40 Must-Visit Attractions in Brussels

Brussels’s Grand Place is a central square surrounded by opulent architecture
Brussels’s Grand Place is a central square surrounded by opulent architecture | © Westend61 / Getty Images
Nana Van De Poel

Vibrant Brussels is known for being many things at once, and that versatility extends to its attractions. Peeing statues, parks and hills with specific cultural missions, resplendent Art Nouveau and Art Deco villas, and even Europe in miniature – Brussels has it all. Here, you’ll find 20 essential attractions to visit when in the heart of Europe.

1. Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke

Historical Landmark

Manneken Pis Brussels Horizontal with copy space
© NicolasMcComber / Getty Images
Nearly everyone knows about Manneken Pis, the strange peeing-boy statue that Bruxellois like to dress up and have good-humouredly adopted as their symbol. Lesser known are the Manneken’s family members – both girl sculpture Jeanneke Pis and dog sculpture Zinneke have been doing their business on the streets of Brussels since the ’90s.

2. Grand Place

Building, Memorial

Grand-Place, Brussels, Belgium
François Genon / Unsplash
Enclosed by a 15th-century town hall, almost 40 sumptuous guild houses and the equally grandiose Maison du Roi, the Grand Place only reveals its splendour after you’ve made your way up one of the several small cobbled alleys. Labelled a UNESCO World Heritage site for its remarkably homogeneous look, visiting Brussels’s world-famous square is like stepping back in time. Once every two years, its cobblestones form the canvas for an ambitious flower carpet.

3. Atomium

Building, Memorial, Historical Landmark

Atomium Brussels
Maurice Sahl / Unsplash
While nine balls of steel balancing on a bunch of sticks might seem like a weird monument, the Atomium actually represents the composition of an iron crystal, magnified to 165 billion times its size. Engineer André Waterkeyn designed the 102-metre-tall (335-foot-tall) giant for the Brussels 1958 World Fair to symbolise a firm belief in the scientific process. The building-and-sculpture hybrid became so popular that it’s now a permanent fixture on the capital’s skyline.

4. Victor Horta's major town houses

Museum, Architectural Landmark

Hotel Solvay
© Heritage Images/ Getty Images

Brussels is a treasure trove of Art Nouveau architecture, and shining examples of the revolutionary pre-war movement are Victor Horta’s town houses. The Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde and the Horta Museum clearly show their architect as a pioneer of the elegant curves, decorative ironwork and spacious floor plans so essential to the style.

5. Villa Empain

Museum

Villa Empain
Courtesy of Boghossian Foundation
By the ’20s, Art Nouveau had made room for the more streamlined beauty of Art Deco, and again, Belgium was one of the first to embrace this daring new architectural style. With severe symmetry and rich materials, Villa Empain by Swiss architect Michel Polak is one of the movement’s masterpieces. Thanks to the Boghossian Foundation, the sprawling mansion is now open to the public and houses a culture and arts centre geared towards creating a dialogue between West and East.

6. Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

Shop, Architectural Landmark

The 19th-century flâneur is deeply indebted to Brussels for constructing one of Europe’s first covered shopping arcades. The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is split up into three magnificent halls – the King’s Gallery, the Queen’s Gallery and the Princes’ Gallery – and provides a lush setting for a good window shop.

7. MIMA

Museum

A scion in the Brussels museum family since April 2016, the Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art (MIMA) is determined to haul what they’ve dubbed ‘culture 2.0’ out of the shadowy periphery and into the limelight. Located inside the old Belle-Vue breweries and overlooking the canal, the MIMA showcases everything from graffiti to digital and subculture arts.

8. Mont des Arts

Museum

Brussels, Belgium - May 07, 2016 - Kunstberg (Mont des Arts)
© bhidethescene / Getty
Translated to ‘Mountain of Arts’, the hillside close to Brussels Central Station is a prominent Leopold II legacy. The Belgian ‘Builder King’ dreamed of seeing a sophisticated cultural nucleus outside of his Royal Palace’s windows – a wish that has led to a fabulous slope-garden, followed up by a generous smattering of prestigious museums (RMFA, MIM, Magritte Museum, etc) and cultural temples (Cinematek, Bozar).

9. Musical Instruments Museum

Building, Concert Hall, Museum, Shop, Store

Musée des Instruments de Musique, Bruxelles
© jmbrasseur / Getty
One such pearl on the Mont des Arts is the Musical Instruments Museum. While many mistakingly assume that its eye-catching location is a Victor Horta design, it was actually Paul Saintenoy who outlined the former Old England store and its iron-cast turret. The impressive building houses an internationally renowned collection of 7,000 instruments and has a lovely rooftop patio.

10. Mini-Europe

Park

Mini-Europe, miniature park located in Bruparck, Brussels
© beyhanyazar / Getty
Surprisingly, you’ll find the most penny-pinching way to see all of the continent’s most prized architectural achievements in the shadows of the Atomium. Suitable for both children and adults, the theme park Mini-Europe – and its adorable turtle mascot – present to you the ‘best of the best’, a pantheon of Europe’s most famous monuments, shrunken down to 1/25th of their size.

11. Magritte Museum and Magritte House Museum

Museum

One focusses on showcasing the acclaimed paintings by Belgium’s most famed surrealist; the other on giving the public a sense of his private life. While the Magritte Museum on the Mont des Arts boasts essential works such as Empire of Light and Scheherazade, the Magritte House Museum, in the artist’s former Jette home, gives visitors an idea of how René Magritte lived and worked.

12. St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral

Cathedral

Nave and choir of the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels, Belgium.
© olrat / Getty
It’s the royals’ favoured coronation, marriage and state funeral spot, a seasonal go-to for Christmas carol concerts and “the purest flowering of the Gothic style” according to Victor Hugo. The monumental St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral atop Treurenberg Hill may have taken 300 years to complete, but its singular beauty now reigns supreme over Brussels’s skyline.

13. L’Archiduc

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Beer, Cocktails

If you only frequent one legendary bar while in Brussels, let it be L’Archiduc. Sitting in the authentic wooden booths with a strong cocktail in hand, while listening to the mellow tunes from the jazz piano, it’s easy to see why Miles Davis would pop in for a jam session at this soulful Art Deco establishment. Ring the bell to be let through the magnificent cast-iron door.

14. Van Buuren Museum and Gardens

Museum

Also rocking an extraordinary Art Deco interior, the Van Buuren Museum and Gardens is the result of two lifetimes worth of fierce patronage. David and Alice van Buuren spent three decades in the 20th century transforming their Uccle home into a total work of art, complete with an Erik Satie piano, Van Gogh paintings and the Heart Garden.

15. Royal Greenhouses of Laeken

Memorial

Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, Avenue du Parc Royal, Brussels, Belgium
Jonas Denil / Unsplash
From the hand of Victor Horta’s mentor Alphonse Balat came the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, a metal-and-glass wonder that allowed King Leopold II to build a collection of thousands of exotic plants and trees. The sprawling complex of pavilions, cupolas and arcades almost feels like its own city – one that only opens for a few weeks a year during April and May.

16. Train World and Schaerbeek Station

Museum

Train enthusiasts will find the oldest preserved European locomotive and a lot more rolling gems at Train World. The place of their gathering since 2015 is the protected Schaerbeek Station, a stone-brick monument that has kept its authentic ticket hall to provide you with entry to the museum and a thorough understanding of the pioneering role Belgium played in the early railway industry.

17. Brussels's Winter Wonders

Building, Memorial

Each holiday period, Brussels transforms itself into a warm and fantastic land where the glühwein flows and the Christmas spirit is done proud. For more than a month at the year’s end, Winter Wonders takes over the capital’s biggest squares and attracts close to 2.5 million gleeful visitors.

18. Place du Jeu de Balle

Market

There is no better time or place to hunt for second-hand steals than early in the morning at the Place du Jeu de Balle, a veritable bric-a-brac heaven. Bargaining is key at this daily open-air market in the Marolles neighbourhood, where couleur locale is always in heavy supply, and you’d do well to keep your eyes peeled for diamonds in the rough among the discarded toasters.

19. Cinquantenaire Park

Museum, Park

Belgium, Brussels, triumphal arch of the Cinquantenaire Palace
© Westend61 / Getty Images
The most regal-looking park in all of Brussels is again a brainchild of Leopold II. The Cinquantenaire Park’s grand triumphal arch commemorates Belgium’s 50th anniversary as a nation, and the historic goodness continues in three sprawling museums (Autoworld, the Royal Military Museum and the Cinquantenaire Museum). Sunny days see the vast lawns fill up with picnickers and frisbee players.

20. Bois de la Cambre

Park

Bois de la Cambre
© Echinophoria / Getty Images
Paddling your way over to the Robinson Chalet while floating on a lopsided heart-shaped lake in the Bois de la Cambre must be one of the most pleasant ways to spend a day in the capital. Hikers will be delighted to know that the loosely landscaped park flows over into the Sonian Forest, the ancient cathedral of beeches.

21. Waffle trucks!

Architectural Landmark

Walking around the city center, you’re bound to catch a full-on whiff of Belgian – or Brussels – waffles. Their sweet fragrance makes it impossible to resist, and most visitors end up caving when they bump into one of the signature yellow waffle trucks. Crunchy on the outside and doughy on the inside, this street treat often comes with a snowy layer of sugar or even strawberries and cream on top.

22. Moeder Lambic

Bar, Belgian

Glass of craft beer
monica di loxley / Unsplash
The mother hen of all Brussels beer cafés, Moeder Lambic has over 400 beers on offer that range from the most obscure Belgian draughts to international bottled specialties. The Saint-Gilles establishment has been an institution among local and international beer lovers since 2006 thanks to its highly knowledgeable and helpful staff and has even opened a second venue on the Place Fontainas due to popular demanded. With 40 Belgian beers on tap in an authentic red brick décor, Moeder Lambic is the ideal place to discover what your favorite Belgian beer is by sampling the night away.

23. Belgian Comic Strip Center

Museum

Brussels has no qualms about calling itself the comic book capital of the world, and when paying a visit to the Belgian Comic Strip Center, it’s hard to disagree. Housed inside of the last semi-industrial building designed by Belgium’s Victor Horta, of Art Nouveau fame, the museum honors the small country’s paper heroes with fervor. And not only are the Smurfs, Tintin, Lucky Luke, Marsupilami, and many others hailed in the BCSC, they are painted proudly on the streets of Brussels in a project the museum launched only two years after opening its doors. Today over 50 cartoon murals can be discovered all over the city, and the Comic Strip Route has become a whimsical game of a treasure hunt ideal for discovering the lesser-known nooks and crannies of the capital, even for locals.

24. Maison Antoine

Cafe, Food Kiosk, Restaurant, European, Belgian

Located on the Place Jourdan, Maison Antoine is one of the most famous frietkoten of Brussels. Opened in 1948, and still run by the same family, Maison Antoine beat Frit Flagey and hundreds of others to win the coveted first place in the fritomètre contest, in which the Belgian public votes for their favorite frietkot in the country. Definitely worth a try. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

25. Jérôme Grimonpon chocolatier

Shop

The man behind the chocolates | Courtesy of Jérôme Grimonpon Chocolatier
Courtesy of Jérôme Grimonpon Chocolatier

Some say Jérôme Grimonpon is the best chocolatier in Brussels. Whether they are right or not is for you to decide, but stopping here for some chocolates is definitely a great idea. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

26. Au Vieux Spijtigen Duivel, one of Brussel’s oldest pubs

Bar, Restaurant, Belgian, Beer, European

Au Vieux Spijtigen Duivel is an Uccle institution. Steeped in history, this is one of Brussel’s oldest pubs and it is said that even Charles Quint stopped here for a pint. The atmosphere is still just as convivial as 500 years ago, and perfect for any thirsty travellers stopping in the area. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

Matonge

Brussels is about as multicultural a capital as they come. Case in point is Matonge, an eclectic meeting point alive with varying tastes, flavors, and fragrances. The bombastic neighborhood – in between the European Quarter with its suited men and women and the posh Avenue Louise – originated in the ’60s, when Congolese students moved to Belgium in the wake of their country’s independence. To wander around in Matonge is to discover fruits you never knew in exotic grocers, to hear laughter drift out of African barbershops, and to treat your taste buds to unknown delights at Indian, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants.

Serendip Spa

Serendip Spa is a hidden gem that seeks to give you respite from the busy, nonstop pace of Brussels. The atmosphere immediately puts you at ease but without the cloying, generic quality of typical spas. Serendip uses sunlight filtered through sheer curtains for natural mood lighting, and the floors are dark hardwood and strewn with area rugs. Serendip’s seasoned masseuses, who help you choose a signature treatment based on your stress level, enhance the homely ambiance. Serendip also offers yoga classes to complement the treatments, which you can book ahead of time on their website. Recommended by Prachi Vyas.

Musee des Beaux-Arts d’Ixelles

The Musee des Beaux-Arts d’Ixelles is a lovely little museum located less than a mile away from Avenue Louise. Beyond the glass exterior, exhibitions that showcase artists both prominent and undiscovered abound. Last season treated visitors to a showcase of Belgian surrealist René Magritte, the renaissance-themed Bruegel room and expressionist painter James Ensor. Because it is so humble and lesser known than other art museums, the Musee des Beaux-Arts d’Ixelles is ideal for the quiet traveler who seeks to absorb the culture of their host country without the fuss of loud crowds. Recommended by Prachi Vyas.

Tramway 94

Tramway line 94 goes a step further than merely transporting the public: if you take it from Avenue Louise down to Bois de la Cambre, you will get to see the entire length of the avenue. It’s like going sightseeing without actually having to go sightseeing! The best part is being able to get off at the last stop, an urban public park in the heart of the city. The horizontal expanses of green, manicured lawns are interspersed with children playing games and families on picnics. Watching the sunset here is simply a wonderful way to end the day. Recommended by Prachi Vyas.

Wiertz Museum

The Musée Wiertz is dedicated to painter, sculptor and writer Antoine Wiertz, one of the more controversial and fascinating figures of Belgian Romanticism. You can explore his spectacular, and at times troubling, works of art including Two Girls and The Beautiful Rosine, which features a girl face-to-face with a skeleton. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

Théâtre Varia

Established in 1905, Théâtre Varia is one the true cultural hubs of Brussels. Hosting a variety of shows (from theater to dance and everything in between), it simultaneously pushes boundaries and respects traditions, as well as providing opportunities for new troupes and young talent. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique

Always a great option for a rainy day (and rainy days are unfortunately quite common in Belgium), the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences is fun and informative to visit for both adults and children. Don’t miss the 30 impressive Iguanadon dinosaur skeletons, as well as the biggest mammoth skeleton ever found in Belgium. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

Berlaymont

The symbol of the European Union, the Berlaymont, simply had to be included on this list. Although it cannot be visited on the inside, it is worth viewing from Place Schuman due to its iconic architecture and importance for the European Communities. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

Brussels Grand Mosque

The Centre Islamique et Culturel de Belgique is the oldest mosque in Belgium, and it is available to visit for non-muslims upon appointment. You can even take Arabic language lessons here, as it as a place of study as well as a place of prayer. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

Parc Leopold

Located in the heart of the city, Parc Leopold is a quiet green area, which is perfect for a relaxing walk. The pond is a great spot to see some more unusual wildlife (mallards, moorhens, coots and even Egyptian geese and rose-ringed parakeets have been spotted nearby). Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

Chapelle de la Résurrection

The Chapelle de la Resurrection, or Chapelle pour l’Europe, is a Roman Catholic chapel with an Ecumenical orientation, located in the heart of the European Quarter. Its Neo-Renaissance façade has been completely preserved but its interior was rebuilt by Marionex Architects. As well as hosting religious celebrations, it also organizes conferences, cultural events and exhibitions. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

Le Vieux Cornet

One of the oldest buildings in Uccle, the tower dates back to the 15th century. Thyl Ulenspiegel, popular hero and trickster created by author Charles de Coster in 1867, passed by here on one of his adventures, making this an unmissable destination for those passionate about literature and folklore. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

Russian Orthodox Church of St. Job

Built in the Novgorod style by Russian immigrants to commemorate the memory of Tsar Nicolas II and the victims of the Russian Revolution, this building is a splendid example of Russian Orthodox architecture. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

Visit Hergé’s grave at the Dieweg Cemetery

Why not visit the last resting place of the creator of Tintin and pay your respects? The Dieweg Cemetery also has a wonderfully haunting atmosphere, with graves dating back from the 19th century creating a melancholy and romantic ambiance. Recommended by Stephanie Benoit.

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