Must-see attractions in Brussels

11 March 2022
The Palace of Justice

Are you a first-timer in Brussels? Don’t worry, then: you're in good hands. We've put together a list of must-see attractions for you. This way, you can discover our capital through its best-known and most valuable treasures. An excellent introduction to the city!

 

An absolute must: the Grand Place, and the neighbouring galleries

Visiting Brussels without spending some time in the Grand Place is simply unthinkable. Here you’ll see the town hall (one of the most beautiful in the country), the Maison du Roi, which is home to the Brussels City Museum, and a series of private houses built at the end of the 17th century. The architectural richness of this square is simply overwhelming.

Just a stone's throw away from the Grand Place are the Royal Galleries, one of the oldest covered galleries in Europe, as beautiful by day as by night.

The Mont des Arts: museums with a view

The Mont des Arts is the junction between uptown and downtown Brussels and offers a delightful view in all seasons. Below, you can sit in the sumptuous gardens that lead to the statue of Albert I. The “knightly king” faces his love, Queen Elizabeth, whose statue stands on the small Place de l'Albertine on the other side of the road. The Mont des Arts is home to the KBR, the country's main library and manuscript museum, on the one hand, and the Brussels Congress Centre, Square, on the other. Within walking distance you’ll also find major museums and cultural institutions: the Royal Museums of Fine Arts - which houses the Magritte Museum -, the Museum of Musical Instruments (MIM), Bozar, and so on. 

Tourists at the Mont des Arts during Summer

An 18th century masterpiece: the Royal Quarter

The Place Royale, which was built on the ashes of the Coudenberg Palace, has retained its historical function as the “executive power district”. You’ll find the Royal Palace, the “office” of the Belgian King, at the Place des Palais, bordering the Place Royale. Opposite is the Parc de Bruxelles or Royal Park. The streets bordering the park are also part of the same neoclassical ensemble. For instance, on the other side of the park, you will see the Palace of the Nation, the seat of the Belgian Parliament. At the Place Royale, with the statue of Godfrey of Bouillon at the centre, you’ll discover a church that resembles a Greco-Roman temple and a series of similar, harmonious mansions.

 

Manneken Pis: it’s not the size that matters

Since the 15th century, the Manneken Pis sculpture has adorned one of the public fountains that supply the city with drinking water. Over time, this wee little man became a kind of mascot, with the people of Brussels seeing him as a symbol of the local temperament, a unique combination of mischievous, irreverent and droll. A much coveted symbol, since the present statue is a copy. The original, which has been stolen several times, is now safely housed in the Brussels City Museum. Nearby, you can discover the vast wardrobe of Manneken Pis at the GardeRobe MannekenPis Museum.

Villa Empain: the essence of Art Deco

Amidst the stately embassies, Villa Empain stands proudly along the majestic Franklin Roosevelt Avenue. This vast Art Deco mansion was built in the 1930s, and currently houses the Boghossian Foundation, a centre for art and dialogue between Eastern and Western cultures.

The swimming pool at Villa Empain

The Atomium: the landmark

Created for the 1958 World Fair, the Atomium with its 9 balls represents an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times!  (It is often mistakenly thought to represent an atom, but in fact each ball represents an atom of iron). The significance of this construction is to celebrate scientific discoveries and breakthroughs. Inside, you will find exhibitions and, most importantly, a stunning view of the Brussels-Capital Region from the top ball.

 

When size does matter: the Palace of Justice

The colossal Palace of Justice was inaugurated in 1883. It was designed by the architect Joseph Poelaert, and towers over the working-class district of the Marolles at a location where, for centuries, death sentences were carried out. At the time of its construction, this monument of 40,000 m2 of usable space was the largest building ever built and it’s still one of the largest courthouses in the world today. However, restauration works have tarnished its visual spectacle since the 1980s, to the point that scaffolding had to be erected to ensure the renovation... of the scaffolding already in place!

Statues, columns and massive stairs outside the courthouse

The Horta House: quintessential Art Nouveau

Between 1898 et 1901, the architect Victor Horta built Horta House, which consisted of two buildings: his office and his personal home. This prolific pioneer of the Art Nouveau style was responsible for many architectural gems in Brussels. In his own house, which has been converted to a museum, you’ll find all the hallmarks of the Art Nouveau style: integration of structural or technical elements within the ornamentation (such as lights and heating), high quality ironwork, important contribution of light from the bay windows or the glass roof...

The Koekelberg Basilica: house of the holy

Legend has it that the idea of building a national basilica in Brussels came to King Leopold II after a visit to the construction site of the Sacré-Cœur in Paris. The construction of the basilica started in 1905, only to be completed in 1970. Some see it as the largest Art Deco church in the world, others as an excessive and ostentatious folly. We’ll let you decide for yourself.

 

The Marolles district: authentic and diverse

This district is arguably the most authentic part of Brussels. Here, you can often still hear the Brusseleir dialect being spoken. The Marolles have it all, from traditional cafés to trendy bars, family-run establishments to stylish new art galleries. Place du Jeu de Balle is the beating heart of this quarter, where the "Vieux Marché", a gigantic flea market, is held every day.

Our itineraries

Are you done visiting the must-see attractions? The exploration continues. Visit our itineraries page for a more profound introduction to Brussels through its quarters or by various themes.