Edited by Matthew Wears
For somewhere so small, there are still plenty of hidden gems in Brussels that are super fun to explore. If you know where to look in this diverse city, you can find some really cool places that only locals know about. I’ve lived in Brussels for ten years now, and I still love to explore the city’s awesome parks, quirky museums, and old-fashioned drinking dens. It’s when you choose to leave the city center and explore some of the other interesting neighborhoods, that you begin to come across some of the hidden places in Brussels that are just out of sight. For this article, I’m going to be letting you in on my own personal favorite secret spots all across the city! There are going to be tons of interesting places to keep you entertained during the day, as well as some unusual things to do in Brussels at night too. Personally, I think it’s the city’s totally unique nighttime culture that makes it so exciting to visit. So, let’s begin my awesome list of non-touristy things to do in Brussels. I know you’re going to love it.
Discover A Secret Island At Bois de la Cambre
It can sometimes feel like Brussels has more green spaces than it does people, every corner you turn you’ll most likely find an amazing park or city square! Whilst most tourists seem to go to the Parc du Cinquantenaire, my personal favourite is the Bois de la Cambre in the south of the city. Paying this huge green space a visit feels like you’re exploring Brussels like a local. You’re going to find a ton of locals cycling, socialising and just generally chilling out here and enjoying this special natural spot. The gardens are full of hidden spots where you can hide away, but for me the best bit has to be the bar on Robinson Island. This is a small island that can only be reached by ferry, and it’s one of the best places to eat in Brussels during the spring and summer time. You’ll get awesome views out over the lakeside, all whilst sipping on an ice-cold Belgian beer.
Walk The Comic Strip Route
Aside from the important political and the delicious chocolate that Brussels in known for, we also have a pretty rich history with comic books too! The city’s love affair with graphic art can best be seen at the Brussels Comic Museum, although I wouldn’t call this one of the hidden gems in Brussels. For something that’s a little bit more off the beaten track, try taking a walk around the city's comic strip route, it’s a must for any art lover who comes to Brussels. This is a walk that covers most of the city and takes in the best comic book inspired murals that Brussels has on offer. Of course, you’ll find plenty of Herge inspired pieces from one of Belgium’s most iconic heroes; Tintin. You’ll also find lots of other colourful pieces from lesser known comics such as Billie the Cat and Katie and Blake and Mortimer. You can find maps of the route online if you need to find out where they’re located!
Take A Tour Of The Kings Gardens
There are so many great gardens in Brussels that at times it can feel a little overwhelming, especially when you first arrive! However, there is one that I would definitely say is one of the most unique things to do in Brussels; The Gardens of King Leopold II. This is a privately owned walled garden that dates all the way back to the eighteenth century, but was redeveloped in the 20th century. Although you are free to walk around in the gardens, you can also take a guided tour which offers a fascinating insight you wouldn’t get if you go it alone. You get to learn all about the three separate parts to the gardens, as well as how they transitioned from the Kings privately owned property to public garden. I think the coolest part about it is the botanical gardens section where you can see loads of species of plants from all across the world. It’s particularly beautiful during spring and summer time, although that’s a given.
Grab A Vintage Bargain At Les Marolles Flea Market
In a world where most people shop at high brand shops, it’s always a nice change to explore some second-hand shops every once in a while. One of the most unusual things to do in Brussels is to go to the famous Les Marolles Flea Market, a colossal maze of used items. You will honestly find everything here – vinyl’s, clothes, furniture, antiques and books – it’s all here! This is still predominantly a locals’ market, so you won’t be bombarded with people trying to sell you souvenirs which is always a bonus. I personally love to explore the vintage clothes shops that line the market area, these are often the best hidden places in Brussels to find the coolest second-hand threads. All in all, you can spend hours looking around the Les Marolles Flea Market, just make sure you’re patient and the right deals will come to you.
Step Back In Time At La Belladone
Even though it’s only small, Brussels still has its fair share of awesome bars to discover. Going out for a social drink is one of the coolest things to do in Brussels at night, and there’s nowhere cooler that La Belladone! This is one of those places that manages to capture a moment in time so well, so much so that when you walk through the door, it’s difficult not to think that you’ve not entered the 1920’s. Dark wood furniture with plenty of copper trim is used to create this art-deco interior, which has to be one of the coolest places in the whole city to sip on a cocktail. It’s not just cocktails that’s on offer though, you can choose from a whole load of unusual European spirits if you’re feeling something completely different! This is totally one of my favourite hidden gems in Brussels that’s a must for anyone who is bored of the same old bars.
Glimpse Some Classical Belgian Architecture At The Horta Museum
For anyone that wants to find somewhere that demonstrates the creative side of Brussels, then look no further than the Horta Museum. This beautiful art nouveau building was built by and once belonged to the famous Belgian architect; Victor Horta. These days, it’s been transformed into a museum that looks at his incredible life of design in all of its glory. This place is honestly a feast for the eyes. There’s such an awesome use of color and shapes in the interior, that I think it appeals to anyone, not just fans of art and design. I always think this is one of the most unusual things to do in Brussels, it really is one of the prettiest buildings in an already pretty city. You can find it down in the St. Gilles district downtown, which in general is still one of Brussels' best-kept secrets.
By now you probably know that Brussels is a super diverse city, you can probably find someone from just about every corner of the globe here. Because of colonial ties with many African nations there are many African migrants in the city, especially in the Matongé area. Walking through this area can feel like you’re exploring Brussels off the beaten path because it looks so different to the rest of the city. It’s absolutely drenched in African culture, with shops and bars that are colourful, vibrant and totally different to anywhere else. Experience the chaotic energy of the main street, Chaussée de Wavre Matongé, or have a wild night out in one of the super cool bars that are on pretty much every street. I think it’s also really interesting to check out the African food shops and markets too. Matongé just so happens to be one of the best places to eat in Brussels, so make sure to stop off at a local favourite like Au Soleil d’Afrique!
Spend A Night In Flagey
With ten roads that lead to it, this famous city square is one of the most vibrant places in the whole city. If you’re looking for art, culture, shopping of just somewhere to grab some food, this area seems to be a bit of a cultural hotspot. The square itself is a pretty cool art-deco style space, which is dominated by the iconic Flagey Building on one side. On another side, you’ll find the charming Ixelles ponds that stretch down towards the south of the city. The bars that surround this part are really good if you want to chill out and try some Belgian beers. Coming to this area is definitely one of the best things to do in Brussels at night, there’s a ton of cinemas, theatres and music halls that should keep you entertained. But it’s the Flagey weekend market which is more of a gem, and worth checking out if you want to find some delicious fresh produce from all across the world.
Escape The City In Parc Duden
I’m going to suggest just one more park. You couldn’t expect me to choose just one, could you? Parc Duden is another beautiful green space, one that isn’t as well known as the other two that I’ve already mentioned and definitely one of Brussels best kept secrets. Duden is actually one of the oldest in the city and it’s just filled with all kinds of hidden spots. There are beautiful buildings such as the Duden Park Château, tons of little lakes and plenty of beach forests that can make it feel as though you’re no longer in the city at all! It’s also hilly and has a crazy maximum height of three hundred feet, which gives it a totally different feel to other parks. On a hot day, one of my favourite unique things to do in Brussels is to take my bicycle down here and explore on two wheels.
Drink Belgian Beers At Parvis De St. Gilles
To really explore Brussels off the beaten path, then you really have to go down to the St. Gilles area. This is easily one of the coolest parts of the city for anyone looking for traditional Belgian bars with plenty of outdoor seating. My favourite place to go is the Parvis de St. Gilles, a quirky city square that has plenty of character. Around this square you’ll not only see the spectacular Church of St. Gilles, but you’ll also see some of the most iconic bars and cafes in Brussels. To start the day, take a morning coffee in the sun at the legendary Café Maison du Peuple. For an afternoon drink, head over to the Brasserie de l’Union, it’s one my favourite hidden gems in Brussels for anyone who wants to try some amazing Belgian beers! There’s a huge selection of them here, not to mention plenty of tasty authentic food and super friendly locals.
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