Belgium’s capital is a small city with a population of 2,122,000 people. But despite its size, Brussels is often thought of as the “European Capital” as it’s home to many European Union institutions, such as the European Parliament and the European Commission. With its political pedigree, Brussels is often overlooked as a travel destination, but to do that is a mistake as it is a fascinating city.
It is steeped in history, and you will see some spectacular buildings with architecture from different periods in time. There are impressive museums and art galleries, exciting shopping opportunities and a growing comic-book culture.
The city is a gastronomic delight. There are people of different nationalities living in Brussels, so you will find restaurants offering international dishes and Belgian cuisine. When it comes to Belgian food, Brussels is famous for moules-frites (mussels with fries), as well as crispy waffles, and especially chocolate. You should try their handmade chocolate pralines, as they are to die for. Belgium is also famous for producing beer; most bars offer a wide selection. The Delirium Bar has a staggering 2000 different beers on offer.
Most of the city centre is pedestrianised and many tourist spots are within this area. So, don’t hire a car if you’re spending most of your time in the tourist area. In the rest of the city, driving can be hectic and parking difficult to park, but there’s the metro, trams and buses.
Most people have heard about the Manneken Pis, but in case you haven’t, it is a strange peeing boy statue in Brussels near Grand Place that has become the city’s symbol, and the citizens like to dress him up. Stop by and take a photograph.
The weather can be unpredictable in Brussels. One minute, the sun can be shining, the next, it will be pouring down with rain. Generally, winters are damp and cool, with regular fog, while the summers are mild. However, as in many northern European cities, be prepared for anything. Perhaps you are planning to go to Brussels for a long weekend, or maybe you are going for longer. These are the best things to do in Brussels during your stay.
- Brussels, Belgium
- 20 Things To Do In Brussels
- 1- Wander Around Grand Place
- 2- Admire Palais Royal
- 3- See The Galleries In The Royal Museums of Fine Arts
- 4- Go On A Beer Tour
- 5- Visit The Bread House
- 6- Let Your Hair Down In Brussels At Night
- 7- Find Tranquility In Parc de Cinquantenaire
- 8- Relax In Le Botanique
- 9- Discover The Legend Of Notre Dame du Sablon
- 10- Listen To Music In The Old England Building
- 11- See A Show At Bozar
- 12- Explore The Atomium
- 13- Learn and Make Chocolate
- 14- Visit The Royal Museum of Armed Forces
- 15 – Shop at the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
- 16- Shop At Brussels Christmas Markets
- 17- Explore the Belgian Comic Strip Route
- 18- Discover The History Of Abbaye de la Cambre
- 19- See All Of Europe At Mini-Europe
- 20- Take In An Exhibition At Parlamentarium
- Brussels: City Card with STIB Public Transportation – save money and enjoy access to 49 museums, plus your public transport is included!
- Brussels Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour – enjoy the sights in your own time and pace your visit to each place.
- From Brussels: Day Trip to Amsterdam – when you’re done seeing Brussels, what about a day trip to Amsterdam?
20 Things To Do In Brussels
1- Wander Around Grand Place
Grand Place is the city’s main square and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Brussels’s heart.
I’d venture to say that it’s one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.
Here you will find 40 beautiful Guild Houses and the impressive 15th-century Town Hall, which can be visited on a guided tour several days a week.
Special events are held here so if you can, try and arrange your visit to coincide with one of them.
Bi-annually, there is the Brussels Flower Carpet in August, when the Grand Place is covered in thousands upon thousands of beautiful begonias.
If you visit in December for the Christmas markets in Brussels, you will be treated to a fantastic light show in the square or a music show at other times.
Cafes in Grand Place allow you to relax with a coffee while people-watching.
2- Admire Palais Royal
The Palais Royal, or Royal Palace, is an impressive building in the Place de Palais on the other side of Parc du Cinquantenaire.
It is the King’s administrative centre, his official residence being 6 km (3.7 miles) north of Laeken.
It is worth going to the square to admire the palace from the outside but from 21 July until the end of August, it’s open to the public, and if you are in Brussels during this time of year, it should be on your agenda.
What’s even better is that it’s free to get in.
Tours around the Palais Royal are self-guided so that you can take in the masterpieces of art and the lavish decorations at your own pace.
The Throne Room is spectacular, with high ceilings, mosaic floors, and beautiful chandeliers.
Another highlight of the Palace is the Mirror Room, where the ceiling and one of the chandeliers are covered with about one and a half million jewel scarab wing cases created by the artist Jan Fabre.
This room usually has a science exhibition where children can participate in experiments.
Recommended tour: Grand City Bus Tour
3- See The Galleries In The Royal Museums of Fine Arts
The Royal Museum of Fine Arts is a group of six art museums in different locations in Brussels.
They are the Old Masters Museum, the Magritte Museum, the Fin-de-Siecle Museum, the Antoine Wiertz Museum, and the Constantin Meunier Museum.
Through over 20,000 paintings, sculptures and drawings, art history is told from the 15th to the 21st century.
If you can’t visit all six museums, we suggest two: the Old Masters Museum and the Magritte Museum, as they will be completely different experiences.
In the Old Masters Museum, you will find many paintings from the Flemish Renaissance and Baroque periods between the 15th and 18th centuries.
There is artwork by painters such as Memling, Bosch, Bruegel, Reubens and Van Dyck.
The Magritte Museum has a collection of more than 200 works by the Belgian surrealist artist Renee Magritte, who lived between 1898 and 1967.
It is the world’s largest collection of his work and here you can submerge yourself in his paintings, sculptures, drawings, and painted objects, as well as his photographs, films, advertising posters, and musical scores.
If you are a fan of Magritte or surrealism, you will love this museum.
- The Old Masters Museum is at Rue de la Régence 3 1000.
- The Magritte Museum is at Regentschapsstraat 1 1000.
Get the Brussels 49 Museums, Atomium and Discounts Card to save money and skip the lines if you plan to visit several museums.
4- Go On A Beer Tour
Belgium is famous for producing beer and you will find many tour companies offering beer tours where you can try Belgian beers such as Stella Artois, Gueze, Chimay, and the extra-strong Trappist.
Beer tours usually take you to historic bars where your guide will tell you about the brewing history of Belgium, how the beer is made, the difference between commercial beer and craft beer, secret ingredients, and beer etiquette in Belgium.
Belgians drink their beer slowly as they like to savour the flavour.
They often drink their beer with a meal and can have a few throughout an evening.
They also have different glasses for different beers.
Tours may include food tasting, such as pairing beer with chocolates, waffles, or frites (fries).
You might also learn how to cook with beer.
Recommended tour: Brussels 2.5-Hour Belgian Beer Tasting Experience
5- Visit The Bread House
The Bread House is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Grand Place.
It is a neo-Gothic building and used to be where bakers sold bread but it is now the Museum of the City of Brussels.
The museum’s vast collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, silverware and porcelain will impress.
There’s also an exhibition about the city’s history and the daily life of ordinary citizens.
For security reasons, the original Manneken Pis is kept here.
However, his wardrobe of over 1,000 costumes is housed in another museum, the Garderobe Manneken Pis.
- The Bread House is at Grand Place 1000
- Garderobe Manneken Pis is at Rue de Chene 19 1000
6- Let Your Hair Down In Brussels At Night
Compared to other cities in Europe, the nightlife in Brussels is more relaxed and quieter.
In general, Belgians enjoy talking and people-watching, sitting in a bar or lounge, but there are also some great places to drink or dance.
For a quiet night out and to enjoy craft beers, head to Moeder Lambic Fontainas, which looks over the Place Fontainas, a few minutes away from where the crowds gather.
It stocks 100 different bottles of beer and 50 on tap, representing every craft brewer in the city.
For a bar with loud music, the PP Cafe is the place to be.
It often has live music and DJs.
It stocks various beers and cocktails and has a Happy Hour from 7 pm to 9 pm.
Delirium Cafe is a must if you enjoy beer, as it has around 2,000 different types.
Bars and restaurants are very popular in Brussels, and in the summer, tables and chairs are taken out onto the streets.
An unusual restaurant is Cafe des Spores, a restaurant dedicated to the mushroom.
Every course has mushrooms in it, including the cheese course and the dessert.
Nightclubs are scattered all over the city, not in one area.
Belgians tend to go to one club in the evening and stay there rather than club hop.
Clubs generally open at midnight and go on until the early hours.
There are no maximum opening hours as in some countries.
A cool club is L’Archiduc, an art-deco space with high ceilings, a half-moon balcony, pillars that go right up to the ceiling, and a piano in the middle of the floor.
It has various types of music on offer on different nights and this can range from hip-hop to country to jazz.
You Night Club is fashionable and is where the young head as it plays loud music and has some of the top DJs in the city.
- The Moeder Lambic Fontainas bar is at Place Fontainas 8 1000
- The PP Cafe is at Rue Jules Van Praet 28 1000
- The Delirium Cafe is at Impasse Fidelite 4 1000
- Cafe de Spores is at Chaussée d’Alsemberg 103 1060
- L’Archiduc is at Rue Antoine Dansaert 6 1000
- You Night Club is at Rue Duquesnoy 18 1000
Recommended tour: Brussels Pub Crawl and Nightlife Party Experience
7- Find Tranquility In Parc de Cinquantenaire
Parc du Cinquantenaire is a serene spot to escape from the busy city.
Take a walk or hire a bicycle and enjoy 32 hectares (74 acres) of nature.
The park has great historical significance.
It was created in 1880 to celebrate 50 years of Belgian independence and the centrepiece of the park is The Arcade du Cinquantenaire, a triple arch with a sculpture of Brabant on the top raising the national flag.
Besides being a place to relax, there’s plenty of culture to discover.
It is home to Belgium’s largest mosque and there are three museums to visit, The World Automobile Palace, The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces & Military History, and The Art & History Museum.
In summer, visit the Temple of Haman Passions, a Neoclassical pavilion built to look like a Greek temple.
Also, in the summer, there is a pop-up cafe, Chez Maurice, where you can enjoy a drink or a bite.
8- Relax In Le Botanique
Le Botanique used to be the Botanical Gardens but is now a cultural centre belonging to the French community of Brussels.
If you love music, you will find Le Botanique exciting.
Concerts and other music events are held daily and there’s a chance you will find something to suit your taste.
There are also temporary art exhibitions from time to time.
Le Botanique has a total of eight spaces where music is performed.
If you’re in Brussels in April or May, go to the Les Nuits Botaniques festival held in three indoor venues and one outside.
It is an exciting mix of international and Belgian artists aimed at promoting the Belgian music scene.
Le Botanique is at Rue Royale 236 1210
9- Discover The Legend Of Notre Dame du Sablon
Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon (Church of Our Lady of Victories at the Sablon) is a 15th-century Gothic church built where an early 14th-century chapel once stood.
It is in the Upper Town and is one of Belgium’s most beautiful churches.
There is a legend saying that, in 1348, a young girl from Antwerp believed that the Virgin Mary asked her to take her image to Brussels.
So, she took a statue of Mary to the chapel where the church now stands.
The chapel is now a place of pilgrimage and so was enlarged to become the church.
Inside the church are two chapels dedicated to saints and filled with marble statues.
A highlight inside the church is the wooden pulpit which has survived since 1697.
Another highlight is the central nave with the altar.
It is lit up by light streaming through 11 stained-glass windows, each measuring 15 metres (49 feet) long.
It is a spectacular sight and makes the church a must during your stay in Brussels.
Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon is at Rue des Sablons 1000
10- Listen To Music In The Old England Building
The Old England Building was built in 1899 and was originally a department store.
It is a prime example of an art nouveau building with arched windows and a black facade covered in wrought iron swirls.
It is no longer a department store as the building is used as the MIM music museum that’s worth visiting if you are a music fan.
It houses around 1,200 musical instruments, offering an interactive experience.
Wearing headphones, you step on the automated panels before each instrument.
You will then hear the instrument being played.
The museum has various instruments, such as the viola, shepherd’s flute, Chinese carillon, and harpsichord.
There are four exhibition rooms, the History of Musical Instruments in Europe, Keyboards, Traditional Instruments, and Mechanical Instruments.
The Old England Building (MIM) is at Rue Montagne de la Cour 2 1000. Skip the line and buy your Musical Instruments Museum Entry Ticket here.
11- See A Show At Bozar
Bozar is a cultural centre that hosts art exhibitions, concerts and films.
The art exhibitions and concerts change, so check their website to see what’s on.
The art exhibitions range from ancient to contemporary, and to get the best experience, take a guided tour of the galleries.
The guides speak in several languages, including English.
Concerts can cover many disciplines, such as symphonies, chamber music, electronic, and jazz.
Bozar is at Rue Ravensteinstraat 23 1000
12- Explore The Atomium
The Atomium, along with the Manneken Pis, is a well-known landmark in Brussels.
As it’s a bit out of the city centre, so you will have to get a tram but it is well worth the journey.
It is a 102-metre (334.6 feet) structure composed of nine enormous balls of steel and aluminium, all balancing on several sticks.
The architect Andre Waterkeyn designed it for the 1958 Brussels World Exhibition.
It represents a molecule of iron magnified 165 million times.
The steel balls are designed to be explored.
The lower ones contain an exhibition about the history of The Atomium.
If you’re not scared of heights, go to the top sphere, where you will have spectacular views of Brussels.
The whole experience is very sci-fi.
The Atomium is at Place de l’Atomium 1 1020. Skip the line and order your Brussels Atomium Entry Ticket with a BONUS Free Design Museum Ticket.
13- Learn and Make Chocolate
As we have said, Belgium is famous for chocolate, and, believe me, the chocolate here is to die for.
So, finding a museum dedicated to Belgian chocolate is not surprising.
This is a fantastic attraction for children as it will give them a break from what they might consider boring museums.
The Choco Story Museum tells you about the origin of chocolate going back as far as the Mayans and Aztecs and leading up to the present day.
You will also learn how chocolate is made, from the moment the cocoa beans have been picked.
Throughout the day, there are chocolatiers giving chocolate-making demonstrations with free tastings.
In addition, there are chocolate-making workshops four times a day.
A chocolatier will help you to create chocolate tablets, mendiants, lollipops, and fantasy chocolates.
If you enjoy beer, Choco Story holds a Beer and Chocolate Tasting, which is a guided museum tour followed by sampling five different Belgian beers paired with chocolate.
You will taste dark, milk, white, and praline chocolates.
Choco Story is at Rue de l’Etuve 41 1000. Skip the line and get a Chocolate Museum entrance ticket with tastings. You may also like this Belgian Chocolate Workshop.
14- Visit The Royal Museum of Armed Forces
Those interested in military history will find this museum fascinating.
It is in the Parc du Cinquantenaire and covers military history from the Middle Ages to the 20th century.
Several galleries include Arms & Armour, The French Empire, The Navy & Historic Gallery, and a brand-new Antarctica Room.
The Air and Space Hall has 130 aircraft.
Kids will love this museum as there are treasure hunts where during each trial, you have to solve 10 riddles to be awarded the ‘treasure’.
The Royal Museum of Armed Forces & Military History is at Parc du Cinquantenaire 3 1000
15 – Shop at the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert was constructed in the 19th century and is one of Europe’s first covered shopping arcades.
It is a beautiful and impressive building, built in the Italian style with a glass-panelled roof and arched shop fronts.
Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer designed it and is 213 metres (699 feet) long with three halls, the King’s Gallery, the Queen’s Gallery, and the Prince’s Gallery.
It opened in 1847 and began a trend for indoor shopping arcades throughout many European cities.
The shops are mainly high-end and include stores selling jewellery, luxury watches, clothes, beauty products, and gifts.
The chocolate shops here boast that they sell the best chocolates in the country, so it is worth trying them.
There are also some shops selling delicious pastries and biscuits.
You can find entertainment venues in the shopping arcade.
In the Queen’s Gallery, the Cinema Les Galeries shows both box-office hits and arthouse films.
Theatrical performances are held in the Theatre Royal des Galeries.
There are restaurants, brasseries, cafes and bars, including a champagne bar for a break from shopping.
Treat yourself to a glass of bubbly after a busy day’s shopping.
The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is at Galerie du Roi 5 1000
16- Shop At Brussels Christmas Markets
Brussels is a wonderful place to visit in December as it comes alive with the Christmas spirit.
It is so popular that around 2.5 million people visit in December.
The city centre has different markets, some merging into others.
The biggest market is in the Bourse & Saint Catherine, with smaller neighbourhood markets.
Around 200 stalls throughout the city sell Christmas ornaments, gifts, food, and drink.
The whole place is decorated with Christmas lights, decorations, and trees.
Be sure to check out Rue Orts in front of the Bourse.
Each year, a different country is chosen, and the Christmas market highlights the traditions of that country, with stalls selling typical food and gifts.
You should go to the Grand Place, which doesn’t have a Christmas Market but has a spectacular light show ten times each evening.
The city’s Christmas tree is a massive Norway Spruce in the square’s centre.
In addition, there is entertainment in the form of a carousel, a Ferris wheel and an ice-skating rink.
Brussels is certainly the place to go if you love Christmas.
Recommended tour: Brussels: 4-Hour Private Christmas Market Guided Tour
17- Explore the Belgian Comic Strip Route
Belgians are very keen on comic books and have taken this interest to another level with street art.
A Comic Strip Route comprises 50 pieces of street art paying tribute to comic characters and their authors.
Exploring the streets to see how many you can hunt down throughout the city is so much fun.
Stop by the Comics Art Museum to learn about the history of comic books and how they’re made.
You will find illustrations of the Smurfs, probably Belgium’s most famous comic creation here.
There is even a comic-inspired hotel in Brussels, so book a night or two here if you are interested in comic characters.
It is the Radisson Red, and you will find comic culture throughout the hotel, including the hallway, the rooms, and even on the napkins.
- The Comics Art Museum is at Rue des Sables 20 1000
- The Radisson Red is at Rue d’Idalie 35 1050
18- Discover The History Of Abbaye de la Cambre
This abbey is an architectural masterpiece and is often visited by the people of Brussels.
It was originally gifted to the nuns of the Citeaux order by a woman of noble birth in 1201 and rebuilt in the 17th century after a fire and redesigned in the next century.
Most of the abbey is in the Gothic style, but there are still parts dating back to the 14th century, such as the church and cloister.
Inside, you will find a magnificent painting by Albert Bouts called The Mocking of Christ.
You will also find the shrine of St. Boniface, a 13th-century bishop.
The windows in the nave are lit by eight high tracery windows and decorated with the Stations of the Cross.
You can walk around the beautiful and peaceful gardens, a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
They were created in the 18th century in the French style and are well-kept.
To the south and east is a wooded area with a duck pond, while to the west is a terraced garden.
The Abbaye de la Cambre is at Abbaye de Cambre 9 1000
19- See All Of Europe At Mini-Europe
You will find Mini-Europe near The Atomium, which is great for kids and adults alike.
It is a park featuring 350 famous European monuments and built in miniature.
They have been created to a scale of 1/25 and are set in beautiful surroundings of dwarf trees, Bonsai trees, and flower beds.
The monuments are meticulously made with great attention to detail.
For example, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela from Spain took 24.000 hours to make, while the statues of the Grand Place in Brussels are painted with gold leaf.
Two hours will allow you to walk around the park and discover the history and architecture of the 27 member states of the EU and the UK.
Your children will love the interactive parts of the exhibition.
They can set off the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, launch an attack of legionnaires, and even destroy a bit of the Berlin Wall.
At one end is a building called Spirit of Europe, where you can participate in games and quizzes to discover how much you know about the EU and the UK.
Book a personalised park tour with a guide to learn more about Europe.
Mini-Europe is at Avenue du Football 1 1020. Skip the line and buy your entry tickets here.
20- Take In An Exhibition At Parlamentarium
Just outside the city centre is the European Parliament which has a visitor’s centre called The Parlamentarium.
It has an interesting exhibition taking you through life during the Two World Wars and why the EEC (European Economic Community) was formed in the wake of WWII.
The EEC became the EU in 1993 and now has 27 member states.
You will also learn about the members of the European Parliament and watch documentaries about the benefits of being in the EU.
The exhibition is interactive and is available in 24 official EU languages.
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