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Tips on What To Do in Brussels

While Brussels hotels cater mainly to political bigwigs and business tycoons, the city itself can accommodate many interests. If you're a history buff, an art aficionado, a museum junkie, a passionate politician or still a child at heart, you'll find plenty of ways to keep yourself occupied in a city that held the title of Cultural Capital of Europe in 2000 by the EU. It's best to start at the Grand-Place in Lower Town. From there, the majority of Brussels' attractions are just a short walk away. For a fun way to see the sights, some travelers recommend tagging along on a Brussels Bike Tour, which begins at the Grand-Place.

  • Brussels is small enough that you can get a superficial impression of it from a car window in a single day. For a more substantial appreciation, however, you need one day for the historic city heart, another for the uptown squares and museums, and additional days for museums outside the center and excursions to the periphery." -- Fodor's

Sightseeing

Both experts and recent visitors agree that the Grand-Place is a great place to start your tour of Belgian history. Surrounded by breathtaking architecture, some travelers refer to the Grand-Place as one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. From there, many of Brussels' most beloved sites are within walking distance. You can learn all about the city's turbulent past at the Musée de la Ville de Bruxelles (Museum of the City of Brussels), stop by the Bourse stock exchange or tour the gothic-style St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral.

Your trip to Brussels is not complete without paying a visit to the city's most beloved monument, the Manneken Pis. Located a few blocks south of the Grand-Place, this fountain in the shape of a small boy urinating invokes a smile from every visitor. The boy is also the subject of frequent pranks; don't be surprised if you stumble upon him dressed as a clown or even as Elvis. The Manneken's many costumes are on display at the traveler-recommended Maison du Roi (King's House), located on the northern side of the Grand-Place.

Sitting just east of the Grand-Place in Upper Town is the Parc de Bruxelles, which was once used by the royals for hunting. South of the park is the massive Royal Palace, which was constructed for the royal family in the early 20th century and is now open to the public. Experts recommend checking out the Mirror Room, which is decorated from floor to ceiling by mirrors and illuminated by 11 dazzling chandeliers.   

  • A fountain in the shape a urinating child, the famous small bronze sculpture on the corner of rue du Chêne and rue de l'Etuve, 2 blocks south of the Grand-Place, is Brussels's favorite character, gleefully doing what a little boy's gotta do. More often than not he's watched by a throng of admirers snapping pictures. Children especially seem to enjoy his bravura performance." -- Frommer's
  • During the day, be sure to visit La Maison du Roi (King's House), now the city museum whose most riveting exhibit is the collection of clothes worn by Mannekin Pis, and the town hall where 40min. guided tours reveal over-the-top decorations and an impressive collection of paintings." -- Let's Go Western Europe

Museums

Recent visitors also appreciate Brussel's Museum of Ancient Art (Musée d'Art Ancien) and the Museum of Modern Art (Musée d'Art Moderne) in Upper Town. You can also explore the city's influence in the music scene at the Musical Instruments Museum (Musée des Instruments de Musique).

Fashionistas with appreciate the Musee du Costume et de la Dentelle (Museum of Costume and Lace), while beer lovers should tour the Cantillon Brewery to learn about the production process of Belgian breweries. Although it isn't located within the central city, the Cantillon Brewery is easily accessible from the Grand-Place by bus or metro. 

Travelers also say that art and architecture fans shouldn't miss the Musée Horta (Horta Museum) -- once the home of Victor Horta, creator of Art Nouveau -- while diehard foodies might enjoy the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate.

  • Home to the Musée des Instruments de Musique (MIM), Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée, Brussels's comic strip museum, and the Musée d'Art Ancien, just to name a few, you could spend all your times soaking up the sights. There's even a EUR 15 combo pass to help you do it." -- Fodor's
  • The last surviving family-run brewery in Brussels, the Cantillon is now also a living museum of the traditional Gueuze, a type of lambic (naturally fermented) Belgian beer." -- Sherman's Travel
  • The Royal Museums of Art and History is the finest museum in the country, with 650,000 pieces of art and exhibitions that help visitors to learn more about the history of Belgium. The Museum of Costume and Lace is also a popular stop, since Belgium used to be known as a top producer of elegant lace in all forms, both clothing and decorative pieces." -- Travel Channel

European Union institutions

Over the past decade, the European Union has emerged as a powerful player in world politics, with Brussels acting as its de facto capital (Brussels shares some of the EU responsibilities with Strasbourg, France). Located in the Schuman area just east of Upper Town, the contemporary structures of the European Union institutions strongly contrast the medieval architecture of Lower and Upper Towns.

Today, several of the EU buildings, including the European Union Parliament, are open to the public and even offer audio tours. However, travelers agree that sightseeing in this area is not as interesting as in the older parts of the city, but it does make a great spot to people watch.

  • To tour the heartland of European Union governance, take the Métro to Schuman station. Your first sight is the X-shaped Palais de Berlaymont (Berlaymont Palace), the Commission's headquarters, at place Schuman." -- Frommer's
  • What To Skip. Eurobrussels, unless you're interested in the inner workings of the EU bureaucracy." -- Concierge.com

Attractions for Kids

Brussels makes a great family vacation. Although there is an interactive Musée des Enfants (Children's Museum) located south of the European Union institutions, most people recommend heading to the Belgian Comic Strip Museum instead. Located in the northern section of Lower Town, this museum -- designed by artist Victor Horta -- is a source of national pride and features beloved Belgian cartoon character, Tintin, as well as other well-known characters.

You can also hop on the métro and head to the northern suburbs of Heysel and Bruparck. These neighborhoods are dominated by the Atomium, a building constructed to look like an iron molecule, is home to numerous exhibition halls featuring artwork and scientific research. Sitting next to the Atomium is Mini-Europe, home to more than 300 replicas of famous sites found throughout the European Union. Other popular kid-friendly spots include the Océade water park and the traveler-recommended Scientastic museum.

  • Of special interest is the Museum of Musical Instruments located in Upper Town near the Royal Palace. The museum is housed in a wonderful art nouveau building that used to be the Old England department store and it is beautifully maintained. The museum will delight young and old." -- TripAdvisor
  • As you'll soon find out, Belgians are crazy for cartoons. Grown-ups will love this place as much as kids do. Called the CéBéBéDé for short, the center, on a side street not far from the Gothic spires and baroque guild houses of the Grand-Place, is dedicated to comic strips and takes a lofty view of what it calls 'the Ninth Art'." -- Frommer's
  • In the shadow of the instantly recognizable '50s-futuristic Atomium, built for the World's Fair of 1958, sits this haven for kids: the Océade swimming park and Mini Europe -- which, as you'd expect, contains the landmark buildings of Europe in miniature." -- Concierge.com

Shopping

You'll find the most high-end designer stores in Schuman or along Avenue Louise. However, if you're looking for some great bargains, experts and recent travelers suggest the city's marketplaces. Place du Jeu de Balle in the Marolles district of southern Upper Town is the site of Brussels' Flea Market at Jeu de Balle.

  • Bargain hunters should look no further than the Place du Jeu de Balle, a flea market in the oldest quarter of Brussels, the working-class but quickly gentrifying Marolles. There's everything from pink flamingos to retro cinema chairs to reproductions of paintings by Belgian artists like René Magritte." -- New York Times
  • Avenue Louise is Brussels' Rodeo Drive or Champs Elysées, the most prestigious shopping street and a real favorite with tourists and residents alike." -- AOL Travel

Nightlife

Writers say that the Brussels party scene is overshadowed by its reputation as a political center. Nighttime hotspots range from homey bars to cocktail clubs to café theaters offering entertainment such as live music and even puppet shows. If you're not sure where to start, travelers recommend signing up for a Belgium Beer Tour. The city's English-language magazine, the Bulletin, can also point you in the right direction.

  • The Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, on pl. de la Monnaie, is renowned for its opera and ballet. … Tickets from €8, half-price tickets go on sale 20min. prior to the event." -- Let's Go Western Europe
  • A glance at the 'What's On' section of weekly English-language news magazine the Bulletin reveals the breadth of the offerings in all categories of cultural life." -- Fodor's
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