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This jewel box of a square is arguably Europe's most ornate and most theatrical. It's a vital part of the city—everyone passes through at some point. At night the burnished facades of the guild houses and their gilded statuary look especially dramatic: from April to September, the square is floodlighted after sundown with waves of changing colors, accompanied by music. Try to be here for the Ommegang, a magnificent historical pageant re-creating Emperor Charles V's reception in the city in 1549 (the first Tuesday and Thursday in July), or for the famed Carpet of Flowers, which fills the square with color for four days in mid-August in even-numbered years. You'll also find here a flower market, frequent jazz and classical concerts, and in December, under the majestic Christmas tree, a life-size crèche with sheep grazing around it.
Hôtel de Ville. Dating from the early 15th century, the magnificent Gothic-era Hôtel de Ville dominates the Grand'Place. It's nearly 300 years older than the surrounding guild houses, as it survived the devastating fires of 1695. The left wing was begun in 1402 but was soon found to be too small. Charles the Bold laid the first stone for the extension in 1444, and it was completed four years later. The extension left the slender belfry off center; it has now been fully restored. The belfry is topped by a bronze statue of St. Michael crushing the devil beneath his feet, and is a beautiful and useful landmark for navigating Brussels's winding streets. Over the gateway are statues of the prophets, female figures representing lofty virtues, and effigies of long-gone dukes and duchesses. Inside the building are a number of excellent Brussels and Mechelen tapestries, some of them in the Gothic Hall, where recitals and chamber-music concerts are frequently held. Locals still get married in the town hall, so keep an eye out for brides stepping gingerly over the cobbles on summer mornings. Grand'Place, Lower Town, B1000. 02/548–0447. €5. Guided tours available in English on Wed. at 3 pm and Sun. at 10 am and 2 pm (buy tickets at the tourist office in the right wing of the building). Metro: De Brouckere, Gare Centrale. Tram: Bourse.
Maison de la Brasserie. On the same side of the Grand'Place as the Hôtel de Ville, the Maison de la Brasserie was once the brewers' guild. The building, also known as the Arbre d'Or (the "Golden Tree"), now houses a modest brewery museum, the Musée des Brasseurs Belges, appropriate enough in a country that still brews more than 1,100 different beers. There are audio guides in English. Happily enough, the entrance ticket entitles you to a free beer at the end of your visit. Grand'Place 10, Lower Town. 02/511–4987. €6. Daily 10–5. Metro: De Brouckere, Gare Centrale. Tram: Bourse.
Musée de la Ville de Bruxelles. Opposite the Hôtel de Ville, the equally flamboyant Maison du Roi (the building is actually a 19th-century copy of the 16th-century original, which had fallen into disrepair) is now home to a museum reflecting the city's rich history and culture. The highlight for most visitors is a chance to see many of the hundreds of tiny costumes created specially for the Mannekin Pis (see our review in this section). Grand'Place, Lower Town, B1000. 02/279–4350. www.museedelavilledebruxelles.be. €4. Tues.–Sun. 10–5 (Thurs. until 8).
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