Brussels: Gay culture booms in Europe's cosmopolitan capital

Simply put, Brussels is a gay travel natural. The Belgian capital shines at those time-honored gay-beloved pastimes of shopping (especially in the trendy Dansaert area and along upscale Avenue Louise), dining (particularly in the realm of yummy national staples like mussels, fries and chocolate, and drinking (at the city's scores of queer and friendly bars and brasseries).

In fact, this multicultural hub of the European Union has one of the continent's liveliest and friendliest LGBT scenes, easily explored thanks to its heavy concentration in the central Saint-Jacques area. And since Brussels is within 200 miles of Paris, Amsterdam, London and Cologne, it's a regular rendezvous point for an international crowd looking to get in on the fun, usually at prices those bigger cities can only dream of.

With its stellar gay rights record (Belgium was the world's second country to introduce marriage equality in 2003) and local LGBT support services, Brussels is also among the globe's gay-friendliest cities. Its rapidly growing Belgian Pride (happening every May and attended by some 70,000 in 2012, more than tripling in size in just three years) is the main gay event of the year. Other popular annual events include November's Pink Screen Festival and the Gay and Lesbian Festival of Belgium, usually straddling late January and early February.

Culturally Brussels has much to offer, from its glorious Grand-Place to its excellent museums to its beautiful Art Nouveau facades to its clear fondness for comics. But it may be the city's inhabitants themselves who keep you coming back for more, with their French-meets-Dutch hotness and their smaller-big-Euro-city charm.

(A word about words: French is Brussels' most common language, but Dutch and German are also official tongues, and English is very widely understood and spoken as well.)

Restaurants to check out