Brussels’ magnificent Grand Place is one of the world’s most unforgettable urban ensembles. Oddly hidden, the enclosed cobblestone square is only revealed as you enter on foot from one of six narrow side alleys: Rue des Harengs is the best first approach. The focal point is the spired 15th-century city hall, but each of the antique guildhalls (mostly 1697–1705) has a charm of its own. Most are unashamed exhibitionists, with fine baroque gables, gilded statues and elaborate guild symbols.
Alive with classic cafés, the square takes on different auras at different times. Try to visit more than once, and don’t miss looking again at night, when the scene is magically (and tastefully) illuminated. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings there’s a flower market and at various other times the square might host anything from Christmas fairs to rock concerts to the extraordinary biennial ‘flower carpet’.