Brussels,(French:Bruxelles,Dutch:Brussel), Belgium, the capital of the nation and of Brabant province. Together with 18 suburban communes, it forms the nation's largest city. Brussels lies in the valley of the Senne River in north-central Belgium, and is about 60 miles (97 km) from the North Sea.
Besides being the governmental center of Belgium, Brussels is the cultural center; the leader in finance, banking, insurance, publishing, and light industry; and the converging point for many railways, highways, and airlines. Educationally, Brussels is also prominent, with two universities and numerous learned societies and institutes. As home to European Council and the European Commission (executive bodies of the European Union) and the European Parliament, as well as headquarters for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and more than 100 other international organizations, Brussels is a cosmopolitan city.
The central part of the city is shaped roughly like a pentagon and is bordered by broad boulevards built on the site of old city walls. There are two general sections—a lower town and an upper town. The lower town lies in the Senne Valley and is the main business section and the older, more historic part. The upper town, built on the valley's east slope, is primarily residential and governmental. Officially the city is bilingual, using Dutch and French; French, however, predominates.
The heart of Brussels, in the lower town, is the Grand' Place, a large square surrounded by medieval and Renaissance buildings. (For color picture, see Belgium.) Among these are the ornate Hôtel de Ville (town hall) and a number of gold-trimmed guild halls. The square is one of the most attractive in Europe. In the upper town, facing Brussels Park, are the parliament building, government ministries, and the royal palace, with offices of the king. The royal residence, surrounded by an immense park, is in Laeken, a northern commune. The colonnaded Palais de Justice, housing courts of law, is one of the largest buildings in Europe.
Among the city's outstanding churches are Notre-Dame-du-Sablon, built in late Gothic style, and the Church of Saints Michel and Gudule, famed for its stained-glass windows. Museums are numerous and varied. Probably the finest is the Museum of Ancient Art and Sculpture, one of three branches making up the Royal Museums of Fine Art. There are also theaters and concert halls, fine parks, and a botanical garden.