Elegant buildings, majestic squares, palaces, parks, gardens and museums to visit are just some of the things to see and do in Brussels. I invite you to explore the city that is also known as the capital of the European Union, as the headquarters of most of the EU institutions are concentrated here.
To get the most out of this city, I will mix in this list the past and modernity in each of its corners. Without further ado, let's start the tour of the most popular attractions in the heart of Brussels.
1. Visit the most beautiful square in the world
The Grand Place is famous for housing some of the most iconic palaces and monuments in the entire city, an area that will bring you closer to discovering the capital's rich history. It is included in most guided tours of Brussels, which I recommend you join. It contains monuments such as:
- The Town Hall, considered an architectural jewel and the oldest you will find in the Square.
- The King's House, known as "Maison du Roi", was for many years the place of residence of the reigning monarchy.
- The City Museum.
This is an area where you can also enjoy a wide range of gastronomic and commercial offerings. For example, it is the perfect location to visit some of Brussels' best breweries and browse the most famous shops selling chocolates, cakes and other Belgian delicacies.
2. Walk through the Royal Park
Also known as the Parc de Bruxelles, this is one of the locals' favourite places to spend lazy afternoons in the city centre. It is famous for its activities open to the public in the summer or winter, perfect for leisurely strolls, adorned with fountains, monuments and gardens.
In my opinion it is one of the ideal places to include in your agenda if you visit Brussels in summer and in its surroundings are located other interesting places such as some of the best museums you have to see in Brussels.
- The Royal Museum of Fine Arts
- Or the curious Museum of Musical Instruments: in one of the most famous Art Nouveau buildings, it houses an extensive collection of more than 1,000 musical instruments from all periods. On entering, you will be given headphones that automatically reproduce the sound of each instrument.
3. Take the Comic Strip Route
Belgium has a great "comic book" tradition, being the country with the most comic book authors per square metre. Tintin, The Smurfs, Lucky Luke? They all have their origins in this country. So, if you are a lover of this art, you will be in your element, being able to:
- Visit the Comic Museum: it offers temporary and permanent exhibitions that lead visitors to discover the countless facets of comics. You'll find original sketches, unpublished documents, 3D reconstructions of the characters and interactive games that will make you have a fantastic time, whatever your age.
- Take the comic tour: you will learn all about the history of Franco-Belgian comics and all the murals, street art and boutiques dedicated to this art form. There are truly gigantic murals in Brussels about many of the characters most beloved by readers.
- Join the Land of Comics Exploration Game: are you up for following the clues to discover how Belgium became the capital of comics? With this tour you can learn about the history in a more playful and entertaining way by doing different challenges throughout the city.
4. Discover the little man who pees
Since it was placed in the old part of the Belgian capital in 1388, between the streets L'Etuve and Chene, the Manneken Pis has been one of the most beloved and representative symbols of the city.
The statuette of a naked boy urinating in the basin of a fountain has become famous for representing the liberal and independent spirit of its inhabitants. The original figure was made of stone and due to its originality was stolen on several occasions, until in 1619 it was replaced by a copper one that remains to this day.
On special occasions, and in accordance with the country's important anniversaries, it is traditional to disguise the statue. Today, the wardrobe of the funny little man has more than 800 costumes that are kept in the Musée de la Ville de Bruxelles, located in the King's House.
Do you know his little friend?
You will also be pleased to know that this particular object of Brussels' geography also has a lesser-known female version. In the opposite direction, near a small alley called Impasse de la Fidélité, you will find Jeanneke Pis.
This statuette depicts a squatting girl urinating with a mocking gesture. It was created in 1987 at the request of the owner of a restaurant in the area. Today it is a little better known, though less so than its companion, but both are included on most tours of Brussels.
5. Experience the Delirium nights
An impossible plan to miss is to visit one of the best breweries in Brussels. One of my recommendations in the city centre is the Delirium Cafe, a place with a worldwide reputation for having 2004 varieties of beer from all over the world, including some peculiar ones such as chocolate, banana and coconut beers, and for boasting a listing in the Guinness Book of Records.
As well as beer, this bar offers coffee, a special gin tasting and other drinks such as whisky, tequila and vodka, which you can accompany with a select collection of snacks featuring the city's best cheeses and artisan cured meats. The café has friendly barmen and waiters who can guide you in your decision.
Although you can find plenty of craft beer bars in Brussels, I want to tell you that you can go to beer tastings if you are a lover of humanity's most traditional drink. I highly recommend it.
6. Pamper your soul on the chocolate route
Every city has its own peculiar smells, and Brussels has the smell of chocolate. Round, square, balled, filled, bitter, liquid, frozen... The Belgian tradition of using cocoa is quite old.
If chocolate is a temptation for you, I recommend the experience offered by certain tours where you can learn how to prepare delicious Belgian chocolate bars. These options include admission to the Choco Story Museum and a tasting of the preparations.
It's the perfect activity to take a break and relax while you sample delicious Brussels chocolates.
A little bit of history
A few years after the discovery of America, the cocoa bean began its journey to conquer Europe. A delicacy of kings and rulers, the cocoa trade developed into a key industry in the Belgian economy.
But perhaps the most famous in this history is the pharmacist Jean Neuhaus, who in 1987 developed a novel technique to camouflage the unpleasant taste of medicines with none other than chocolate. In an alchemy of this gift from the gods and by exchanging the medicines for different ingredients, he gave birth to one of the most famous chocolate houses in Europe.
7. A complete overview of Brussels
I still think that the sightseeing bus option in the city centres is a quiet and quick way to get a good idea of a place and to sensibly define the places you want to discover in more detail.
Brussels is no exception and I also recommend you to book a ticket on a sightseeing bus through the city. This plan allows you to tour a large part of the city and choose when to get on and off.
These tours are usually accompanied by trained guides and audio guides are available in multiple languages, heated in the winter months and air-conditioned in the summer.
8. Visit Les Marolles Flea Market
Located in one of the most popular neighbourhoods of Brussels, stretching from the centre towards the Place du Jeu de Balle, this neighbourhood is known for being home to one of the city's most interesting flea markets, i.e. second-hand and vintage markets.
This old neighbourhood of humble origins, with a bohemian and avant-garde character, is home to trendy techno clubs, pubs, fashion and independent music shops, records and antiques, as well as art galleries exhibiting works by local and international artists.
You can also admire one of the most controversial works: the Palais de Justice. This imposing construction occupies 26,000 square metres with a height of more than 104 metres and one of the most superb domes in Europe. Its construction began in 1883 and involved the clearance and demolition of 3000 thousand dwellings in their entirety.
9. Explore the diplomatic buildings of Europe's capital city
If you have the time and inclination to learn more about the historical legacy of the European confederation, I recommend exploring the Parlamentarium building, a free museum that takes visitors on the long road of cooperation between nations and what their deputies are doing to meet the challenges of today.
As I mentioned earlier, Brussels is also famous for being home to several important institutions of the European community, such as the European Parliament, the EU Council and even NATO's military headquarters.
When you enter the Parlamentarium you can ask for an audio guide available in any of the 24 official languages of the community. It is open seven days a week and is accessible to people with reduced mobility or disabilities.
10. Visit the Saint-Hubert galleries
The Saint-Hubert Galleries are just a 10-minute walk from the Parc de Bruxelles, and offer more than 200 metres of shopping in a place with stunning architecture.
Inside you will find not only luxury shops and jewellery stores, but also terraces and chocolate shops for a delicious coffee. Some shops may be too expensive to buy anything, but remember that walking and seeing is free.
Technically in two or three days you will be able to see most of the city and following my recommendations you will be able to marvel at everything this city has to offer. Are you ready to embark on the adventure?
Finally, here are a few tips that you might find useful
- Brussels offers a wide range of plans and excursions to other famous Belgian cities such as Bruges, Ghent or Antwerp, for one or several days. I recommend you to check the tourist offer of these places and treat yourself to even more memories of this beautiful country.
- If your budget is limited, I also recommend you check out the available guides for free city tours or consider getting the Brussels Card, which gives you discounts and free entry to public transport or the Atonium.