While Brussels may not have climbed to the top of your vacation destination list before now, it’s safe to say you’ll be surprised by the choice of interesting things to do and see in Belgian’s capital. From iconic sights like the Grand Place to its famous beer, delicious waffles, and some of the best fries around to hidden gems waiting to be uncovered, Brussels is truly an underestimated travel destination and a perfect pick for a short city break. Whether you’re passing through on your whirlwind tour of Europe or want to spend more time in this laidback city here are 10 attractions in Brussels that shouldn’t be missed.
The aforementioned Grand Place is a must-see, right in the heart of Brussels Old Town. You’ll be in awe as you stroll through the city’s main plaza, lined with the unique architecture of the elegant Gildehuizen (guild houses) that transport your mind to a fairytale wonderland. The Grand Place only really reveals its splendor after you’ve made your way up one of the several small cobblestone alleys where you’ll find a picture-perfect backdrop of the Maison du Roi with its ornately carved stonework, magnificent gables, pilasters, balustrades, and rich decoration.
If you’re looking for one of the more unusual things to do in Brussels, visiting the Atomium will definitely tick the box. This strange structure was the works of André Waterkeyn for the Brussels 1958 World Fair to symbolize a firm belief in the scientific process. It became so popular that it’s now a permanent fixture on the capital’s skyline. While the nine balls of steel balancing on a bunch of sticks might seem weird, the Atomium actually represents the composition of an iron crystal, magnified to 165 billion times its size. You can even go inside four of the spheres which are now used for the presentation of a show about human life called Biogenium.
Musical Instruments Museum
There are so many hidden gems waiting to be discovered in Brussels, one of them being the Musical Instruments Museum. This impressive building which is one part Art Nouveau and the other Neoclassical is home to an internationally renowned collection of hundreds of instruments. All the instruments are assembled in 4 galleries, enhanced by images and text panels and there is an audio & video guide that completes the experience with the sounds of the instruments in the display. If you’re feeling hungry, the museum also has a lovely rooftop restaurant rooftop and patio where you can enjoy a bite to it as you take in the magnificent views of the city.
Dedicated to the patron saints of Brussels, St. Michael and St. Gudula. You’ll find this centuries-old architectural masterpiece atop Treurenberg Hill. The facade is impressive, rising majestically above a broad flight of steps and crowned with two mighty towers. The beautifully proportioned interior is lavishly furnished and home to some outstanding stained glass windows. Head to the transepts to see the finest examples depicting Charles V and Isabella of Portugal (south transept) and the Hungarian royal pair Louis II and Mary (north transept), and then into the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, to the left of the choir, where the window illustrates the story of the Miracle of the Host. This Cathedral is one of the most important must-visits in Brussels given its status as the main Catholic church in Belgium and is easily accessible from the city center.
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org
Belgian Comic Strip Center
Devoted to the history of cartoons and comic strips in the country that gave the world The Smurfs and Tintin this place is a must-see for any comic-lover. The Belgian Comic Strip Center has a rotating exhibition of 200 original comic strip drawings by Belgian and French comic artists. The museum also documents the rise in popularity of Belgian and French comic strips through a cleverly curated collection of original manuscripts, draft sketches, and imaginatively reconstructed sets including Lucky Luke's saloon and Tim, Struppi, and Captain Haddock's moon rocket. It’s a great place to visit if you’re looking for things to do with kids in Brussels too.
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org
Train World and Schaerbeek Station
Located at Schaerbeek station and home to the oldest, most-well preserved European locomotive as well as other hidden gems, this is a must-visit for any train enthusiast. The stone-brick Schaerbeek Station has kept its authentic ticket hall to provide you with entry to the museum and a thorough understanding of the pioneering role Belgium played in the early railway industry.
Along the Rue de l'Etuve you’ll find Brussels' best-known landmark, the Manneken Pis. Although he can be traced back to at least 1388, nothing much is known about the origin of this figure of a little boy urinating. According to one legend, it commemorates the son of a count who succumbed to a pressing urge while taking part in a procession. Popularly referred to as "the oldest citizen of Brussels" the statue that can be seen today was made in 1619 by Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder and has been stolen on several occasions, but luckily it has always been recovered.
Belgian Royal Museum of Fine Arts
Home to one of the largest and best art galleries in the world. The museum grew out of a collection first set up in 1797 and was originally housed in the former palace of Charles of Lorraine. The collection was then transferred to the newly established Musées Royaux in 1846. The museum is divided into two parts: the Musée d'art ancien (Museum of Ancient Art) with a famous collection of famous Flemish and Dutch Old Masters including works by Rogier van der Weyden (The Mourning of Christ); and the other half is dedicated to the Musée d'art moderne (Museum of Modern Art), which has a range of mainly 19th- and 20th-century Belgian works. It’s the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for things to do in Brussels on a rainy day too.
Place du Jeu de Balle
Looking for that perfect souvenir to take back home? There is no better place to hunt for hidden gems and second-hand steals than Place du Jeu de Balle. Bargaining is key here at this daily open-air market in the Marolles neighborhood, especially if you want to blend in like a local. An early morning visit to this bric-a-brac heaven is a must if you want to find the diamonds in the rough!
Parc du Cinquantenaire
A visit to the most regal park in Brussels should definitely be on your list! The Parc du Cinquantenaire was established in 1880 to commemorate the country's 50th anniversary and is home to vast gardens dotted with monuments and museums and the triumphal arch made up of three smaller arches makes for a picture-perfect backdrop. The park also hosts a number of events and activities throughout the year so lookout for what’s on when you’re planning your visit and looking for things to do in Brussels.
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