Do you love art, history, and architecture? You'll love our list of the top things to see and do in Brussels.
There’s a particular vibe that distinguishes Brussels, Belgium's capital, that makes it a fascinating destination for tourists around the world. Its stunning architecture and rich history can be appreciated in every street. It combines its bureaucratic and formal atmosphere as administrative centre of the EU with a more laid-back and playful attitude found in places like the Manneken Pis statue and the Comic Strip Centre.
Brussels invites visitors to discover its multiple layers and there’s definitely something for everyone, from delicious and top-class chocolate to world-famous comics such as Tin Tin and everything in between. At Bonzah we’ve curated a list with the top things to see and do in Brussels. Read on!
The Grande Place
Almost every visit in Brussels starts with The Grand Place. As you discover it in the center of the city you are definitely awestruck. It’s absolutely stunning and enjoyable at all times of the day.
The Grand Place is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. Centuries ago, rich merchants built magnificent guild houses as headquarters for the different trades. These six guild halls and their striking architecture together with the XVth century City Hall add to its wow factor. Many of the guild houses now offer ground floor cafés, a perfect place to admire the beautiful architecture and enjoy a delicious coffee break or Belgian beer.
Hotel de Ville - Town Hall
While in and around the Grand Place, allow some time to visit the Gothic Hotel de Ville aka Town Hall. It was built in 1402 and it is the seat of the civic government. It has arched windows, towers and plenty of ornamental sculptures. There are guided visits available on demand.
We dare you to climb up its 96 meter high Brabantine Gothic tower to enjoy amazing views of the city!
The City Museum - Maison du Roi - Broodhuis
Located just opposite the Hotel de Ville, also in the Grand Place, is the City Museum. It's also known by its other two names, Maison du Roi and Broodhuis. It invites visitors to discover the rich history of the city of Brussels. There are plenty of exhibitions available that range from the middle ages to the present day and they are displayed across several floors.
Visitors can appreciate paintings, maps, drawings, tapestries and household objects in ceramic, silver and porcelain that show what was life like in Brussels back in time.One of the most delightful and must-see attractions at the City Museum are the more than 900 costumes for the famous Manneken Pis that are exhibited there. The famous statue of a peeing toddler - we'll talk about him in a moment - has for years received costumes from foreign and local organizations. Some of them are absolutely unique, others are adorable and some will definitely make you laugh.
The Manneken Pis
The symbol of Brussels, odd and absolutely adorable at the same time, the Manneken Pis is a popular tourist attraction. Its name translates as “little man pee” and you can easily guess why it has been given that name. It is not as easy to find as you may think but it is definitely worth it to hunt down for it.
The statue was designed in the XV Century by Jerome Duquesnoy. Initially, it was a fountain that played a very important role in the distribution of drinking water and it gradually became more and more important in the city’s life.
An employee of the city dresses the Manneken Pis regularly with one of the 23 dressings that are planned for fixed dates yearly. Talk about an awesome job!
The Atomium is a massive, impressive reminder of your chemistry lessons at school with its jaw dropping metallic representation of a model of an iron molecule that is about 100 metres tall.
The sculpture was made in the late 1950’s and depicts an iron molecule, only 165 billion times larger! Located in the Heysel Park, it has become an iconic element in Brussels' skyline and one of the most popular European tourist attractions. It is made of 9 metallic spheres joined with metallic tubes.
Visitors can enter the sculpture and take advantage of the series of lifts and elevators that take them through the different permanent and temporary exhibitions. Its panoramic restaurant offers a stunning 360° view of Brussels and the surroundings.
Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Koekelberg Basilica)
The Koekelberg Basilica is the fifth largest church in the world. Yes, in the entire world! Its absolutely impressive and its dimensions are majestic.
It is made of concrete, red-brick and sandstone and it was built from 1905 to 1971. Its cupola platform, with a diameter of 33m, offers excellent views of Brussels and the surrounding area.
Despite being a religious building where Catholic celebrations are hold, it is also the stage of attractions that have nothing to do with religion. Visitors are usually surprised by art exhibitions, there’s also a theater and a restaurant.
The Black Sisters Museum and Modern Religious Art Museum both have a fascinating and extensive collection about religion, its goals and representation.
The Royal Palace
Even though the Belgian royal family doesn’t live there, the Royal Palace is still its official residence.
If you are visiting Brussels during the summer months, don’t miss the chance of visiting it. Your jaw will just drop at the Mirror Room with its ceiling covered in the wings of beetles, forming thus an oddly beautiful mosaic. The palace is exquisitely decorated and spending just a few hours in it will make you feel like a member of the royal family.
The Old England Building
Built in the latest XIX century, the Old England Building attracts the attention of visitors with its stunning facade that hides a fascinating connection of more than 2000 musical instruments. Most of them have an invaluable historic value and visitors are invited to play some of them.
The café on the roof of the building invites you to take a break, relax, enjoy a delicious coffee drink and memorable views of the city.
The building is an iconic representation of the Art Nouveau style and it invites you to dive into a soothing auditory experience. From Chinese carillons to shepherds’ bagpipes or harpsichords and saxophones, the Old England Building is a shelter for Belgian and European musical traditions.
Located on the Mont des Arts, in central Brussels, René Magritte’s Museum invites you to discover the artist’s life and work in a thorough and comprehensive series of exhibitions. Through the four floors, you get a glimpse of thei bowler hats, pipes, odd figures and dream-like clouds that fill his paintings.
The Magritte Museum is quite new in Brussels artistic scene as it was inaugurated only in 2009. Even though some of the most famous of his works are in many world’s galleries, there are others that can be seen here. Besides, visitors can see letters and videos that invite them to see the man behind his paintings.
Royal Museums of Fine Arts
The Royal Museums of Fine Art is where you go to find top notch art in Brussels. The museum surprises visitors with a rich, stunning and varied collections of modern and ancient art across a range of styles. Some of the works at the museum include various paintings by Peter Rubens and the Fall of Icarus as well as works by Anthony Van Dyke.
The Royal Museums of Fine Art is impressive, magnificent and you’ll need a full day to appreciate it completely. It's actually two museums. The Museum of Ancient Art was founded by Napoleon. The Museum of Modern Art was added in 1984 and comprises 8 floors, many of which are underground. Sculptures, paintings and drawings from the XV to the XXI centuries can be appreciated there.
Mini Europe: Aka Bruparck!
Bruparck, close to the Atomium, is a leisure park that’s great for a playful and relaxing afternoon or day in Brussels. There’s a large cinema complex, a water park and even a planetarium!
But if there’s an attraction that makes the visit really worthy is the display that shows some of the most iconic and famous buildings in the countries that are part of the European Union, at 1/25 of their original size. Gondolas, the Eiffel Tower and the Big Ben are waiting for you.
The Art Nouveau movement in Brussels was really important and there are many representatives of it in the city. But in order to understand it truly, a visit to Horta Museum is almost a must.
Located on Rue Américaine, it was the home of Victor Horta and he had an active role in its design: In fact, he was responsible for the doors, the stained glass windows and the sweeping marble staircase.
Don’t be deceived by the facade! Inside, an art nouveau jewel awaits you. The sweeping stairs will definitely attract your attention and there’s an impressive display of utensils, furniture and art objects mostly designed by Horta and his contemporaries.
Musée du Cinquantenaire/ Art & History Museum
The Musée du Cinquantenaire is absolutely impressive. It’s famous world wide and a must-see for art and history lovers. It has been recently named the Art & History Museum. One of the biggest museums in Belgium, it was erected by King Leopold II.
It is advisable that you allow plenty of time to explore the different exhibition halls of the museum or even plan a couple of days to do so. There are thousands of art treasures and historical objects that are part of the museum’s heritage. From ancient Egyptian sarcophagi to Meso-American masks, icons or wooden bicycles, you’ll be turning heads every second to appreciate everything that it has to offer.
There are national archaeological artefacts from prehistoric to the Merovingians times, Ancient Egypt, the Near East, Iran and Classical Antiquity. The great mosaic floor from Apamea and the model of Ancient Rome are amongst the visitors’ favourites.
There are also art treasures from China, South-East Asia, America, the cultural world of Islam and Oceania. There’s an interesting collection of pre-Columbian art and even a colossal statue from Easter Island.
Opened in the mid-1800s by King Leopold I, the Galeries St-Hubert were the very first shopping arcade in Brussels. They are elegant, charming and they have a jaw-dropping neoclassical glassed-in arches flanked by marble pilasters. It’s absolutely delightful to do some shopping there! There are shops, cafés, restaurants, auditoriums. You’ll be attracted by the luxury brands there and there great places to indulge in deluxe hot chocolate- perfect for ending a trip to Brussels.
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