Salzburg in a day

Salzburg is like that often overlooked sibling of an illustrious personality — in its case, the city of Vienna. However, just as the cliché goes, while it is similar to Vienna in some respects, Salzburg has its own unique mix of exquisite art, music, culture and incredible scenery. The city is perhaps most well known for being the birthplace of Mozart and for being the location of the heartwarming movie The Sound of Music, but digging a bit deeper reveals so much more of this enchanting city, nestled in the Alps.

Salzburg was our first and last stop on our spring holiday this year. We used Salzburg as our home base to explore the alpine villages of Germany and Austria. It was centrally located giving us easy accessibility and assured us of lively bars and restaurants that we could unwind at after a long day of sight-seeing.

While we did explore a little bit of Salzburg every evening when we returned, we fully explored the city only on our last day there.

There’s a lot to do in Salzburg – stunning cathedrals, excellent museums, great beerhalls, cool fountains, beautiful parks and the list goes on. Here are some spots we think are definitely worth a visit.

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Even if you are in Salzburg for just the day or a few hours, make time for this. The Hohensalzburg’s not only got some great exhibits on the inside but spectacular views of the city and the surrounding alps on the outside.

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The alpine view despite an incredibly cloudy day
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See the light snow on the rooftops?

It was mid April and the last snowfall was around early February but this year there was unexpected snow across Germany and Austria for a couple of days in April that took everyone by surprise. It definitely made our plan to see Salzburg that day mighty hard with slushy snow hitting us in bursts thru the day.

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A blast of sunshine, just before the snow storm

The Hohensalzburg Fortress is perched on a little hill, just above the old town area.

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A view of the Hohensalzburg castle towering high above

The fortress is easily accessible from the city centre via the FestungsBahn funicular (just around the corner from the KapitelPlatz). Once you step outside this little funicular, check out the panoramic terrace for outstanding views of the city and the alps.

There’s a whole bunch of things to do inside this 11th century fortress that includes several wings and courtyards. Some sections are converted into museums filled with interesting exhibits. The Fortress Museum in the Hoher Stock wing is quite fascinating with its large collection of weapons and ceramics. It gives a great background on the history of the fortress and everyday life in the castle.

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It also features some painful-looking weapons of torture
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In there, you’ll also find this  unique display of armor and weapons held up by strings

The Rainer-Regiment Museum has a somewhat similar theme of exhibits including weapons, uniforms and a historical recount of the key role played by the Rainer Regiment in the First World War. They also have a few nicely done sets and it’s worth a quick stop.

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The Marionette Museum is another little section in the fortress that has an intriguing set of puppets on exhibit from its very popular Marionette Theatre. The theatre itself is located in the heart of the city and has a variety of shows every day. We were unable to make any of these shows during our visit but it’s something we have on our list for a future visit. It seems like a fun show for children and adults alike and if you have the time, you should check it out.

As you walk thru the castle bastions, you’ll stumble into some of these (harmless) guys.

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The Royal Apartments is another delightful section in the fortress. It features a few different rooms of which the Golden Chamber is most remarkable. Wall to ceiling, this room is exquisitely decorated in lush colors and gothic style. The main showpiece in the chamber is the large Majolica oven that is lavishly decorated with colorful, intricate designs. The Golden Hall, just beside the Golden Chamber, is another grandly decorated room with similar gothic designs. For over 40 years, the hall has hosted some of Salzburg’s best Mozart concerts and it definitely seemed like the best place in the city to enjoy an evening of delightful music coupled with some striking views.

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The ornate Golden Chamber

Although it’ll take you a few good hours, the Hohensalzburg Fortress is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. On your way down to the city, you could do a quick stop at the Stiegl Brewery to get a refreshing pint of their lager or some local bites. The city views from their biergarten are quite lovely as well.

Another popular place in Salzburg for great city views is the Winkler Terrace, accessible via the Mönchsberg Lift. We couldn’t fit this into our day but it seems like a place that’s definitely worth the visit from the few pictures we’ve seen – stunning panoramas!

Salzburger Dom

Built in early 17th century, the Salzburg Cathedral is incredibly beautiful. On the outside, it seems somewhat ordinary, but when you step inside, you’re struck by its true splendor.

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The central dome of the cathedral is awe-inspiring
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The richly decorated ceiling of the central dome
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The ceilings throughout the cathedral are done up in admirable baroque art

Altstadt or Old Town area

Salzburg’s old town area is a great place to start your exploration of Salzburg. Most of the popular sights including the fortress and cathedral are centered in the old town or historical district. Just opposite the cathedral is the Residenzplatz with its splendid horse-fish fountain or Residenzbrunnen.

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Sculpted by an Italian guy, this baroque fountain is an interesting piece of art

The Residenz Square also includes a whole bunch of museums including the Dom Quartier and Salzburg Museum which we sadly couldn’t make time for in the one day we had in Salzburg. They looked pretty fascinating from their websites and if you are in Salzburg for more than a day, you should give it a go. Also, note that these museums are interconnected and seem to be covered in one pass.

Just next to the Residenzplatz is the Mozartplatz. Of course, the square is adorned by a statue of Salzburg’s most popular guy.

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If you fancy a horse carriage ride thru the old town area, you’ll find these guys hanging around the Mozart Square.

For more of Mozart, head over to Mozart’s Wohnhaus (residence) and Mozart’s Geburtshaus (place of birth). Both these houses have been converted into museums exhibiting paintings, musical instruments, documents and a great number of other collectibles that narrate the life story of the musical genius.

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Mozart’s birth place in Getreidegasse

Apart from being well-known for Mozart’s place of birth, the Getreidegasse is also popular for shopping in Salzburg. Even if you ain’t shopping, the street is a delight to walk thru. Every store has a uniquely designed sign above its door. Even McDonald’s is fancy in this street!

One thing you should shop for, in the whereabouts of this area, is the Mozart Kugeln. Launched for the first time in late 19th century, these little chocolate bonbons made of pistacchio, marzipan and nougat, are an Austrian specialty.

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Music fills the streets of Salzburg. The old town area is bustling with musicians playing delightful classical numbers. Do take time to stop for a gelato, sit in one of the beautiful old town squares and listen to these guys.

If you’d rather sit indoors and listen to some great jazz music, head over to Jazzit. They have some great musicians entertaining you every day of the week. The place is very popular so get there early and grab a seat by the bar that faces the stage and you’ll be all set for a wonderful evening of incredibly wonderful jazz. This was one of our best nights on our week-long road trip!

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Mirabell Palace and Gardens

Schloss Mirabell and Mirabellgarten is less than a kilometre away from the  old town and it rose to fame when one of the popular scenes from the ‘Sound of Music’ was filmed here, right on these steps, that is the entrance to the garden.

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It is a lovely garden to walk thru especially around spring time with gorgeous tulips and other spring flowers embellishing the vast garden.

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This was our favorite section in the Mirabell Gardens

The Dwarf Park is a lot of fun! There are some very cool looking dwarves throughout this little park. Here’s a couple of our favorites.

Take a stroll by the Salzach

Do take some time to walk the banks of the Salzach river that runs thru the city of Salzburg. It is not too far from the old town area and you can get some wonderful views of this charming little city.

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Visit one of the many outstanding breweries

Finally, unwind in a cozy little brewpub and indulge in some of Austria’s culinary delights and excellent brews. You are spoilt for choice with their remarkable selection of breweries. Here are some that we tried and liked.

Looking back on our last day in Salzburg, we actually managed to see quite a bit in one day. If you have more time, there’s a lot more you can do in and around the city.

We hope to return to Salzburg someday, to explore more of the unspoiled beauty and culture that fills every little corner of this city.

Cologne – the unsung beer capital of Germany

Although most would identify Munich as Germany’s beer capital what with the Oktoberfest craze… for us, it would be Cologne.

Cologne is where we first explored the craft beer variety Germany has to offer. It is where we saw locals relish craft beer as much as they do the revered Kölsch.

We started our beer journey in Cologne with the Kölsch – it seemed like the right thing to do. And, we were not disappointed. If you’ve read some of the posts on this blog, you will know that we are not huge fans of the Pils. That said, we don’t mind drinking them on tap every once in a while. It is full of fresh flavors and the Pils generally have a nice hoppiness to it, admittedly not the pale ale hoppiness that we like but good enough to drink occasionally.

We had our first Kölsch at the Gaffel am Dom. The Kölsch to us was really just a German pils, just not as hoppy. However, the Kölsch by classification is an ale as it’s top fermented unlike a Pils. Notice how it is served in a small glass. Now, that’s typical for a Kölsch. Another typical and somewhat amusing custom is the server filling your glass the second it is empty without checking if you’d like more. This makes you completely lose track of how much you’ve drunk but at the same time, it’s pretty cool that you’ll never need to wait for a beer! After a quite a few Kölschs, we put our beer coasters on top of our glass which seemed to be the norm when you’d had enough.

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We were pleased to find that Gaffel brewed another style of beer – it was somewhat similar to the Kölsch yet different because of the hops and fruity flavors. Like the Kölsch, this beer didn’t look or taste like a typical lager or ale.. whatever it was, we liked it! The Sonnen Hopfen as the name itself indicates is full of summer flavors, bursting with citrusy freshness and juicy hops. Definitely, a must-try if you visit the Gaffel am Dom. It is the closest to a craft beer style in a traditional Brauhaus in Cologne.

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We had a delightful evening at the Gaffel am Dom – loved the food and the ambience. This is a place worth visiting for that authentic Kölner experience.

The night was still young and we headed over to the Metronom, a jazz bar. It’s a tiny place but a bar that plays some wonderful jazz music and serves an authentic Guinness on tap. It had been ages since we’d had a genuine pint of Guinness and were so happy to find one, of all the places in Germany.

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Metronom is a small place filled with locals and tourists. It gets crammed easily as it’s a small bar but just get there early and you can get a spot close to the bar. When we had visited, they had run into some trouble with the live music shows creating too much noise for the residents in the area and they had stopped the shows. But, we still listened to some great jazz music. They have the most amazing collection of vinyl records!

The next day we visited the Cologne Biermuseum. Although the place isn’t exactly a museum but more a bar with lots of great, old bier steins from all over Deutschland, Austria and other parts of the world. The place has a very cozy feeling to it and we kinda had the whole place to ourselves when we stopped by for some midday refreshments. Now, what’s notable about this place is that they have a huge variety of beers on tap, beers from all around the world and a bigger variety of bottled beers, mostly the traditional variety. The majority of the tap beers are Bocks and these are some pretty amazing bocks. We’ve had some of our best bocks in all of Germany at this little bar.

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We particularly enjoyed the Urbock, a brilliantly crafted bock, that leaves you wanting more.

If you are a beer fanatic and especially one that loves Bocks, this place should definitely be part of your Cologne beer adventures.

Later that evening, we made our way to the Braustelle microbrewery in Ehrenfeld. These guys have a great set of beers on tap. Of course, they have their own Kölsch – the Helios. It’s one of the best Kölschs we had in all of Cologne. Braustelle has a great set of craft beers to suit all sorts of palettes. We weren’t too fond of their fruity Pink Panther ale but loved some of their stouts. They are always brewing new stuff and you’ll find their menu changing ever so often. It’s a great place where the craft beer loving locals get together. A must-visit if you are a beer enthusiast.

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The Helios

The next day we did a short trip to Bonn. It’s a university town that’s possibly most famous for being the birthplace of Beethoven and home to the United Nations German HQ. Incidentally, it’s where Steve worked while he lived in Bonn several years ago. More about Bonn in a separate post. On to the beers in Bonn – like Cologne they have their own brand of beer called the Bönnsch of course. Interesting point to note: Kölsch and Bönnsch are also what the local dialects are referred to for the respective cities.

While the Kölsch is served in a small glass, the Bönnsch is served in a very unique looking pint glass.

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The lighter (helles in German) beer is their classic, all-time brew – the Bönnsch Natürlich. It’s similar to the Kölsch yet couldn’t be more different. The darker brew you see is their Winter Bock – we quite liked this one! This, of course, is available only during the winter months. The Bönnsch beers are a creation of the Brauhaus Bönnsch which is a fantastic place to grab some delicious local bites and beers.

Later that afternoon, we headed back to Cologne and were quite excited about our evening plans. Not only were we meeting an old friend/roommate of Steve’s after nearly a decade, but were also planning on visiting Cologne’s kick-ass craft beer bar.

We started off the evening at the Päffgen Brauhaus. It’s a traditional beer hall atmosphere and is a fairly large place. They also have a nice winter beer garden that is covered and not too cold. After several rounds of Kölschs and some very tasty local food, we decided to get to the spot we’d been saving for the last.

Craft Beer Corner Coeln is one of the best craft beer bars in Germany. It is mostly filled with local folk who love their craft beers. They have 15 taps on rotation – beers include German and international craft. And they have a whole bunch more by the bottle. It is important to note that when we had visited Cologne in Dec 2016, we were living in Ulm, a small town in South Germany. The craft beer culture at that time was pretty much non-existent and we were always on the hunt for craft beers. [The scene today though is hugely different. More on this in a separate post!] So, essentially, you can imagine the palpable excitement in the air when we walked into this bar to find this mind-blowing collection of beers.

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Today was a Good Day IPA from Pizza Port was just one of the many craft beer gems we discovered that night

It turned out to be a long night of fun conversations over some hoppilicious beers. Also, we got our Pils loving German friend to try out a whole bunch of hoppy ales. Although he didn’t really develop a liking for the ales, he did enjoy the stouts quite a bit.

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They have a cool wall displaying the different beer styles and sub-styles. What you’re seeing in this pic is barely half of that wall!

If you are a serious beer drinker and find yourself in and around Cologne, you should definitely visit the Craft Beer Corner. It is one of the very few places in Germany where you get such a varied and huge collection of craft beers. We promise you, you will feel like you’ve finally come home at Craft Beer Corner Coeln. And, if you’re an IPA lover, you will be in hop heaven with their horde of great IPAs!

And, that’s how we began our Christmas beercation. Next stop Belgium. Stay tuned for our beer adventures in the holy land of beers.

Craft Beer Culture in Regensburg

A little Bavarian city that impressed us not just because of its 2000-year old history but more so because of its amazing craft beer culture.

Despite being an old German city filled with typical, traditional German breweries serving the popular German beer styles like the pils and weizens, there are a few good craft beer bars and an annual craft beer festival that gave us the wonderful feeling that this city is embracing the craft beer revolution with wide open arms unlike a lot of the other bigger Bavarian cities.

It was absolutely delightful to see the locals, especially the elder locals enjoying their craft beer! Now, that is a sight that brings us much joy because it shows that this fatherland of beers is slowly letting go of the rigidity with their traditional beer choices and are open to trying out the new, bolder, better styles that craft brewing offers.

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If you are planning to visit Regensburg, we highly recommend you visit around the same time as their annual craft beer festival that usually takes place in May. The Craft Bier Festival Regensburg runs for 3 days and not only has a whole bunch of German and international craft breweries offering their best brews on tap, but it also includes some very cool live music shows.

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The craft beer festival is a fun, family-friendly event! And, if you like your beer, you will not be disappointed with the choices you will have. We found that the Regensburg craft beer festival was much better organized, more fun and included a better variety and quality of German craft brews compared to the Munich craft beer festival. And, even though it attracts some large crowds, it’s out in the open with plenty of space for you to  move around or find a cozy corner to enjoy your brews. If you feel like socialising, you might just find like-minded beer enthusiasts. And, if you’re as lucky as us, you may just make some wonderful beer friends!

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Here are some of the German breweries to look out for if you’re at the beer fest or if you can get your hands on German craft beer.

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The Aventinus Eisbock tops our list of most loved German beers. Schneider Weisse specialises in wheat beers and bocks, the only German traditional beer styles we really enjoy.
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The Pirate Brew Berlin brews some mean porters
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The RavenKraft brewery is worth a try. Their Black IPA although not a typical black IPA but more a Tripel, is still a great brew.
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The Rhaner brewery offers a great variety of styles and are worth checking out as well.

Now, don’t be dismayed if you’re unable to visit Regensburg during the craft beer festival days as there’s an excellent craft beer bar, right in the heart of the city.

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The Birretta Bier Bar is your go-to place for good beer! They have a huge collection of German and international craft beers, 20 or so on tap and plenty more by bottle. It’s a cozy little place with a great ambience. What seals this sweet deal is their fun live music.

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The guys on stage are some seriously talented musicians. The New Oak Regensburg is a local band of two Americans and one German. They play some mind-blowing folk music and are a friendly bunch of guys. They play every Thursday at the Birretta.

If you need other beer options or want to check out the traditional German beer places or simply try great local food, here are a few other suggestions:

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Jacob’s Weissbier at the Wurstkuchl is simply delicious! And the sausages at this historical sausage kitchen is a must-try!
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The Regensburger Weissbrauhaus offers some lip-smacking local food. The Weizens are okay, not as full-bodied and flavorful as we prefer.

There’s a whole bunch of good beer to drink in Regensburg and we were impressed with the spirit the city shows in breaking away from its longstanding beer traditions.

Even though Regensburg is one of Germany’s oldest cities that puts in a great deal of effort in preserving its history and culture, it is also a remarkably ‘young’ city embracing the craft beer revolution with unbridled enthusiasm! It is cities like these that will help Germany plough ahead with stronger strides in the craft beer movement.

Brussels – where art and beer flow endlessly

Brussels was our first stop on our Belgium beercation. Steve visited Belgium years ago and we had been looking forward to doing Belgium together for a while now and we were so kicked to finally visit Belgium over the Christmas holidays last year.

My first impression of Brussels, just seeing what was in plain sight, was like.. Whoa, wait, why do some of the buildings look so rundown and covered with soot!? Why do the metros and the metro stations look so ancient? Why is that guy peeing in the street, that too in the centre of the town!? [And, no, I don’t refer to the infamous statue of the little boy peeing]. It took me a while to warm up to Brussels and appreciate the city for what it is. The beer (uh… beers) helped. Brussels has tons of breweries, brew-pubs, bars, beer stores — there’s just loads of good beer everywhere. In Belgium, beer is not just a drink, it is a culture.. and, it has sacred origins!

[More on our beer pilgrimage in Belgium coming soon in a separate post but here’s a peek!]

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Best place in town to get some of the best Belgian ales on tap

There’s a lot to do in Brussels. A good place to start is definitely the city’s main square – la Grand Place (French) or de Grote Markt (Dutch). Yep, they have two names for everything including street names. And this can get confusing and you’ll wonder if it’s two different places as they are usually totally different. The city is bilingual and both French and Dutch are official languages. French though is the dominant language and you will hear it everywhere. It’s interesting to note that the city’s origins were that of Dutch and it has been more of a French speaking nation only since the 19th century (the French revolution of course).

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De Grote Markt / la Grand Place / City Centre

The Grand Place was packed with lots of people, every time we passed thru. This picture was taken at 2 AM. Well, it was Christmas time and there were tons of tourists, like us. And, through the evening, they had this light and music show happening which had the crowd flocked to it like bees. The light show was alright, a bit too bright and way too colorful for our liking. And the music, well, may be some Belgian folk music or Christmas carols or anything other than electronica might have made the whole experience (being in a historic city, watching a light show on historic buildings etc.) more relatable.

The Grand Place is surrounded by ornate guildhalls, the Stadthuis (the Town Hall), and the Broodhuis (Breadhouse or the Museum of the city of Brussels). Most of these buildings including the town hall date back to the 15th century although the Grand Place itself dates back to early 12th century. The buildings here an architectural delight with their gothic and baroque styles. The ornamental guildhalls are especially remarkable and at night, even more so with a beautiful glow. There’s always something or the other happening at the Grand Place. It seems like the bi-annual flower carpet show that takes place in the Grand Place is one of their most popular events.

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Some of the ornate buildings at the Grand Place
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The Stadthuis (the town hall)

Just a few blocks away from the Grand Place is the infamous Manneken Pis (translates to Little Man Pee), popularly known as Peeing Boy. This small bronze sculpture of the naked peeing boy is a huge deal in Brussels and is a national symbol.

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Brussels’ oldest citizen

He is apparently seen in a variety of outfits from Santa suits to Elvis Presley to Tibetan monks to national costumes of other countries. What amused us the most though was that for some special occasions, he would be hooked up to beer kegs and you can have a sip of Belgian’s famous brews from his truly. 😀 There are many stories around the origins of the statue – check these out here. And, the boy has a sister and a dog doing exactly what he seems to enjoy doing. We didn’t check out the Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke Pis – decided to save some of this amusement for another trip to Brussels.

Brussels as well had a Christmas Market, just a few meters away from the Grand Place – nothing nearly as beautiful and festive as the German Christmas Markets but nice nonetheless.

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They had a whole bunch of stalls selling handcrafted wares, woolen wear, Glühwein, and local Belgian food (loads of waffles and fries of course). And, surprisingly also had stalls selling other cuisines like Mediterranean, Turkish, and Asian. Definitely catering to the multi-cultural city that Brussels is. What we liked more about the Brussels and the other Belgian Christmas markets we saw were the beer stalls – we were especially thrilled to see a craft beer stall with a great collection of craft beers and some of the traditional Belgian beers.

The best way to discover Brussels is to just walk around the city. You will see sections with historic buildings and sections with high-rise offices. It’s a big city that looks so different at almost every turn in the road. AND, it has some super cool comic strip murals on a lot of its walls.  The Comic Strip Route features over 50 paintings and is such a unique, fun way to discover Brussels. Check out this link for a map of the spots to hit.

Belgium is not just known for its beer, chocolates, waffles and fries. It’s also revered around the world for being the pioneers in the world of comics. Some of the world’s most beloved comics Herge’s Tintin and Peyo’s Smurfs have hailed from this beautiful country.

Our next stop was the Comic Book Museum. The museum features a permanent exhibition on the history and the making of comics. And of course there is  separate section reserved for Belgium’s much-loved hero Tintin. Not only does the museum feature a whole bunch of Belgian comics but also comics in other languages. You can also read some of these comics in the museum’s reading room. And if you cannot read them all, there are numerous comic book stores throughout Brussels and other parts of Belgium. We bought a bunch in Brussels and a few more in Bruges (the ‘De Striep’ store in Bruges has a great collection of comics including in English).

Brussels has quite a few lovely churches but we had time to visit just the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. This gothic cathedral’s history is believed to date back to as early as the 9th century.

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Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

We spent most of our time in Brussels just walking around, enjoying the street art and the wonderful street music, hopping from one beer bar to another, indulging in the local delicacies, and picking a few comic books along the way.

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These guys got the crowd grooving to their music instantly – streets in Brussels are such fun!

Brussels is lively, quirky, medieval yet hip, run-down yet rich with history …  And, most impressively, standing tall and strong despite all the tough times the city has had to endure in the recent past. In the end, I fell in love with all of its uniqueness and rich culture and will surely go back for more.