If your idea of having a good time includes sampling delicious chocolate, exploring world-class museums and art galleries, and admiring the beauty of Art Deco villas, a visit to Brussels should definitely be included in your travel itinerary. While the capital of Belgium is the country’s main economic hub and may seem like a business-oriented destination, it also offers a wide range of cultural attractions including everything from picturesque squares to quirky sculptures and art nouveau facades. If you are looking for things to do in Brussels, this travel guide takes you to some of the city’s best attractions.
1. Grand Place
The Grand Place is the central square in Brussels and an ideal destination to kick off your Belgian travel itinerary. With its 15th-century city hall and cute ground floor cafes, Grand Place is one of the most beautiful squares in all of Europe and a favorite gathering spot for both locals and tourists. Admire the sheer beauty of ornate buildings and guild houses or enjoy the view of the square from La Brouette’s balcony. On certain days, you will find a nice flower market at Grand Place.
2. Manneken Pis
Looking for unusual things to do in Brussels? Here’s an idea! One of the most famous attractions in Brussels, Manneken Pis is a statue of a quirky boy peeing made in 1619 by Jérôme Duquesnoy. The legend behind the statue varies widely. There is the story in which the little boy relieves himself in front of a witch who wanted to punish the boy by turning him into a stone. Another story is that this boy stopped the city from its demise. The legend says that enemy forces wanted to destroy the city by setting a fire, but the boy saved the city by relieving himself. If you wish to learn more about Manneken-Pis, feel free to visit the Museum of the City of Brussels where over 100 of the boy’s outfits can be found.
Constructed in the 1950s for the World’s Fair, the Atomium is a 102-meter-tall model of an atom designed by engineer André Waterkeyn. Whether you wish to enjoy spectacular views of the city by enjoying an elevator ride to the top or step inside the Atomium to see curated exhibits within the tubes, a visit to this kind of weird monument promises to be a memorable experience. There is also an on-site gift shop where you can purchase a souvenir on your way out.
After you have visited the Atomium, stop by the nearby 25-hectare theme park called Mini-Europe. Here, you will have an opportunity to see a variety of scale models of both European cities and monuments. A popular destination for families visiting Brussels with children, Mini-Europe is also home to a number of other attractions including a water park, planetarium, and an all-around IMAX screen. Don’t forget to check out the cute replicas of the TVG train and gondolas.
5. Parc du Cinquantenaire
There are many free things to do in Brussels and a visit to the beautiful Parc du Cinquantenaire is one of them. Whether you are exploring the city with that special someone or you are staying in Brussels with friends, going for a walk through Parc du Cinquantenaire is simply a must. Snap a photo in front of the triumphal arch designed by the French architect Charles Girault or admire one of the largest tapestry collections in the world at the Royal Art and History Museum. On sunny days, feel free to prepare a picnic and enjoy it at the past’s vast lawns.
6. Royal Palace of Brussels
One of the must-visit places in Brussels is the amazing Royal Palace which is the official residence of the Belgian royal family. The good news is that the palace is open to tourists in the summer season since the royal family resides at Laeken. See the ceremonial Changing of the Guard which takes place every day at about 2 pm and take a photo of the ceiling which is decorated with cute wings of beetles. As for the interiors, they are lavishly decorated and definitely worth a visit.
7. Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert
A visit to the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert is one of the best things to do in Brussels in winter. Designed by Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer in the 19th century, the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert is a beautiful building that nowadays serves as an indoor shopping arcade. Expect to find everything from a variety of unique boutiques to elegant cafes, theaters, and high-end shops inside this royal gallery.
8. St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, Brussels
Constructed in the 13th century, St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church in Brussels. It used to serve as a site for funerals and royal weddings back in the day. Nowadays, the cathedral is an impressive sight visited by millions of tourists each year. Admire the beauty of the stained-glass windows or pay a small fee to visit the cathedral’s archeological site.
9. Train World
Home to the oldest preserved European locomotive, Train World is one of Belgium’s most unique museums. Spend an afternoon browsing through many antique objects and learn about the history of trains. From photos, films, and posters to historical archives, there is plenty to look forward to when visiting the Train World in Brussels. This is one of the best places in Europe to see unique pieces of railway heritage.
10. Musical Instruments Museum (MIM)
Music lovers should definitely pay a visit to the extraordinary Musical Instruments Museum (MIM) in Brussels. With more than 1,000 electrical and mechanical instruments from all over the world including things like Tibetan instruments and Scottish bagpipes, the museum allows you to discover the musical history of Belgium. Visitors will also have a chance to hear how some of these instruments sound with the help of special headphones.
11. Coudenberg Palace Archaeological Site
History buffs should not miss the Coudenberg Palace Archaeological Site while visiting Brussels. This impressive building was damaged by fire in the 18th century, but its remains can be explored today. Rediscovered nearly 40 years ago, this magnificent archaeological site features old structures of the former palace of Brussels. Visitors can also look forward to seeing all of the palace’s old cellars and tunnels.
12. Serres Royales De Laeken
Dating back to the 19th century, Serres Royales De Laeken (Greenhouses of Laeken) are home to a large collection of both subtropical and tropical plants. It was king Willem I who ordered the creation of the gardens in the 19th century. The orangery was extended at the end of the 19th century by orders from Leopold II. Travelers can visit the gardens in the spring when they are open to the public for 3 weeks. During your visit, expect to see very rare trees and flowers from all around the world, as well as several different greenhouses and pavilions.
Welcome to Autoworld, a fabulous museum located in Cinquantenaire’s southern hall. With more than 250 vehicles ranging from super old cars to sports vehicles, there is plenty to look forward to when visiting Autoworld. Go on a guided tour of the museum where the knowledgeable staff will tell you everything there is to know about these vehicles and their connection with Belgium. The museum also houses special exhibits throughout the year.
14. Town Hall
A Gothic building that dates back to the Middle Ages, the Town Hall is located in the Grand Place right opposite the Brussels City Museum. It’s one of the tallest buildings in the city and a must-see attraction for everyone visiting the capital of Belgium. As for the interior, it consists of many nicely-decorated rooms. Guided tours are available and allow visitors to enjoy the sheer beauty of these rooms and their decorations.
Travelers who wish to discover the fascinating world of the European Parliament should look no further than the Parlamentarium. Europe’s largest parliamentary visitor center, Parlamentarium is home to many amazing attractions including everything from a vast 3D lighting installation and a video wall with messages from Members of the European Parliament to a role-playing game for school children and a scavenger hunt for families. Suitable for both adults and kids, Parlamentarium is one of Brussels best family-friendly attractions.
A masterpiece of the famous Belgian architect Victor Horta, Bozar (the Centre for Fine Arts) is one of the finest cultural destinations in the country. From enjoying exhibitions and concerts to attending other artistic delights, Bozar has a diverse program that allows visitors to learn more about the culture in Belgium. The building is spread across nearly 40,000 square meters and features many amazing attractions, which means it will take you at least a couple of hours to explore this amazing cultural center.