Come along with us as we explore the best things to do in Brussels.
We love the juxtaposition of the old with the new in this vibrant, dynamic city. Brussels runs the gamut from majestic architecture to run down art deco developments. Beautiful 19th century mansions stand in stark contrast to the shimmering modern skyline. All of these buildings sit like an elegant framework built around Brussel’s medieval core. Of all the things to do in Brussels, make sure you start out with the Grand Place. After all, it’s one of the world’s most beautiful squares.
Do you know about Brussel’s greatest architectural expression? It came about at the end of the 1800s with the introduction of art nouveau. Exteriors show an exemplary sense of restraint. Gone are the days of ornate architecture on the outside. Instead, the interiors are what give way to a world of sensory input, form, and color. Looking at today’s architecture and skyline in Brussels, you would think that every old building will become a modern art gallery. And you wouldn’t be wrong.
Whether you’re looking at chic townhouses, new coffee shops, and eateries, or skating rinks along the canal, much of the city is being remodeled to reveal conceptual art. It doesn’t matter what your artistic taste looks like. This city offers something unique, guaranteed to satisfy the needs of any traveler. We’re going to take a look at hot spots, hole in the wall locations, and some must-see pit stops.
In Brussels, the culinary scene is unique. There are traditions that run deep. Here, an extra bit of thought is put into your food’s preparation. The fritz is fried just a bit longer, the beer is iconic, and the city places a heavy emphasis on organic, local fare. As decadent of options you’ll find here, there is also healthy options side by side. Are you ready to explore the best things to do in Brussels with us? It’s time to get packing.
Here Are Our Picks for the Best Things to Do in Brussels
1. Begin at Grand Place
Start out your journey of the things to do in Brussels at Grand Place. This magnificent square houses some of the world’s most beautiful architecture. Interestingly enough, it’s all a bit tucked away. When you visit, you’ll know just what we mean. The only way to see and immerse yourself in all that the center holds is to enter by way of a narrow side alley. Of all the buildings, the most famous is the 15th century City Hall. But with that said, each of the places is charming in their own way. Decked in baroque tradition and ornate symbols, they characterize their periods well.
2. Wander Over to the Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts
Credit: © CTMBRU by Agenda – StokkStudio.co
This gorgeous group of museums incorporates everything from the ancient to the modern when it comes to art. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium present the largest collection of Magritte’s works in the world as well as the second largest collection of Bruegel the Elder in the world. All in all, the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts contains over 20,000 sculptures, drawings, and paintings that date to the present. Of all the things to do in Brussels, we highly recommend spending the day here. There is so much to see and learn.
3. Go See the Old England Building
Did you know that one of the most beautiful buildings in Brussels was once a department store? While we’re quick to dismiss beauty and art in the day to day, the Old England Building is a good reminder to stop and stare. Better yet, it reminds us to stop and reflect. On the outside, the stunning facade is a sure draw. It’s just one of those buildings that pops out just a little more than others on the street. But inside is where you will find the greatest treasure.
Open the doors, walk in, and you will find an entire museum. Home to over 2,000 musical instruments, it’s obvious Old England holds so much historical value. Guests have the chance to listen to many of the instruments. The rooftop opens up to stunning views of the city and a charming little cafe.
4. Marvel at the Beauty of Le Botanique
Credit: William Murphy
Known for its historical draw, the charming Le Botanique still attracts many travelers in the modern day. The 19th-century greenhouse regularly hosts a number of performing arts shows. The result is an experience that feels much more like an immersive cultural one than simply a walk in a lovely garden.
With this said, if you’d like to get your feet wet, that is an option. The greenery does offer a lovely escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Here’s a pro tip. If you’re looking to save a little cash, you should know that admission for Le Botanique comes with the Brussels Bard (city pass) that you can purchase here.
5. Check off the Palais Royal from Your List
Credit: Wikmedia Commons
Check off seeing the Palais Royal from your list of things to do in Brussels. The palace opens to tourists during the summer. If you can go, do it. Visiting the Palais Royal is one of the best things to do in Brussels. The most beautiful room in the palace features a ceiling dotted with beetle wings. While it may sound odd, it forms one of the most captivating mosaics we have ever seen. Needless to say, the artwork lining the halls is exquisite.
6. Do the Touristy Thing and Snap a Pic of the Manneken Pis
We’re sure you’ve seen pictures of this landmark before. For some reason, it’s a big tourist draw. The name translates to mean “little man pee.” You can find this small bronze statue located at 1000 Brussels. While many people think it is just a silly statue, there is actually quite a bit of history behind this sculpture. Oddly enough, was at first a fountain played an integral role in the distribution of water in the 15th century.
Nearing the end of the 17th century, the Manneken Pis became well known and important in city life. After it survived the bombardment of Brussels in 1695, it was memorialized among the locals. During large events or celebrations, you will often find the statue adorned with clothes. During the 18th century, he was dressed four times a year. In the 19th-century, he lost his place as the primary source of water conveyance. Today, he remains the symbol of Brussels folklore, pride of locals, and exemplifies a self-deprecating humor. Of all the things to do in Brussels, you have to add this to your list.
7. Enjoy a Breath of Fresh Air in the Parc Du Cinquantenaire
This isn’t just a park. It’s a national landmark. The name translates to mean ‘Park of the fiftieth century,’ built during the reign of Leopold II to commemorate fifty years of Belgian independence. Even the layout holds significance. If you didn’t notice, the park is laid out in the shape of a pentagon just like the inner and outer edges of the city. You’ll find that the Parc Du Cinquantenaire sits just outside the inner circle close to the European Quarter.
Head over to the south end of the park. Here, you will find a giant arch with two outstretched arms. Inside the two arms are three museums: Autoworld, an art museum, and an army museum. If you want to get a better view of the city, guests can climb to the top of the arch for free from inside the army museum. On a clear day, you will be able to see a lot of the city and the European Quarter.
Typical tourists come to take a picture in front of the arch and fountain. But if you have some extra time, take it to explore other areas of the park. There are so many tranquil places for you to go and play. Whether you want to stop and have a picnic in the grass and take in the architecture or you plan on learning about some of the 35,000 exhibits in the museums, visiting the Cinquantenaire is one of the best things to do in Brussels.
8. Take in a Beer Tour of Brussels
You can see it. Belgians are proud of their beer. Take one sip and you’ll see what we mean. These delicious brews have played a central role in the city’s history. Tours allow travelers like yourself to get the beer aficionado experience. You’ll not only get to experience the city’s best pubs but you will also be able to get some insight into how the brews are made. Heck, you don’t even have to be a beer fan to appreciate these tours. Gaining historical insight is worth the experience alone. If you ask us, taking a beer tour is one of the best things to do in Brussels.
9. Explore the Lesser Known Side of the City
We’re going to let you in on a little secret the tourists don’t know about. We bet you didn’t know the city was actually known for its comic book history. In fact, Brussels has an entire museum dedicated to comics alone. Even as you stare down life-size comic book murals in urban neighborhoods or on the side of a random cafe wall, you’ll start to get a feel for how important comics is here. Besides, chasing down these murals is a fun way to explore the city on foot.
10. Marvel at the Atomium
You’ve never seen anything like this before. Standing some 100 meters tall, this jaw-dropping model of an atom can be seen from miles away. Back in 1958, the sculpture was erected to commemorate the new atomic age to Belgium. Here’s the coolest part. It’s an accurate depiction of an atom; it’s about 165 billion times larger. Take a twenty-second ride to the top and enjoy one of the best views in the city. And while you’re there, why not have a beer?
Create Your Perfect Trip: Check the Best Things to Do in Brussels off Your Bucket List
No matter what type of adventure you’re seeking, Brussels has something for you. Travelers with an interest in exploring art and architecture will find this city an ideal destination. There’s no denying its rich cultural history, traditions, and charm. Which one of the things on our list would you like to do the most? Now, it’s time to start planning your European vacation.
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