Brussels is known for more than just being Europes capital city and any visit to Brussels should include at least some of the below famous landmarks.
It all begins here – Brussels most distinguished feature started life as a cobbled marketplace in around the 12th century. Many of the grandeur buildings that make up such a vivid part of Grand Place today weren’t erected until the 18th century.
The guildhalls that give Grand Place it’s identity were part of trade societies formed around the 13th century – notably butchers, bakers and cloth makers. Each guildhall is distinguished by certain unique designs.
Perhaps the most admired part of Grand Place is the magnificent Hotel de Ville, which was completed in 1444 by architect Jan von Ruysbroeck. Since then, it’s been described as a gothic masterpiece and one of the most splendid sights in Belgium. Inside, you can take a tour and browse over some wonderful artwork and tapestry from the 15th century. Take in the breathtaking majesty of the conference room boasting ancient tapestry and the “Aldermens Room” where even today the Mayor holds certain prolific meetings. The final masterpiece of Hotel de Ville is its exquisite belfry – described as one of the finest in the world. Now, the Hotel de Ville is the town centre of Brussels.
The Maison du Roi was built in 1536 by (then) Spanish rulers and now houses a fine collection of art, tapestries and Manneken Pis from the 16th century. Meaning “Kings House” Maison du Roi is now the setting for Musee de la Ville de Bruxelles – a collection of medieval art. If you’re planning on seeing a number of museums during your stay in Brussels then you may benefit from a “Brussels Card” which offers free entry to 30 museums for 30 Euros – the holder also gets unlimited access on public transport and discounts on various additional attractions and eateries.
Le Pigeon is known as being the home of Victor Hugo, the famous French writer in 1852 after he fled France following the French insurrection and La Maison des Boulangers was built by the guild of bakers – a testimony to their power and wealth at the time. Maison des Tailleurs is made famous by the statue of patron saint St Barbara – this was the guild of tailors.
One of the best experiences of visiting Brussels is to enjoy a coffee or beer at one of the cafes set within Grand Place and watch the bustle of tourists potter along the cobbled streets while viewing the grandeur.
If you intend on having something to eat in and around Grand Place then there’s no shortage of options. If you’re in the mood for traditional Belgian fare, try t’Kelderke which serves up the usual offering of moules et frites at reasonable prices. Katya’s Kitchen is also an interesting establishment serving up a variety of cuisine including Asian and more traditional Belgian dishes. There are other restaurants within a stones throw of Grand Place so if these don’t take your fancy simply take to the streets until something does.
Try coming back to see Grand Place at night – the busy atmosphere and night lights make it a truly enriching experience.
Parc du Cinquantenaire
Beautiful, tree-lined Parc du Cinquantenaire was built as a tribute to the golden celebrations for Belgian independence in 1880. The famous Arc de Triomphe landmark was completed several years after the park was built.
The park houses the Musee de l’Armee which is a museum describing Belgiums military history and includes various artefacts stretching back to over two centuries. The gateway into the city is marked by the Central Archway. Interestingly, the park is also home to “Autoworld” which has hundreds of classic cars on display. Also worth a visit is Musee du Cinquantenaire which has international artefacts from civilisations dating back to the 15th century.
Aside from the many features of Parc du Cinquantenaire it’s also a very plesant place to take a relaxing stroll – indeed it’s one of the most loved places by the locals who come in droves during weekends and public holidays.
Once upon a time the Quartier Royal was the home of Belgian Royalty, though this is no longer the case (the Royal family are now situated in Laeken). Even so, the Quartier Royal are grand and handsome grounds with an eventful history – including being utterly destroyed by a fire in 1731 before being rebuilt by the 19th century.
Stretching over a mile long, Rue Royal runs from Quartier Royal to the pleasant Jardin Botanique and is a pleasant way of seeing some fine architecure. The Quartier Royal also houses the Palais Royal, Palais de la Nation and Palais des Academies. The Palais Royal remains the largest of the palaces set within Quartier Royal and boasts a fine throne room, long gallery displaying ceiling paintings and the hall of mirrors. It’s open to the public between July and September and is well worth the visit.
The attractive Parc de Bruxelles has some elegant fountains and is lined with trees – the park was originally conceived in the 17th century.
Cathedrale Sts Michel et Gudule
This grand cathedral took over three centuries to complete – work actually began in 1225, under Henry I (Duke of Brabant) and was completed around the 16th century under Charles V. Saint Gudule was the 7th century saint who the Cathedral was inspired after along with St Michael (Patron Saint of Brussels) who’s statue can be seen in the middle of the structure. The “Last Judgement” window is an exquisite feature of the Cathedral – indeed, it’s the first sight that stands out as you approach. This interesting gothic styled institution is located on Parvis St.-Gudule.
Palais de Justice
Completed in 1883, the Palais de Justice was designed by Joseph Poelaert and remains one of the distinctive constructions in Belgium and unlike many other landmark still functions as it was originally built for – in this case the capital of Brussels’ legal courts. The Palais de Justice is situated along Place Poelaert. Very near the Palais de Justice are Les Marolles which are stuffed with little cafes and tiny shops. For some unusual bargains make your way to the junk market on Sunday mornings on Place du Jeu de Balle.
On rue aux Laines is the unmistakable sight of Palais d’Egmont – originally built in the 16th century, the palace took on further historical significance in the 1970’s as the place where Great Britain officially became a member of the EEC.
Musee d’Art Moderne
The multi-storey building that houses this museum is almost as interesting as the exhibits inside – as many of the levels are underground. The museum is located on Place Royale and as the name suggests, includes works of art from modern talent (19th century onwards). Also worth a visit is Musee d’Art Ancien – displaying art dating as far back as the 15th century and includes a pleasant sculpture garden that’s a delight to visit. Musee d’Art Ancien is on rue de la Regence.
Le Sablon District
Known as the region where Brussels splits into two (the upper and lower region) the Place du Grand Sablon is a pleasant area with a prolific fountain and the Gothic church of Notre-Dame du Sablon. This prosperous region of Brussels is noted for housing top restaurants, bars & cafes to stop by and enjoy a bite. Aside from visiting the gothic church (completed around the mid 1500’s) the Place du Petit Sablon must be seen – these delightful gardens are a pleasure to amble along. Sit on the many benches available, peruse the statues and take some pictures of the fountains built to honour Counts Egmont & Hornes.
The Atomium (located in Heysel) is one of the most distinguished landmarks of Brussels – the structure – a giant molecule was constructed in 1958 when Brussels held the world fair. It’s well worth a trip to see this interesting structure.
This leafy suburb situated north of Brussels is the Belgian equivalent of Windsor – it is the residence of the Belgian royalty and is noted for it’s abundance of greenery and picture-perfect parklands.