Despite its role as the "capital of Europe", Brussels is quite a small city; you can set out eastwards from the Grand'Place and be in the forest in under an hour on foot. The city is formally bilingual, but the population is about 85% French speaking; there are sizable central African
minorities. English has a considerable role as a neutral language between the francophone and Dutch-speaking communities and increasingly as a street language.
The heart of the city is the "Pentagon", formed by the boulevards which run where the city walls once stood ("boulevard" is from the same root as "bulwark" for that reason). The tourists mainly gravitate towards the Grand'Place, a fine 17th century reconstruction of a medieval square, the Manneken Pis, and the Galleries Royales, which are all in the "Ilot Sacré" roughly in the centre of the Pentagon at the foot of the ridge on its Eastern side. South of the Ilot Sacré is the Marolles, a traditional working class district with lots of good junk shops in the Rue Haute and Rue Blaes, while north of it is the Rue Neuve, the main shopping drag, and the Place des Martyres, a 19th century square being rebuilt behind the original facades. Much of the central area is scarred by Bruxellisation, evil property development practices involving allowing historic buildings to collapse through years of neglect and then redeveloping the sites.
On the heights east of the city centre ("Haut de la ville") the Palais de Justice stands in a prominent position, just south of the cluster of the royal palace, the Palais des Beaux-Arts (concert hall), and the main public art galleries. Across the park (Parc de Bruxelles or Warande) stands the Parliament building, at one end of the Rue de la Loi which extends out eastwards, lined with government buildings, embassies and European Union buildings culminating in the Berlaymont (European Commission) and Justus Lipsius (Council of Ministers) buildings at the Rond-Point Schuman.
South of this administrative district is Ixelles/Elsene, a lively area with a large African population and the city's best beer shop (Bières Artisanales, on the Chaussée de Wavre) and some of its more interesting shopping; the Avenue Louise on the boundary between Ixelles and Saint-Gilles is a Mecca of high-class consumerism.
The area to the north of the Pentagon (Saint-Josse) is split by the main railway lines and the Gare du Nord/Noordstation; to the west are a cluster of skyscrapers (some now derelict) around Place Rogier, built in the 1960s giving the area the somewhat mocking nickname of "Manhattan"; a newer business district is growing up just to the north of it, all mirrored glass and private security guards; to the east of the railway lies the red light district and the Jardin Botanique (whose great orangery is a major concert venue).
North-west of the centre lie Laeken (with its park and royal residence), Heysel (home to the Atomium, the city's main exhibition centre and the newly rebuilt King Baudoin football and athletics stadium) and Koekelberg (dominated by the dome of the Basilica, the world's fourth biggest Catholic church). On its western side the Pentagon comes up against the industrial Canal du Centre, the closest there is to a water feature; beyond it are Molenbeek (poor but with some good clubs) and Anderlecht (which mixes poverty, Erasmus's house, the Cantillon brewery and the eponymous football club).
Vlaamse lesers: life's too short om ieder straatnaam tweetalig te maken en - for better or for worse - de engelstalige gemeenschap van Brussel en meeste touristen kennen gewoon alleen de franse namen. Will do better as I edit this node up, of course ...