Although I had been to Paris before (through the airport and in the city when I was all of 7 years old) neither time really counts. In spite of the considerable travelling that I have done, Paris was a new destination. While it’s great to see the tourist sights like everybody else (i.e. the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral), it’s also great to “get local”. Find the food stands, small shops, cafes and squares where the locals go. While you can find some great guide books, maps and apps to help (Rick Steves immediately comes to mind), why not actually have a local take you on a tour and show you the neighbourhood favorites?
So I linked up with a local food tour called the “New Parisian Palate” (formerly “Bobo Palate”) with Context Travel. Context is a network of specialists and scholars who act as private guides and lead small groups on walking tours through some of the world’s greatest cities. Tours include archaeology, art history, cuisine, history, urban planning, environmental science, and classics.
Our small group met outside of a bistro in upper Marais. We began our tour with a walk and talk through the iconic “Marche des Enfants Rouges” (the oldest covered market in Paris dating back to the 1600s).
Our walking tour continued for the next 2 1/2 hours and included various stops in the market, a bakery, butcher shop, prepared food and foie gras shop, a cheese shop, a wine and Armagnac shop and a chocolatier. All along the way, the small bites and samples never stopped.
The French are proud of their history, culture and country. And so they should be. Our guide explained how French food tastes were slowly changing, becoming more modern and incorporating flavors and food ideas from around the world. She pointed out new shops and even food trucks to support the “new Parisian Palate”. With most stops, our guide either purchased samples or gathered food in a bag for our end of tour “party” (wine, cheese, pate, baguette).
If you’re thinking of a walking tour, here’s 3 bits of advice:
Take a Context Tour. They are immersive and well worthwhile and get you feeling like a local (and less like a tourist). The group is limited to 6 and led by a local expert.
If you take a Context food tour, don’t eat a meal beforehand (nor will you be able to eat a meal after).
Take your tour in the first few days of your trip if you can. You’ll get a better feel for the city, culture, local area and the places that you’ll want to return to later.
I want that local perspective wherever I go. I want to dive into the destination and its culture. And I want to get local.
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The Capital and the largest city in Belgium, Brussels is also the capital of the European Union and the seat of the French Community of Belgium. The city was founded in 979 AD by Duke Charles of Lower Lotharingia and served as an important trade route by 1000 AD. By the 14th century, Brussels became one of the most important cities in Europe and was part of the Holy Roman Empire. The city was stormed by King Louis XIV of France in 1695 when it was bombarded with artillery, causing major damage to most of the city. After the Second World War, Brussels emerged as a rapidly developing urban capital with the building of several modern buildings in a process known as Brusselization. Located in central Belgium, Brussels experiences a temperate maritime climate with mildly warm summers and chilly winters which make it a preferred tourist attraction. For those of you planning to visit Brussels, here are some great things you can do in Brussels on your next vacation.
The Grand Palace is located in the central square of Brussels and is surrounded by the town hall and City Museum of Brussels. The presence of the three buildings has made the central square one of the most important tourist locations in Brussels and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After the rebuilding of the central square post, (after French bombardment and later by revolutionaries), it remained a primary market area of Brussels. The architectural style is a mix of various influences like Gothic, Renaissance and Art Deco.
This is one place you cannot miss on your trip to Brussels. Manneken Pis, as the name suggests, is a bronze statue of a small boy urinating in the fountain and serves as the city’s landmark. The statue was installed around the early 17th century and was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder. The statue is located by the corner of Rue de l’Etuve and Rue des Grands Carmes and is 61 cm tall. The original statue installed in 1619 was stolen several times and now lies in a restored state in Maison du Roi at the Grand Palace. The current statue was placed here in 1965 and has several legends related to its installation in the first place. The statue is dressed in various costumes on a weekly basis as a part of a Tradition and is one of the most visited monuments in Brussels.
Known more famously as the Brussels Town Hall, Hotel de Ville is located in the Grand Palace and is one of the most iconic medieval age monuments Brussels. The monument is built in an intimidating Gothic style with a central bell tower which stands 96 meters high. The town hall and its collection were completely destroyed during the bombardment of the city and were rebuilt during the 17th century with a restoration of its Gothic style architecture.
If you were or are a fan of Tintin and his adventures, then you’d certainly love to visit the place where the legend took birth. The Belgian Comic Strip Center is home to a huge number of comic strips in various languages like English, French and Dutch including comics from several genres. The museum was opened in 1989 with its famous collection of the ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ and its renowned creator Hergé. The museum also features life sized models of sets and characters from Tintin along with a souvenir shop, research library and a restaurant.
Compared to the American waffle, the Belgian Waffle is identified by its larger size and larger grid pattern. Don’t forget to try some of the best waffles on the planet on your trip to Brussels1 The city is famous for its own variant of the waffle known as a Brussels waffle. It is prepared with eggs, flour and ale yeast which makes the batter lighter. The waffles are usually served with whipped cream, fruits and chocolate spread and dusted with sugar.
A Roman Catholic Basilica and the parish church of Brussels, the church is dedicated to the Sacred Heart and is inspired by the Roman Catholic Basilica located in Paris, France. The Basilica is located atop the Koekelberg Hill in the Parc Elisabeth. The building was planned to be made in an imposing Neo-Gothic style but was later made in an Art Deco style due to the lack of finances. This made the Basilica as one of the Largest Art Deco buildings in the world which stands 89 meters high and 164 meters long.
If you like to buy antique furniture, jewellery or other articles, Brussels is famous for its elaborate antique galleries and flea markets. Chairs, lamps, antique building materials, guns, tools, armors, furniture, mirrors and cast iron doors and windows, you name it and you can find it in the amazing antique markets in Brussels. The cobbled streets are also home to many cafes with warm and friendly staff along with antique galleries and flea markets that feature some of the most astonishing articles of antique value.
If you want a great place to relax and cool your heels off while sipping on to the best traditional lambic style beer, then Cantillion Brewery is your pick. The brewery was established in the 1900 by Paul Cantillion who came from a family of brewers. Since its change of ingredients to organic in 1999, Cantillion brewery has become one of the finest breweries across Europe. The beers are made with malted and un-malted barley and are aged in Chestnut and Oak barrels. There is also a wide variety of fruit flavored beers that are brewed here. Do not forget to visit the famous Gueuze Museum located in the brewery.
Located in Bruparck, Mini Europe features miniature reproductions of all the major monuments of the European Union miniaturized at the scale of 1:25. The park features 80 cities of Europe with around 350 iconic monuments with live action models such as trains, volcanoes, airbuses, cable car,s etc. Built in an area of 24,000 sq meters the park was inaugurated in 1989 by Prince Philip of Belgium.
With much Brussels providing a rich insight in the history of Belgium, you might also get back to the present and enjoy the nightlife of Brussels. The best place to experience the urban culture of Belgium is Café Belga. It is one of the most visited bars in Brussels and also has one of the biggest terraces in Brussels located beside the majestic Ixelles Lake. The bar is famous for its bustling nightlife with DJ parties and in house concerts. The bar also has a dedicated Jazz concert every Sunday. The café is located in an art deco styled building which was built during the 1930s and was once the headquarters of a radio station. Its peculiar shape also led it to be nicknamed as “the boat”.
With over a thousand years of history and culture, Brussels is one of the most visited tourist location in Europe. Being the capital of the ‘Cockpit of Europe’, Brussels is a highly urbanized city with a rich culture and the above places are just a handful of the total attractions housed in Brussels.
Rohit Agarwal is an architect by profession and likes to travel places famous for their historical architecture. He is also the content contributor for Transindiatravels.com which is the best place for knowing about the various tourist places in India.