View breaks >>
Brussels has a wealth of sights and attractions around the city, from interesting museums, historical buildings and theatres to delicious chocolate shops and popular markets. Whatever your passion you are sure to find something great to do in Brussels. If markets are your thing, immerse yourself in the junk market at place du Jeu de Balle in the Marolles district of Brussels on a Sunday morning, or linger over a coffee and a delicious pastry at Le Pain Quotidien on rue des Sablons. If you would prefer to get on a bicycle to do your sightseeing, then there are companies offering bicycle tours with different themes, enabling you to tailor the tour to your own interests. The city also offers sightseeing bus tours if you would prefer a more relaxed way of seeing the heart of Brussels. Of course, you can't visit Brussels without trying one of the world famous chocolates, so a trip to the temple of Chocolate, Pierre Marcolini's grand and stylish shop in the Sablon, should be on everyones 'to do' list.
Read more information on this destination in the AA Citypack Guide to Brussels & Bruges.
Top 10 attractions in Brussels
Hotel de Ville (Beautiful Gothic town hall): Had architect Jan van Ruysbroeck foreseen how much his elegant bell tower for Hotel de Ville would be admired today, perhaps he would not (as legend has it) have thrown himself off it. The Town Hall itself is a Gothic masterpeice. A work of art, Flander and Brabant have a wealth of Gothic town halls, but the Brussels Hotel de Ville is probably the most beautiful of all. It was started in the Spring of 1402; the right wing was added in 1444. The octagonal tower, which is 96m (315ft) high, displays a gilt statue of archangel St. Michael and was added later on by architect Jan van Ruysbroeck.
Grand' Place (beautiful square in the heart of the city): In the morning, the sun lights up the gilded Gothic, Renaissance and baroque facades of one of the world's most stunning squares. This is the unquestionable heart of Brussels. By the 11th century, the Grand' Place was already humming as a market place, and by the 13th century the first three guildhalls had been built here, for the butchers, bakers and clothmakers. Each one of the guildhalls in Grand' Place is distinguished by statues and ornate carvings.
Musee d'Art Moderne (modern art museum): A visit to this modern art museum reveals outstanding works of art. The museum collection includes early 20th century, local artists, who were particularly interested in fauvism, best represented by the works of Rik Wouters, Auguste Oleffe and Leon Spilliaert. Belgians Rene Magritte and Paul Delvaux are two stars of surrealism, and the collection includes one of Magritte's most famous paintings The Dominion of Light. A collection of works by Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, Marc Chagall and Dali helps put the Belgian artists in a wider context.
Parc du Cinquantenaire (Brussels' famous park): Built to celebrate 50 years of Belgian independance, this park has all you would imagine in the way of grand buildings - even its own grand jubilee arch. Several features here recall important international fairs. An Arab-inspired building, which housed a painted panorama of Cairo in an 1897 fair, is now Brussels' Grand Mosque. The Pavillon Horta-Lambeaux (a neoclassical pavillion) was erected in 1889 to designs by Victor Horta to house the haut-relief of the Human Passions, by sculptor Jef Lambeaux.
Le Sablon (district of Brussels): The Sablon district is a popular area for the antiques trade, with its large and small squares. Place du Grand Sablon has many specialist food shops, including Patisserie Wittamer, selling wonderful cakes and Pierre Marcolini, with his amazing world winning chocolates. Place du Petit Sablon was commissioned by Mayor Charles Buls in 1890.The statue of the Courts of Egmont and Horne, who were beheaded by the Duke of Alba during the wars of religion, was moved here from the Grand' Place and is surrounded by statues of 16th century scholars and humanists.
Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee (comic strip museum): This is one of Brussels most unusual pleasures. Although the Belgians did not invent the comic strip, the Belgian artists took the form to new heights. Herge (George Remi) being the most well known of artists, with his creations of Tintin and Milou (snowy). The Museum Bookshop stocks thousands of comic strips and collectables and there is an excellent art nouveau brasserie. The mezzanine houses an extensive archive, a cinema and an exhibition explaining how bds (bandes dessinees) are made.
Place Royale (neoclassical square): This elegant neoclassical square is anchored by some powerful institutions: the Royal Palace, the Belgian Parliament and the Law Courts. Place Royale was built 1774-80, an enclosed rectangle made up of eight palaces joined by porticoes. At the heart stands the statue of Godefroid de Bouillon, who led the first crusade in the 11th century. Rue de la Regence links the square with the imposing Law Courts, and at the other end is Parc de Bruxelles, designed by Guimard in c1775 and once the royal hunting grounds.
Musee d'art Ancien (museum of old art): The museum of Old Art highlights how rich a period the 14th to 17th centuries were for Belgian art, with works by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Rubens, the Flemish Primitives, and other European masters like Tintoretto and Rembrandt. The Old Art Museum and the nearby Museum of Modern Art were founded by Napoleon in 1801 as the Museum of Brussels. The Old Art Museum is in a building constructed in 1874-80 by Leopolds II's colonial architect, Alphonse Balat. It saw complete modernisation in the 1980s and is now connected to the Museum of Modern Art by an underground passage.
Manneken-Pis (City mascot): If it were not for the bus-loads of tourists who gather in front of this little fellow to have their picture taken, it would be easy to walk past him - a strange mascot for a city. Cheeky cherub, the Manneken-Pis, meaning 'pissing little boy', is one of Brussels' more amusing symbols. The bronze statuette, less than 60cm (2ft) high, was created by Jerome Duquesnoy the Elder in 1619. Known then as 'Petit Julien', it has since become a legend. One story claims that Julien on whom the statue was modelled, was the son of Duke Gottfried of Lorraine; another alleges that the statue memorialises a boy who urinated on a bomb fuse to save the Town Hall from destruction.
Musee des Instruments de Musique (museum of musical instruments): This museum is a pleasure to visit, both for its amazing collection and for the art nouveau architecture of its 'Old England' building. When in 1877 King Leopold II received a large number of Hindu instruments from Rajah Sourindo Mohun Tagore, and at the same time the musicologist Jean-Francois Fetis donated his collection to the state, it was decided to create a Museum of Musical Instruments. Since then the museum has aquired instruments from across the centuries and from all over the world.
Special offers for AA members
Royal Museums of Art and History - Save €1 on entrance fee
The Royal Museums of Art and History together host one of the biggest and most diverse art collections in Belgium. Expires: 31/03/12
Battlefield of Waterloo - Group rate on Lion Hamlet & Battlefield
Climb up the Lion Mound and discover the best preserved battlefield in Europe, where 300,000 men from seven nations faced one another. Expires: 31/03/12
Bozar - Save 10% on exhibitions
Bozar organises a range of exhibitions each year, alternating the great collections with contemporary art, the treasures of national heritage and support for young artists. Expires: 31/03/2012