What to do in Brussels?
The Grand-Place is a beautiful, wide open cobbled medieval and is Brussels’ main market square. It is a great place to hang out and admire the elegant guildhouses which replaced all the wooden homes. Many have admired its beauty including Victor Hugo and Baudelaire who rhapsodised about its charm and appealing looks.
There is a daily flower market between March and October and often accompanied with concerts and a light show in the evening.
The square is where daily business is done and where a flurry of local bars and cafés are a superb example of top quality café culture.
2. Hôtel de Ville – Town Hall
While at the Grand-Place don’t forget to visit the Gothic Hôtel de Ville. It dates back to 1402 and is the seat of civic government. It is an attractive building with arched windows, towers and adorned with sculptures including St Michael slaying a she-devil. If you are feeling energetic, climb the 96 metre high Brabantine Gothic tower and enjoy the amazing views over the city.
3. Manneken-Pis – ‘Pissing Boy’ aka Petit Julien
The cheeky, chubby-cheeked Manneken-Pis is a major character in the folklore of Brussels. He is probably Brussels’ most photographed statue, yet it is only 60cm high. He was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy and is a small fountain piece where the water emerges from a tiny metal penis that the boys points at the viewer. He is usually stark-naked but sometimes he gets dressed. He has an impressive wardrobe of 600 outfits displayed in the Maison du Roi.
4. City Museum – Maison du Roi (French) – Broodhuis (Flemish)
This museum is dedicated to the history of Brussels, and if you have already seen the Manneken-Pis, in here you can take a look at his costumes. The history of Brussels is told over three floors from the Middle Ages to date.
5. Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée – Belgian Comic Strip Center
If you love cartoons, you may appreciate this museum dedicated to the comic strip. It is housed in the Waucquez Warehouse, a masterpiece in itself, designed by Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta. You will be taken on the journey a comic strip artist has to make from concept to shop. There’s over 5000 original drawings and an entire section to Belgium’s famous cartoon character hero – Tin Tin.
6. Heysel Park and the Atomium
Heysel park, located in the west of Brussels, is dedicated to recreation and leisure. In 1985, the European Champions Cup tragedy took place in the Heysel stadium killing several spectators. It has been redesigned since then and renamed Stade Roi Baudoin (King Baudoin Stadium).
One of the highlights of the park is the Atomium. This is a glistening 102 metre (335 ft) high model of an atom made out of chrome and steel designed by André Waterkeyn. To really appreciate this structure, take time to gaze up and enjoy the sheer enormity.
It is probably more impressive on the outside than inside but a high-speed, glass-roofed lift takes visitors to the top in just 23 seconds where you can stop for a beer and a snack, take in the views and then get the escalators down stopping off at the various spheres.
Next door to the Atomium is Bruparck, a 25 hectare leisure park of several amusements and attractions. This includes a 27 cinema complex called Kinepolis, an all-round Imax screen, a planetarium and a water park called L’Oceade plus a clutch of eateries in ‘The Village’.
Pride of place though goes to the a display of some of the most famous and symbolic buildings of the countries of the European Union at 1/25th of the original size. You will see gondolas, a TGV train on its way to Paris even hear the unmistakable chimes of Big Ben.
8. Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Koekelberg Basilica)
This Art Deco church is the fifth largest church in the world, located in the Koekelberg municipality of Brussels. Its impressive dimensions (89 metres high and 167 metres long) look out over the Parc Elisabeth. Though it is modelled on the Sacré-Coeur in Paris it is made of concrete, sandstone and red-brick and, unlike the original, is not gleeming white. King Leopold decided to build it in 1902 and he laid the first stone in 1905. It was finally completed in 1971 in time to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Belgian independence.
The cupola platform, which has a diameter of 33 metres, gives an excellent view over Brussels and the surrounding area.
9. Royal Museums of Fine Arts – Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts
This is, in fact, two museums. The Museum of Ancient Art founded by Napoleon and is particularly noted for its display of the geat works of Flanders. The other is the Museum of Modern Art. This was added in 1984 and comprises eight floors, many of which are underground. Between them, they offer over 600 years of fine art comprising paintings, sculptures and drawings.
No city break would be complete without a spot of shopping.
Antique lovers should descend upon the antiques market in Place du Grand Sablon where on the square and the streets panning out from the square, the discerning antique lover may find that special piece. Rue de la Paille, Rue des Minimes and Rue de Rollebeek are particularly interesting.
Brussels has its own flea market – the Jeu de Balle Flea Market. Rummage around here for gems, secondhand good and period furniture bargains.
Belgium chocolates ar a must buy. For pralines go to Chocolatier Mary, for a tearoom experience visit Wittamer and for a shop of exceptional displays try Pierre Marcolini. Some chocolates are encrusted with real, yet edible, gold.
If it has to be designer fashion then head for the Galleries. There are three Galeries Saint Hubert, Galeries du Roi and Galeries de la Reine. They are worth popping into just to take a look at the amazing glass roof.