20 Best Things to Do in Brussels

Colorful buildings in Brussels, Belgium

Jorg Greuel / Getty Images

From some of the world's favorite comic strips to the best chocolate on the planet, Belgium's capital offers something to enjoy for every type of traveler. And while the city can often seem somewhat business-oriented, it's also home to a thriving nightlife as well as a rich landscape of cultural and historical attractions welcoming guests of all ages.

Whether you're stopping by the Grand-Place to browse goods from local merchants or eating some of the country's best chocolates at Choco-Story, no trip to Brussels, Belgium, is complete without visiting one of these top attractions.

01 of 20

See How European Parliament Really Works

A look at the Hemicycle at European Parliament in Brussels

Laura Zulian Photography / Getty Images

Address
Pl. du Luxembourg 100, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 283 22 22

Did you know Brussels is officially the capital of Belgium and Europe? It's also home to the Hemicycle, where European Parliament members gather to hold important debates and historic votes that affect everyone who lives in the European Union (EU).

Admission to the Hemicycle and nearby Parlamentarium—the official visitor's center of European Parliament, where you can learn about the Members and the major issues they're dealing with via interactive exhibits—is free, though you must reserve a spot ahead of time online. While the ability to sit in on plenary sessions is no longer possible, you can still download the multimedia guide and make your way around the Hemicycle at your own pace or join in on a 60-minute guided talk. You'll have to deal with airport-level security to enter, so pack your day bag accordingly (bring your I.D. and leave anything remotely questionable at the hotel).

Free 90-minute guided walking tours that lead you around the exterior of the buildings are also available during the spring and summer if you'd rather hear more about the history of European Parliament and the people who made it possible. You'll start by meeting at Station Europe in the old Place du Luxembourg train station before walking along the Esplanade Solidarność 1980 and ending the tour in Leopold Park, home to the House of European History, which is also free and worth a visit.

02 of 20

Discover the History Behind Modern Medicine

Ye olde medical instruments on display at the Musée de la Médecine Brussels

Musée de la Médecine Brussels

Address
Rte de Lennik 808, 1070 Anderlecht, Belgium
Phone +32 2 555 34 31

Both macabre and educational, Le Musée de la Médecine (the Museum of Medicine) offers exhibits about the many ways people have tried to stay healthy since the earliest days of human history, whether by praying to immortal beings or focusing on the latest surgical advancements.

The museum also houses a collection of medical books dating back to the 16th century, more than 1,500 medicinal objects (which are said to be the oldest in Europe), and more than 300 anatomical wax figures so you can get a better look at what goes on inside the human body.

03 of 20

Get Your Fill of Belgian Waffles

A delicious close up of a Belgian Waffle, Brussels style with only powdered sugar on top

jopstock / Getty Images

Address
Rue Charles Buls 14, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 512 65 88

If enormous waffles covered in sweet treats come to mind when you think of Belgium, you're not alone. What you may not realize, after seeing Belgian waffles made all over the world, is that the locals here typically only eat them with a dusting of powdered sugar instead of all the toppings you're probably used to.

Traditionally, they're made either light and fluffy (Brussels Waffles) or thicker and crunchier (Liege Waffles) and aren't eaten for breakfast, but as a sweet snack any time of day. Head to Maison Dandoy's tea room, where you can try them local-style or with a variety of fruit and ice cream toppings.

04 of 20

Feast on Delicious Belgian Chocolate

Chocolates from Pierre Marcolinio

Lonely Planet / Getty Images

Address
Rue de l'Etuve 41, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 514 20 48

As you probably know, Belgium is famous around the world for its rich chocolates. Learn everything you always wanted to about the delicate treat at the Choco-Story Museum, which offers a look at some truly extraordinary sculptures—made of chocolate, of course!—as well as demonstrations of the subtle art of chocolate-making.

Once you're suitably knowledgeable in the craft, it’s time to do some serious chocolate buying. If you’re willing to splurge, try Pierre Marcolini, where the owner chooses the unprocessed cocoa beans used in his confectionary treats personally. This master of the art has various stores in Brussels, but for a centrally located and well-stocked store option, head to 1 Rue des Minimes, where the delicious taste combinations are sure to impress.

You can also visit the shop where members of the Belgian royal family have been indulging their sweet teeth since 1919. Mary is unashamedly old-fashioned and elegant, making it the premier place in Brussels to buy gilded, decorative gift boxes. The only problem will be getting them home without devouring the lot!

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05 of 20

Toast to Brussels' Legendary Beer Scene

la Mort Subite

Lonely Planet / Getty Images

Address
Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potagères 7, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 513 13 18

Take a tour of some of Brussels' many breweries to sample all of the latest batches of Belgian brews. In the city, you’ll be spoiled with options for great beer cellars, many of which can be found around the Grand-Place.

One Brussels bar, pictured here, combines a fabulous Art Nouveau interior with its own eponymous beer: A la Mort Subite (sudden death). It’s worth seeking out and has been famous since the days when Belgian singer-songwriter, actor, and director Jacques Brel made it his local hangout. 

For more examples of Art Deco style in Brussels, stop by the legendary L’Archiduc, a fabulous Brussels bar located in the heart of the Anneessens district, for a relaxing drink you can sip to the sounds of jazz piano. Originally opened in 1937, L'Archiduc is considered to be one of the main cultural hubs of the city and as such, hosts a variety of musical events all year long. Just a few blocks from the Grand Casino Brussels, L'Archiduc is a great place to grab a cocktail, view local art, and enjoy some live music in a relaxed setting. 

06 of 20

Watch the World Go by in the Grand-Place

Grand-Place

TripSavvy / Gautier Houba

Address
Grand-Place, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium

Make time to stop by the Grand-Place, one of Europe’s most beautiful squares. The heart of Brussels began as a thriving market, soon spreading out into the surrounding maze of streets: Rue au Beurre (butter street), Rue des Bouchers (butchers street), Rue du Marché aux Poulets (chicken market), Rue du Marché Aux Herbes (herb market), and Rue du Marché aux Fromages (cheese market).

In the Grand-Place itself, rich merchants built glorious guild houses as headquarters for different trades, and it’s these gilded, ornate buildings along with an astonishing town hall that give the grand square its wow factor. Many of the guild houses now sport pretty ground floor cafés that spill onto the terrace, making the Grand-Place the perfect place for a leisurely coffee or a Belgian beer as you watch the world pass you by.

Note that at Grand-Place establishments, you’ll be paying tourist rates in exchange for excellent entertainment. Try La Brouette, which has a roaring fire inside during the winter, plenty of outdoor seating during the summer, and a balcony open throughout the year for a bird’s eye view over the scene below. 

07 of 20

Walk the Comic Book Route and Visit the Comics Art Museum

Cartoon Trail

TripSavvy / Gautier Houba 

Address
Rue des Sables 20, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 219 19 80

Comic strip art is alive and well all across Brussels. No matter where you go, you'll come across huge murals painted on the sides of buildings. Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Snowy escape from a hotel in "The Calculus Affair" on Rue de l’Etuve just off the Grand-Place, while the mighty and impossibly good-looking Scorpion looks down on you with his sword drawn in Rue du Treurenberg. Check the Brussels tourism board website for a list of famous street art as well as maps and routes so you can do a self-guided walking tour of the famous Comic Book Route.

Once you're done admiring the street art, head to the Comics Art Museum (Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée), where you can see a large model of the rocket from Tintin’s "Destination Moon" adventure. While Tintin is definitely the main focus, you'll also see other characters from the famous Belgian comic strip including Tintin's companions, Snowy and Captain Haddock, as well as Lucky Luke and the Smurfs, among others. The Comics Art Museum also features permanent exhibitions explaining how the comic strip was developed by Tintin's creator Hergé, as well as a whole section on Peyo complete with a realistic 3D Smurf village.

Temporary exhibitions cover everything about the Ninth Art, housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau industrial building, originally designed by Belgian architect Victor Horta in 1906. While you're there, grab a bite at the Horta Brasserie and some unique comic-themed souvenirs from the gift shop.

08 of 20

Marvel at the City's Art Nouveau Heritage

Art Nouveau Building

TripSavvy / Gautier Houba

Address
Rue Américaine 27, 1060 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 543 04 90

Brussels is known for its beautiful Art Nouveau style buildings, largely constructed at the turn of the 19th century. Purchase a brochure about them from the Brussels Tourism Office to learn more about the unique architecture of the city center and its surrounding districts. If time allows, opt for a guided walking tour with ARAU, which is given in English and leads guests through the streets, with guides pointing out houses featuring those famous swirling, sinuous balconies, elaborate doorways and, high up under the eaves, panels of mosaics that catch the sunlight.

Stop by the Victor Horta Museum to see the former home of the architect who designed so many of the Art Nouveau buildings found in Brussels. Everything, from the door knockers to the bathroom furniture, has been beautifully maintained, making for a truly remarkable look into the life of the famed architect who once called it home.

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09 of 20

Enter the Surreal World of René Magritte

René Magritte - Baucis' Landscape, 1966

Charly Herscovici, Brussels

Address
Pl. Royale 1, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 508 32 11

Known for his paintings and other works, Surrealist artist René Magritte lived a relatively normal life in the Belgian countryside. If you want to visit the house where he spent his adulthood, catch the 74 tram out to the suburb of Jette.

After you tour his home, spend some time in his distinctly weird world at the Musée René Magritte on the Mont des Arts in central Brussels. It’s a comprehensive trot, with four floors full of everything from his earliest advertisements to the peculiar realm of bowler hats, pipes, odd figures, and dream-like clouds that fill his paintings.

10 of 20

Explore Trendy Sainte-Catherine

Ste Catherine

TripSavvy / Gautier Houba

Address
Rue des Riches Claires 23, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 474 05 58 40

The Sainte-Catherine district, located across from the old Bourse (stock exchange), is a trendy and modern shopping and dining destination in itself, home to some of the city's best new restaurants. If you're interested in sightseeing, don’t miss the delightful Notre-Dame-aux-Riches-Claires, a Flemish baroque church that is well worth venturing into if it’s open.

To the west, Rue Antoine Dansaert is full of fashion-forward shops with a reputation for cutting-edge design. Step into Annemie Verbeke for asymmetrical, often hand-worked women’s clothing or try Martin Margiela for some of the most fashionable styles in town.

You also won’t want to miss the Marché aux Poissons (the old fish market), once the main harbor of Brussels where ships from around the world unloaded everything from salted herrings and timber to grain coal and silk. Today, you'll find plenty of notable fish restaurants along the waterfront, like Restaurant François, which has served lobster, crab, and other seafood since 1922. 

11 of 20

Enjoy Nature Just Outside the City Center

Bois de la Chambre

TripSavvy / Gautier Houba

Address
Brussels, Belgium
Phone +32 2 279 61 00

Although the sprawling cityscape may make you think the city is entirely industrial, Brussels is actually one of the greenest cities in Europe. It's also located on the northern edge of the Forêt de Soignes (the Sonian Forest), so you don't have to travel too far to be immersed in nature. Head to the beautiful landscaped gardens of Bois de la Cambre, about a 10-minute drive from the city center, for a nice break from all the hustle and bustle.

For an easy day trip, take the 71 or 81 bus to Flagey. From there, it’s a short walk south to the Abbaye de la Cambre, a monastery with beautiful gardens. Along the way, you'll walk on streets lined with Art Nouveau buildings past the Etangs d’Ixelles ponds and their fountains. The Cistercian abbey was founded in 1201; today you can see the 18th-century yellow stone buildings that house the Belgian National Geographic Institute and an art school. Wander into the church, stroll past the ponds, and sit on a bench to take in the birdsong and the peace of this well-landscaped park.

12 of 20

Marvel at The Atomium

The giant atominum statue

TripSavvy / Gautier Houba

Address
Pl. de l'Atomium 1, Laeken 1020 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 475 47 75

Originally constructed for the 1958 World's Fair, The Atomium is a landmark building in Brussels located on the Heysel Plateau that now serves as a museum. The sculpture atop this building is actually the molecular composition of an iron crystal, magnified to 165 billion times its size.

Take in 360 views of Brussels from The Atomium or go on a surrealistic walk through its tubes and spheres. Afterward, wander through the permanent exhibit to learn more about the history of the building and pick up a souvenir from the gift shop.

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13 of 20

See a Whole Continent at Mini-Europe

Mini-Europe

Wikimedia Commons 

Address
Av. du Football 1, Laeken 1020 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 474 13 13

Mini-Europe is a miniature park, located in Bruparck at the foot of The Atomium, that showcases scale models of European cities and monuments. The entire park takes under two hours to explore and features some of the most beautiful towns in Europe.

Though closed each year from mid-January to late-March, Mini-Europe is open to the public daily and tickets are required to see the monuments. Special events like the Spirit of Europe festival are held here throughout the year as well.

14 of 20

Shop at Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert and Jeu de Balle Flea Market

Architecture of Gallery Saint Hubert

TripSavvy / Gautier Houba

Address
Galerie du Roi 5, 1000 Brussel, Belgium
Phone +32 2 545 09 90

The first indoor shopping arcade in Brussels, Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is a magnificent building lined with high-end shops, theaters, cafes, and a variety of unique boutiques.

Designed and built by Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer between 1846 and 1847, the shopping center stretches out over three separate sections called the King's Gallery, the Queen's Gallery, and the Gallery of the Princes. Whether you're looking to shop or you just want to admire this architectural marvel, it's a great destination, one that's now included in UNESCO's "Tentative List" in the cultural heritage category for World Heritage sites.

Nearby, shopping enthusiasts have been haggling over every object you could imagine at the Jeu de Balle Flea Market since 1919. It’s open daily, with traders selling furniture, jewelry, ornate lampshades, glasses of every size, color, and shape, and other odds and ends.

The market is in the Marolles in what is traditionally the working-class district of Brussels, where you can still hear the distinct Flemish-based dialect spoken today. From a thriving area for artisans in the 17th century to a slum in the 1870s, the Marolles started to become fashionable in the 1980s. Walk along the two roads that lead to the square (Rue Blaes and Rue Haute) for an eclectic mix of antiques shops, bars, and restaurants.

15 of 20

Admire Modern Art at MIMA

Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art

Miguel Discart / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Address
Quai du Hainaut 41, 1080 Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Belgium
Phone +32 472 61 03 51

The Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art (MIMA) is one of the coolest museums in the country, featuring a range of art forms including graffiti, digital, and mixed-media.

Located inside the former Bellevue Breweries building overlooking the canal, MIMA is open Wednesday through Sunday throughout the year. A variety of permanent and rotating exhibits decorate the halls of MIMA, while you can pick up art prints, books, and supplies as well as tasty treats and drinks at the onsite gift shop and cafe.  

16 of 20

Play a Tune at the Musical Instrument Museum

Musical Instrument Museum

TripSavvy / Gautier Houba

Address
Rue Montagne de la Cour 2, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 545 01 30

Besides chocolate and comics, Brussels is a city that truly appreciates and celebrates music in its many forms. If you want to explore and discover its musical history (and that of the rest of the world), visit the Musical Instrument Museum for a look at more than 6,000 unique music makers.

Located near the Palais du Coudenberg and Mont des Arts in the Royal Quarter of Brussels, the MIM also houses its own concert hall, specialized library, museum shop, and workshop for restoring and conserving historical musical devices.

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17 of 20

Discover Art Deco at Villa Empain

Villa Empain

Wikimedia Commons 

Address
Av. Franklin Roosevelt 67, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 627 52 30

Brussels isn't just known for its Art Nouveau architecture; by the 1920s, Art Deco had begun taking over sections of the city as well. One of the best examples of this new design style came in the form of Villa Empain, a beautiful building designed by Swiss architect Michel Polak.

Now open to the public and offering tours by the Boghossian Foundation, Villa Empain is considered to be a masterpiece of the Art Deco era. The Villa is also home to a culture and arts center that hosts a variety of workshops, discussions, and panels about all things modern and classic art.

18 of 20

Indulge in Decadence at the Van Buuren Museum

Van Buuren Museum

Wikimedia Commons 

Address
Av. Léo Errera 41, 1180 Uccle, Belgium
Phone +32 2 343 48 51

Another famous site for Art Deco style can be found just a 15-minute drive from Brussels in Uccle. The Van Buuren Museum is the former home of David and Alice Van Buuren, who spent more than 30 years transforming the estate into a living museum highlighting the works of famous artists, including Van Gogh.

The grounds are also home to the Garden of Hearts, a beautifully curated sculpture and flower garden that surrounds the estate. The Van Buuren Museum is open daily except Tuesdays, with guided and self-guided tours of the mansion, garden, and bookstore available year-round.

19 of 20

Visit Notre Dame Du Sablon

The ornate facade of Notre Dame Du Sablon

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

Address
Rue des Sablons, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Phone +32 2 213 00 65

Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon (Church of Our Lady of Victories at the Sablon) is a Late Gothic church that's one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Once used as a chapel by the Archer's Guild, this 14th-century structure located just outside the city center offers tours throughout the year and still serves as a place of worship.

20 of 20

Find the Peeing Statues

Peeing statue in Brussels

TripSavvy / Gautier Houba

Address
1000 Brussels, Belgium

Of the many odd art installations in Brussels, the statues of a small boy, a small girl, and a small dog relieving themselves on the city streets are probably the strangest. Known as Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis, and Zinneke Pis, these statues can be found throughout Brussels; local residents often dress up Manneken and Jeanneke in colorful outfits.

While Manneken was installed in 1619, his sister Jeanneke and their dog Zinneke weren't installed until the late 1980s and 1990s. You'll find Manneken on the corner of Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat; Zinneke at the corner of Rue des Chartreux and Rue du Vieux Marché aux grains; and Jeanneke across the street from the Délirium Café on Impasse de la Fidélité near the Rue des Bouchers.

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The Top 20 Things to Do in Brussels