The Grand Place (Grand Square) or Grote Markt (Grand Market) is the central square of Brussels with structures dating back to between the 15th and 17th centuries
Planning to use your travel money on Belgian delicacies; fries, beer, chocolate and waffles? No problem, Brussels has plenty of free museums and historical landmarks that allow you to keep your Euros in your pocket while taking in some great cultural sights. We look at the best ways to spend your free time in Brussels, free of charge.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998, the Grand Place is the central square of Brussels. Pierre Massart of Visit Brussels sees this late 17th-century body of buildings as the number one free attraction in Brussels: “There is no cost to simply enjoy the view of the most beautiful square on earth”. A fine example of Gothic and Baroque architecture, the site was originally a place for trading. That spirit remains, and Grand Place now plays home to a daily market, as well as regular concerts and events such as the famous Flower Carpet.
As the name suggests, this free museum tells the story of Europe’s history. The journey starts in 1789 marking the start of what has been termed the “long 19th century,” a period lasting until 1914 that encompassed the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the Industrial Revolution. The museum documents the momentous changes through Europe’s history in the European Union’s 24 official languages. The engaging exhibits encompass such topics as Shaping Europe, World War I, Totalitarianism Versus Democracy and Memory of the Shoah (the Hebrew word for the Holocaust).
A true icon of Brussels, Manneken Pis often tops lists of the most disappointing landmark across Europe. Forget the haters, though. They said the same thing about the Mona Lisa. The 400-year-old statue of a young boy peeing into a fountain is emblematic of the city’s rebellious spirit. The bronze statue, designed by Jerôme Duquesnoy, isn’t always naked despite typically being featured au naturel; a popular tradition sees him dressed up in one of nearly a thousand outfits throughout the year. Manneken has been clothed as characters such as Dracula, Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse.
A walk in the park is a time-honoured free activity. With a span of 300 acres, this green space – which is more a park-forest combination – is a great place for leisure and recreation. The German landscape architect Édouard Keilig’s English design was unveiled when the park opened in 1862. Today it contains horse stables, a roller-skating rink, the English lawn, playgrounds, a theatre and the ravine where visitors can go rowing and fishing. If you fancy stopping for a bite to eat, the Chalet Robinson café-restaurant sits on an island at the heart of the park. After being devastated by fire, the restaurant reopened in 2009, and is perfect for a relaxing mid-walk snack.
Sometimes called the Brussels Cathedral, this 11th-century Romanesque church is the main Catholic church in Belgium. The two stately towers stand at over 200 feet (61 metres) tall and it took almost 300 years for construction to be completed. Step inside the chapel to witness the stained glass windows that date back to 1540 and the huge organ containing 4,300 pipes, which was designed by German organ builder Gerhard Grenzing. The cathedral is near the city centre and is open from early in the morning until late in the evening.
The year 2019 marked the 450th anniversary of the death of artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Celebrated as the greatest Flemish painter of the 16th century, Bruegel spent most of his life in Brussels. The capital decided to honour him by dotting the city centre with murals that pay homage to his work. Noémie Wibail of Visit Brussels recommends this tour, which was co-organised with art collective Farm Prob. You can view the 14 works in whichever order you like as you drift around the city.
How much do you know about how Europe’s parliament works? Whatever your answer is, the goal of the Parlamentarium is to supply visitors with a deeper understanding through its immersive exhibit, which includes a 360° digital film, role playing for school children and an interactive floor map. The largest parliamentary visitor centre in Europe, Parlamentarium has been open seven days a week since its doors opened in 2011. Some of the other interactive elements you can see here include European citizens explaining what the European Union means to them and tools that allow visitors to “meet” any of the 751 Members of the European Parliament.