Brussels is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe. Often overlooked by travelers for the sake of more popular Bruges or Ghent, it is a vibrant and multicultural city. Although better known as the seat of the European Union, Brussels is actually a multifaceted, human-sized city, which is both avant-garde and historic, elegant and quirky, peaceful and busy.
After all, Brussels is the capital of a country that gave the world french fries (or chips, if you are from the UK), waffles, and chocolate pralines, as well as famous comics such as Tintin, The Smurfs, and Lucky Luke. How could it ever be boring?!
From cartoons to Art Nouveau, green parks to cutting-edge art, museums to world-class beer, Brussels is full of fun and interesting things to do. In addition, it has fewer visitors than Bruges and Ghent and is the main economic and political hub of Belgium and the EU. As a result, here you get a more authentic experience of life in Belgium, while also it has a ton of top-rated attractions and things to do.
Here are some of the best attractions and things to do in Brussels:
Top-rated Attractions, Fun and Unusual Things to Do in Brussels, Belgium
1. Visit the Grand Place/Grote Markt
The best place to begin your exploration of Brussels is its historic centre, the famous Grande Place (Great Square). A UNESCO World Heritage List since 1998, the old town of Brussels is one of the best-preserved in Europe.
2. Go (window) shopping at the elegant Galeries Royales de Saint-Hubert
Just off Grand Place, you will find an impressive shopping arcade, the Galeries Royales de Saint-Hubert. When it first opened for the public in 1847, it was the first shopping arcade in Europe (something like an ancestor of modern shopping malls). It is worth visiting even just for window-shopping. Some of the best chocolate brands in Belgium have their shops here, so make sure to make a stop for some delicious hot chocolate in winter or ice cream in the summer.
3. See the iconic Manneken Pis (Peeing Boy), his sister, and pet dog
Indicative of the more quirky side of Brussels is one of the city’s most famous attractions, the Manneken Pis fountain, i.e. the peeing boy of Brussels. Although perhaps a tourist cliché, it is a landmark of the city by now, and it’s so popular with locals that they also made him a sister (Jeanneke Pis) and a pet dog (Zinneke Pis).
4. Discover an alternative universe at the Atomium
Futuristic Atomium is essentially a gigantic iron molecule and was designed by engineer André Waterkeyn for the 1958 International Fair. It was so popular that it became permanent. It is fully accessible inside and offers an impressive view of Brussels from above. In addition, the final descent on the way out is via a futuristic tunnel with colorful lighting that makes you think you are about to take off!
5. Feel like a giant at the “Mini-Europe”
Right next to the Atomium is the “Mini Europe”. Namely, it is a park with miniatures of famous European landmarks. Usually, entrance to it is part of a joint ticket with Atomium. For the most part, it is a fun thing to do for families.
6. Follow the comics route
Belgium is the birthplace of many well-known comics and cartoons. For instance, Lucky Luke, Tin Tin, The Smurfs, Spirou, and many others. Consequently, there are comics-inspired graffiti all over Brussels. Therefore, the “Comics Route” (or Parcours BD in French) is a must-see attraction of Brussels. Especially if you like comics and street art. The City of Brussels website has a full list of all street art and maps.
7. Visit the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée
One of the most delightful museums I visited in Brussels, is the Centre de la Bande Dessinée (Belgian Comic Strip Center). Not only it is a fun place to go but also is the best way to get to know Belgium’s quirky side. By the way, the building was designed by famous architect Victor Horta in 1906. Therefore, it is a great example of Art Nouveau’s decoration style.
8. Visit a boutique dedicated to a famous Belgian comic
La Boutique Tintin first opened in the centre of Brussels in 1989, just off Grand Place, in Rue de la Coline. Very soon it became a popular destination for Tintin fans from all over the world, offering a wide variety of Tintin memorabilia and products.
La Boutique Tintin
13 Rue de la Colline, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
Telephone: +32 (0)2 514 51 52
9. Enjoy the famous Belgian waffles of Maison Dandoy
Belgium is the birthplace of the waffle. So you couldn’t possibly leave Brussels without tasting one! Besides, you’d have to make a real effort to avoid them. They are practically sold everywhere! Especially, those of Maison Dandoy, near the Grand Place. In addition to waffles, Maison Dandoy is also famous for its delicious speculoos biscuits. They have been making them since 1829.
10. Drink the best hot chocolate at Neuhaus chocolatier
Belgium is a chocolate lover’s paradise. After all, it is home to some of the world’s best chocolatiers. Make sure you don’t leave the city without enjoying at least one cup of the best hot chocolate in Brussels at Neuhaus Chocolates. Moreover, this is probably the best place to taste the famous Belgian pralines, as it was Jean Neuhaus Jr. who created the first ones in 1912, over a hundred years ago.
11. Visit the unique Musée Horta (Horta Museum)
The Horta Museum is essentially the restored private home and studio of well-known Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta (1861-1947). The two buildings have been completely restored and the Art Nouveau decorative elements such as mosaics, stained glass, furniture, and wall decorations perfectly preserved. It is the best example of Art Nouveau architecture and decoration style in Brussels.
12. Experience Belgian beer making at Cantillon Brewery
Even though Belgium is famous for its beers, the modernization of the city and the establishment of the European administration meant that all breweries eventually left Brussels, except one: the Cantillon Brewery. It is the only place in Brussels that makes beer continuously from 1900 till today. This is also where you can still find the ancient types of Belgian beer, Lambic, and Gueuze.
13. Enter the surreal world of René Magritte at Magritte Museum
Surrealism was an artistic trend of the early 20th century that placed the subconscious and spontaneity at the center of art creation. For surrealists, the process was more important than the object of art. Belgian René Magritte was one of the most prominent representatives of surrealism and the Magritte Museum houses 230 of his paintings, sketches, sculptures and painted objects, as well as posters, musical pieces, photographs and films.
14. Combine music history with coffee with a view at the Museum of Musical Instruments
For something different and for coffee or brunch with an amazing view, go to the Musical Instruments Museum. Within this two building complex, an Art Nouveau style one and a neoclassical one, the Museum houses a total of 1100 musical instruments in four exhibitions. In addition, it is known for its rooftop restaurant. Located on the 11th floor of the Art Nouveau building. It’s perfect for a Sunday brunch with a view of the city.
15. Relax in the Parc du Cinquantenaire
Finally, you can also see the Parc du Cinquantenaire (or Park of the Fiftieth Anniversary). If you’re tired from all that sightseeing, this is perfect. By the way, the park has an impressive triumphal arch at the entrance, which is similar to the Brandenburg arch in Berlin. Built to celebrate Belgium’s first fifty years of independence, it is a beautiful green space to take a stroll in.