One of Europe’s most politically significant cities, Brussels has been the capital of the European Union since its inception. Aside from its political prominence, the city has been a bastion of rich history and culture for centuries, particularly regarding the arts. The city is one of Europe’s most beautiful and multicultural urban centres, well worth getting lost in.
The Grand Place
The city’s central hub and main tourist destination, the Grand Place is one of the world’s most spectacular squares. Flanked by a number of magnificent buildings, the square is the beating heart of the city – its cultural and historical centre. Arguably, the most important building in the square is the Museum of the City of Brussels, a striking Gothic Revival building dedicated to the history of the city. The Brussels Town Hall is the most magnificent, however, built at the beginning of the 15th century, it is the square’s only surviving medieval building and an icon of Gothic architecture. The Grand Place is also home to a number of events, including the annual Omnegang of Brussels, a large-scale historical re-enactment.
Royal Palace of Brussels
One of the royal family’s residences, the Royal Palace of Brussels is one of the city’s most magnificent buildings. Based in Brussels Park, the palace was built over a period in excess of 100 years, being completed at the beginning of the 20th century. While the royal family no longer lives there, the palace remains a spectacular and important building to Brussels’ identity. Housing a considerable amount of the Royal Collection, the palace is one of the most iconic Belgian buildings.
Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts
Brussels is known for being a major European art centre and the best place to experience this facet of the city’s culture is by paying a visit to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, a complex of six museums, each of which providing a rich and unique experience. The Magritte Museum is dedicated to iconic Belgian Surrealist painter Rene Margritte, housing an extensive collection of over 200 of the artist’s works. The Fin-de-Siecle Museum focuses on the 1900s, drawing from a rich artistic period in Belgian at the height of Art Nouveau. The Old Masters Museum, as its name suggests, features a large collection of Old Masters works including famous pieces by Rubens and Van Dyck. The Modern Museum is dedicated to contemporary art, featuring iconic works from Salvador Dali and Francis Bacon.The Meunier Museum specialises in the lesser-known Belgian artist Constatnin Meunier, featuring a variety of his bronze sculptures and paintings. The Wiertz Museum focuses on the work of Antoine Wiertz, a significant Belgian Romantic artist. Each museum offers a distinct and rewarding experience and are all worth visiting.
Beer Tours/Delirium Cafe
Amongst many other things, Belgium is well-known for its beer culture, and in Brussels visitors can undertake a number of beer tastings and tours. One can tour the plethora of breweries and sample traditional Belgium beers. Of particular interest is the Delirium Cafe, run by one of Belgium’s most popular and internationally acclaimed breweries. The Delirium Cafe features an enormous collection of beers, of over 2,200 different brands from over 60 countries. There are few better spots in town to immerse oneself in Belgian beer culture.
The Royal Complex
A short trip from the centre of Brussels, the Royal Complex is the main residence of the country’s monarch. The complex is not open to the general public except for a short, two-week period during April and May. The Castle of Laeken is one of the most magnificent buildings in the country. However, the gardens are the main draw for visitors. A vast and extensive compound in the English style, the gardens are notably opulent including a golf course and a sculpture park. The Royal Greenhouses are also highly popular, amongst the largest and most impressive in the world. Despite a narrow visiting window, the Royal Complex is easily one of the best things to do in Brussels.
One of Brussels’ most iconic landmark, the Atomium is a strange and futuristic building designed for the city’s 1958 World Fair. Comprised of nine stainless steel spheres each connected by tubes, the building was designed by architect brothers Andre and Jean Polak and engineer Andre Waterkeyn. Now a popular destination, the Atomium functions as a museum and restaurant. A symbol of scientific discovery and progress, the Atomium is definitely worth seeing firsthand.
The Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art
One of the city’s finest museums, the Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art pays tribute to the country’s immense legacy in the medium of comics. Charting the history of Belgian comics from Herge to Peyo, the museum dedicates individual rooms to each artist, featuring a wealth of their works and information about their lives and careers. The museum also features an extensive library and a room specialising in animation. One of the more niche museums in the city, it is definitely worth a visit whether you’re a comic fan or not.
Maison de la Bellone
One of Brussels’ lesser-known cultural treasures, the Maison de la Bellone is not worth missing out on. A major cultural centre based around an iconic piece of Baroque architecture dating back to the end of the 17th Century, the building has been restored and added to over the last 100 years. Distinctive features include the glass roof, added in 1995. Nowadays the venue is a major event space and food hotspot, hosting a number of restaurants and food trucks. A real sight to behold, the Maison de la Bellone is worth checking out.
Otherwise known as Jubelpark, the Parc du Cinquantenaire is Brussels’ most notable public park and a major location within the city. It is best known for the Arc du Cinquantenaire, a major monument built at the beginning of the 20th Century, which dominates the area. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence, the park is one of the city’s top recreational spots, the gardens amongst the most beautiful in the city. In addition to the Arc du Cinquantenaire, the park is also home to a number of vital cultural institutions such as the Royal Military Museum, the Jubelpark Museum, the AutoWorld Museum, the Great Mosque of Brussels and the iconic Temple of Human Passions. The park has something for everybody and is well worth paying a visit to travellers in the city, especially on a sunny day.
Museum of Costume and Lace
Another of the city’s niche museums, the Museum of Costume and Lace pays tribute to the country’s long and rich relationship with the craftsmanship of lace. Featuring an extensive collection of antique lace, the museum is a unique oddity. For fashion enthusiasts, the museum is a must-see destination.