Thinking about visiting Brussels? The Belgian capital is an increasingly sought-after tourist destination for food aficionados, museum-going adventurers and party people of every variety.
This master list of greatest hits can be relied upon when planning your itinerary for Brussels – and although some spots may not currently be open given the state of things, there’s plenty still available that justifies a visit, provided you do so safely.
Best landmarks in Brussels
Brussels is best enjoyed with an appreciation for history, a curiosity about the city’s unique offerings, and a generous cone of Belgian frites in-hand.
European Parliament Plenary Chamber
This city is the beating heart of the European Union (E.U.), which makes the European Parliament’s plenary chamber an unmissable – and free! – landmark to check out. The European Parliament is a stunning site, brimming with experts and intellectuals who are responsible for shaping the policies that affect the lives of millions of people.
The plenary chamber is where the spirit of collaboration, coordination and camaraderie comes together when things are going right. It’s also the place to sprint towards with a tub of popcorn if things are going wrong.
Anyone who thinks politics is boring has never seen the European Parliament breathe fire over the latest machination of Brexit. Regardless of your political leanings or how much you know about politics in general, an in-depth tour of this sacred site of international governance is a must-see whilst visiting Brussels. Visitors are provided with a free audio guide, which offers audio commentary in all 23 official languages of the E.U.
Consequently, you don’t have to be politically savvy before your visit in order to enjoy this tour – just plug in and turn up the sound to work out who the movers and shakers are, how policies progress through the systems of checks and balances, and which countries are helping (or hindering) the effort to unify Europe.
In Flanders Fields: Tour from Brussels and the Atomium
For a powerful insight into what happens when countries across Europe cannot work together, take a day trip from Brussels to Flanders Fields, a time capsule of World War I.
Flanders Fields was major battleground during ‘the War to End All Wars’, today serving as a heart-wrenching reminder of the senselessness of war and an homage to the lives lost. For this reason, Flanders Fields is the essential first stop on the In Flanders Fields: Tour from Brussels, which continues to the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, Tyne Cot Cemetery, where you can pay your respects to the fallen.
Visitors will also go on to spend time at either Hill 60 or Hill 62, both memorial sites lined with Canadian maple trees. Witness the German bunkers beneath your very feet and learn about the realities of life and death in the trenches at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, one of the greatest museums in Belgium. Conclude the day by reflecting on those whose bodies were never found at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing.
By now it’s probably clear that this day trip is not a light-hearted experience, but it is powerful in the lessons it delivers. In order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, we must first understand what transpired. And trust us: a day such as this one does help in putting our own problems into perspective. For this reason – and so many more that are deeply personal and impactful to every visitor – the In Flanders Fields tour from Brussels features many of the most moving landmarks in Brussels, and beyond.
After this sombre trip back in time, ascend to the dizzying heights of modernity with a visit to the Atomium.
This iron crystal tower reaches 102 metres above the city of Brussels, offering breathtaking views for all who visit. The Atomium is a beloved landmark in Brussels, providing an insight into the futuristic vision of the Belgian capital when it was constructed to be a key installation for the 1958 World’s Fair.
Originally intended as a temporary monument to scientific ingenuity, the Atomium struck a chord with the powers that be who, in turn, decided to future-proof this spectacular creation and equip it not only with viewing platforms, but art exhibitions that are as attractive to the eye as the views themselves.
Don’t miss the chance to enjoy a sumptuous meal at the Atomium’s rotating restaurant and visualise yourself as a starring character in The Jetsons.
Best museums in Brussels
When visiting Brussels, it helps to plan ahead: The city boasts some of Europe’s most interesting museums, and among the reputed spots, there are also plenty of hidden gems in Brussels that more than warrant a visit.
ADAM Brussels Design Museum
For those who have already purchased a ticket to the Atomium, make the most of the included free admission to the nearby ADAM Brussels Design Museum. Combining art, architecture and the fundamental notion of play, the ADAM Brussels Design Museum cultivates an experience that both celebrates and defies our fundamental understanding of what is form and what is art. Don’t miss the excellent Plasticarium exhibit.
If your itinerary for Brussels is time-bound, put AfricaMuseum Brussels at the very top of your list. Also known as the Royal Museum for Central Africa, AfricaMuseum is an ethnography and natural history museum in Tervuren – just a hop, skip and a jump outside the city limits.
Though in most contexts a location outside city limits would constitute a day trip, the relative teeny-weeniness of Belgium means that day trips tend to be measured a little more… uh… internationally. So much the better to mosey over to Tervuren to witness the magnificent artifacts and hear stories from the heart of Africa.
Musical Instruments Museum Brussels
With four galleries teeming with 7,000 musical instruments of both modern and bygone eras, the Musical Instruments Museum Brussels has proudly welcomed, on average, 125,000 guests a year who have walked its hallowed halls, drunk in the splendour of its concert halls and fantasised about one day picking up that flute, harp or tambourine.
See how time has transformed the design and sound of your favourite instruments, and find yourself introduced to pieces from around the world you’ve never even heard about, such as the crwth, buccin, or psalterie.
This museum is so globally renowned that its collections are managed by a staff of scientists called ‘organologists’ (which means they are specialists in the study of musical instruments.)
Each organologist is responsible for one or more separate collections – which presumably comes with varying levels of responsibility, considering someone must be responsible for ensuring guests don’t pick up a classical-era guitar and start strumming ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
For Thomas the Tank Engine enthusiasts and lovers of all that is steam-powered, Train World is one of the best museums in Brussels to check out during your holiday.
Rail networks were a core driver of the Industrial Revolution, and Belgium was at the core of their expansion. As such, TrainWorld does a masterful job of combining fascinating history with interactive and charming exhibits from over two centuries that are guaranteed to entertain adults and children alike. Make sure to check out the oldest preserved steam locomotive in Europe while you’re there.
If your taste trends more towards engines that go vroom-vroom rather than choo-choo, take a leisurely drive to AutoWorld, which easily ranks among the best museums in Brussels. Situated in the beautiful Cinquantenaire Park, Autoworld proudly proclaims itself to be more than just a museum, due to the rich history attached to the building itself. Hosting some of the most iconic vehicles throughout history until today, AutoWorld also hosts car shows and exhibitions, making its changing calendar of events well worth a look-in when visiting Brussels.
Can’t decide between TrainWorld or AutoWorld? Enjoy both with combined admission – at a discount, of course – courtesy of Tiqets.
Hidden gems in Brussels
Castle Van Bouchot and Plantentuin Meise
When visiting Brussels, many visitors fail to look beyond the city limits – which is absolutely a mistake! Castle Van Bouchout is situated within the sprawling Plantentuin Meise, one of the largest botanical gardens on Earth and just a stone’s throw from the centre of Brussels.
This serene, historic destination is a perfect way to spend a day (or night!), with a herbarium brimming with over three million plans from around the world, ever-rotating family-friendly exhibitions and even the opportunity to rent out the castle itself for private events.
Van Buuren Museum & Gardens
Just to the south of the city, Van Buuren Museum & Gardens is one of the best hidden gems in Brussels. Formerly the private home of David van Buuren, a banker and art collector, and his wife, Alice, this magnificent Art Deco home completed construction in 1928.
Today, it showcases a spectacular collection that is open to the public. Stroll through the gardens, which feature a labyrinth sporting a “painting the roses red” aesthetic, and admire the perfectly curated collection within the house, all styled to be experienced as part of these rooms, and these rooms alone.
Not so much hidden as ‘hiding in plain sight’, Mini-Europe is a pan-European vacation without the need to faff around with planes, trains or automobiles. With 350 stunning models of some of Europe’s most cherished attractions at exactly 1:25 of their usual size, guests can tower over these intricate replicas, play with the interactive exhibits, and gain an appreciation for the many architectural wonders that span the continent – and not just the stunning landmarks in Brussels that they may well have come across on their way to Mini-Europe.
Traveldudes.com has declared Mini-Europe “one of the best things to do in Brussels with kids”, which probably comes as no surprise – what more do kids love than a playground that’s perfectly their size?
If you’re eager to entertain the little ones by introducing them to the wonders of science, Technopolis is another fabulous family-friendly destination to check out when visiting Brussels – and though it is located in the town of Mechelen, we’re happy to reassure you that Technopolis barely counts as “out of town”.
Even if it was double its ten-minute commute from central Brussels, this interactive science museum would be well worth the trip; offering experiments and excitement in a perfectly safe space that will keep your family entertained for hours. With a ton of exhibits, workshops, demonstrations and interactive sessions, Technopolis is a great way to ignite the imagination for all kids, great and small – whether they’re five years old, or forty-five.
Maasmechelen Village Outlet
Shopaholics – don’t worry, Brussels has you covered. Shopping in Brussels features many of Europe’s cherished brands in the city centre across an array of price ranges, whilst Maasmechelen Village Outlet offers a brilliant day trip with over 100 outlets. Just an hour from Brussels, avid shoppers can scoop up sumptuous clothes and skincare products from boutiques including Armani, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Prada, Clarins, Ralph Lauren, L’Occitane, Puma and more for up to 60% off regular retail prices. Talk about a steal!
What to eat in Brussels
Let’s establish one unimpeachable fact: Visiting Brussels whilst on a diet is about as effective as the dinky little plastic forks that come with a cone of Belgian frites.
And while we’re on the subject, there are no fries in the world quite as marvellous as the Belgian variety. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and usually smothered in mayonnaise, a cone of Belgian frites is a visual and culinary triumph; a tribute to greasy goodness that borderline deserves its own ranking in the UNESCO Heritage List.
Though there is no shortage of food bloggers duking it out over which frites in Brussels rule the roost, our recommendation is to disregard the lists entirely and take yourself on a DIY tasting tour. All the better to become a connoisseur, no?
Perhaps you possess something of a sweet tooth and you’d like to plan your itinerary for Brussels around the best sugary treats. If that’s the case, Choco-Story Brussels is a must-see when visiting Brussels.
Take a tour of a real-life chocolate factory where some of the most scrumptious creations are manufactured from the humble cocoa bean. Master chocolatiers offer live demonstrations in their art form, and – provided they can resist Augustus Gloop-ing straight into the liquid chocolate – guests can also try their hands at forging their own freshly-made creation.
If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night from a tasty dream nibbling on the edge of your pillow (No? Uhh… us neither), then Belgian waffles are bound to satisfy in terms of texture – and definitely in terms of taste!
Belgians have perfected the art of a thick, fluffy waffle by integrating rich flavours such as apple, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and raspberry into the dough, or keeping things old-school whilst piling hot fudge or caramel sauce and ice cream all over the top. Brunch spots across the city combine the art of the poached egg with sweet-but-not-too-sweet waffles to mop up the runny yolks, whilst dessert venues smother them in cream (whipped or ice, it’s your choice) in take-away trays and fancy restaurants adorn them with fresh-made coulis from fruits and berries.
Be sure to try not just one, but many during your time in Brussels – after all, you wouldn’t be the first person to regret every waffle they didn’t eat after they return home!
Nightlife in Brussels
Music Festivals in Brussels
If your idea of a good party is the kind that lasts for days, the many music festivals throughout the year are the perfect way to whittle down dates when preparing an itinerary for Brussels.
Chief among them is Tomorrowland, which is frequented by up to 400,000 people annually and usually sells out within minutes of tickets being released. If your musical tastes are a little more specific in terms of genre, no need to worry: There are plenty of taste-specific festivals including Rock Werchter, Graspop Metal Meeting, and Reggae Geel, and even those that are not in Brussels are all an easy couple of hours of travel away.
Les Brasseurs Beer Walking Tour
For grown-ups with an appreciation for the frothy stuff, enjoying a drink or two in a brownstone beer café is less of a recommendation and more of an imperative when visiting Brussels.
Belgian beers are renowned for their thickness, richness and depth of flavour, and one of the best ways to enjoy a sampling is through Les Brasseurs, which offers a guided walking tour of some of the city’s best beer spots – complete with five different (delicious) beers. Make sure you check the alcohol content of your drink before you order – there’s no morning after quite so agonising as the morning after accidentally ordering triple-strength beer all night!
Clubbing in Brussels
If you’re looking for adventure after your beer tour, Brussels’ nightlife certainly has plenty to offer. The city has a surprisingly high concentration of night clubs for its size, with famous spots like Bloody Lewis and Fuse hosting some of the world’s best DJs on their big European tours.
Brussels Red Light District
Though far less infamous than that of its northern neighbour, Amsterdam, Brussels does have its own Red Light District. Tourists should keep their wits about them in this particular slice of the city, however, as pickpocketing and bag snatching does happen. Hey – if it didn’t have a little edge, it would hardly be the Red Light District now, would it?
If you do decide to check out the Red Light District in Brussels, do the respectful thing and refrain from photographing the women at work – they will certainly appreciate the courtesy!