Brussels is the capital of Belgium and the city that best defines the country. You’ll find it packed with art deco taverns, truly unique Flemish works of art, spectacular gothic cathedrals and charming guild houses. The city’s calendar of activities does not rest off at any time of the year, and in its streets you will discover parks full of flowers, architectural monuments and an ancient cultural and artistic legacy. And if that were not enough, between visits you can taste the famous Belgian chocolate and the endless range of local beers.
1 – A morning at the Grand-Place in Brussels
The Grand-Place is the central square of Brussels and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. Here you can visit the town hall, which is characterized by a spectacular facade of long columns adorned with abundant golden details in Gothic styles. , Baroque and Louis XIV, and a tall tower in the center. The building is part of the most visited area of the city and was rebuilt in 1695 after an attack by the French Army.
2 – Don’t miss it: Manneken Pis
Manneken Pis is a 61 centimeters tall statue located to the southwest of the gothic Brussels Town Hall depicting a boy peeing. The one we see today is actually a bronze replica of the original sculpture, which dates back to the 17th century and is on display at the Museum of the City of Brussels. Despite being stolen twice in the 18th century and being smashed to bits in the 19th century, Manneken Pis still proudly pees today and has become the town’s amusing mascot.
3 – A break in the Cinquantenaire Park
Located in the eastern most part of the European quarter of Brussels, the Cinquantenaire Park is a 19th-century urban space that commemorates half a century of Belgian independence. It includes a spectacular “U” shaped gallery that houses the AutoWorld Museum, the Royal Military Museum and the Jubel park Museum. At its northwest end you can visit the Great Mosque of Brussels and the Temple of Human Passions.
4 – Shopping at the Galeries Royales Saint Hubert
The Saint Hubert Royal Galleries house a group of luxury shops in an area located near the Brussels Grand-Place. Built in the mid-19th century, this glass-roofed structure offers many designer boutiques, including some that have dressed the Belgian royal family. Also, if you like pralines, the original Neuhaus shop has been here since 1857.
5 – Do not miss it: Cathedral of San Miguel and Santa Gúdula
The Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula dates back to the 9th century, making it one of the oldest buildings in Brussels. Inspired by Notre-Dame de Paris, this hilltop church hides a beautiful vaulted interior with 16th-century polychrome stained glass windows and offers views of the Belgian capital’s city skyline. It also houses several archaeological remains open to the public, including a very well preserved Romanesque crypt below the choir. If you want to learn more about the history of the building, you can book a place on a free guided tour with the Brussels Church and Tourism organisation.
6 – The Atomium, See views of Brussels from the top sphere
The Atomium, built in 1958, is one of the country’s most popular attractions. The 102-meter-high structure features nine interconnected spheres. In six of them you can visit exhibitions on the history of Belgium and on science, design and society.
We also recommend taking the elevator in the central tube of the building to walk through the structure, which represents the nine atoms of an iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times. The elevator will take you to the upper sphere, where you will find a restaurant with panoramic views of the city skyline. We recommend that you return at night to see how some 3,000 light bulbs illuminate this emblematic structure.
7 – Try the moules et frites
The famous moules et frites combine two of Brussels’ specialities, boiled mussels and crispy fries. This delicacy is usually served in a casserole with about a dozen mussels cooked in white wine, onions, parsley and butter, and accompanied by thick-cut French fries.
The best time to enjoy this typical Belgian dish is between September and December, but you’ll find it in most breweries throughout the year. Locals often recommend these places: Au Vieux Bruxelles, a historic tavern dating back to 1882, Le Zinneke, where you can choose from 70 varieties, and Le Chou de Bruxelles, for its homemade fries.
8 – Discover the house of Belgian architect Victor Horta
Once the home and studio of Belgian architect Victor Horta, the eponymous museum is the epitome of Art Nouveau romanticism from the turn of the last century. Its spiral staircases with wrought iron railings will take you to rooms adorned with polychrome stained glass windows, elegant furniture, utensils and pieces of art designed by Horta himself.
This prominent figure is behind some of Brussels’ most iconic buildings, including its UNESCO World Heritage-listed houses and the Temple of Human Passions in the Cinquantenaire Park. Guided tours, usually in French, English, Dutch and German, are held from 09:00 to 12:00 and from 14:00 to 16:30.