The best way to get to know a city is to walk through its different neighbourhoods. Strolling through its narrow streets with no fixed destination, not using the cell phone to consult Google Maps or even take a picture. Walking unhurriedly and making stops, always ready admire a shop window or have a beer or visit an exhibition without having planned it. That’s the way to soak up the ambience of a city, to take its pulse. One of the easiest places to do this, one of the spots in Europe with the greatest personality, is the Molenbeek neighbourhood.
Hidden right in the middle of Brussels is a multicultural neighborhood that gentrification has not robbed of its personality. Many tourists ignore it, which makes it even more attractive in the eyes of the real traveller. Its cultural epicentre is at the MiMA. You won’t find framed paintings here; rather, they are drawn directly onto the walls of this old beer brewery. Graffiti, graphic design, tattoos, comics and the plastic arts make up a 2.0 museum that pays special attention to the culture of the internet.
More classic is the Brussels Museum of Industry and Labour, where the visitor can discover the industrial past of this city. The space itself becomes a part of the story it is telling, since it is an abandoned factory. It’s worthwhile finding out about the many interesting temporary exhibits.
Any day is a good day for visiting Molenbeek, but if you do so on a Sunday you may find yourself in its food market at the Place Comunale. There’s food from all over the world at its different stalls: Kosher, Halal, Greek, Italian. It’s like a small UN delegation, but much more tasty.
If you’re not up to international experiments and instead want to try a little of the local cuisine, go to the Brasserie de la Senne, one of the three breweries in Brussels. You can tour it with the help of a guide, or go directly to what’s most important and order a good beer and something to nibble on. We continue our stroll, stopping to admire such gems as Karreveld Castle or the Church of St. John the Baptist, a unique example of art déco by the Belgian architect Joseph Diongre.
The buildings are very attractive but a tenth of the Molenbeek neighbourhood is pure nature. With over 50 hectares, Scheutbos is more than a park. Here you can find all kinds of birds, in addition to some grazing cows, although its most famous inhabitants are rather small: more than 20 kinds of butterflies reside here, so be on the lookout.
It’s hard to say goodbye to Molenbeek, but if we have to do so there’s no better place than a night at the Café de la Rue. Don’t be fooled by the name: more gin and tonics are served here than coffees. And there’s the best live music in the city. This concert hall is famous throughout Brussels, and the best jazz musicians regularly drop by. The perfect ending for a visit to the most vibrant neighbourhood in this European capital.