Free Things To Do in Brussels
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This little boy has put Brussels on the tourist map; people travel to this city from all over the world just to catch a glimpse of him urinating. The legend behind the Manneken Pis (which translates to little peeing man in Dutch) varies widely depending on who you ask. One popular story is of a little boy relieving himself on a witch's doorstep. Catching the boy in the act, the witch wished to punish him by turning him into stone, forcing him into that compromising position for eternity. A local, who witnessed the entire incident, ran to the boy and replaced him with a statue in the nick of time, making the boy miss the curse entirely. Another very popular story is that of a little boy stopping Brussels from meeting its demise. Enemy forces, intent on destroying Brussels, lit a small fire with the hopes it would spread and burn the city to the ground. A wandering little boy, who apparently really needed to go to the bathroom, saw the fire and put it out with his natural resources, thus saving the city.
While the statue itself is of a child in the nude, he has been the recipient of about 800 different costumes, a tradition that began when Maximilian II Emanuel gave him a soldier's uniform in 1698. Since then Manneken Pis has been many things, including Santa and Elvis. Those interested in learning more about Manneken Pis should take a trip to the Museum of the City of Brussels, where more than 100 of his outfits are on display. The museum also has a digital archive of every single outfit that Manneken Pis has worn for visitors to view.
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Whether you're just passing through Brussels or here for a week, you can't miss the Grand-Place. This square marks the heart of Brussels' Lower Town district. Flanked by ornate Gothic and Baroque-style buildings, the Grand-Place is probably the best place to begin your tour of historic Brussels; it is within walking distance of many of the city's main attractions, including the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral and the beloved Manneken Pis. This is also a great location to grab a cup of coffee or a beer and watch the world go by.
No matter when you're in town, you can count on something going on at the Grand-Place, from street performances and flower shows to the nightly light shows in summer. But if you can, try to plan your trip around the Ommegang Pageant (the first week in July). This centuries-old festival recreates the celebration held when Emperor Charles V first entered the city in the 16th century. Another good time to visit is around Christmastime, when the entire square is illuminated by a massive Christmas tree.
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It's less ornate than other Gothic churches, but most agree the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral's no-frills design is a refreshing quality. St. Michael and St. Gudula has been known throughout history — particularly by French writer Victor Hugo — as "the purest flowering of the Gothic style." The Belgian royals thought so, too, as it has served as the site for royal weddings and funerals. Constructed in the 13th century, with its clean stone exterior and intricate stained-glass windows, this cathedral makes for an impressive sight.
Recent visitors appreciated the architecture of the church, with some noting the beauty of the stained-glass windows in particular. Some travelers recommended paying the extra fee to visit the archeological site, saying it gave them greater insight into the church's history.
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For those of you interested in military history, this museum makes for a great afternoon. Located in the Cinquantenaire district, the Royal Museum of the Army and Military History (Musée Royal de l'Armée et d' Histoire Militaire) traces the world's violent past back to the Middle Ages, displaying weaponry, uniforms, documents and technology from various points in time. You should spend a fair amount of time in the airplane hangar, which features 80 different aircraft. The museum also hosts educational activities for all ages, making it a great place for children and adults to explore.
Recent travelers said they were impressed by the extensive collection of military memorabilia present at the museum. Many enjoyed being able to get up close and personal with the aircraft featured in the aviation area. One complaint travelers had was that there were little placards in English.
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As you might've guessed, the Palais de Justice houses the city's law courts and is considered to be Belgium's supreme court of law. This building was one of the largest construction projects of its time during the 19th century. Larger than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the building sits atop Gallows Hill, providing panoramic views of the city.
Travelers are split on their thoughts of the Palais de Justice. Many admire how grand the structure is, but are disappointed by the lack of TLC given to the building's upkeep, with some visitors reporting graffiti, trash, holes, cracks and a mysterious black dust on many areas of building's exterior. Although the building needs work, some travelers say it's worth a trip to see the views it provides of the city, and recommend going at sunset with some Belgian cuisine in tow.
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