The Hôtel Bellevue has an intriguing history: built in the 18th century, during its lifetime it received such important guests as Sarah Bernhardt, Honoré de Balzac, Franz Liszt, Ulysses S Grant, King Edward VII, the German emperor William I, and the last French empress, Eugénie de Montijo. In 1977, the building became a public museum of Belgian history.
The hotel itself is inextricably linked to the country’s history, as it was built close to the ruins of the Coudenberg Castle, a 12th-century landmark which witnessed many of Brussel’s major historical events, as well as housing important historical figures, such as Emperor Charles V, and great artists like Bruegel and Rubens. It burned down in the 18th century, but some elements have been preserved underground – although the remnants are actually beneath the neighbouring Place Royal, you can only enter them through the BELvue Museum.
The museum is an ideal place to visit if you’re keen to get a crash course in Belgian history during your trip. Although it only covers the period between 1830 (when Belgium gained independence from the Kingdom of the Netherlands) and the present day (to delve further back, visit the Coudenberg Castle ruins), the various exhibits give an excellent sense of how the country was shaped, presenting history with modern issues in mind and many interactive elements.