With flights, hotels, eating out and sightseeing, the cost of travelling can really add up. Fortunately, if you plan to visit Brussels, there are plenty of free things to do that won’t hurt your wallet at all! Take a look at our suggestions for some inspiration…
Take a free tour of the city
Exploring a new city is all the more exciting when you’re with someone who knows the history and most interesting places to visit. Plenty of companies offer tours around Brussels, but when you sign up for a tour of the European capital through the Greeters Network, you’ll be paired with a local who shares your hobbies and speaks your language. Each tour is unique and catered to your specific interests. You’d rather cycle instead of walk? You want to know the best bars in town? Locals have got you covered.
Quite possibly the quirkiest tourist attraction in Brussels is the statue of a peeing boy, Manneken Pis. Attracting crowds since as far back as 1619, most visitors are unaware the tiny bronze sculpture is part of a small family predisposed to urinating in public! There is also Jeanneke Pis, a peeing girl, and Zinneke, a peeing dog. Zinneke is a Brussels slang term referring to a mixed-breed dog and is used as a symbol of the cosmopolitan and multicultural nature of the city.
Although the English translation for Brussels’ Promenade Verte is ‘Green Walk’, it is fine to cycle along this lovely green trail in the Belgian capital’s most beautiful nature spots. The total length of the route is 60km, but the set-up is such that you can start your hike or cycle anywhere along the path. Weaving through the greater Brussels area, highlights of the trail are the Sonian Forest, the landscaped gardens of Tournay-Solvay Park and a massive cathedral of beeches.
This impressive building sits at the very top of Brussels, in the antique area of Grand Sablon. Although it houses the Brussels legal courts, it is also possible to walk in and have a look at the impressive inside of the structure; the athletic can climb to the very top in order to see a spectacular (and free) view across Brussels. Not for the faint-hearted. If you are also interested in law, it is also possible to sit in on cases.
One of the nicest things to do to really get a feel of a new city is to visit a flea market. Brussels’ most famous bazaar filled with used items is at Place de Jeu Balle in the Marolles neighbourhood, open daily from 7am to 2pm. As an added bonus, browsing what’s on offer is free, so flea market-hopping won’t cost you a penny. If something does catch your eye, haggling is mandatory.
As you’re casually wandering around Brussels’ city centre, you’re bound to come across at least one graffiti mural dedicated to a Belgian comic book hero. Belgium has a rich comic book tradition and classic paper heroes such as Lucky Luke, The Smurfs and Tintin all have Belgian roots. There are already over 50 of these comic strip themed frescoes all over town and new ones are added regularly. For the avid comic book fan, you can follow several routes around the city that mark a trail and a map is available for just €1 at Brussels’ tourist centres.
You can’t really visit Brussels without delving into one of the main reasons why this city is such an important player on the world stage: the European Parliament (Espace Léopold). Visits to the parliament are free, but for security reasons, tours have to be booked well in advance. To learn more of the history of the European Union, a visit to the House of European History is in order, where the permanent exhibition will tell you all about the shared past, present and future of all 28 EU member states.
Brusselaars love a bit of culture and the city hosts numerous free festivals and concerts every year. The free festival season starts off around 21 June, with the Fête de la Musique which features outdoor performances all over town. In September, jazz fans can enjoy Saint-Jazz-Ten-Noode and October is for alternative music fans with Nuit Blanche. Local concert hall Ancienne Belgique traditionally rounds off the summer holidays with two free festivals in the Royal Park, the magical Feërieën and the Belgian music-focused Boterhammen in Het Park.
Brussels has many fascinating museums, and if you plan your visit well, you can get in for free! The Magritte Museum, the MIM, and the Museum of Natural Sciences all have a free day during the first week of the month, either on Wednesday or Sunday. If those dates are not within your stay in Brussels, don’t worry, because the city also has a number of museums that are always free to visit. The most interesting ones among them are the Wiertz Museum, dedicated to the work of Romantic painter Antoine Wiertz, and the sculpture garden at the Brussels annex of Leuven University. Find a full list of museums that are free to enter at brusselsmuseums.be.
The area around the cemetery in Ixelles is one of the liveliest and trendiest in the city, a favorite among local university students. Yet, as the cemetery is one of the oldest and largest in Brussels, it makes the perfect spot to escape to for a quiet moment. Resting here are Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta, chemist and philanthropist Ernest Solvay, surrealist artist Marcel Broodthaers, and Frederic Neuhaus, inventor of the praline chocolate. With its paths, roundabouts, and street signs, Ixelles’ cemetery feels like a peaceful small town emptied of its people.