Brussels is a place that delights in life’s little indulgences. From the ornate architecture of buildings such as the Bourse and the light-soaked city streets to the outstandingly good beer, steaming bowls of Moule Frites, calorie-laden but oh-so delicious newspaper cones filled with fries and, of course, the world’s most decadent and delicious chocolates, Brussels knows how to enjoy life.
Brussels also knows how to occupy two worlds simultaneously. From the two official languages (Flemish and French) to the blend of cutting-edge modernity (check out the Atomium) and history-drenched landmarks, Brussels is a city that embraces both sides of the coin. It’s a trait its citizens share.
All Brussels locals are earnest, polite and err on the side of order and conservatism, yet lurking beneath the surface is an irreverent mischief and childlike joy, which explains why the city’s unofficial mascot and most prized landmark is the Mannekin Pis.
Mannekin Pis literally translates to ‘little man pee’ and is a bronze statue of… you guessed it, a little boy taking a whiz. It’s no coincidence that this cheeky figure stands at the heart of the city in Grand Place. And it’s easy to believe that at the heart of every well-dressed, briefcase-carrying Brussels man – and being home to the European Parliament and all the bureaucrats who sail on her, there are a lot of them around – stands a small grinning boy, just ready to make his mark on a civic monument given half a chance.
Brussels’s Top 10
10. Bourse (Brussels Stock Exchange) A mammoth, history-rich building that’s oh-so-lovely to look at. You might even meet the (rich) love of your life in this fairytale-esque structure.
5. Planete Chocolat We wanted to put this at #1 but thought it best not to lead with our stomachs. Regardless, Belgian chocolate is outstanding and here you get to watch it being made and then sample the goods.
9. Horta Museum The home of one of Belgium’s finest art nouveau architects and designers is now a museum. Check it out before trawling the streets to get some context to your sightseeing.
4. Afrika Museum Amazing collections of Central African remnants (in recognition of Belgium’s colonial past). It houses the gems found by explorer and all-round African connoisseur, Henry Morton Stanley.
8. Comic Strip Center Tin Tin! The Smurfs! Who says comics are for kids? Use your size as an advantage, push them out of the way and check out some classics that’ll have you reliving those cherished childhood memories.
3. Grand Place Hit this place up at night to see the dozens of century old buildings light up in a magnificent golden wash. Grab a Belgian waffle while you’re at it.
7. Atomium This shiny, bulbous structure reels in the tourists on a daily basis. Go have a gawk.
2. Mannekin Pis An icon and a must-see, if you’re in luck the locals will have dressed him up in a seasonal garb, which make for some classic Kodak moments.
6. Belvue Museum This was once a luxury hotel for the rich (back in the 18th Century) but is now packed with info and exhibits on days gone by.
1. Royal Palace The Belgian royals have long-gone, but it’s still considered their official home. Visit for free and pretend you’re a king or queen while roaming the halls.
- Palais de Justice/Justitiepaleis - This court of law was constructed in 1866 at a cost of 45 million
- Belgian francs.
- Basiliek van het Heilig Hart/Basilique du Sacre Coeur - The fifth-largest church in the world.
- Grand Place - Gothic and baroque guild houses on the cobbled Grand Place.
- Cathedral of St Michel - This beautiful cathedral sits atop a hill overlooking Brussels.
- Erasmus House - The former home of theologian Erasmus.
Brussels Art & Culture
- Musees Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire (MRAH) - An impressive collection of art objects from different civilizations.
- Musees d'Extreme-Orient - Buildings including a Japanese tower, a museum of Japanese art and a Chinese pavilion.
- Natural Sciences Museum of Belgium - A famous collection of dinosaurs and activities for children.
- Belgian Comic Strip Centre - Permanent exhibition provides an insight into early comic strips.
- Musee Royal de l'Arme - Three sections include Belgian military history, an armoured vehicle hall and the Brussels Air Museum.
- Galeries Saint Hubert - The world's first shopping mall, with boutique stores and cafes.
- Galeria Inno - A large department store selling a wide range of clothing and cosmetics.
- March du Midi - One of Europe’s largest markets for fresh fruits and vegetables, clothes and other items.
- March aux Puces - A daily flea market offering bizarre items at low prices.
- Neuhaus - High-quality Belgian chocolates.
Gay & Lesbian Brussels
- Chez Martin - A small, gay-friendly restaurant serving up Italian and international cuisine.
- Le Baroque - A gay bar located in the centre of Brussels, with live DJs.
- Le Belgica - One of the busiest gay bars Brussels has to offer.
- Rachel - A bagel and burger cafe that welcomes gay couples.
- Macho Sauna - A large sauna spanning several floors. Particularly popular at the weekend.
- Grand Place - Home to 300-year-old buildings, with music and light shows in the evening.
- Manneken Pis - A small, bronze statue believed to represent the irreverent spirit of Brussels.
- Statue of Europe - In the garden of the Convent Van Maerlant, this sculpture represents peace.
- Woluwe Park - One of Brussels’ most beautiful parks.
- Parc du Cinquantenaire-Jubelpark - This park offers excellent views of the city and the Arc de Triomphe-Triomfboog.
- Catch the Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht football club at the Constant Vanden Stock.
- Take a trip to the Royal Primerose Tennis Club to watch the annual Brussels Open.
- Visit The Elephant Pitch, home of the Brussels Barbarians rugby team.
- Check out a golf tournament at Brussels Golf Club.
- Watch an F.C. Molenbeek Brussels Strombeek match at the Stade Edmond Machtens.
This is one of Brussels’ many historical and architectural goldmines. At the centre of Anderlecht you’ll find the Church of St. Peter and St. Guido, a 10th Century Romanesque crypt. This is one of the oldest churches in the country and attracts many visitors every year who come to marvel at its incredible structural design. The Cantillon Brewery is half museum and half brewery, where you can ingest some history and imbibe some beer.Etterbeek
Here you’ll find a couple of the most amazing Catholic churches in Brussels, St. Antoine and Notre Dame du Sacre Coeur. You can also find the Foundation Rene Carcan, a museum sitting on the site of the prominent Belgian sculptor’s art studio (when he was alive, of course). Cauchie House, with its amazing façade and art nouveau style also attracts many a visitor.
This is Brussels’ city centre and where you’ll find the very historic and very beautiful,Grand Place and that cheeky little urinator,Mannekin Pis. Grab a feed along Rue de Bouchers (restaurants galore) and spend like a rock star (preferably one that made his money before the advent of downloading) along Rue Antoine Dansaert.Schaarbeek
This area of Brussels is home to the Clockarium, a clock museum with a cutesy name that surprisingly winds in (get it?) a lot of tourists. Take the time (we’ll stop now) to check it out. Also, roam the uptown streets (they’re not lined with money but they may as well be) and gaze at the many art nouveau and art deco buildings that line them. Make your way downtown, an area that is home to large Turkish and Moroccan communities, for a hearty meal straight out of a tagine.
High-end shopping and restaurants set the tone for this area. Grab some Gucci or enjoy some gourmet fare. If you’re more high-street than high-end, you’ll still find some great stores hidden down the side streets that cater to the cool yet not-so-cashed-up crowd. Once you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped, explore the many architectural gems in Flagey Square or learn about art at the Constantin Meunir Museum. Also, while it may seem a tad gloomy, the Ixelles Cemetery is one of this district’s major attractions. You might even say it’s the dead centre of town… everyone’s dying to get in. Bad jokes aside, some of the most important Belgian personalities are buried there, including artists, inventors and writers. We won’t bother naming any, as we’re sure you can think of some.
Brussels’s Eat & Drink
Thanh Binh Packed to the brim every single night as it offers great Thais food for decent prices.
Crystal Lounge Kick back with a drink and bask in the presence of the chic and sexy clientele. Cocktail-lovers, try the ‘Crystal Dream’.
Bier Circus Don’t let the name and slightly cheesy décor fool you, this place also serves some hearty food (and a stack of both local and international beer!) Bottom’s up!
Aux Armes de Bruxelles You’ll be waiting for a seat but once you do score a table, the Belgian cuisine on offer here will be well worth the wait.
Viva M’Boma Their specialty is mouth-watering Belgian homestyle cooking. Their menu is predominately meat-based so probably not the best option for our vegan friends.
Delerium Always packed, this place will feed your beer-loving desires. Live music adds to the fun vibe.
Belga Queen A modern, gorgeous venue offering traditional Belgian eats with modern touches. It doesn’t come cheap but if you’ve got the cash, this is a gem.
Sceltema Fresher than fresh seafood is the specialty in this venue, which is decked out in dark wood and plush surroundings.
Falstaff While their menu isn’t huge, the food here is legendary.
Chez Leon This bright and buzzing spot claims to be the temple of one Belgium’s most popular dishes: mussels and chips or Moule Frites
Heritage Day in May provides a bevy of activities for everyone to come and enjoy. One of the most prominent events on the schedule is the opening of some of the most historic buildings in the city, some of which are never usually open to the public. Come and discover the history of Brussels and then grab a great feed and some entertainment.
The Fête de la Musique every June sees Brussels bopping to a wide range of music at venues all over the city. Whether you like to chill to some jazz or bounce your head to some hip-hop, you’re covered.Grand Place hosts the opening concert. The best part? It’s all free!
Urban BBQ, held in late-August, is an outdoor BBQ event. The twist? We’re not talking plain ol’ sausages smothered in sauce. Proper Belgian chefs (some Michelin-starred) are the ones churning out the gourmet goodies for everyone to enjoy. Expect a lot of people and a great energy. And a sprout or two.
Fernand Cocq welcomes Urban Expressions every September, a celebration of underground culture. Get your beat-box, rap and graffiti on with all the cool kids during this one-day event, held from 1pm to 10pm.
If you like your beer, the Beer Weekend held at the beginning of September will see you getting acquainted with some of Belgium’s finest beers and then dancing to some Belgian beats. It’s not really surprising that this is one of Brussels’ major events. Cheap beer always makes for a good and messy time. Held at Grand Place.
November to January sees Brussels’ Winter Wonders Festival. The city is transformed into a winter wonderland, with crowd-pleasing ice skating, street entertainment and colourful lights and decorations.
When To Go
The weather in Brussels is mild all year round, so you don’t have to worry about encountering particularly brutal winters or sweltering summers. That being said, if you want limited rain and pleasant temperatures, the end of May through to early September is the best time to visit.
While winter temperatures rarely fall below freezing, don’t expect to get about in a flimsy sweater and jeans. Bring a woolly coat and scarf if you plan to sightsee during the colder months.
What To Miss
Surprisingly, Brussels can be a bit dodgy at night, so stick to well-lit and well-populated areas after dark. Being mugged is never fun, but being mugged in Flemish? A particularly bewildering experience.
Areas that are notably sketchy are Schaarbeek, Molenbeek and Anderlecht, as well as the areas around the Belgian Parliament.
Beware: Belgian beer is strong (often containing 9 or 10 percent alcohol). When the waitress who looked like your Aunt Bertha when you arrived, begins to look like Scarlett Johansen, it’s a good indication you’ve had too much.
If you’re after buses or trains, STIB provides pretty comprehensive routes for a decent price. Bike-hire is another popular option if you’re looking to explore and work those glutes at the same time.The city is a real gem to explore on foot, but many of the streets are cobbled, so bear this in mind when deciding between your sensible shoes and your six-inch Louboutins.
Brussels is the inland capital of Belgium, and home to the European Parliament. The country borders The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and France, and claims - with a certain amount of justification - to be the 'Capital City of Europe.' As well as being capital of Belgium, Brussels is rather confusingly the capital of Flemish-speaking Flanders, which means that both French and Flemish are spoken here, with French the first language of nearly 85% of the population. Brussels may not have many landmark attractions, like the Eiffel Tower or London Bridge, but its cobbled streets, opulent guild houses and majestic Town Hall are features to rival many country's attractions. There are plenty of bars, restaurants and museums in the centre which gives itself up to café culture, typical of the city's laid back laissez faire attitude.
More Info On Getting Around
Brussels Airport is located eight miles northeast of Brussels, and the Airport Line bus service runs three or four times each hour into the city centre, a journey of around 40 minutes. Express trains also run into the city centre to the Gare Centrale, Gare du Nord and Gare du Midi.
Eurolines and TEC run coach services into the city centre from major European destinations, but the Belgian National Railways - SNCB/NMBS is a fast and efficient way of getting to the capital from one of the three main railway stations. Eurostar trains and the TGV all stop at Brussels' main stations.
Getting around Belgium is straightforward, with both underground and overground public transport in the form of trams and metro systems. Transport tickets can be bought from most newsagents.
Bicycles can be hired on the Rue de Londres - which also offers guided tours.
Top 6 Free Things to Do
The Grand Place is at the social and economic centre of Brussels - and has been since the Middle Ages. The Hotel de Ville has a 96 metre high spire with a statue of St Michael at the top, and opposite is the Maison du Roi, used by the Hapsburg Royal family, and now home to the Museé de la Ville de Bruxelles. Other buildings of interest in the square include the Guild of Brewers and the Maison de L'Arbre d'Or. Visitors can watch the frequent events and festivals held in the square too.
The Mannekin-Pis is a famously irreverent statue by Jerome Duquesnoy which depicts a young boy urinating. Located in the Rue de L'Etuve this bronze figure is frequently adorned in clothes supplied by companies, and charities aiming to promote their name and brand.
The Notre dame du Sablon is free to enter, and open all week. The building dominates the Place du Grand Sablon, a building which started life as a chapel in the 13th Century.
The Palais Royal or Royal Palace is one of Brussels' most impressive buildings, located around the Parc de Bruxelles. Another stately building located at the park is the Palais des Academies - former Royal residence of the Prince of Orange. The Royal Palace with its tapestries, ornate furniture and chandeliers is open to the public from the end of July to the end of September.
The Cathedrale des Sts Michel & Gudule - Brussels' patron saints is located on the hillside to the north of Central Station. Work started on the cathedral in 1226 and continued for 300 years, so the church has elements of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
The Atomium is a giant model of a molecule of iron. Build for the World Fair in 1958 by the Belgian metal industry the model has been enlarged by 165 billion times its original size. The stainless steel spheres now house a collection of displays. Heysel metro station is the closest station to the attraction.
Money and Costs
The majority of the ATMs and exchange facilities are located in and around the Grand Place, and at the Gare du Midi. Almost all ATMs accept European credit cards, which are also accepted in shops and restaurants. The Euro is the unit of currency in Brussels replacing the Belgian franc, and the Euro is divided into 100 cents, with notes in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500.
Restaurants often include a service charge, as do taxis, so tipping is not usually expected. Porters, doormen and room service usually expect around 50 cents to one euro as a gratuity.
Fondation Jacques Brel or the Jacques Brel Foundation is a museum dedicated to the singer Jacques Brel, who had his heyday in the 1950s in Paris. Although in America he was known as the 'singer from France' he was actually born in Belgium, something he never denied. The museum is located in the centre of Brussels close to the Central Station, and is open Tuesday to Saturday.
The Museé d'Art Ancien is a Brussels attraction well worth a visit. The Collection of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts starts here, with works by the Flemish Primitives, including those by Dirk Bouts, Hans Memling and Roger Van der Weyden. Later works include those of a Flemish Renaissance style as well as paintings by Pieter Breugel the Elder including 'The Census at Bethlehem', dated 1566. Rubens' 17th and 18th century sketches and masterpieces are also on show here. The gallery is open daily, and is located in the centre of Brussels.
The Museé Magritte houses works by Belgium's famous surrealist, and is located in the house that Magritte shared with his wife Georgette from 1930 to 1954. The museum is open from Wednesdays to Sundays, and is close to the centre of town on Rue Essengham.
The European Parliament is obviously a must see when in Brussels. The Parliament sits in an impressive blue-domed building, next door to Parc Leopold. It is the only institution in the EU which meets and has public debates. Visitors can take tours which start at the European Parliament Visitor's Centre - and it's possible to sit in on parliamentary sessions which take place in the 'hemicycle' - the massive debating chamber. The European Parliament is a short bus ride from the city centre.
Belgium is synonymous with chocolate and chocoholics will enjoy taking a walking tour and workshop which follows the trail of Brussels' many chocolate shops. During the tour visitors will find out more about the history of Brussels and why it became so famous for its chocolate. There are free samples and tastings with demonstrations by a 'Master Chocolatier', as well as a walk which takes in the 'Mannenken Pis' - the famous Brussels statue which was crafted by Jerome Duquesnoy. Sablon Square is another highlight which is packed with antique shops, as well the oldest chocolate shop in Brussells - Neuhaus. The tour takes four hours and starts in central Brussels at 9.am.
The Palais de Justice is a gigantic law court which was built by Leopold II, and is situated on a hill overlooking the Marolles quarter of Brussels - designed to intimidate the working class people below. Its architect, Joseph Poelaert, died during its construction - a death which legend has it was caused by witchcraft by the many people who were evicted to make way for the colossal edifice. Visitors get a spectacular view of the city from a nearby viewing platform. Open Monday to Friday.
Another museum worth taking in if you have the time is the Museé d'Art Moderne which is located in the heart of Brussels, and houses a collection of 19th and 20th Century art, in a gallery which occupies six floors below ground. Visitors can view paintings by local artists such as Leon Spilliaert and Rik Wouters, as well as some by renowned international artists such as Francis Bacon.
The Europalia Festival is a huge arts festival which is held every two years in Brussels, with one country invited to participate in order to celebrate its cultural heritage. There is a full programme of music, cinema, theatre, dance and fine arts over three months from October to February in a number of venues across Brussels.
The Brussels Flower Show takes place at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, in the suburb of Koekelberg every October. The grounds around this magnificent building are taken over by spectacular flower displays, water features and plants, and visitors also have the opportunity to take in the beautiful panoramic vistas over the city centre.
ArtBrussels attracts experts and art buffs from all across the globe - an event which is run by the Belgian Association of Contemporary Art Galleries at the Brussels Expo. The world class event takes place in April over four days.
Leisure and Recreation
Culture lovers will find plenty to occupy themselves in Brussels on an evening. For opera. the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie will not disappoint. A performance here by the Auber Opera is thought to have been the instigation behind the Belgian revolution in 1830. Since then the RSC and the Comedie Francaise have performed here. The Palais des Beaux Arts features classical music, and is renowned for being the venue for the Queen Elizabeth music competition. The Cirque Royal is another place to head to for classical music, dance, opera and dance.
Brussels has over 30 theatres, the leading French language one being the Theatre National, and for Finnish theatre, the Kaaitheatre. The Theatre le Public, The Theatre Royal del la Monnaie and The Studio Theatre are other venues worth a visit.
For shopping the Rue Neuve has all the main branded stores, but more interesting is the Galeries St Hubert, built in 1840 which is thought to be Europe's first shopping arcade, now featuring designer shops. For chocolate gifts Wittamer and Godiva, as well as Leonidas are good, and for some traditional Belgian beer Beermania on the Chaussee de Wavre is recommended.
Brussels has a mild temperate climate with warm summers and winters which are chilly but with average temperatures tending to stay above freezing. Like much of Europe Brussels can experience rainfall at any time of year. There are four distinct seasons and summer falls between July and September when average temperatures are around 25 o C, at night they are 12-13 o C. During a heat wave temps can rise in the 30s.
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