Not only is Brussels the fascinating capital of Belgium, it’s also the administrative capital of the entire European Union. Gorgeous, historic, and yet unbelievably hip, Brussels is filled with hidden architectural treasures and multicultural activities that proudly display their mixed and vivid history. The cityscape itself is absolutely majestic while still being able to swing from rundown to quirky to magical in one street. At its core, however, Brussels is a medieval city with incomparable art nouveau facades filling the streets and luxuriously grand squares scattered throughout the city.
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Grand Place, or Grote Markt in Dutch, is the central square of Brussels and arguably the main tourist attraction of the city. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Grand Place was once a swampy sandbank sitting between two brooks. The start of its beautification can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when wooden houses were built around the market. When the 14th century rolled around, wealthy merchants began building stone mansions in the area, turning it from a dank and forgotten street to a bustling commercial area. When the town hall was established there in 1402, royalty started visiting the square, which resulted in the beautiful tourist attraction that visitors and locals alike know and love today. Whether you’re there to explore the markets or to sit at a café and people watch, the sights and sounds are bound to please and amaze.
Brussels Main Square, Belgium, Brussels
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Situated at the head of Heyser Park stands a landmark of Brussels – the Atomium. Standing at 335 feet tall, the Atomium is a glistening model of an atom designed by André Waterkeyn. While what stands out most about the structure at first glance is its glaring enormity, the Atomium shines and draws visitors from near and far due to its gorgeous chrome and steel construction. The structure was meant to symbolize the coming of the Atomic Age and features nine steel spheres, each 18 meters in diameter. Step inside the Atomium to enjoy curated exhibits within the tubes that connect each sphere. Don’t forget to enjoy the speedy 23-second elevator ride to the top of the Atomium and soak in the view while there. You can even grab a beer and a snack to keep you company.
Boulevard du Centenaire, Laeken, Brussels, Belgium
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Known by many names like the Petit Julien or, the humorist’s favorite, the Pissing Boy, the Manneken-Pis is likely to be the city’s most photographed statue. Standing at only 60 centimeters tall, this small statue and fountain piece was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy as a representation of a major character in Brussel’s folklore. So, what makes this statue such a tourist attraction? Well, let the name of the statue clue you in. The Manneken-Pis depicts a small cherub-like boy in the act of urination. Even more jarring? The water that spouts from the statue’s penis is aimed directly at the viewer. While the statue is typically depicted naked, there are special occasions where he is dressed up! Visitors can view the impressive wardrobe of Petit Julien at the Maison du Roi.
Rue de l’Etuve corner Rue Chêne, Brussels, Belgium 1000, Phone: +32-22-79-43-50
4.Belgian Comic Strip Center
© Belgian Comic Strip Center
Here’s something about Belgium that we bet you never knew: This country has more comic strip artists per capital than any other country in the world. Given this, it only makes sense that the capital city would be home to the nation’s beloved comic strip museum. Known locally as the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée, the Belgian Comic Strip Center is a must-visit for comic lovers and cartoon fans alike. See over 5,000 original drawings in the museum alongside an entire gallery of Belgium famous cartoon hero, Tintin.
20 Rue de Sables corner Zandstraat, Phone: +32-22-19-19-80
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Right next door to the famous Atomium sits a 25-hectare theme park called Mini-Europe. One of the top destinations for leisure and recreation, Mini-Europe is home to several amusing attractions such as the 27-cinema compound called the Kinepolis. Other attractions in Mini-Europe include the all-around IMAX screen, the planetarium, several fantastic eateries in The Village, and even a water park known as L’Oceade. If there’s one thing at Mini-Europe that you shouldn’t miss, however, it’s their pride and joy: A collection of mini replicas of famous buildings throughout Europe. The display includes replicas of gondolas, the TGV train as it steams towards Paris, and even the distinctive chimes of Big Ben.
Boulevard du Centenaire, Laeken, Brussels, Belgium, Phone: +32-24-78-05-50
6.Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts
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There is no attraction in Belgium quite as elegant and enchanting as the Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts. Better known as the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, this attraction actually comprises of two separate museums: The Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Noteworthy for being founded by Napoleon, the Museum of Ancient Art features the glorious work of Flanders, while the Museum of Modern Art houses over 600 years’ worth of fine art. From sculptures to paintings to drawings, there’s no shortage of spectacular works of art to behold between these two incredible and must-see museums.
9 Rue du Musée, Museumstraat 9 – 1000, Brussels, Belgium, Phone: +32-25-08-32-11
7.Royal Palace of Brussels
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Known locally as the Palais Royal, the Royal Palace of Brussels is the official residence of Belgium’s royal family. Since the royal family today actually resides at Laeken, this stunning royal palace is now open to tourists in the summer months. As such, it’s an incredible attraction to add to your itinerary while exploring the city of Brussels. One of the things to look forward to at the Royal Palace is a special ceiling decorated completely with the wings of beetles. Although this sounds a little odd, the decoration forms a gorgeous mosaic unlike any seen before. The interiors are also lavishly and extravagantly decorated, as one would expect of a royal residence.
16 Rue Brederode B-1000, Brussels, Belgium, Phone: +32-25-51-20-20
8.Parc du Cinquantenaire
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Exuding beauty and serenity since the reign of Leopold II, the Parc du Cinquantenaire is a national landmark in Brussels and one of the best places to visit for a relaxing afternoon at the park. Built to commemorate the 55th anniversary of Belgian independence, the park’s name literally means “Park of the Fiftieth Anniversary.” The whole park forms a pentagon, much like the inner and outer rings of the city, and houses tons of hidden gems for visitors to discover. While the fountain and the archways are the obvious main attractions, guests ought to make some time to walk around and through the park to enjoy all that its beautiful greenery has to offer.
Avenue de la Renaissance, Brussels, Belgium 1000, Phone: +32-25-13-89-40
Sitting on the banks of the Brussels Canal, the MIMA, or the Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art, is a great museum to visit in the city for people who love contemporary art. The museum is home to a lovely permanent collection that features the works of artists like the cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis and artist Daniel Johnston. Works of Mon Colonel and Spit can also be found in this popular museum, which was founded in 2016. Be amazed by pieces like Stan Be Dead or the kaleidoscopic works of Maya Hayuk. There’s also no shortage of fantastic pieces that come through in temporary exhibits, so whatever time of the year you visit, you’re bound to be in for a treat. Places to Visit in Belgium
39 Quai du Hainaut, Brussels, Belgium, Phone: +34-72-61-03-51
10.Museum of Natural Sciences
© Museum of Natural Sciences
One of the top museums in Brussels, the Museum of Natural Sciences, or the Musée des Sciences Naturalles as it is known locally, is thought provoking and highly interactive. While most people have come to know natural science museums as being filled with galleries of stuffed animals, this museum is far from the usual sort. For example, one of the highlights of the museum is a computer simulation that recreates the burying of dinosaurs in a mudslide. For younger visitors, there are sandboxes that stimulate their minds by allowing them to search for dinosaur bones. However, the highlight of the museum is, without a doubt, an exhibit that features 10-meter-tall dinosaurs called iguanodons, which were originally discovered in 1878.
29 Rue Vautier, Brussels, Belgium, Phone: +32-26-27-42-11
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Got a love for history and incredible automobiles? Then there’s absolutely no way that you should miss out on a visit to Autoworld. This expansive museum, located in the southern hall of the Cinquantenaire, features over 250 gorgeous vehicles from various moments in automobile history. From sports cars to some of the first cars ever made, the museum explores the veritable love affair between the automobile industry and the Belgian people. Visitors are welcome to take guided tours, where knowledgeable guides can fill them in on insider details about the featured vehicles, or tour the museum on their own and at their own pace. Special exhibits are also frequently housed at the museum, much to many a car lover’s delight.
11 Jubelpark, Brussel, Belgium 1000, Phone: +32-37-36-41-65
© BELvue Museum
Looking for an eclectic and quirky museum to visit while a tourist in the city of Belgium? If so, then you ought to be making your way to the BELvue Museum. Dedicated to Belgium’s history, the BELvue Museum features a stunning permanent collection that aims to help visitors understand and discover Belgium’s political past. Galleries in the museum’s permanent collection include themes like solidarity, prosperity, democracy, pluralism, and migration. Each exhibit is well thought out and developed through modern testimonials that are then linked to several moments in history. There’s no doubt that each guest will walk away with a deeper understanding of modern-day Belgium. Want an insider tip? Drop by on Wednesdays to see the museum for free!
7 Place des Palais, Brussels, Belgium 1000, Phone: +32-25-00-45-54
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Founded on the belief that the world’s oceans can be best protected when the public is educated and develops an understanding of the world that lies beneath the waves, the Brussels Aquarium offers visitors a peek into marine life. Nominated for several ZooSite Awards and winning the Best New Enclosure Award for two years running, visitors can look forward to cool exhibits and getting up close and personal with the best that our Earth has to offer. The museum is home to 48 fantastic aquariums and over 250 species of small fish, invertebrates, and amphibians. What’s great about the Brussels Aquarium is that it also gives visitors a full look at the environmental problems that are plaguing the world’s oceans today in the hope that knowledge can foster understanding and respect for our Earth’s waters.
27 Avenue Emile Bossaert, Brussels, Belgium 1081, Phone: +32-24-14-02-09
14.Brussels Museum of the Gueuze
© Brussels Museum of the Gueuze
Step into a time machine and leave the modern world behind at the Brussels Museum of the Gueuze. A perfect addition to the itinerary of any beer lover and cultural enthusiast, this museum is housed in the iconic Cantillon Brewery. Guests to the museum will get an in-depth look at the traditional brewing methods that Belgians have used throughout the years to produce lambic beer, an ancient and unique beverage. In addition, the brewery also makes faro lambic and kriek lambic, which is fermented with cherries, using the same traditional methods that they’ve used since they were founded in the 1900. Make sure to taste a real gueuze lambic before you leave!
56 Rue Gheude, Anderlecht, Brussels, Belgium 1070, Phone: +32-25-21-49-28
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If you can’t get enough of history and want to get a good look at the way that Belgium’s royals and nobles lived for nearly 700 years, then the Coudenberg should definitely be on your list of places to see in Brussels. With a history that dates back to the 11th century, the Coudenberg was once the seat of government for countless dukes, governors, and emperors. It is also worthy to note that the palace was one of the Charles V’s main places of residence and is largely recognized for being one of Europe’s most beautiful and extravagant palaces. Among the many exhibits and collections in housed in the palace, visitors should make it a point to see the one called “The European Routes of Emperor Charles V.”
7 Place des Palais, Brussels, Belgium 1000, Phone: +32-25-00-45-54
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Situated in what was once the private residence and studio of the celebrated designer and architect, Victor Horta, the Horta Museum is a must-see for history lovers and design enthusiasts alike. The museum was built sometime between 1898 and 1901 and comprises two buildings, both of which are fantastic examples of the art nouveau style that was hugely popular at the time. Visitors can enjoy the eye-catching and elegant interior decoration of the museum, which has remained mostly the same throughout the years, while also enjoying the harmonious and elegant way in which the rest of the building comes together. Some things to look out for include the stained-glass windows, wall decorations, and fabulous mosaics.
25 Rue Américaine, Saint-Gilles, Brussels, Belgium 1060, Phone: +32-25-43-04-90
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Dedicated to the work of the popular Belgian surrealist, René Magritte, the Magritte Museum is a constituent museum of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium and a must-visit attraction in the city. Over 230 pieces of art and archives are on display at the museum, in addition to multidisciplinary space house paintings, sculptures, painted objects, gouaches, and drawings. Visitors can also find advertising posters, photographs, musical scores, and films at this renowned museum. Guests to the museum can even look forward to a gallery of Magritte’s Vache period, which is arguably the artist’s most important collection of works.
3 Rue de la Régence, Brussels, Belgium 1000, Phone: +32-25-08-32-11
18.Maison de la Bellone
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Nestled in the heart of Brussels, tucked away in a small but up and coming part of the city, is the Maison de la Bellone. A popular art center beloved by locals, the Maison de la Bellone is representative of Brussels’ past and present, not only in form but in function as well. The original venue was built by Jean Cosyn, who also designed Brussel’s Grand Place, in 1697 and named after the ancient Roman goddess of war. Visitors to the La Bellone should make a point to enjoy the building’s façade, which is decorated with gorgeous motifs of the 1697 Battle of Zenta.
46 Rue de Flandre, Brussels, Belgium 1000, Phone: +32-25-13-33-33
19.Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate
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When it comes to cocoa and chocolate, no establishment comes quite as close to the passion that the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate has in Brussels. Founded by the Van Lierde-Draps family, the museum is visited by over 50,000 people annually. The museum is filled with many unique objects related to chocolate from all over the world. It goes without saying, however, that the main objective of this museum is to continue to promote the spectacular quality of Belgian chocolate. From incredible exhibits to excellent educational opportunities, there’s great fun to be had at the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. Make sure to take home a box or two of their delicious house-made chocolate.
9-11 Rue de la Téte d’Or Guldenhoofdstraat, Brussels, Belgium 1000, Phone: +32-25-14-20-48
20.Museum of the City of Brussels
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Step into a world of Belgian whimsy at the Museum of the City of Brussels. Housed in the Main du Roi in the stunning Grand Place, the Museum of the City of Brussels is dedicated to showcasing the fantastic history and interesting folklore of Belgium’s capital. The museum showcases paintings, sculptures, photos, models, engravings, and tapestries, all of which beautiful encapsulate Brussel’s development through the years. From its humble beginnings to its grandeur in this day in age, each gallery is awe inspiring and eye opening. One of the must-see exhibits at the museum is a scale representation of the entire town during the Middle Ages, so make sure to spend a good bit of time admiring that particular exhibit.
Musée de la Ville de Bruxelles, Grand-Place, Brussels, Belgium 1000, Phone: +32-22-79-43-50
21.Musical Instrument Museum
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Located in the city center of Brussels, the Musical Instrument Museum is a member of the Royal Museums for Art and History and has become known around the globe for its fantastic permanent exhibit. The museum is home to over 8,000 musical instruments from all over the globe, but what makes it particularly special is its collection of instruments representing Belgium’s musical heritage. From 18th to 19th century recorders to items from the home of instrument inventor Adolphe Sax, there’s no shortage of traditional, antique, and modern instruments to gawk at. Make sure to check out an alto recorder by J. H. J. Rottenburgh, a massive set of Chinese stone chimes and the only existing original luthéal in the world.
2 Rue Montagne de la Cour, Brussels, Belgium 1000, Phone: +32-25-45-01-30
22.Royal Greenhouses of Laeken
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There’s nothing quaint or small about the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken. A lavish royal estate that is stunningly punctuated with magnificent heated greenhouses, the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken were built by King Leopold II of Belgium in the late 19th Century. The Royal Greenhouses are arguably the most impressive of King Leopold’s projects and quite possibly the most extravagant as well. Built sometime in between 1884 and 1886, this royal estate houses 30 pavilions, all of which are connected the main draw of the entire estate – the Winter Gardens. The Winter Gardens are absolutely impressive and are found within the spectacular glass dome that towers over the rest of the royal grounds.
4858 Avenue du Parc Royal, Brussels, Belgium 1020, Phone: +32-25-50-20-20
23.Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History
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Occupying the two northernmost halls of the historic and iconic Cinquantenaire is the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History. As its name suggests, the museum is dedicated to Belgium’s military history and is home to over 10 centuries worth of military paraphernalia. See a jaw-dropping collection of edged weapons and full suits of armor from the Middle Ages up to the end of the 18th century at the Arms and Armour Gallery. Interested in military tanks? Take a peek at some of the mighty armored vehicles of the Belgian military at the Tanks Department gallery. Other galleries to visit include the Russian Gallery, the Historic and Technical Gallery, the 14-18 Exhibit, and the Aviation Hall, amongst several others.
Parc du Cinquantaire, Brussels, Belgium, Phone: +32-27-37-78-11
© Train World
Step into the railway world of the past, present, and future at one of Belgium’s premier museums, Train World. More than just your average railway museum, Train World invites all guests to spend an unforgettable day in the interesting world of trains. See beautiful and unique pieces from the history of the Belgian railways while learning about the history of trains as a whole. Visitors can also browse through a number of antique objects, see photos, films, posters, and books from the early days of the railway system, and dive into historical archives. Want to know something even more awesome about museum? Train World boasts of having some of the most valuable and striking pieces of railway heritage in the entire world.
5 Place Princesse Elisabeth, Brussels, Belgium 1030, Phone: +32-22-24-74-98
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The Koekelberg Basilica, or the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is an art deco church in the Koekelberg municipality and the fifth largest church in the world. Colossal and absolutely impressive, the Koekelberg Basilica stands at 89 meters tall and is a massive 167 meters long. It stands guard and looks over the Parc Elisabeth and is modelled after Paris’ Sacré-Coeur. The basilica’s first stone was laid in 1905 by King Leopold, however the grand basilica finally saw its completion in 1971. Perfect timing, too, as it was finished right on time to commemorate Belgium’s 75th independence anniversary. There are tons of beautiful items about the basilica’s architecture for visitors to admire, but perhaps the pinnacle of any visit to Koekelberg is at the cupola platform. From this platform, which is 33 meters in diameter, visitors can enjoy an astounding view of Brussels.
Parvis de la Basilique 1, Koekelberg, Brussels, Belgium 1081
25 Best Things to Do in Brussels
- Grand Place, Photo: Courtesy of basiczto - Fotolia.com
- The Atomium, Photo: Courtesy of pcalapre - Fotolia.com
- Manneken-Pis, Photo: Courtesy of alekosa - Fotolia.com
- Belgian Comic Strip Center, Photo: Belgian Comic Strip Center
- Mini-Europe, Photo: Courtesy of ingusk - Fotolia.com
- Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts, Photo: Courtesy of demerzel21 - Fotolia.com
- Royal Palace of Brussels, Photo: Courtesy of Scirocco340 - Fotolia.com
- Parc du Cinquantenaire, Photo: Courtesy of Andrew - Fotolia.com
- MIMA, Photo: MIMA
- Museum of Natural Sciences, Photo: Museum of Natural Sciences
- Autoworld, Photo: Courtesy of Nikolai Sorokin - Fotolia.com
- BELvue Museum, Photo: BELvue Museum
- Brussels Aquarium, Photo: Courtesy of virginievanos - Fotolia.com
- Brussels Museum of the Gueuze, Photo: Brussels Museum of the Gueuze
- Coudenberg, Photo: Courtesy of Leonid Andronov - Fotolia.com
- Horta Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Karol Kozlowski - Fotolia.com
- Magritte Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Jonathan Stutz - Fotolia.com
- Maison de la Bellone, Photo: Courtesy of tommoh29 - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, Photo: Courtesy of Sebastian Duda - Fotolia.com
- Museum of the City of Brussels, Photo: Courtesy of Regormark - Fotolia.com
- Musical Instrument Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Nikolai Sorokin - Fotolia.com
- Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, Photo: Courtesy of Brad Pict - Fotolia.com
- Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, Photo: Courtesy of Leonid Andronov - Fotolia.com
- Train World, Photo: Train World
- Koekelberg Basilica, Photo: Courtesy of norbel - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of rh2010 - Fotolia.com