“I still have a strong connection with Brussels as my parents and my brother still live there. I do very much consider it home and return often.”

Where is the first place you bring people when they visit Brussels?

The Grand Place in Brussels. Photograph: iStock
The Grand Place in Brussels. Photograph: iStock

Definitely the main square – La Grand Place. In summer you can weave through alleyways on bumpy cobbled streets and squeeze past restaurant tables out into the main square to enjoy a coffee while taking in the beautiful architecture of the town hall. In winter, grab a warm Belgian waffle on your way in and watch the fabulous light show that is on every evening in December. And then in the afternoon, go for a coffee in the cosy cafe Les Gens que J’aime, and try a Belgian beer in the evening in the Delirium Café.

The top three things to do there, that don’t cost (much) money, are . . .

The gauffre or Belgian waffle
The gauffre or Belgian waffle

Get a gaufre (a Belgian waffle), with toppings or without, but in my opinion they’re just as délicieux on their own.

A visit to the Magritte Museum to see some of the Belgian surrealist’s best work is essential, and affordable.

Browse a flea market. The one at Place du Jeu de Balle in the morning is an especially good place to find a bargain, while listening to a busker playing the accordion.

Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a sense of Brussels?

Get chips – Belgian style – at Fritland. It may not seem like much, but they are definitely the taste of Brussels, especially if you get mayonnaise on the side. However, if you’re looking for proper food, Le Perroquet is my favourite place to go. Try one of their famous pitas and definitely don’t miss dessert. I would firstly ask if they have any tarte au sucre (literally sugar tart, a Belgian favourite) and if not, try a dame blanche (ice cream with chocolate sauce and a mountain of Chantilly cream). Then just sit and enjoy the fantastic atmosphere, the stained- glass windows and gorgeous art nouveau interior.

Hunt for a bargain at Place du Jeu de Balle. Photograph: iStock
Hunt for a bargain at Place du Jeu de Balle. Photograph: iStock

Where is the best place to get a sense of Brussels’s place in history?

The history of Brussels is best seen in its architecture. The guild houses in La Grand Place are particularly beautiful baroque masterpieces, framing the gothic town hall on either side. There are also art nouveau gems to be found throughout the city.

For what should visitors save room in their suitcase after a visit to Brussels?

A box of Belgian chocolates. No contest. In the city centre you’ll come across a chocolatier every couple of metres, but Neuhaus is the place to go for really good quality Belgian chocolate that is still affordable. My favourite thing to do is to ask for a little sachet and fill it up with a few different flavours to try.

If you’d like to share your little black book of places to visit where you live, please email your answers to the five questions above to abroad@irishtimes.com, including a brief description of what you do there and a photograph of yourself. We’d love to hear from you.

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