Brussels is so much more than the capital of Europe. To begin with, it is a vibrant and multicultural city. Also, it is famous for its pralines, waffles, french fries and more. But, it has some rather quirky attractions too! Here you will find the best things to see and do in Brussels.
1. The Grand Place/Grote Markt
Where else better to begin your tour of Brussels than the historic centre of Brussels? In particular, the famous square has been in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1998. With its beautiful historic buildings, it is a sight by itself. In addition, it has been a place of trade since the 12th century.
2. Shopping at 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. The quirky family of peeing statues: Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke Pis
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 it they also made him a sister (Jeanneke Pis) and a family pet dog (Zinneke Pis).
4. Explore an alternate universe in 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 in “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. 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. Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée
One 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 decoration style.
8. Classic Belgian waffles at Maison Dandoy
Belgium is the birthplace of the waffle. So you couldn’t not possibly leave Brussels without tasting one! Besides, you’d have to make a real effort to avoid them. They 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.
9. Luxury chocolate at Pierre Marcolini
Belgium is a chocolate lover’s paradise. After all, it is home to some of the world’s best chocolatiers. At the very least, you should visit Pierre Marcolini, Belgium’s master chocolatier. For instance, he travels the world to hand select the cocoa beans that are the basis of his delicious sweets. In addition, each chocolate is handmade by 80 artisans at the Pierre Marcolini workshop and sold in elegant boxes, like jewelry.
10. Art Nouveau at 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.
11. Beer tasting 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. Admire gothic architecture at Notre Dame du Sablon
Even though personally I am not a big fan of gothic churches (“another European city, another gothic cathedral”), if you are a fan, then Notre Dame du Sablon is a fine example worth visiting. Among the highlights: the wooden pulpit of 1698 and the eleven stained-glass windows, each measuring 49ft (15 meters) long.
15. Relax at 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.