Choose from 45 Fun Things to Do in Brussels
Brussels is the administrative heart of the European Union and the Espace Léopold buildings are where parliament meets throughout the year to debate and discuss the future of Europe. The main building of the European Union Parliament complex is the Paul-Henri Spaak building, an impressive glass structure with a distinctive arched roof, it’s been nicknamed "Caprice des Dieux" (whim of the gods) after a similarly shaped French cheese.
The hemicycle is where parliament debates; it seats the 736 Members of the parliament, numerous translators and a gallery for the general public. The semicircular shape is designed to encourage consensus among the political parties.
There are a number of interesting works of art on public view including May Claerhout’s sculpture Europa, which has become a favorite among tourists.
Work is continuing on a state-of-the-art visitors center, but in the meantime guided multimedia tours are available on weekdays. When parliament is sitting the public are allowed to sit and watch proceedings from the public area.
The closest bus stop is Luxembourg Square and any bus that stops there will drop you at the entrance between the Willy Brandt and József Antall buildings - walk between these buildings to reach the Paul-Henri Spaak building.
The church was built over two centuries (13th-15th) and houses a substantial collection of artworks. The most celebrated of the church’s art collection is a white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child, created by Michaelangelo in the early 16th century – it is one of the very few Michaelangelo pieces that can be seen outside of Italy. The Church of Our Lady also holds an oil painting depiction of the crucifixion by the Flemish Baroque artist Anthony van Dyck, and a rococo pulpit by Bruges artist Jan Antoon Garemijn.
Behind the altar, in the choir space, you will find the twin gilded bronze tomb sculptures of the duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold and his daughter, Mary of Burgundy. A windowpane underneath the tombs offers a view of the 13th- and 14th-century graves of priests.
- Visits to the palace during the summer opening are free but only possible as part of an official guided tour.
- The palace is fully wheelchair accessible.
Reaching up to 335 feet (102 m) the Atomium underwent a much-needed and rigorous facelift in the early 2000s; the spheres were originally made of an aluminum skin but this has been replaced by stainless steel. An elevator shoots up the central column to the five spheres that are currently open to the public; three provide a permanent record of Expo 58 and two host temporary interactive art and science displays.
The highest sphere stands at 300 feet (92 m) above the ground and now has a glass roof, allowing 360° views across the Heysel Plain towards Brussels; on a clear day Antwerp’s cathedral spire can be spotted on the horizon. This level is also home to Atomium Restaurant, which serves brasserie-style dishes with the finest views in Belgium. At night all nine orbs are illuminated with nearly 3,000 twinkling lights.
The Burg is just a short stroll from the Markt (Bruges’ other town square) and is home to a collection of historic buildings, which together represent almost every era in Bruges’ history. The most impressive buildings include the late medieval town hall, the Renaissance-style old civil registry and the neo-classical court of justice. The Burg is also home to the contemporary Toyo Ito pavilion, which sits on a shallow circle of water in the ruins of St. Donatius Church, built in the 10th century and destroyed during French occupation in 1799. The Toyo Ito pavilion was built to commemorate Bruges’ appointment as Cultural Capital of Europe in 2002.
Breidelstraat, a short street that connects the Burg to the Markt, is lined with souvenir shops and restaurants.
- It’s free to visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood, but donations are welcome.
- The basilica is a working church and services are held twice a day.
- The church is closed daily between noon and 2pm.
- The basilica is wheelchair accessible.
In 1731 this imposing palace was destroyed by fire but it was not until 40 years later that its ruins were pulled down and the site flattened in preparation for the building of today’s stately Palais Royal.
The cellars and chapel of the original palace can now be viewed underground as they stretch far underneath the present-day Rue Royale. Once open to the elements, the forgotten medieval cobbled Rue Isabelle is now below the Place Royale. It ran alongside the Coudenberg Palace up to the Cathedral of Sts-Michael-and-Gudula on nearby Place Ste-Gudule.
Artifacts recovered from 25 years of excavation on the site at Coudenberg are now displayed at Hoogstraeten House, which was one of many aristocratic mansions that bordered the grounds of Coudenberg Place. Exhibits include clay pipes, armor and Venetian glassware.
- Grand Place is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, although access may be limited during special events. Admission is free.
- The best initial view of the Grand Place may be from the Rue des Harengs, one of six narrow side streets leading to the square.
- The cobblestone-covered square may be challenging for those in wheelchairs or with strollers.
- Place du Grand Sablon is a must-see for culture, food, and history lovers.
- Wear comfortable shoes to explore the cobbled lanes of the Sablon District.
- The Place du Grand Sablon is wheelchair accessible, although if you’re attending the market it’s a good idea to arrive early to browse before crowds arrive.
Begun in 1402, this beloved local landmark was largely designed by Flemish architect Jacob van Thienen, but its distinctive lacy central belfry is the work of his compatriot Jan van Ruysbroeck and doubles the height of the façade, reaching up to 320 feet (97 m). It is adorned with a copper statue of St Michael – the patron saint of Brussels – killing a dragon; the belfry is useful to navigate by when lost in the charming tangle of streets of Brussels old city, especially when gloriously floodlit at night. The entire building is encrusted with 294 sculptures of saints and public figures, which were added by 91 different artists during the late 19th century.
A tour of the interior begins with a stunning marble staircase lined with busts of the mayors of Brussels from 1830 onwards and incorporates visits to the Gothic Chamber, Marriage Chamber and College Chamber. They are all largely neo-Gothic in style, thanks to the 19th-century restoration of the town hall, and are decorated with burnished wood paneling and ornate tapestries depicting ancient trades.
A large public park, the Cinquantenaire Park (or "Parc du Cinquantenaire" as it is known in French) is dominated by buildings built for the 1880 National Exhibition which also celebrated fifty years of Belgian independence. The centerpiece of the park is a triumphal arch finished in 1905.
To the north of the arch is the Royal Military Museum. To the south are the Royal Museums for Art and History (these hold artifacts gathered from around the world), and AutoWorld, a vintage car museum with over 350 classic cars, one of the largest collections in Europe.
If you’re looking for an impressive place to lie under a tree the Cinquantenaire Park is especially lovely in the summer when it’s filled with locals making the most of the sunshine.
Also in summer the area surrounding the arch is turned into a drive-in cinema. There’s discounted tickets for people driving vintage cars and a lawn reserved for people on bicycle or foot.
If you want to wander through the park, the closest station is Schuman to the west. If you're heading straight to the museums then Merode to the west will get you there quicker.
The Palace of Justice is believed to be the largest building constructed in the 19th century. It’s covers 260,000 square feet (24,000 square meters) and dominates the Sablon area.
It was built on an area known as Gallows Hill overlooking the working-class parts of the city. Around 3,000 houses were demolished to make way for the building that is larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This angered locals and the word "architect" became a derogatory term.
The style of the imposing grey building is described as Assyro-Babylonian. It’s dominated by columns and a large glittering golden dome. The courts were commissioned by Leopold II and designed by Joseph Poelaert, and ended up costing 45 million Belgian francs to build.
The closest train station is Louise and the 92 tram, which travels past the Royal Palace, is also close by. Alternatively, there is a great glass elevator that will take you from Place Bruegel in the Marolles to Place Poelaert and also delivers great views of the city on the way.
- Park highlights include the mini models of Mount Vesuvius erupting, the Berlin Wall coming down, and Spanish matadors fighting bulls.
- The Mini-Europe park is fully wheelchair accessible.
- Large bags and suitcases are not allowed in the Mini-Europe Park.
- The Markt is a must for all visitors to Bruges.
- Cafés—many with outdoor terraces—are dotted around the square.
- Bring a camera; the step-gabled houses around the square make a picturesque photo backdrop.
- The surface of the square is cobbled and uneven, so wear appropriate shoes.