Things to do in Brussels
- Grand Place, Grote Markt
- Brussels Town Hall
- Manneken Pis
- Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral
- Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon
- Mont des Arts
- Parc du Cinquantenaire (Cinquantenaire District)
- Royal Palace of Brussels
- Royal Museums of Fine Arts
- Bois de la Cambre
- Autoworld Museum
- National Basilica of the Sacred Heart
- Comme Chez Soi Restaurant
- Garden Petit Sablon
- Royal Galleries of Saint Hubert
- Spirito Martini Club
- Musical Instruments Museum, MIM
- Brussels Stock Exchange
- Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, Choco-story
- Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
- Halles Saint-Gery
- Cook & book Restaurant
- Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History
- Horta Museum
- Museum of the City of Brussels
- Magritte Museum
- Rue des Bouchers
- Leonidas Chocolaterie
- Sainte-Catherine Church
Although Brussels is the capital of the European Union, it is not a standard boring metropolis, packed with the same kind of administrative institutions. It combines Gothic monuments and ultra-modern buildings in an amazing way. The city is famous not only for its sights but also for its gastronomic delights — the best chocolate in the world, Belgian waffles, unusual sorts of beer, and French fries, which are served in numerous cafes and restaurants. And it's not easy to choose what to see first in Brussels. To make it easier to plan your route, we offer the top 30 most interesting places to visit.
Grand Place, Grote Markt
The Grand Place, the Market Square, or Great Market (Grote Markt) is not only the main attraction of Brussels but also a representation of its history. The buildings surrounding it are masterpieces of Gothic art. Some of the most important tourist sites here include the majestic medieval City Hall, the King's House, which houses the Brussels City Museum, and the famous fountain statue of Manneken Pis nearby.
Since the square was the seat of the city government, all the merchant guilds erected houses here. Each had a special name and symbol. The candle mongers' shop had a house called the Wheelbarrow; the barrel-makers had a Sack, the archers had a She-Wolf. Every two years in August, the Grand Place creates a huge carpet of thousands of colorful begonias, which are best admired from the balcony of the City Hall.
Brussels Town Hall
The Grand Place is adorned by one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in the city, the Brussels Town Hall. This is the only medieval building that has survived to this day. Its facade is decorated with carved columns and 137 statues, including statues of all the Dukes of Brabant. The 96-meter high tower is crowned by a five-meter high figure of the Archangel Michael, with the Satan lying prostrate at his feet. When the Town Hall is not in session, it is open to the public. Everyone can go inside, walk around the magnificent halls, admire the tapestries and paintings. You can see the entire Market Square from the balcony of the Town Hall. The two fountains in the courtyard symbolize the Scheldt and Maas, the main rivers in Belgium.
A landmark does not necessarily have to be grandiose in order to be famous all over the world. One of the symbols of Belgium is the fountain sculpture Manneken Pis. Its height is only 61 cm, but it attracts crowds of tourists. When choosing what to do in Brussels, most visitors prefer it. There are many legends associated with its appearance. One tells of a child who extinguished the fuses of enemy shells with his forces. Another is about an evil witch who turned a boy who peed on her porch into a statue. But it is not known for certain how the sculpture actually appeared. According to some sources, the figure was installed in the XIV century, but it was stone and looked different. The modern version was created by sculptor Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder in 1619. Several times a month, the boy is dressed up in various costumes, and on holidays, not water, but beer or cider flows from the fountain.
The grandiose 102-meter-high exhibition complex is made in the form of an iron molecule, enlarged 165 billion times. Each of the nine spheres of the Atomium symbolizes not only the atom of the crystal lattice but also the Belgian province. It was originally planned to demolish the monument after the 1958 World's Fair, for which it was built. But the creation of architect André Waterkeyn appealed to the citizens and tourists so much that the authorities decided to keep it. The Atomium is now a full-fledged entertainment center. Six areas of the complex are equipped with exhibition halls, a small hotel, and a cafe. The upper "atom" has a panoramic restaurant, which overlooks the entire city.
Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral
The main cathedral of Brussels was a small church of St. Michael in the Middle Ages. In the XI century, the relics of St. Gudula were transferred to it. Soon, the chapter was founded there, and the church began to be rebuilt in the Gothic style. The Cathédrale Saints-Michel-et-Gudule de Bruxelles is twice the height of Notre-Dame de Paris. Its main entrance is crowned by a stained-glass window depicting the Last Judgment. The vault is supported by Romanesque columns decorated with statues, and the choir is illuminated by tall windows with the XVI-century stained-glass windows. The northern tower houses the huge bell called the "Savior" (Salvator), while the southern tower has a carillon consisting of 69 bells. Climbing up the internal stairs, you can go to the terrace and admire the city's panorama from a height of 64 meters.
Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon
In the XIII century, the Guild of Crossbow, who considered the Virgin Mary their patroness, erected a small chapel in her honor. But in the XV century, when the miraculous statue of Our Lady was brought from Antwerp, the building had to be rebuilt because all the parishioners could not fit inside. Notre-Dame du Sablon, or the Church of Our Lady of Victory, is in the style of the Gothic of Brabant. The columns in the aisles are decorated with sculptures of the apostles by Tobias de Lelis. The interior walls are decorated with guild coats of arms, and the 11 tall colored stained-glass windows create unusual lighting effects. Each guild placed an altar in the church dedicated to their patron. The main entrance is decorated with carved arches and a rose window above them, traditional for the Gothic style.
Mont des Arts
In preparation for the 1910 International Exhibition, King Leopold II ordered a park to be laid out between the Upper and Lower Town. It was designed by the famous landscape architect Pierre Vacherot. All the old houses were demolished in the selected area, and a hill was created on which the French-style park was laid out. It is surrounded by buildings constructed in neoclassical and postmodernist styles. Architectural lines are emphasized by the strict geometric shape of park alleys and flowerbeds.
The place is called the Mount of Arts because of the complex of museums and art galleries, including the Royal Museums of Fine Arts. There are monuments to King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth on top of the mountain. From here, you can see Brussels Town Hall, the Grand Place, and, in good weather, the Atomium and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Parc du Cinquantenaire (Cinquantenaire District)
It is a favorite recreation place of citizens and tourists, which King Leopold II ordered to build for the half-century anniversary of Belgium's independence in 1880. The monarch also ordered the construction of the Arc de Triomphe, an almost exact copy of Paris' Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile. It is crowned by a galloping quadriga, similar to the one on the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Now, the high-tech restaurant The Cube is located at the top of the arch, in a glass cube.
The complex, covering an area of 30 hectares, includes the Musée Art & Histoire, with a large collection of archaeological finds, ethnographic exhibits, and art objects. Other buildings include the Museum of the Royal Belgian Army and Military History and Autoworld.
Royal Palace of Brussels
When choosing what to do in Brussels for free, you should definitely include the Royal Palace in the list. Anyone can see the former residence of the monarchs and one of the most beautiful buildings of the city. Not only the facade, decorated in the neo-Gothic style but also the interior of the palace rooms deserve attention. The majestic throne room amazes with its size and huge crystal chandeliers. The ceiling of the Mirror Room is decorated with the ornamental wings of scarab beetles. The 11 flowers planted in the Imperial Room symbolize the Belgian provinces. The Bellevue Mansion, part of the complex, is home to a historical museum. Now the Palais Royal de Bruxelles is used only for official receptions, and the royal family lives in the Laeken Palace.
Royal Museums of Fine Arts
The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (MRBAB) is an association of six museums:
- ancient art;
- art of the late XIX century;
- contemporary art (XIX-XX centuries);
- René Magritte;
- Antoine Wiertz;
- Constantin Meunier.
Their collections contain more than 20,000 pieces. The first director of the Royal Museum, Guillaume Jacques Joseph Bosschaert, made a great effort to recover works of art stolen by Napoleon's army. Thanks to him, Rubens' paintings, The Adoration of the Magi and The Coronation of the Virgin, were returned to Belgium, and they now adorn the collection. Works by Pieter Bruegel, Hieronymus Bosch, Anthony van Dyck, Salvador Dali, and Vincent van Gogh are also on display.
Bois de la Cambre
The reserve is located near the Abbaye de la Cambre, which is why it got its name. The park is made in the English style, the main idea of which is a landscape as close to the natural one as possible. Trees and bushes are planted not in a strict order but chaotically, so it feels like a walk in the woods. The plants were brought to the reserve from all over Belgium. There is a lake with an island in the park's center, where you can rent a boat for a small fee on weekends and have lunch at the Chalet Robinson café.
The Autoworld Vintage Car Museum is unique in the world. Its collection includes more than 250 cars of European and American brands from the XIX century to the 1970s. The exhibition is housed in one of the exhibition complexes of the Parc du Cinquantenaire, on the right side of the Arc de Triomphe. The museum began with the collections of two Belgian collectors, Charly De Pauw and Ghislain Mahy. Its exhibits include many unique ones — for example, cars of Presidents Kennedy and Roosevelt, a Bentley made in 1928, a Bugatti from 1930, and pre-war Belgian cars.
Children will be interested to see vintage carriages and sit behind the wheel of a real racing car. The museum often hosts exhibitions dedicated to the anniversaries of car brands, contests, and quests. In July, it starts a race on rare cars.
National Basilica of the Sacred Heart
The green dome of the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. King Leopold I began the church's construction, inspired by the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in Paris. They had been building the church for 65 years, from 1905 to 1969. Now, the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart is the largest building in the world in the Art Deco style. Its height is 89 m, and its length is 164,5 m. The observation deck on the dome offers a panoramic view of Brussels and the surrounding area. The interior of the temple is decorated in a minimalist style. Stained-glass windows by the Belgian cubist artist Anto Carte add a particular charm to it. The altar is decorated with a painting by George Minne depicting Christ in blessing. The basilica houses a Catholic radio station, a restaurant, two museums (of the Order of the Black Sisters and modern religious art), and a training ground for mountain climbers.
Comme Chez Soi Restaurant
This popular two-Michelin-starred establishment appeared in Brussels in 1926. At that time, former miner Georges Cuvier decided to open a small restaurant and named it Chez Georges (Georges' Place). Thanks to the delicious cuisine, the place quickly became popular. Once, one of the distinguished guests told the owner that he felt like home in the restaurant, after which Georges decided to change the name to Comme Chez Soi (Like Home). In 1953, the restaurant received its first Michelin star. Now, the table here must be booked in advance. The menu is based on classical Flemish cuisine supplemented with Belgian and French recipes. You can watch the mystery of cooking through a transparent wall. Comme Chez Soi pays great attention to the food and the service, so every visit to the restaurant turns into a holiday.
Garden Petit Sablon
In the center of Brussels, not far from Notre Dame du Sablon church, there is a small but very beautiful garden called Petit Sablon. It was laid out in 1880 on the site of an old cemetery. The garden has a perfectly symmetrical layout, traditional for that time, and all landscape elements have not only aesthetic but also symbolic load. The nine shrub hedges in the form of rings represent the historical provinces of Belgium. The 48 statues represent all the craft guilds of Brussels, and another ten were erected in honor of people who played a special role in the city's history. The centerpiece of the landscape composition is a fountain sculpture depicting Counts Lamoral Egmont and Philippe Horne going to execution. The garden's benches offer a great view of Notre-Dame du Sablon church while relaxing from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Royal Galleries of Saint Hubert
The Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert is not an art museum, as one might think, but a large shopping passage. The neo-Renaissance complex was built in 1847 by the architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar and designed as a shopping passage. Three galleries (King, Queen, and Prince) are united by a glass roof. There are more than fifty fashionable boutiques, and all are showcased in the same style. High walls and numerous windows give the impression that the complex consists of three floors, although, in fact, it is one story.
The Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert is one of the best places for shopping in Brussels. Here you can buy the famous Belgian chocolate from the Neuhaus factory and clothes and shoes from world-famous brands. The Prince's Gallery has restaurants, a theater, and a movie theater, as well as the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts.
Spirito Martini Club
The luxury nightclub Spirito Martini is located in an old Anglican church. Francesco Ravo, who bought the building, managed to make it a new iconic place in Brussels with the help of PURESANG Design Studio. The design concept of the club combines a glamorous modern style with a Gothic extravaganza. Most of the architectural elements of the church (arches, chandeliers, high ceilings) have been preserved. Stone and wood surfaces were covered with a layer of gold leaf, which blends spectacularly with the black marble columns. To decorate the walls, unique Victorian-style wallpaper created by photo printing and tinted mirrors were used. Inside, there are three bars and a separate room where you can enjoy music while sipping exquisite drinks.
Musical Instruments Museum, MIM
In this museum, you can not only look at musical instruments from all over the world but also listen to what they sound like — the ticket price includes wireless headphones. The beginning of the collection, which now numbers more than 7,000 pieces, was Indian folk instruments given to Leopold II in 1876. The most interesting sections of the museum introduce the musical traditions of the peoples of the world. These halls exhibit ethnic instruments — Chinese stone bells, a Basque alboka, a double Caucasian drum, a Welsh lyre.
Unique exhibits include a replica of the piano played by Maurice Ravel, the instruments of Adolphe Sax, and a bicentennial orchestrion. The museum is located in the former Old England Department Store, constructed in the Art Nouveau style. Its top floor offers a beautiful view of the city. There is also an inexpensive café with an excellent selection of food.
Brussels Stock Exchange
The stock exchange is closed to visitors, but its building itself is a historical landmark. Its façade combines several styles — Italian Renaissance, Neoclassic, and Neo-Renaissance. The facade sculptures were made by famous masters, including Auguste Rodin, Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, Guillaume de Groot, Victor De Haen, and others. Architect Leon-Pierre Suys created the stock exchange project. The allegorical figures by Guillaume de Groot symbolize agriculture, art, science, and industry. On either side of the main staircase are sculptures of lions. One of them has its head up, and the other one is bent backward. They are symbols of two trends in the stock market: upward and downward.
Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, Choco-story
The city's sweetest museum is located in a small house not far from Grand Place. Thanks to it, the surrounding countryside is full of mind-blowing aromas. The museum's exhibition plunges visitors into the history of Belgium's main gastronomic symbol. It reveals the secrets of chocolate production from the Maya to the present day. The most interesting part of the collection is the chocolate figures of famous cartoon characters: Asterix, Obelix, Remy the rat, Scrat the squirrel, and others.
Both children and adults will enjoy a workshop on making the famous Belgian praline candies. The culmination of the tour is a free tasting. You can eat as much candy as you want, so it is recommended to take water with you. A small store at the museum sells handmade chocolates.
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
For those who choose where to go in Brussels with children, it is recommended to pay attention to the Museum of Natural Sciences. There is the largest collection of dinosaur skeletons in Europe, including 30 iguanodons and a perfectly preserved mammoth skeleton. Equally interesting is the Evolution Gallery, which takes you through billions of years of Earth's history, and the Humanity Gallery, which allows you to trace all the Homo sapiens' evolution stages. Interactive exhibits turn a visit to the exhibition into a fascinating game. For young fans of detectives, the museum stages a mock murder of the director and investigates the crime every day.
The Senne flowed on the site of the fashionable Saint-Gery exhibition center in the VI century. The Bishop of Cambrai, also known as Saint Gery, built a chapel on a big river island. It soon became the church of Saint Gery and became the repository of the relics of Saint Gudula. At the end of the XVIII century, the Senne was let through the underground channel, and the church was destroyed. A square with a fountain appeared in its place, on which spontaneous trade developed. In 1882, according to the project of architect Adolphe Vanderheggen, a covered market decorated in the style of Flemish neo-Renaissance was built. It was open for trade until 1977, after which it stood empty for 20 years. In 1999, it was turned into an exhibition center with a display devoted to the city's history.
Cook & book Restaurant
Since its opening in 2006, the Cook & book store and restaurant has become very popular with tourists and Brussels residents. It offers a combination of bodily and spiritual food. Dining tables stand next to bookshelves where you can browse through literary novelties while waiting for your order. Books are on the tables, on the walls, and even on the ceilings. The restaurant has nine rooms, each dedicated to a particular subject. There are halls of children's books, English and French literature, music. The interior design corresponds to the chosen genre. The menu is varied — from burgers to national cuisine and exquisite desserts.
Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History
Despite the fact that Belgium has never been a warlike country, the Royal Museum of the Army and Military History has one of the largest arms collections in the world. In addition to cold-arms and firearms from different eras (starting from the Middle Ages), the halls display artillery, tanks, planes, helicopters, and military vehicles. A separate hangar is equipped for aviation. Thanks to the White Guards who emigrated to the country, the exposition was enlarged by a Russian hall with an exhibition of military uniforms, weapons, and decorations of the Russian Imperial Army. The uniforms of Alexander II, Alexander III, and Nicholas I are in the collection. The museum is located in one of the pavilions of the Parc du Cinquantenaire.
The museum dedicated to the Belgian architect and one of the founders of the Art Nouveau style, Victor Horta, has as its main exhibit the building itself. It is the master's mansion, which reflects one of his innovations — the arrangement of the rooms around a central hall. A lot of sunlight enters the house through a glass ceiling. The interior of the rooms, decorated in the Art Nouveau style, has not changed. Victor's furniture and personal belongings, as well as his art collection, are still there. The museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the three other Horta buildings (Hotel Tassel, Hotel Solvay, and Hotel Van Eetvelde).
Museum of the City of Brussels
You can explore the history of Brussels in the City Museum, illustrated by sculptures, paintings, tapestries, engravings, and other works of art. In total, there are about 7,000 exhibits in its collection. Two large dioramas describe the first settlements on the site of today's Brussels and life in the city in the XVI century. The painting collection includes paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Peter Bruegel, Charles Meunier, and Art van den Bosch.
The museum keeps the originals of some famous sculptures of the city: the Manneken Pis, Mary Magdalene, and eight prophets, created for the Town Hall. They were removed from the streets to protect them from thieves and replaced by copies. The museum is in a building called the House of Bread or the King's House. There was never a royal residence here, but it was the seat of the city administration.
Rue des Bouchers
The Church of Saint Catherine is built in an eclectic manner. Its exterior successfully combines three styles — Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance. The temple was erected on the site of an XII-century chapel, designed by Joseph Poelaert. He decided to preserve the ancient tower of the fortress wall, incorporating it into the architectural ensemble.
The temple is painted white inside, which gives a sense of light and spaciousness. The simple but solid furniture by the Goyers de Louvain brothers is in the Neo-Renaissance style. A painting of the Assumption of St. Catherine adorns the altar. The cathedral is also home to important shrines, a statue of the Black Virgin Mary, rescued from Protestants, and a wooden painted figure of St. Catherine.
On January 8, 2012, the last mass was served in the church. Due to the small size of the parish and lack of funds, it was decided to close it. There were even thoughts to turn it into a marketplace. The parishioners opposed this, so after two years, the church was reopened for worship.