Brussels is a city with many sights and faces, each facet of which is worth seeing. The city enchants with its contrasting architecture, which combines numerous renowned political institutions and cultural treasures. Brussels is a metropolis for gourmets, known far beyond Belgium’s borders for exquisite chocolate creations and crispy fries. Belgium’s capital is like an open-air museum, with new Brussels sights to discover in every corner.
Tip 1: Grand Place
A beautiful name for the center of a city: Grand Place (“Big Square”, also “Grote Markt” in Flemish). And an even more beautiful place because of its magnificent architecture. Because around the Grande Place are magnificently decorated houses with their baroque facades and gables. Since 1998, by the way, the square is included in the list of the World Heritage Site of UNESCO.
A square was laid out here early, in the 11th century. In 1695, French groups attacked Brussels and destroyed the Grand Place. The Brussels guilds then simply rebuilt the square. During the reconstruction, the city council paid attention to the uniformity of the buildings. By the way, the south side of the square is slightly slanted, so there is no right angle in the southeast corner.
It is the great facades that define the charm of the square. In the evening they are wonderfully illuminated. As individual buildings, the most striking in the Grand Place is the City Hall (Hôtel de Ville or Stadhuis) with its richly decorated exterior with the many sculptures and its tower. Also noteworthy is the Maison du Roi (also: Broodhuis) on the opposite side with its neo-Gothic facade. It now houses the City Museum, where, among other things, the costumes of Manneken Pis are on display.
Also located here are the guild houses, which are strung together like pearls on a string. Especially the view upwards to the magnificent gables is worthwhile.
Tip 2: Atomium
One of the most unusual and fascinating buildings in the world: an incredibly small particle (namely an atom) was built in Brussels as a big house to enter and discover: The Atomium. The landmark of Brussels was created in 1958 for the World’s Fair.
An elementary cell of an iron crystal structure was enlarged 165 billion times: The result is the Atomium. It was a symbol of the peaceful use of nuclear energy and of the optimistic spirit of a time when faith in scientific and technical progress was great.
The Atomium is 102 meters high, with 12 edges ending at 9 spheres, each 18 meters in diameter.
The spheres are connected by tubes 23 meters long. Everything is big enough here, there are escalators in the tubes, and an elevator in the middle tube that takes visitors directly to the upper sphere.
The top sphere is where the tour begins: there is a restaurant and an observation deck from which visitors have a great view over the rooftops of Brussels, the former Expo site and the Mini-Europe park. From the top sphere, the escalators in the tubes take you down to the other spheres.
Tip 3: Royal Palace of Brussels
The Royal Palace is the official palace of the Belgian kings. This should be mentioned in particular, because the royal family does not reside here at all (but in Laeken Castle). The palace in the center of Brussels is used for all official occasions. The king has his study here, receives guests, gives audiences and and…
The Palais Royal is located at the beginning of the royal park, which starts directly behind the “Place des Palais”. Through the park runs an axis that marks both the center of the Palace Royal and the center of the Palais de la Nation (the Parliament) on the opposite side.
The royal family resides in Laeken Palace. The Palais Royal is the official residence where the King performs his duties: audiences, state receptions and all other official duties. King Philipe has his study here, moreover, his collaborators of the offices of the Court (the Chief of Cabinet, Head of the Millitary House, Chief of Protocol, etc.) have their offices here. Thus, the Royal Palace represents the constitutional monarchy of Belgium.
There are also various magnificent halls where, among other things, the state receptions are held. The highlight is the Great Gallery, its ceiling paintings depicting the times of day from dawn to dusk. It is furnished with furniture from the 19th century.
The palace houses many works of art, including those by Jan Fabre, Marthe Wéry and Dirk Braeckman. In 2002, contemporary art was also installed in the palace, such as “Heaven of Delight” by artist Jean Fabre: the ceiling of the Hall of Mirrors was covered with 1.4 million green shimmering Thai tanks of scarabs. In them the light reflects greenish shimmer.
Tip 4: Manneken Pis
The little urinating guy is THE landmark of Brussels. By the way, Manneken Pis is also called “Petit Julien”. Similar bronze statues or replicas also exist in Duisburg, Tokyo and other cities. However, the statue in Brussels is the oldest, of which the people of Brussels are quite proud.
The bronze statue is located on the corner of Rue de l’Etuve and Rue des Grands Carmes. The little man is actually only 61 cm tall. That is why many tourists tend to be disappointed when they see him for the first time. But the story of Manneken Pis is exciting: after all that the little man had to go through, he thoroughly deserved the fame.
The bronze statue by sculptor Jérôme Duquesnoy was erected in 1619, at that time still on a column. It replaced a predecessor figure (also a peeing boy). The fountain served as a source of clean drinking water for the population of Brussels. In 1770, the column disappeared and the stone niche that still exists today was created.
According to legend, the model was the little boy Julianske, who overheard enemy besiegers and urinated at the right moment on an already burning fuse. In this way he prevented the city walls from being blown up.
Thus, Manneken Pis has always been a symbol of impudence, courage, but also freedom of expression and spirit of resistance.
On special occasions, the statue is dressed up. All costumes (now over 900 pieces) can be seen in a separate exhibition, the “GardeRobe MannekenPis” in the Rue du Chêne 19.
Tip 5: Parc du Cinquantenaire
The Parc du Cinquantenaire is quite large with its 37 ha and a popular recreation area for the people of Brussels. Here you can really relax or go jogging. In the park itself there is a complex of buildings and the Brussels Arc de Triomphe. By the way, the main road N3 passes under the park, in the middle of the park for part of the N3 the tunnel is open to the top.
Actually, in the place of the park there was a parade ground a little outside the city. In 1880 Belgium celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence and a world exhibition. A large park with pavilions was needed and was built on the old parade ground. The 50-meter-high triumphal arch and the long halls on both sides of the arch are particularly striking.
The triumphal arch is the entrance gate to the park. It illustrates the history of the city of Brussels. Although planned for the 1880 World’s Fair, the arch was completed much later, in 1905. On the arch is a quadriga, allegorical statues at the feet of the columns represent Belgian provinces.