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Belgium's iconic Grand Place stands as a testament to the city's glorious cultural and economic legacy. Recognized as one of the most splendid market squares in Europe, its arcade is completely enclosed by tall, gabled Flemish Renaissance buildings decorated with intricate ornamentation and carved statues. Of the buildings that surround the square, the Town Hall with its Brabantine Gothic tower and the Neo-Gothic Brussels City Museum are especially remarkable. Impressive as it is by day, the square is even more stunning at night under the golden glow of street lights. During spring and summer evenings there is a light show that brings to life the city's musical and cultural heritage.
Brussels Town Hall is an intricate Gothic marvel that forms the focal point of Brussels' iconic Grand Place and is easily one of the city's most lavish civic buildings. The Town Hall was chiefly designed by two architects: the left wing by Jacques van Thienen in 1402, and the right wing by Jean van Ruysbroeck in 1445-1450. The two rear wings were added much later in 1712 but were designed in harmony with the architectural style of the original, L-shaped building. The exterior walls of the Town Hall feature numerous statues that depict saints, nobles, and other figures, each a vivid image of the people they represent. Uniting these efforts is the striking and exquisite Gothic tower at the center topped by a statue of St. Michael, the patron saint of Brussels. Inside, the elegant rooms are decorated with tapestries and paintings from the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries. Brussels Town Hall is an arresting sight, especially when lit up at night.
In this magnificent Old England building, one of architect Paul Saintenoy's creations, the Museum of Musical Instruments houses one of the world's largest collections of musical instruments: over 7000 strong. The exhibition displays an array of these, and visitors receive headphones so that they can hear the serenading tunes of these magnificent instruments. There is a museum shop and a library open by appointment. The restaurant on the sixth floor offers a breathtaking view of Brussels.
This whimsical fountain takes the form of a nonchalant, unclothed boy relieving himself into a basin, a symbol indicative of the city of Brussels' eccentric spirit. A drinking-water fountain that dates back to the 15th Century, the original Manneken Pis was replaced by a bronze cast in 1619 by Jerome Duquesnoy. Although the cheerful little lad survived the bombardment of Brussels in 1695, the statue was repeatedly stolen and retrieved making for a rather colorful history that is heartily embellished with folklore and legends. Following its abduction in 1965, the original was once more rescued, this time from the depths of the Charleroi Canal, restored and placed under the care of the Museum of the City of Brussels, and replaced with a copy. The spirit of this cheeky icon has not diminished, however, but instead has come to be world-renowned. With a wardrobe composed of over 900 outfits, the Manneken Pis is dressed in different garb at varying points throughout the year, an event that attracts visitors from near and far. From the 19th Century onward, the Manneken Pis no longer dispenses drinking water but instead is an ornamental fountain. A rather small and undeniably odd image for a cultural icon, the Manneken Pis, or "peeing boy," nonetheless remains a treasured symbol of Brussels' irreverent wit.
For the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence in 1880, King Leopold II commissioned the creation of Cinquantenaire Park, also called Jubelpark, and its grandiose triumphal arch. Today, you can visit the museums located here or you can rest on the plush lawn and admire the solemn manor houses. The Great Mosque and the Temple of Human Passions can also be found here. Every year on July 21st, on the National Holiday, there is an evening fireworks display. Jubelpark is an ideal spot for everyone.
Created by Engineer André Waterkeyn, and architects André and Jean Polak, for the 1958 World Exhibition, the Atomium is a landmark building inspired by the structure of an atom. To be more precise, the design is based upon the cuboid form of a unit cell of iron crystals, amplified 65 billion times to achieve a total height of 102 meters (335 feet). The nine gleaming spheres are held together by tubes, each sphere representative of one of the nine Belgian provinces. The final effect is that of a mammoth, geometric atom composed entirely of metal. The spheres are encased in stainless steel, and harbor exhibition rooms and other public spaces, while the top-most sphere hosts a restaurant with panoramic views of the city. The connecting tubes accommodate escalators, elevators, and stairways that link the individual spheres to one another.
With its stately facade, opulent interiors and lush, formal gardens, the Royal Palace is a fitting abode for the offices of the King and Queen of Belgium. The individual rooms are lavishly adorned with crystal chandeliers, gilded details, antique furniture, exquisite artwork, and detailed carvings. Of special note is the artwork that adorns the ceiling of the Mirror Room, composed of over a million beetle carapaces inlaid to form intricate designs. Each summer, the palace is opened to the public; a time-honored tradition that grants access to this symbol of Belgium's thriving monarchy.
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium) is the largest museum complex in Belgium, and houses an array of museums including the Magritte Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Located in the heart of Brussels, this museum has a rich collection of 15th-century fine art and artifacts, as well as modern artwork. Its prized possessions include a collection of magnificent paintings and sculptures, along with a plethora of documents and drawings. The museum offers guided tours and special packages for students.
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudulal is the location for Belgium's royal weddings and funerals. It started its construction in the 13th-century and it was completed two centuries later. Various chapels were added during the 16th and 17th centuries. A striking figure of precision and symmetry, the cathedral serves as a monumental example of Brabant-Gothic architecture. Outside, two awe-inspiring towers attract attention and it is hard not to admire the intricate stained-glass windows. The remnants of the 10th-century Romanesque church, on top of which the cathedral was built, evoke considerable awe as well. Concerts featuring religious or classical music are also regularly held here.
The old Mont-des-Arts (Arts Hill) was a series of stairs bordered by statues and trees, connecting uptown (Place Royale) and downtown (Grand Place). In 1958, it was reshaped and two enormous buildings arrived - the Congress Centre and the Royal Library Albert 1, better known as Albertina, where nearly 4 million books are housed. The Belgian state has also endowed the site with scientific, economic and cultural institutions, such as the Rijksarchief (National Archive) and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts. From the French terrace garden you have a beautiful view of the city center. Under the archway there is a large clock with moving statuettes. The chimes in the clock play by turns - following Belgian tradition - a Flemish and a French song.