Brussels (French: Bruxelles [bʁysɛl] (About this soundlisten) or [bʁyksɛl]; Dutch: Brussel [ˈbrʏsəl] (About this soundlisten)), officially the Brussels-Capital Region (French: Région de Bruxelles-Capitale;[a] Dutch: Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest),[b] is a region of Belgium comprising 19 municipalities, including the City of Brussels, which is the capital of Belgium. The Brussels-Capital Region is located in the central portion of the country and is a part of both the French Community of Belgium and the Flemish Community, but is separate from the Flemish Region (within which it forms an enclave) and the Walloon Region. Brussels is the most densely populated and the richest region in Belgium in terms of GDP per capita. It covers 162 km2 (63 sq mi), a relatively small area compared to the two other regions, and has a population of over 1.2 million. The five times larger metropolitan area of Brussels comprises over 2.5 million people, which makes it the largest in Belgium. It is also part of a large conurbation extending towards Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven and Walloon Brabant, home to over 5 million people.
Brussels grew from a small rural settlement on the river Senne to become an important city-region in Europe. Since the end of the Second World War, it has been a major centre for international politics and home to numerous international organisations, politicians, diplomats and civil servants. Brussels is the de facto capital of the European Union, as it hosts a number of principal EU institutions, including its administrative-legislative, executive-political, and legislative branches (though the judicial branch is located in Luxembourg, and the European Parliament meets for a minority of the year in Strasbourg). Its name is sometimes used metonymically to describe the EU and its institutions. The secretariat of the Benelux and headquarters of NATO are also located in Brussels. As the economic capital of Belgium and one of the top financial centres of Western Europe with Euronext Brussels, it is classified as an Alpha global city. Brussels is a hub for rail, road and air traffic, sometimes earning the moniker “Crossroads of Europe”. The Brussels metro is the only rapid transit system in Belgium. In addition, both its airport and railway stations are the largest and busiest in the country.
Historically Dutch-speaking, Brussels saw a language shift to French from the late 19th century. The Brussels-Capital Region is officially bilingual in French and Dutch, even though French is now the lingua franca with over 90% of the inhabitants being able to speak it. Brussels is also increasingly becoming multilingual. English is spoken as a second language by nearly a third of the population and many migrants and expatriates speak other languages as well.
Brussels is known for its cuisine and gastronomy, as well as its historical and architectural landmarks; some of them are registered as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Main attractions include its historic Grand Place, Manneken Pis, Atomium, and cultural institutions such as La Monnaie/De Munt and the Museums of Art and History. Due to its long tradition of Belgian comics, Brussels is also hailed as a capital of the comic strip.
Brussels lies in the north-central part of Belgium, about 110 kilometres (68 miles) from the Belgian coast and about 180 km (110 mi) from Belgium’s southern tip. It is located in the heartland of the Brabantian Plateau, about 45 km (28 mi) south of Antwerp (Flanders), and 50 km (31 mi) north of Charleroi (Wallonia). Its average elevation is 57 metres (187 feet) above sea level, varying from a low point in the valley of the almost completely covered Senne, which cuts the region from east to west, up to high points in the Sonian Forest, on its southeastern side. In addition to the Senne, tributary streams such as the Maalbeek and the Woluwe, to the east of the region, account for significant elevation differences. Brussels’ central boulevards are 15 metres (49 feet) above sea level. The highest point lies at a height of about 108 metres (354 feet), near the Place de l’Altitude Cent/Hoogte Honderdplein, in Forest.