Today the name Brussels stands for an agglomeration of 19 communes forming one of the three Regions of the federal Belgian state; the capital of the Kingdom of Belgium; the headquarters of the French and Flemish Communities. Brussels also has an important international vocation: as the European capital the city is home to the European Commission and to the Council of ministers of the European Union. The same variety and contrast can also be found in the different architectural styles that can be found in Brussels. Gothic cathedrals and churches are next to – and sometimes in stark contrast with – gracious classical facades like the buildings around the Royal Square (Koningsplein), or beautiful art nouveau and art deco houses. The heart of Brussels and the place to start getting to know the city is the Grand’ Place (Grote Markt). This historic market square with its splendid guild houses and the impressive Gothic beauty of the Town Hall, is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe.
Antwerp is the real urban deal, a refreshingly down-to-earth yet vivacious cosmopolitan habitat blessed with magnificent architecture, fashionable shop fronts, beer-washed pubs, dazzling monuments, jazzed-up clubs, inspired artworks and restaurant tables piled with plates of superb Belgian and multicultural food. Antwerp, home of the Flemish Baroque master Rubens, not only has a wealth of outstanding museums, picturesque galleries, sculpted streets and beautiful architecture, but is also laced with refreshing greenery and urban haunts. Its culture, history, vibrant nightlife and world class shopping are within easy reach, thanks to excellent access by air, train, motorway and even water.
Bruges is known as the Venice of the North and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It was a justified motive that prompted UNESCO in 2000 to include the entire historical city centre on the World Heritage list. Walking along the maze of winding cobbled alleys and romantic canals, you imagine yourself to be in medieval times. The wealth of museums is a striking image of this city’s stirring history. Bruges is also home to contemporary culture, such as the new Concert Hall, which is one of the most prominent music complexes in Belgium and Flanders. The restaurants in Bruges which offer gastronomic cuisine and the exclusive hotels are a true feast for those who enjoy the good things in life.
Ghent is the fourth largest city of Belgium with about 250.000 inhabitants. It is not as big as Antwerp but bigger than Bruges. It is also less famous among tourists than the often praised Bruges. However, for some people Ghent is the real diamond of Belgium and Flanders. In a unique way, Ghent has managed to preserve its medieval power while keeping up with the times. The city centre alone is a showcase of medieval Flemish wealth and commercial success. Modern Ghent certainly cannot be overlooked in Belgium. The city has an important harbour, thanks to the canal Ghent-Terneuzen which allows sea-going vessels to bring their products to the city and its industrial hinterland. Ghent is also the city of flowers in Belgium. Flower growers from the region around Ghent sell their beautiful begonias and azalea’s all over the world. Every 5 years the successful ‘Gentse Floraliën” (Ghent Flower Show) attracts thousands to the city.