If, like me, you swore that this summer would be the year when you would get to Ommegang and failed (*curses work*), or that you would stroll down the canal to check out the beach and summery activities at Bruxelles-Les-Bains and failed (*curses own laziness*), you might be forgiven for thinking that you’ve missed the best bits of the fabulously quiet summer in the city.
For those revelling in the drastically shorter commute to work this month, here is my Top Ten things to do before La Rentree hits and the crowds return:
1. Cycle: take advantage of the low levels of traffic and hire a Villo, or take your own set of wheels to see the city from a different angle. Remember this is the one time of year you will feel as if you are not taking your life in your hands by moving around on two wheels in a city notorious for traffic jams and aggressive driving. Particularly recommended are heading out to the Forest de Soignes or the 6km old railway cycle path towards Tervueren.
2. Picnic: Those of us who live here know there is a precious small window of a few weeks when we actually see blue skies and sunshine. Take advantage by visiting one of the 50 parks throughout the city. Alongside the goregeous Petit Sablon, more unusual choices include the Haren cemetary and the Cite Modele in Laeken. Pick a part of town you don’t know and explore! Another great introduction to the city’s parks come via the Urban BBQ, this year in its 7th session at Parc Woluwe on 18th August. A number of top chefs provide a delicious set of ‘tapas’ to begin plus BBQ for EUR15.
3. Royal Palace: With the low-key coronation out of the way, now is the time of year to snoop around the offices of the Belgian Royal Family. Not to be confused with the Palace at Laeken whose gorgeous greenhouses are open for a few weeks every spring, at the centrally located Brussels Palace you can see the faded glamour of the Grand Hall, Throne Room, Mirror Room (look for the beatle winged ceiling) and then pass harsh judgement on Leopold II whose ruthless exploitation of the Congo made it all possible. Open until 1st September.
4.Floralientime: A new event from 2013 to fill the alternate years between the famous, beautiful and slightly bonkers “flower carpet” on the Grand’ Place. The Floralientime fills Grand’ Place and City Hall with stunning arrangements from top florists. The inaugural theme is ‘Colours of Life’. Talented photographer Alison at Cheeseweb has, as ususal, captured gorgeous images that are guaranteed to have you rushing to pay your EUR5 entrance fee. Open 15th-18th August.
5. Brussels Summer Festival and beyond: Belgians adore music of all kinds and in the summer there are festivals galore to choose from. The biggest is the Brussels Summer Festival (9th-18th August) but there are many others, including the free Feeerrieen organised by the incredible team at Ancienne Belgique and this year celebrating its 10th anniversary in the Parc Royal, (26th-30th August). Festival Midi-Minimes offers a mini-break for your soul each lunchtime from 12.15 at the Royal Conservatory (until 31st August), L’Orgue at Notre-Dame-de-la-Chapelle is ideal for those seeking the melancholy tones of the organ (24th-31st August), Fiesta Latina will liven up the Bois de la Cambre (23rd-25th August) and Classissimo for classical lovers at the Theatre Royal (8th-17th August).
6. Midi Fair: Brash and impossible to miss, the fair dominates the area around Gare du Midi until 21st August and for many signals the official beginning of the summer in Brussels. There has been an annual fair on this site since 1885! Open until 2am at the weekend for all your spinning and swirling pleasure with the added benefit of keeping me awake. While the police are visible, be very aware of pickpockets.
7. Mini-Europe by Night: Given a reprieve following the threat of closure earlier this year and accompanying wailing and gnashing of teeth by Brussels residents, see this kitsch monument to the glory of the European continent illuminated. Fireworks and illuminations every Saturday until 17th August.
8. Arts & Theatre Festivals: Again, for a small country there is an astonishing wealth of arts in Belgium supported by our generous tax donations. Summer festivals in Brussels include contemporary performing arts to reflect the ongoing financial crisis (intriguing or up itself? You decide) at the wonderful Brigittines complex in the Marolles (I can only attest to their cafe, the rest is too highbrow for remedial wives. Open 16th-31st August) and the Theatres Nomades which looks much more jolly, especially for those of you with kids. Open 22nd-25th August.
9. Enjoy an aperitif in the sun: Formally via the Friday drinks rotating amongst parks and landmarks across the city, Aperos Urbains, or informally taking advantage of the (slightly) thinner crowds at Places Chatelaine, Flagey, Brugman, du Sablon or St Gery. Now is the time to find a table, don your sunglasses and bask in the evening rays. Sante!
10. Go behind the scenes at the airport: We’re incredibly lucky to have an airport that hosted the first Starbucks in Belgium and is easily accessible from the city centre, albeit one that requires a marathon to get from Terminal A to baggage claim. What it lacks in size, the team at Brussels airport are determined to make up for in customer service and are now working on making the airport into a destination in its own right for the incurably curious. In this spirit, each Sunday in August sees the airport team taking groups on behind the scenes tours. Open 18th and 25th August but running throughout the year. Incidentally, the airport regularly runs competitions on their awesome twitter feed (@brusselsairport) which also happens to provide brilliant up-to-date travel advice. *with thanks to Brussels Life for highlighting this*