See also: Where to Stay in Brussels
Brussels as a city was established in the 13th century and since then, has generously provided the world with a steady and sumptuous giving of beer, chocolates and comic books. This is the political capital of Belgium and does full justice to its role with its neoclassical and art nouveau buildings. Many greats have walked on the soils of Brussels and now, it’s your turn to make the most of what this city has to offer. Here is a list of more than 30 places you can visit during your stay in Brussels:
Visit the Grand Place
It is often remarked that if Brussels is the capital of Belgium then, the grand place or Grote Markt is the capital of Brussels. Such is the beauty and power of this palatial building which is surrounded by the City Hall on one side and Maison du Roi on the other. Many historic moments have taken place here such as the beheading of the Counts of Egmont and Hoorn in 1568 among a few others.
Worship at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
The cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula dates back to the 9th and 11th centuries and is not only a living example of the rich history of Brussels but also, the marvelous architecture found here. At the cathedral, you will find the chapels, towers, pillars and window panes built in the French and Brabantine Gothic style making the visitor feel as if they are standing inside a castle. It is a Roman Catholic Church and is the co-cathedral of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels.
Live Your Childhood Dreams at the Comic Book Route
Many people are not aware of the influence Belgium has had on the world of comic books because of the many legendary comic book artists who flourished in this country. This history has been showcased on the various walls around the city and I would name a few for you to go and check out. The first one being done by the famous artist Frank Pe called The Broussaille wall featuring a cheerful couple and another one known as Olivier Rameau’s wall which feature all the dazzle and fantasy of a child’s dream.
Learn About Politics at the Parlamentarium
The parlamentarium is part of the European parliament and is open for visitors to learn about the European parliament and all of its various facets as well as the European Union institutions in detail with the help of multimedia technologies such as audio and video. This place is open seven days of the week and the entry is completely free. The parlamentarium is also inclusive as it holds special tours for the elderly, blind and deaf people.
Make Most of Your Time at the Cantillon Brewery
Beer is a famed favorite of Belgium and is evidenced by the Cantillon Brewery which was built in the year 1900 and is not only a brewery but also a museum. A visitor can expect to learn all about the traditional ‘lambic’ method of fermenting beers which takes up to three years in there chestnut wine casks and the tour also includes, two glasses of refreshing acidic brews.
Admire the Architecture at the Bourse
This is known as the place de la Bourse and is Brussels 1873 stock exchange building which makes it one of the most historically relevant buildings in the city as well as a shrine of cursing by frustrated businessmen. Even though visitors aren’t allowed to enter the building, the neoclassical architecture is enough to cover up for that. You can admire the facades and sculptures done by the legendary French artist Auguste Rodin who was only a young man then.
Take a Walk at the Mont Des Arts
Mont Des arts literally means ‘mount of art’ which would justify the fact that the Royal library and the national archives are located here. Mont des arts was commissioned to be built by King Leopold II in 1910 but was forgotten under the rumble of various rulers and was later revived in the 1930s as an urban arts center for the Belgian public. At the park, you can survey the many stunning varieties of trees and flowers as well as have a lovely picnic at the center of the city.
Forget Your Misery at Le Cirio
Café Le Cirio is by far the most famous restaurant of the city and this is because it was built in 1886 by Francesco Cirio and very quickly became the spot for the intellectuals and the great minds of the 19th century such as writers, painters, sculptures and philosophers. This was also frequented by writers such as Victor Hugo and Alexandrou Doumas. Le Cirio has retained most of its original art nouveau decoration and serves sumptuous Belgian food at affordable prices.
Drink a Banana Beer at the Delirium Bar
The delirium bar stays true to its name and will leave you delirious with its record breaking 2,000 beers offered here for tasting. In fact, this bar reached peak 21st century fame when it made the Guinness book of world records in the year 2004 by serving 2,004 varieties of beer which is the most ever served by a bar in any part of the world. Here, you can not only relish the more traditional strong and light Belgian beers but also taste some unusual ones such as chocolate and walnut coco.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Maison Dandoy
If you have a sweet tooth then, Maison Dandoy is going to fulfill all of your dessert dreams. This bakery was started in 1829 and still uses recipes that date back to 180 years and some of the best sweets you should try here are crunchy biscuits make with brown sugar and spices known as speculoos as well as the classic combination of coffee and cookies. Forget about calories and devour their mouth watering waffles with an extra dollop of Belgian chocolate sauce on top.
Weird Has a Location at the Manneken Pis
The manneken pis is by the far the most bizarre statue you will ever come across owing to the fact it is the statue of a little boy peeing. Yes, you read that right. While, no one knows the true origin of this statue but there are many legends attached to it one of them being that a small boy named Julien saw the burning fuse of gunpowder started by the enemy during a war which took place centuries ago and Julien quickly peed on it and saved the city. In his honor, this statue was made. The peeing boy is also dressed up for important festivals and occasions. All I can think after looking at it is that Julien must really stay hydrated.
Feel Surreal at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
The royal museum of fine arts of Belgium is a group of museums showcasing paintings, sculptures and drawings dating back to the 15th century. Some of the museums you can visit are the Oldmasters museum which contains many Flemish paintings by artists such as Robert Campin and Jacob Jardaens as well as the Magritte museum which houses paintings by Surrealist painter Rene Magritte.
Relax a Little at Place Sainte-Catherine
This is one of the most culturally significant areas of the city and once you survey the beautiful architecture here, you will have realized how the old seamlessly blends with the new. Here, you can visit the St. Catherine church built in the 14th century and has a French style of architecture. You can spend an afternoon at John and Rose art café which not only has space for a bar but also an exhibition space. In the evening, you can go to Madame Moustache to attend one of their rock concerts and dance the night away.
History and Nature Meet at the Cinquantenaire Park
The Cinquantenaire Park was built during the reign of King Leopold II to commemorate Belgium’s 50th independence anniversary. Here, you can visit one of three museums including the Royal museum of armed forces and military history and the Royal museums of art and history. There is also a pavilion of human passions designed by Victor Horta as well as three triumphal arches. This is an urban park which has it all from fountains and picnic tables to a deep dive into Belgian history.
Eat Your Heart Out at the Fin De Siecle
The fin de siècle is located in the Sainte Catherine area of the city and despite its popularity has no official website or sign on the building yet, you could have to wait in a long line to dine here in the evenings. A chalkboard in the center of the restaurant will inform you of the menu for the day which not only includes Belgian classics but also, African and Asian cuisines. Unlike, other restaurants in the area this restaurant was opened only 16 years ago but serves delicious food at cheap prices. A personal recommendation would be the rabbit they serve here which is known to leave the visitor stunned.
Read a Book at Jardin Du Petit Sablon
Jardin du petit sablon is a garden which is perfect for sitting in the serene quiet while reading your favorite book or listening to relaxing symphonies. This is a landscaped garden and has a fountain around which there are numerous striking statues of famous Belgian natives such as politicians, intellectuals and leaders. The lush green gardens have a generous number of benches which will give time to the visitor to admire the beauty of Jardin du petit sablon.
Turn Back the Clock at Notre Dame Du Sablon
Notre Dame Du sablon is also known as the church of our blessed lady of the sablon and is a Roman Catholic church. When the construction of a church takes about one full century to complete, you know the finished product is one to be one in a million and it is true for this sacred building. The construction process began in the 15th century and ended in the beginning of the 17th century. The breathtaking architecture is mostly Brabantine Gothic and contains two Baroque chapels which come from the second half of the 17th century.
Not Your Ordinary Garden, Le Botanique
This magnificent garden was built in 1826 and 1829 as a place for a small elite gathering calling the Society of Horticulture but since 1984, Le Botanique has been converted into a center for concerts for music which is quirky and eclectic. This park was once meant for only those with heavy pockets but due to the changes made by the government, it has become a democratized space accessible to all. The Les Nuits Botaniques is a festival which takes place here and attracts a crowd of thousands.
See the Old England Building
The old England building may look like the former house of the Addams family because of its art nouveau architecture which includes arched windows, wrought iron and a black gothic exterior but in fact, it is a former department store built in the year 1899. Here, you can visit the famous MIM museum where you can survey about 2000 instruments as well as put on some headphones and step on the automated flooring which produces music. Like a cherry on top of a delicious cake, there is a rooftop café serving delicious food and stunning views of the city.
Learn About Fashion at the Costume Museum
The museum of Fashion and Lace was built in 1977 and what makes it special is that most of the costumes it contains are donations from ordinary people’s personal collection dating back to the 19th century. All the costumes arranged here are done in a chronological order and it takes you through the ages explaining the evolution of clothing in the Belgian history. The third floor of the museum displays fine and delicate pieces of lace.
Live Like a Royal at the Palais Royal
The Royal palace of Brussels is the administrative centre for the Royal family and their staff members, who hold meetings, play host to foreign representatives and receive political leaders of Belgium and the world. The magnificence of the architecture is the reflection of many decades of design done by various rulers including King Leopold II. You can visit a number of different beguiling rooms here such as the Coburg room, Marshal’s room, the throne room and the oldest room in the building, the Empire room which exudes regality from every corner. Marvel at the Venetian staircase and watch your feet float on the smooth marble flooring.
Get a Beer Belly at the Beer Tasting Tour
Brussels can be explored with the help of a glass of beer and if you choose to come back from your trip with a pot belly then, don’t feel guilty. The beer tour starts with visiting the Schaarbeek museum which will help you learn all about Belgium’s beer intoxicated past and proceeding that, you can visit a brewery such as the Brussels beer project to learn about the modern methods of fermenting beer. Later, you can visit Moeder Iambic restaurant to have a pint a beer with your meal. If you plan on visiting in September, you can be a part of the Belgian beer weekend and choose from around 50 breweries.
Let Your Hair Down at the Café Belga
Café Belga is considered to be one of the most famous bars in Brussels which is housed in the former national radio station building. The architecture of art deco gives the space a feeling of a historic spaceship and inside, the atmosphere is extremely laid back and relaxing. The food here ranges from international classics to traditional Belgian food accompanied by a lot of booze. There is the concept of self-service in this café and recommendations would be the refreshing mint tea which comes with Belgium’s favorite, speculoos cookies.
Take a Tour of the Brussels City Museum
The Brussels city museum was inaugurated in the year 1887 and is located on the premises of the Grand Place. This is an important landmark to visit in the city as it chronicles the history from its inception to the recent times. You will also learn in-depth about the folklore as well as its cultural importance with the help of 7,000 items which include sculptures, paintings, tapestries, artifacts and two miniature models of the city from the 16th century. The paintings done by French historical painter Charles Meynier and Flemish paintings are also on display here.
Be Astonished at the Atomium
The Atomium wasn’t meant to be a permanent fixture in the city but was only meant for temporary amusement at Brussels world’s fair in 1958. The designer Andre Waterkeyn built nine spheres connected by rods which are meant to represent the delta and alpha allotropes of Iron atoms. The spheres are so large in size that at least three of them are used as a restaurant, an exhibition space and a sleepover place for Belgian kids. For the first time, science will not make you feel less of an intelligent human being.
Get Quirky at Madame Moustache
Madame Moustache is an alternative club experience whose motto is ‘no bullshit’ which in a Belgian understanding would drink what you want and dance the night away without any fear of judgment. It is a club-concert venue where local and national bands play their live music and people get on the dance floor with a drink in their hand and hot food on the table. It is situated in the heart of Brussels right next to St. Catherine place.
Old is Gold at the Jeu De Balle Flea Market
This is no ordinary flea market but in fact, a historic one which was set up in the year 1854 and is located in the entertaining Marolles district. Jeu de balle market is also known as the ‘old’ market and here, you can find antique objects from the 19th and 20th centuries. There is no pretence of being fancy as sellers get their products on the backs of their trucks and sell everything from vintage clothes and fabrics to crossbows and parchment. If you’re a sucker for nostalgia, you can pick an old vinyl record or a rare book which is tough to find in traditional markets anywhere else in the world.
Classy Yet Fun at Bozar
BOZAR is also known as the center for fine arts and is not a museum but a premiere cultural venue in the city which hosts some of the most vibrant and vivacious concerts and performances. The facilities in the center include the Victor Horta hall which is a sculpture room and is named after the Art nouveau architect, the Henry LeBoeuf hall with a seating capacity of 2,200 and a studio recital hall. BOZAR is also home to the National orchestra of Belgium and is renowned for hosting groundbreaking performances from around the world.
Museum for Gen Z, MIMA
MIMA stands for Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art and was recently founded in 2016 as a contemporary art space for the new generation of creative minds. MIMA is home to the works of Daniel Johnson and cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis. It is located on the banks of Brussels canal and hosts several temporary exhibitions throughout the year including art which protests against various controversial topics.
Get Spooked at the Dieweg Cemetry
The cemetery of Dieweg was founded in 1866 but was closed down in 1958 and since then, the municipality of the city has decided to let the innumerous plants and bushes grow as they like without any maintenance in order to protect the botany of the cemetery. This may sound unusual but this graveyard has around 200 different species of plants and a narrow pathway for visitors to walk on. The most famous occupant of the cemetery is Georges Remi, author of ‘The adventures of tintin.’
Brussels Welcomes Thailand at L’epicerie
L’epicerie is a seamless blend between Thai effervescence and the classiness of Brussels flavors which makes this hidden gem an experience of a lifetime. It was opened by a Thai man who immigrated to Belgium and brought along with him a little piece of Thailand which helped make L’epicerie unique. The cozy feel of the interior as well as the homemade sandwiches and steaming Thai curry will make your visit worth it.
Get High on Sugar at Lawrence Chocolat
A visit to Brussels would be incomplete without relishing some fine Belgian chocolate at the Lawrence chocolate store but this restaurant offers a unique experience as it combines the flavors of the Middle East with a coating of 100% pure cocoa. The taste is a pure sensory stimulation which will leave you asking for more. You can also try the generous pralines and the pink tinted mousse.
As mentioned above, this city is a storehouse of architecture, food and frolic. Brussels sprouts aren’t the only famous export from this city, now you know. Leave your mundane life behind and have a storybook experience by visiting the places mentioned on this list. One advice, chocolates and beers may increase the number on the scale but you will finally be able to purchase happiness!