Must-see attractions in Brussels

11 March 2022
Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Koekelberg

Planning a visit to Brussels? You're no doubt wondering what the must-see places are in the Belgian capital. We have put together a selection of the top sites you absolutely must not miss! From medieval masterpieces to 20th century gems, covered arcades to incredible views, splendid heritage and ideal neighbourhoods for an afternoon stroll, there really is something for everyone. Let us be your guide!

 

There’s only one place to begin: The Grand Place and the neighbouring Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

It is unthinkable to visit Brussels and not spend some time in the Grand Place, often referred to as 'the most beautiful square in the world'! There is so much to see in this beautiful square that you could probably spend a whole day here.

Brussels Town Hall is one of the most beautiful in the country. Marvel at its varied architectural styles and numerous rooms and galleries. To learn more about the history of Brussels, visit the King's House, which is home to the Brussels City Museum. You can also admire the square’s many private residences, built at the end of the 17th century and most of which were former guild halls. The square is also home to several restaurants and cafes whose outdoor seating offers the perfect spot to take in all the sights of the Grand Place.

Just a stone's throw away from the Grand Place are the Royal Galleries. Stroll through these elegant covered arcades and admire their impressive size and spectacular glass roof. The arcades are lined with shops, cafés and brasseries, a theatre and cinema.

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

Manneken Pis, obviously...

Whatever you think of the ‘peeing boy’, the statuette remains a classic stop on the Brussels tourist trail. It is not so much the work itself as what it symbolises that is worth noting. Since the 15th century, the Manneken Pis sculpture has adorned one of the public fountains that supply the city with drinking water. Over time, the figure 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.

At the intersection of Rue du Chêne and Rue de l'Étuve, you can see Manneken Pis in action all year round! The statue is a copy of the original, which is in the Brussels City Museum. The work of Jérôme Duquesnoy, the original statue has been stolen and damaged several times, (but has always been found!) so it was decided to display it in a museum for safekeeping.

Manneken Pis also has an extensive wardrobe, with more than 1000 costumes! Discover a large selection of them at the GardeRobe MannekenPis Museum.

Manneken Pis

The Mont des Arts: museums and a view

A hill always comes with a view... it’s just the way it is! After climbing this small hill you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of downtown Brussels with the splendid and intricate tower of the Town Hall taking pride of place.

As well as the wonderful view, the Mont des Arts also has plenty more to offer. The area developed as an arts district between the 1930s and 1970s. The Mont des Arts is home to the KBR  - the new name of the "Royal Library of Belgium" - the country's main library and manuscript museumSquare the Brussels Convention Centre; and the park that leads down to the statues of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth. Within walking distance of the Mont des Arts you’ll also find a host of other major museums and cultural institutions, including the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, which houses the Magritte Museum, the Museum of Musical Instruments and the Bozar cultural venue.

Mont des Arts

The Royal Quarter, an 18th century masterpiece

Are you craving open spaces, clean lines and symmetry? Head to the Royal Quarter, an area that was completely redeveloped at the end of the 18th century using the neoclassical principles of the time.

This district has been the seat of government since the beginning of the city’s history. Today you will find the Royal Palace here, the workplace of the Belgian King, bordering the Place des Palais, which is traditionally open to the public from 21 July until the end of August. Opposite is the Parc de Bruxelles, or Royal Park. This public park was laid out on the remains of the former garden of the Duke of Brabant, who lived in Coudenberg Palace, which has now disappeared. The park has a number of nice places to eat and drink, and there are often events of all kinds taking place in its grounds!

The Place Royale, which was built on the ashes of Coudenberg Palace during the same period, remains a prestigious square with its church that resembles a Greco-Roman temple, its series of almost identical mansions and the statue of Godfrey of Bouillon in the centre.

The streets bordering the park are also part of the same neoclassical ensemble; for example, opposite the Royal Palace, on the other side of the park, you will see the Palace of the Nation the seat of the Belgian Parliament.

Palace of the Nation

The iconic Atomium

An unmissable symbol of Brussels and perhaps even a national icon, you haven't really been to Brussels if you haven’t visited this monument. Its nine life-size balls represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times! The significance? It was a reference to progress and research in the field of science, matter and nuclear energy - in its peaceful use of course.

Built for the 1958 World Fair, the construction, like many others, was intended to be dismantled after the event.

Between 2004 and 2006, the Atomium was fully restored to its former glory.  If you're in the area, it's worth waiting for nightfall to see the Atomium lit up with 2970 LED bulbs!

The Atomium

The sublime Art Deco architecture of Villa Empain

As you walk through the neighbourhood, you can't miss the silhouette of this vast Art Deco mansion! Villa Empain stands proudly along the majestic Franklin Roosevelt Avenue, known for hosting a number of embassies in buildings that are each as impressive as the next! You may also notice the buildings of the Université libre de Bruxelles, in a stunning neo-baroque style!

Villa Empain was built between 1930 and 1935 at the request of Louis Empain, son of the wealthy businessman Édouard Empain! Functional lines belie the utmost sophistication, particularly in the choice of materials. The swimming pool that elongates the villa was a source of great admiration in the 1930s. Today it belongs to the Boghossian brothers, whose foundation was established as a centre of art and dialogue between Eastern and Western cultures.

The swimming pool of Villa Empain

A compulsory detour to the Koekelberg Basilica

A place that holds mythical status in Brussels, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Koekelberg is staggeringly huge! With its green copper dome, it never fails to impress, whether you see it as the largest Art Deco church in the world, the fifth largest church in the world or you’re someone who associates it more with its large pastry shop - try to find a view from the sky!

The building's reputation is also partly due to the length of time it took to build: at least 65 years! So much so that when the work was completed in 1970, there was already talk of the building undergoing major maintenance and renovation work!

King Leopold II was responsible for the construction of the basilica. Following a trip to Paris in 1902, he was inspired by the Sacré-Cœur basilica in Montmartre, which was also under construction at the time.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Koekelberg

The colossal Palais de Justice

The Palais de Justice, a true "monument", in every sense of the word, is undoubtedly part of Brussels’ DNA. After almost 140 years since its inauguration, it still impresses passers-by every day. Designed by the architect Joseph Poelaert, it has always divided opinion. This structure that evokes the Egyptian temples, has 40,000 square metres of usable space; its dome is 100 metres high and it contains more than 250 rooms, including 27 impressive courtrooms!

It is still the largest courthouse in the world! Its reputation and visual spectacle are often tarnished by the scaffolding that clads its facades and prevents its eclectic, grandiose architecture from being fully appreciated. It has been in place for so long that the scaffolding itself has had to be renovated!

Palais de justice

Horta House, an art nouveau gem

During your stay in Brussels, you can't miss out a visit to an art nouveau house, the Brussels style par excellence! We recommend a visit to the personal home of the master of art nouveau architecture in Brussels: Victor Horta. Between 1898 and 1901, Horta built two buildings in the commune of Saint-Gilles, one for his office and sculpture studio, the other as his home.

In these houses, which have now been converted into a museum, you will see almost all the hallmarks of art nouveau style: the integration of structural or technical elements (such as lights and heating) within the ornamentation, high quality ironwork and the important contribution of light from the bay windows or the glass roof... savour it, it’s really quite something!

Horta House

The authentic and welcoming Marolles district

Do you want to get a flavour of local life in Brussels? Take a stroll through the Marolles district where you can often still hear the Brusseleir dialect being spoken! This district has it all, from traditional cafés to trendy bars, family-run establishments to stylish new boutiques. Place du Jeu de Balle is the beating heart of Marolles that hosts a daily flea market, with a friendly atmosphere and a variety of wares that never fail to surprise!

Flea market at the Marolles disctrict