For sure, travelers to Brussels, the capital of Belgium, won’t lack for things to do and see. The city is a veritable smorgasbord of sights and sounds. It has gorgeous Gothic churches as well as a variety of other medieval buildings. The historic tourist attractions in Brussels blend well with it’s 21st century attractions. There are many fine museums and galleries, historic statues and lovely green parks.
Visitors can shop till they drop at a 19th century covered arcade. And, last but not least, foodies will enjoy sampling the city’s gastronomic delights, including Belgium’s famous chocolates.
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Notre Dame du Sablon is a lovely 15h century Gothic Catholic church located in the historic Sablon district of Brussels. Also known as Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon, church parishioners included Belgium’s royalty and nobility. Indeed, some royals are buried in the chapel of St. Ursula. This gray-white church is famous for its beautiful stained glass windows that are illuminated from the inside at night. Other must-sees are the two baroque chapels with funeral symbols carved into the marble and the statue of St. Hobart that once was stolen by Antwerp and recaptured by Brussels in 1348.
A visit to Mini Europe may remind many people of the old movie, “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium,” in which travelers make the Grand Tour of Europe in just a few days. At Mini Europe, however, they can see the best on the continent in just a few hours. A tour of Mini Europe will take visitors from the gondolas of Venice to Big Ben in London. They can also experience Vesuvius erupting in Italy and the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany. In all, Mini Europe offers 350 miniature settings that explore the best of Europe.
The Musical Instrument Museum is a must-visit for anyone who plays a musical instrument or just plain loves music. The museum houses more than 1,100 musical instruments, ranging from ancient to modern. Considered one of the top musical instrument museums in the world, the museum also houses a concert hall in its uniquely designed Art Noveau and Neoclassical building. Exhibits feature keyboards, types of music from medieval to the 19th century, and mechanical and electronic instruments. The most popular gallery features traditional musical instruments from around the world. Here, visitors may be surprised to learn the Scots weren’t the only ones who played bagpipes.
Shoppers with a few Euros to spare will be tempted to spend them at the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a unique shopping mall next to the Grand Place. Built in the Italian Cinquecento style, the buildings are topped with a glass roof, so shoppers won’t have to worry about getting wet in bad weather. The main section is known as the Galerie de la Reine, with its chocolatiers, boutiques and a wide assortment of restaurants. The shopping arcade attracts six million people a year.
Cats may have nine lines, but the Mont des Arts, a hill in the center of Brussels, is giving them a run for the money. Once a densely populated neighborhood, the buildings were torn down; the land lay vacant for many years. Then a garden was put in but it, too, was torn down to make way for buildings, which include the Royal Library and Congress Palace. A new garden shares space with the buildings today. Visitors to the “hill of the arts” will find some of the best views of Brussels from here, with the Town Hall spires reaching up into the sky.
The Manneken Pis is undoubtedly the most visited landmark in Brussels. While visitors may skip many of the fine museums, no one leaves Brussels without visiting the Manneken Pis: a unique water fountain that features a naked little boy urinating into a fountain. The statue isn’t always naked, however, as it has a wardrobe that would make the Kardashians jealous: It has 900 costumes that are changed frequently. Visitors can view them at the City Museum. The small bronze statue has been amusing residents and visitors alike since the early 1600s, though there is mention of such a statue a century or two earlier.
The Brussels Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula is a truly magnificent structure. The main part of this Catholic chuch dates to the 11th century while the towers were constructed in the 13th century. All told, it took about 300 years to build this impressive stone church. Named after the country’s patron saints, it is Belgium’s main church. Visitors will be awed by the beautiful stained glass windows, especially the ones by Bernard van Orley, a 16th century painter. The Last Judgment window is lit from within at night.
While many cities rush to build modern town halls, the City of Brussels is sticking with its early 15th century Gothic town hall. It is the last remaining medieval building on the Grand Place. Of course, there’s a newer addition, but it’s not as interesting. The old town hall is decorated with 137 statues of important people, like nobles and saints, in the city’s history. Visitors will only see copies there, as the originals are in the nearby city museum. The building is topped with an elegant spire that itself is topped with a 5-meter (16-foot) high statue of the archangel Michael.
At first glance, the Atomium looks like a space-age Ferris wheel, but looks can be deceiving. This Brussels landmark actually represents a portion of an ion crystal that’s been magnified 185 billion times. Built in 1958 as the main pavilion for the Brussels’ world fair, it was named the world’s most bizarre building in 2013 by CNN. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the Belgians love it. The Atomium consists of nine spheres, only six of which are open to the public. An elevator takes people to the top of the structure, but otherwise visitors travel between the spheres on escalators.
The Grand Place is indeed grand. As the city’s central square, it is a most visited landmark, home to two of the main attractions in Brussel, the Town Hall and City Museum, as well as former guildhalls. Also known as Grote Markt, the Grand Place was a major market place that dates back to the 10th century. The large square is filled with a carpet made from flowers every second August. Today it’s lined with many cafes, making it a good place to sample traditional Brussels’ foods, such as moules (mussels), waffles and french fries, which originated in Belgium, not France.