A solitary, early morning walk on Brussels’ Grand’ Place

Brussels, BelgiumI was recently in Brussels for a conference. I haven’t been to Brussels for years, and was curious to return to its central Grand’ Place to see its whimsical architecture, but my work schedule and flights made that difficult.

So I woke up early one morning, took a walk, and made the startling discovery-well, perhaps not too startling, truth be told- that Brussels does not share New York’s moniker as the city that never sleeps. Strangely,  it even manages to make Rome seem almost  like a city of early birds.

Brussels, BelgiumBut on that Friday on a cold winter’s morning in Brussels, I also had the pleasure of having the entire, spectacular Grand’ Place to myself. I wandered the illuminated square in the crisp morning air, with only the occasional sanitation workers breaking the silence of the square.

The Grand’ Place, named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998, is as spectacular as I remembered.  Built in the 17th century, it was a showpiece illustrating the wealth and power of the country’s merchant class. All the old merchant guild houses were housed on this prominent square.

Brussels, BelgiumThe style is hard to describe – an odd mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. Its reliance on stucco, statues, gold leaf, decorations , and peaked roofs should appear gaudy, but instead the square manages to take on a whimsical, fairy-tale quality –one that is surprisingly harmonious.

The towering spire of the Hôtel de Ville, town hall, is a recognizable point on the cityscape. It’s topped by a statue of St. Michael crushing the devil under his feet.

Brussels, Belgium

Karl Marx rang in 1848 in this building, one would presume not alongside the enchained workers

Across from town hall is the 16th century Maison du Roi. Despite its name, this stunning building never housed a king. Today, it’s the city of the city museum, with an impressive collection of Gothic sculptures, period clothing, and a number of paintings, including Brueghel’s Marriage Procession.

So yes, it was odd to wander the Grand’ Place completely alone in the early morning hours, with no open café or boulangerie in the vicinity. But It was also beautiful.

For the rest of the day, the Grand’ Place is a bustle of tourists, city dwellers, and hectic with crowds filing into its shops, and restaurants, and pubs. Rarely does a visitor have the chance to have it all to himself/herself.

Brussels, Belgium

Wait for me, I’m coming back for you…

In the end, I enjoyed my solitary wanderings on “my” beautiful seventeenth century square.

Although, on my next visit, I’ll be eager to return during the hours in which my favorite Godiva chocolate shop is open to the public.

On this visit, I managed to leave some chocolate to the good people of Brussels, but I can’t promise the same next time.


  1. Catherine on February 4, 2015 at 9:52 am

    I also haven’t been back to Brussels for years. Sounds like a wonderful moment!

    • kimberlysullivan on February 4, 2015 at 6:19 pm

      Yes, it was, Catherine. Surely there must be a good excuse to get back – a literature festival? A short story convention? I’ll join you if it coincides with a chocolate festival. : )

  2. joylovestravel on February 4, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Love the Grand Place – we were there in the summer and wandered late at night and early morning. We didn’t quite have it to ourselves, but there weren’t many tourists around, it was glorious.

    • kimberlysullivan on February 4, 2015 at 6:20 pm

      So glad you enjoyed it, too Joy. I agree, it really is glorious. See you there next time!

  3. evelyneholingue on February 5, 2015 at 3:39 am

    There is something special with solitary walks in a city. I haven’t been to Bruxelles since a long time, so I was glad to read your impressions about it and also to see your photos. Close enough to Paris I went when I lived there, sometimes for business. I enjoyed the brasseries with the mussels and fries. The coffee places were also different from the French ones. By then they offered a small piece of chocolate with any cup of coffee. The French do it also now, but it started much later. Thank you for the trip on memory lane, Kimberly.

    • kimberlysullivan on February 5, 2015 at 8:28 pm

      Hi Evelyne! Yes, Brussels is an easy trip from Paris. Oh, I love moules-frites, too! And as for adoring Belgian chocolate, it goes without saying. : )

  4. […] For more Brussels tips, see my earlier post about a solitary, early morning walk on the Grand’ Place. […]

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