Sablon is a smart little quartier and one of the most charming in Brussels; it is an intricate maze of cobbled streets set around two delightful squares, and was once home to the aristocrats of Brussels. The whole area is packed with stylish restaurants, slick galleries and hip cafés; the bar terraces of the lovely Place du Grand Sablon in particular provide the perfect spot in which to enjoy a glass of Belgian beer after a day’s sightseeing.
This arcaded square is one of the most exclusive in Brussels and is lined with 15th- and 16th-century townhouses showcasing high-end antiques stores, organic delis and expensive restaurants. It’s hard to imagine that a weekly horse market was once held in Place du Grand Sablon and these days it’s better known for the weekend book and antique markets held under cheery red-and-green striped awnings. It is a vital stop-off for chocolate lovers, as Brussels’s best confectioners, Godiva, Wittamer (marzipan figures in hot pink packaging) and Pierre Marcolini (makers of the best pralines in the city), confront each other across the cobbles. Among all the grandeur is an interesting little postal museum at 40 place du Grand Sablon.
The Place du Petit Sablon is a short walk uphill, and has at its center a graceful garden designed in 1890 by Henri Beyaert; it’s scattered with sculptures representing the trades of the city and topped with a monumental marble fountain. It faces on to the beautiful late-Gothic church of Notre-Dame du Sablon, begun in the early 15th century, which contains a haunting series of gilded wall paintings around the choir; its stained-glass windows are prettily illuminated at night.