From the history of some of the world's favorite comics to the most famous chocolate on the planet, Belgium's capital offers something to enjoy for every type of traveler. 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 that welcome guests of all ages.
Whether you're stopping by the Grand-Place to browse goods from local merchants or you're eating some of the country's best chocolates at the famous Choco-Story, no trip to Brussels, Belgium, is complete without visiting one of these top 20 attractions in the city.
Watch the World Go by in the Grand-Place
One of the best ways to start your trip around Brussels is to visit 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 little streets: the rues au Beurre (Butter Street), the rue des Bouchers (Butchers Street), and the marchés aux Poulets, aux Herbes, and aux Fromages (Chicken Market, Herb Market, and Cheese Markets).
In the Grand-Place itself, rich merchants built glorious guild houses as headquarters for the different trades, and it’s these gilded, ornate buildings—along with an astonishing town hall—that give the very grand square its wow factor. Many of the guild houses now have 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 go by.
At establishments in the Grand-Place, you’ll be paying tourist rates but getting great entertainment for your money. 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.
Get Up Close to Tintin at the Belgium Comic Strip Center
Walk into the Comic Strip Center (Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée) and the first thing you see is a large model of the rocket in Tintin’s "Destination Moon" adventure.
Tintin is definitely the hero of the center, but you'll also see other characters of the famous Belgian comic including Tintin's companions, Snowy and Captain Haddock, as well as Lucky Luke, the Smurfs, and several others. The Center also features a permanent exhibition that explains how the comic strip developed, an exhibition on Tintin's creator Hergé, and a whole section on Peyo with a realistic 3D Smurf village.
Temporary exhibitions cover everything about the Ninth Art, housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau industrial building designed by the Belgian architect Victor Horta in 1906 for a textile tycoon. While you're there, you can also eat in the Horta Brasserie and stock up your bookshelves in the excellent shop.
Walk the Cartoon Trail
The Belgium Comic Strip Center isn't the only place in the city where you can go to experience its rich cultural ties to Tintin and other comic heroes; comic strip art is alive and well all across the city of 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" in 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. To discover all the city has to offer, you should check out the Brussels tourist website for a list of famous art as well as maps and routes for a self-guided tour around the cartoon trail or take a walking tour with an English-speaking guide.
Grab a Bargain at the Weekly Jeu de Balle Flea Market
Since 1919, enthusiasts have been haggling over every object you could imagine at the weekly Jeu de Balle flea market. It’s open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays, but the weekends (Saturday and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.) bring out many more traders offering furniture, ornate lampshades, jewelry, glasses of every size, color, and shape, and a variety of odd objects.
The market is in the Marolles, traditionally the working-class district of Brussels where you can still hear the Marolles dialect, which is based on Flemish. From a thriving area for artisans in the 17th century to a slum in the 1870s, 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 antique and junk shops, bars and restaurants.
Marvel at the City's Art Nouveau Heritage
Brussels has beautiful Art Nouveau buildings, which were largely constructed at the turn of the 19th century. You can buy an excellent brochure at the Brussels Tourist Office, which covers the architecture of the city center and surrounding districts, or you can take a guided walking tour in English from ARAU, which will lead you through the streets, pointing out houses with those famous swirling, sinuous balconies, elaborate doorways and, high up under the eaves, panels of mosaics that catch the sun.
If you have time for only one visit, make it to the Victor Horta Museum, the former home of the architect who designed so many Art Nouveau buildings found in Brussels. Everything in the Victor Horta has been beautifully maintained—from the door knockers to the bathroom furniture—making for a truly remarkable look into the life of the famed architect who once lived there.
Explore the Surreal World of René Magritte
Although known for his surreal paintings and works of art, René Magritte lived a relatively normal life in the Belgian countryside. If you want to visit the house where the Surrealist artist René Magritte 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, on four floors, through his life from his job producing adverts to his own peculiar world of bowler hats, pipes, odd figures, and dream-like clouds that fill his paintings.
Afterward, continue your Magritte-inspired adventure by following in his footsteps for a drink in the atmospheric Le Greenwich where he played chess with his friends.
Have a Beer at A la Mort Subite
If sampling Magritte's favorite beer wasn't enough to satisfy your craving for Belgium's other famous export (beer), also take a tour of a few of the 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.
However, one bar 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 Jacques Brel made it his local hangout.
Enjoy a Green Oasis at the Bois de la Cambre
Although the sprawling cityscape of Brussels may make you think it's entirely covered by industry, Brussels is actually one of the greenest cities in Europe. It's also located on the northern edge of the huge Forêt de Soignes, which means you don't have to travel too far outside the city to be immersed in nature either.
If you want to get away from the city, take the 71 or 81 bus to Flagey, and from there it’s a short walk south to the Abbaye de la Cambre. Along the way, you'll walk through streets lined with Art Nouveau buildings and past the ponds of the Etangs d’Ixelles with their splashing 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. While there, 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.
Explore Trendy Sainte-Catherine
The Sainte-Catherine district, located just opposite the old Bourse (stock exchange), is a trendy, modern destination for shopping and dining at some of the city's best new restaurants and shops. Also, if you're interested in sightseeing, don’t miss the delightful Notre-Dame-aux-Riches-Claires, a Flemish baroque church that is well worth going into if it’s open.
To the west, rue Antoine Dansaert is full of fashion shops with a reputation for cutting-edge design. Step into Annemie Verbeke for asymmetrical, often hand-worked women’s clothes, or walk to Martin Margiela for some of the most fashionable styles in town.
You also won’t want to miss the Vieux Marché aux Poissons (the old fish market), which was once the main harbor of Brussel where ships from around the world unloaded salted herrings, timber, grain coal, and silk. There are notable fish restaurants along the waterfront including the long-established François that has served lobsters, crabs, and huge plateaus de fruits de mer to customers since 1922.
Belgium is known around the world for its rich chocolates; learn all about the delicate treat at the Choco-Story museum. This unique gallery tells you everything you need to know about chocolate, offers demonstrations of the subtle art of chocolate making, and displays some extraordinary sculptures and objects—made of chocolate, of course!
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 central, well-stocked store go to 1 rue des Minimes where the sheer invention of his taste combinations and colors will blow your mind (and the bank).
On the other hand, 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 and the premier place in Brussels to buy gilded, decorative gift boxes. The only problem will be getting them home without devouring the lot!
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 take a surrealistic walk through its tubes and spheres during your trip; afterward, wander through the permanent exhibit about the history of the building or pick up a souvenir from the on-site gift shop.
Shop at the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
The first indoor shopping arcade in Brussels, 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 Galeries stretch over three separate sections known as 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 marvel at this architectural marvel, the Royal Galleries are a great destination, and they're now included in UNESCO's "Tentative List" in the cultural heritage category for World Heritage sites.
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 overlooking the canal, MIMA is open Wednesdays through Sundays throughout the year. A variety of permanent and rotating exhibits decorate the halls of MIMA, and there is also an on-site cafe and gift shop where you can pick up art prints, books, and supplies as well as tasty treats and drinks.
See a Whole Continent at Mini-Europe
Mini-Europe is a miniature park in Bruparck at the foot of The Atomium that features a variety of scale models of European cities and monuments. The entire park takes less than two hours to explore and features some of the most beautiful towns in Europe.
Although closed from early January to mid-March for renovations and upgrades, Mini-Europe is open to the public daily, but tickets are required to enjoy the monuments. There are occasionally special events held in Mini-Europe throughout the year, too, including the annual Spirit of Europe festival.
Brussels isn't only known for Art Nouveau architecture; by the 1920s, Art Deco had begun taking over sections of the city. One of the best examples of this new design style came in the form of Villa Empain, designed by Swiss architect Michel Polak.
Now open to the public and offering tours by the Boghossian Foundation, Villa Empain is considered 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 on modern and classic art.
Another famous site for Art Deco is found just outside of Brussels in Uccle. The Van Buuren Museum is the former home of David and Alice Van Buuren, who spent over 30 years transforming the estate into a living museum full of 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 surrounding the estate. The Van Buuren Museum is open throughout the year from 2 to 5:30 p.m. daily (closed on Tuesdays) and offers guided and self-guided tours of the mansion, garden, and bookstore.
Continuing on your tour of Art Deco in Brussels, stop by the legendary L’Archiduc bar in the Anneessens district for a relaxing drink while enjoying mellow tunes on the jazz piano prominently featured in the room.
Originally opened in 1937, L'Archiduc is considered one of the cultural hubs of the city and now hosts a variety of musical events throughout the year. Located a few blocks away from the Grand Casino Brussels and centrally located in the heart of Brussels, L'Archiduc is a great place to grab a cocktail, view local art, and enjoy some live music in a relaxed setting.
Brussels isn't only known for its chocolates and comics, it's also a city that truly appreciates and celebrates music in its many forms. If you want to explore and discover the musical history of Brussels—and the world—stop by the Musical Instrument Museum for an up-close look at over 6,000 unique music makers.
Located near the Palais du Coudenberg and the Mont des Arts in the Royal Quarter of Brussels, the MIM also has its own concert hall, specialized library, museum shop, and workshop for restoring and conserving historical musical devices.
Find the Peeing Statues
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 weirdest. Known as Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis, and Zinneke Pis, these statues are found throughout Brussels and 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 90s. Manneken can be found on the corner of Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat; Zinneke can be found at the corner of Rue des Chartreux and Rue du Vieux Marché aux grains; and Jeanneke can be found across the street from the Délirium Café on Impasse de la Fidélité near the Rue des Bouchers.
Visit Notre Dame Du Sablon
Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon (Our Lady of Sablon) is a Late Gothic church in the upper town of Brussels that's known as one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Once used as a chapel by the Archer's Guild, this 14th-century structure now offers tours throughout the year and still serves as a place of worship.