Updated January 19, 2019
The capital city of Belgium has several places that deserve to be visited, and although some are far from the center, certainly a day should be enough to give us a good idea of how the city is. A second day would be dediacted to museums.
We start at the symbol of the country, the Atomium. It is a three-dimensional representation of an iron atom, 165 billion times its size. This steel structure 102 meters high was built for the World Fair, also called Universal Exhibition in 1958. It happened with the Atomium as well as with the Eiffel Tower: the idea was it to be dismantled at the end of the fair, but ended up becoming an important attraction. In the interior, besides the viewpoints, there are permanent and temporary exhibitions.
It’s easy to get there by metro (Heysel / Heizel station). Open daily from 10 am to 6 pm. Adult admission € 15. Next to the Atomium, taking advantage of the facilities of the universal exhibition, there are other attractions, among which Mini Europe is the most popular.
We return to the subway, take line 6 and get off at Simonis / Elisabeth station. From there walk 15 minutes through Elisabeth Park to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur), one of the largest religious buildings in the world. It is certainly imposing, and although it does not show the delicate features of most Belgian classic buildings, it is worth visiting. Open from 9 am to 5 pm May – September, 10 am to 4 pm October – April. Admission is free. If you want to climb to the panorama area, costs € 5.
In the area behind the Basilica is the College – Sacre Coeur tram station, where you can take the tram back to the Simonis / Elisabeth metro station, or walk back across the park. From the station, take line 2 or 6 to Botanique, which as its name indicates, is next to the Botanical Garden.
We are already in the center, so the rest of the itinerary is planned to go on foot. From the Botanical Gardens, we continue southwards along the beautiful Rue Royale until on the right the twin sister of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, here called Saints Michel and Gudula. Open Monday through Friday 7 am to 6 pm; Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 6 pm, but visits are only allowed until 3:30 on Saturdays and 2 pm on sundays. Free entrance, so I do not understand yet why I did not enter. You can visit the crypts (3 €) and the treasure (2 €); also towers, but you need to book on advance by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We continue southwest, passing through the Royal Galleries Saint Hubert, to the main square (Grand Place). Dominated by the imposing Gothic-style town hall, each of the buildings is a masterpiece.
And now, for those who want, we are going to go to the biggest WTH of Belgium and one of the biggest I have ever seen, because we do not understand the worldwide fame of the Manneken Pis, a small bronze sculpture a little more than half a meter tall of a small child peeing, just as all those we could have seen before in the fountain of the garden of any European mansion. There are many stories concerning its origin, most follow two lines:
- The child stopped the start of a fire or the wick of a bomb peeing on it.
- Or it was a tribute from grateful parents when their lost son was found urinating on that corner.
The point is that the doll has even a museum where hundreds of its costumes are exposed. From Grand Place you have to follow the street that is immediately on the southeast side of the town hall and the statue will be on the fourth corner on the right. As counterpoint, there is another sculpture called the Jeanneken Pis, which represents instead of a boy, a girl peeing. It’s harder to find. It is in a dead end street as we exit in the middle of the Royal Galleries.
Once fascinated with such a masterpiece, we continue southeast direction, arriving at museums area. In addition to several historic buildings, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique), Belvue, and perhaps the most interesting one, of Musical Instruments, housed in the Old England Art Deco building. The Church of Notre Dame du Sablon, considered to be one of the most beautiful ones in the city, is only 200 meters south.
To the east, we pass the Park of Brussels to the left and the Royal Palace to the right. In a few minutes we will reach the European Quarter, the seat of the European Parliament, the European Commission and many other government buildings, which stand out for being made of glass, contrasting with the predominantly gothic architecture of Brussels, to give an image of modernity.
And further east, the last area is the Cinquantenaire Park. Both the park and the magnificent buildings surrounding it were built for the 1880 Universal Exhibition, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of Belgium’s independence. One of the most recognizable is an arch, which looks like a copy (and with Notre Dame they are already two) of Berlin Brandenburg Gate.
On both sides there are the museums:
- Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History.
- Du Cinquantenaire. The only one I visited; of course is curious to see, quite original.
- Autoworld, Automobile Museum.