9 must-visit places in Brussels
If you're planning a trip to Brussels, Belgium's capital, these are the must-visit places and sights you won't want to miss
It’s well known for its fluffy waffles, artisan beers and superior chocolate but, when it comes to design, Belgium punches above its weight.
The pan-European Art Nouveau movement took root in Brussels in the early 1890s as a group of artists and designers sought to move away from the ethos and aesthetics of industrialisation.
Victor Horta and Paul Hankar were two of the city’s most prolific architects – Horta taking his creative cues from nature, while Hankar favoured geometry.
Horta, Hankar and their contemporaries each put their individual stamp on the style and, today, their extraordinary vision makes Brussels a joy for Art Nouveau fans.
If you're planning a trip to the city, or you're already there and looking to fill your itinerary, here are some of the best things to see and best places to visit in Brussels.
Best places to visit in Brussels
Address: 27 rue Americaine, 1060 Brussels, Belgium
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday 2pm-5.30pm. Saturday & Sunday 11am-5.30pm
Horta Museum was once the private home of Brussels’ most famous architect, Victor Horta (1861–1947). Beautifully light and calm, you can see how Horta tried to marry interior design with architecture, making a feature of exposed ironwork and designing everything, even down to the decorative radiator knobs and mosaic floors.
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts / Royal Museums of Fine Arts
Address: Rue du Musée 9
Opening hours: They vary but all open every day except Monday
At Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, a collection of six museums, there are impressive collections of over 20,000 works by Flemish painters including Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rubens and Van Dyck, and an entire section dedicated to 20th-century surrealist René Magritte.
Musée des Instruments de Musique / Musical Instruments Museum
Address: Hofberg 2 Montagne de la Cour, B-1000 Brussels
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday, 9.30am-5pm. Saturday & Sunday 10am-5pm
Take a stroll to MIM, the Musical Instruments Museum, if only to admire the exterior, which retains the original signage from its days as the Old England department store. Inside you'll find 1,200 fascintaing and beautifully crafted instruments assembled in fur galleries, enhanced by images, sound and text panels. There's even a concert hall with 200 seats arranged in a semi-circle, reminiscent of a Greek amphitheatre, on the fifth floor.
Place St Géry
Address: 1000 Brussels
Opening hours: Times vary
Sightseeing can make you thirsty, so do as the locals do and grab a beer at a pavement cafe (the area around Place St Géry is particularly lively).
There are dozens of beers to choose from, from geuze (a sparkling beer made in Brussels) and lambic (an open-fermented brew that tastes a bit like wine), to beers made with wheat or infused with fruit.
Manneken Pis Fountain
Address: 1000 Brussels
Opening hours: Always open
More evidence of a determined idiosyncracy is displayed by the city’s emblem, the Manneken Pis (corner of Rue de l’Etuve), a 17th-century bronze statue of a boy peeing that the locals like to dress up in natty costumes. Hundreds of them – including a mini Elvis suit – are on display in the GardeRobe MannekinPis on Rue du Chêne, a stone's throw from the famous fountain.
Comics Art Museum
Address: Rue des Sables 20
Open hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10am-6pm
Belgium is home to Tintin and the Smurfs, so it’s no surprise there’s a Comics Art Museum, housed in a Horta-designed Art Nouveau wonder, formerly the Waucquez Warehouse.
The Grand Place
Address: Central Brussels
Open hours: Times vary
The Grand Place is a breathtaking mix of shapely Renaissance-style gables, sculpture-studded façades and decorative balconies and spires.
It’s somewhat overwhelming at first but look closely and you’ll start to notice the detail: a galleon-shaped gable at number 6 – once the guildhouse of the boatmen; a stone dragon gnawing on the leg of a knight on the Hôtel de Ville; and a painted swan strutting its stuff above the doorway of number 9, formerly home to the guild of butchers, and now a restaurant, The Swan Cafe.
The square has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1998 and today it is a popular place to grab a beer and a plate of mussels while you watch the world go by.
The Magritte Museum
Address: Pl. Royale Koningsplein 1
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-6pm
The Magritte Museum pays homage to the surrealist, with more than 200 of his works, from painting and sculptures to musical scores.
Royal Greenhouses Laeken
Address: Av. du Parc Royal, 1020 Laeken
Opening hours: Spring
In 1873, architect Alphonse Balat designed for King Leopold II a complex of greenhouses which complement the castle of Laeken, built in the classical style. The complex has the appearance of a glass city set in an undulating landscape with monumental pavilions, glass cupolas and wide arcades that cross the site like covered streets. Some of the plants inside are from King Leopold II's original collection, making them extremely valuable.
The Royal Greenhouses Laeken open for just a few weeks in spring each year, so if this is on your must-visit list, you'll need to time your trip accordingly.
The greenhouses are filled with beautiful plants that reach right up to the striking glass ceilings. Even if you can't get inside when you visit, the exterior architecture has much to marvel at.
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