Explore Brussels Attractions

Explore Brussels Attractions

A while back I met a tourist who was having a hard time finding enough Brussels attractions to fill her two days in the city.

Standing near the cocoa bean roaster at the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate – I thought, “Au contraire” as I mentally recalled all the things to do and see in the Capital of Europe.

Wanting to protect Brussels’ reputation, I offered the tourist a verbal ‘things to do’ list. The list promised to fill her remaining two days and then some.

Pleasantly surprised, the lady scurried off to pick up some Galler Chocolate (recommended by a clerk at the museum).  Once safely in her possession, our tourist was off to the Music Instruments Museum. This was followed by the Atomium, and Mini-Europe for the afternoon.

This section is all about Brussels Attractions. And because there are so many things to do and see in the Capital of Europe, the section will continually evolve.

Our Top Recommendations

The Atomium:
the ‘Eiffel Tower’ of Brussels!

Explore Brussels Attractions

Paris has the Eiffel Tower. London has Big Ben. And Brussels has the Atomium, a structural remnant from the 1958 world fair held here.

What is the Atomium?
Resembling something between a spaceship, a spider and a gargantuan jack (remember when girls used to play ‘jacks’ in school?). The structure is a symbol of the atom concept, representing an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times. It is comprised of nine large spheres joined by connecting steel and aluminum tubes, and reaches a height of 102 metres.

What is there to do at The Atomium?
The structure is more than just a sight to behold. You can actually go in it, taking escalators and elevators up to some of the spheres to view exhibits. You may  visit the snack bar or restaurant, and even view the special ‘Kids Sphere’ where school groups can make spend-the-night-trips.

My son and I visited the structure and liken it to going inside some kind of gigantic science exhibit.

Upon entrance, a medium-sized elevator zips you up to the top sphere in 22 seconds, giving you a panoramic view of the area.

Since the Atomium is located on the northwest outskirts of Brussels, the view is somewhat nondescript. If you know Brussels, you’ll recognize a landmark or two. But it’s nothing like the Eiffel Tower which offers breathtaking views of Paris.

If you are claustrophic or if height-conscious – you might want to sit this one out. The experience involves steep escalator rides through long narrow tubes. Both my son and I felt a bit insecure once we were three-fourths of the way up the escalator. (I actually thought about sitting on the escalator step rather than standing.)

Five spheres are open to visitors. From ground-floor escalator you can access:
1. The base sphere, the “Henri Storck sphere” featuring a permanent exhibition dedicated to the fifties.
2. The sphere named after the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers featuring temporary exhibitions.
3. The central sphere, the “Waterkeyn sphere” which includes a bar where you can purchase a snack.
4. The upper sphere, accessible only by elevator, is home to the restaurant and panorama.
5. The kids sphere. While you can’t visit this sphere, you can view it from behind windows. This sphere is especially for school groups who can actually spend the night in it.

Getting There

Address:
Atomium square
B-1020 Brussel (Laken)
Tel. +32 (0)2/475.47.75
Fax +32 (0)2/475.47.79
E-mail: info@atomium.be

By car or bus:
1. Take Brussels ring road
2. Take exit 8 at “Wemmel”
3. Follow the “Atomium” arrows

Info GPS
Eeuwfeestlaan / Boulevard de Centenaire or Atomium square
B-1020 Brussels (Laken-Laeken)

By train
1. Start at Brussels Central Station
2. Take metro line 1A “Roi Baudouin”
3. Exit at station “Heysel”

Hours:
Open daily from 10:00 AM till 6:00 PM (ticket desk closes at 5:30 PM). Note: On weekends and holidays, there can be a 30-40 minute wait for the elevator.

Costs:
Individual
Free for: children six and under; bus drivers, the disabled. Children 6-11: 2€Adults: 9€Teachers with teacher card: 7€ Children 12-18 (with student card: 6€Seniors (65+): 6€

Groups (20+ persons)
Children six and under, bus drivers, the disabled: free Children 6-11: 2€Adults: 7€Teachers with teacher card:5€ Children 12-18 (with student card: 4€Seniors (65+): 4€

Tours
At The Atomium, you can take a guided tour or a self-guided one.
For self-guided tours, audio guides are available for 2€ at the ticket desk in the following languages: English, French, Dutch, German, Spanish and Russian.

Group tours can be booked for a minimum of one person to 25. Reservations must be made at least three weeks in advance by e-mail or post specifying:
1. Name, address and phone number
2. Date and time of the visit
3. The language for the guide’s comments (Dutch, English, French, German, Italian or Spanish)
4. The number and age of the participants (adults, senior citizens, children under/over 12)

 

Belgian Comic Strip Center
Expresses Belgium’s Sense of Humor

The Belgian Comic Strip Center is undoubtedly one of the most unique tourist attractions in Belgium.

While much of the world may not realize that the likes of Tintin, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke and Asterix are Belgian-creations, die-hard comic fans know that Belgium’s place in the comic book world is right up there with the creators of Superman, Spiderman and other famous comic book characters.

What is the Belgian Comic Strip Center?
Since 1989, when The Belgian Comic Strip Center was inaugurated by the King of Queen of Belgium, the center has paid homage to famous Belgian comic characters as well as their creators.

Housed in an Art Nouveau building designed by Victor Horta, the Center uses its 4,000 square meters of museum floors to host temporary and permanent exhibitions for some 200,000 visitors a year, ensuring that the Ninth Art lives on in the hearts and minds of comic strip lovers.

What is there to do at the Museum?
Serving as a cultural ambassador of Comic Strips, the Museum features a number of permanent exhibits:

* Victor Horta Area: paying tribute to the Art Nouveau architect.

* The Birth of a Comic Strip: details the making of a comic strip from concept to the shop.

* Saint-Roch Room: A rotating exhibit of original documents (sketches, studies, pencil drawings, colourings, full pages, covers, manuscripts, etc.) donated by the authors or purchased by the Museum.

* The Museum of Imagination: Tracks the history of the imagination of Belgian comic pioneers including Herge (Tintin) from 1929-1959.

* The Museum of Modern Comic Strips: Takes visitors from 1960-to the present, showing the evolution of the comic strip into an adult art form.

* The Gallery is dedicated to the contemporary comic landscape.

* Young Talent Area: Reserved for young talent and budding professionals, presenting the best graduation pieces by students from Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia.

In addition to these permanent exhibits, the Museum also offers a research center/library with more than 40,000 titles in more than 20 languages.

Getting There
20 rue des Sables (Zandstraat)
B-1000 Brussels
Belgium
The museum is a 10-15 minute walk from the Grand Place.

Opening Hours
Museum, permanent and temporary exhibitions, bookshop, and brasserie are open every day (except on Monday) from 10 am to 6 pm.

 

Bruparck Has It All: Movies, Water, Restaurants and More

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Bruparck is a great place to spend a day with the family if you want to take a break from sight-seeing and eating chocolate.

In the morning, you can tour mini replicas of famous European monuments at Mini-Europe. Then you can have a pita for lunch in The Village (a Belgian take on the food court.) After that, change into your swim suits and splash away at Oceade, an indoor/outdoor water park. Then enjoy a nice meal back in The Village (we recommend ‘Leon’s’ for a Belgian dining experience.) You can end your day by enjoying a movie (in English!) at Kinepolis, a 24-theater cinema.

Mini-Europe-1 Tour Famous European Monuments
One of the most unique attractions in Brussels, Mini-Europe features more than 300 mini-replicas 1/25 of scale of some of the most famous European monuments, buildings and sites. Discover London’s Big Ben and London Towers. Experience Paris’ Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe. And glide through Venice’s canals and lead with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. All of this and more at Mini-Europe.

For practical information click here click here.

Oceade-1 Slip, Slide & Swim at Oceade!
Oceade offers eleven slides, fun water attractions, a solarium, saunas, and a gigantic swimming pool. The slides are what sets Oceade apart.

* The 140-meter long Cycloon
* The duo-tube Bounty Raft, the longest slide of Belgium
* The two Bala de Canon (Canonball) slides which shoot you 1 meter above the water.
* The two Salto Angel slides launch you from a height of 13 meters at an angle of 45°.
* The Hurricane, the fastest slide in Belgium, starts at a height of 18 meters, and drops you 80 meters in 7 seconds to travel 80 meters.

For practical information click here click here.

  The-Village-1In the mood for food?
Visit ‘The Village’

At The Village you’ll find a number of restaurants to choose from. You can enjoy a taste of traditional Belgian food at Chez Leon or opt for the many international choices including: Asian City, Kip Kot (chicken), La Maison du Pain (breakfast), Le Pivert (french), Ristorante Paparazzi (Italian), Le Zorba (Greek), or Los Tacos (mexican.)

Also available: Pirate Grill (grilled food), Quick (fast food chain), Snack Titi (quick snacks) and Youpy (sweets).

The Village also offers drinks at Happy Corner, 7em Art, L ´Arbre d ´Or, Toonland Cocktail Bar, Le Marquis, Jungle Rhum and MGM Bar.

The Village also offers a jewelry store (Venizi) and a carousel for children.

No doubt, with the variety of food offered at The Village, you won’t leave Bruparck hungry!

Kinepolis offers 24 choices in 24 theaters!
If typical Belgian rain has spoiled your outdoor plans or if you just can’t wait to see your favorite film star in their newest movie, then check out Kinepolis Brussels in Bruparck. With 24 theaters to choose from, you’re sure to find something to peak your interest.

Comfortable seats, perfect sound, sharp images and sweets and treats will complete your cinematic experience and leave you impressed with one of the best theater offerings in Belgium.

To see what Kinepolis is offering click here.


 Getting There

By car:
Follow Brussels’ Ring: direction EXPO
Exit 8 Wemmel – Heysel
Follow the Bruparck signs up to the parking lot

Subway:
Take the line 1A Roi Baudouin
Leave the subway at Heysel station

Cathedral Saint Michael Links
Brussels Present with Brussels Past

T3-Cathedral-St-Michel.1

 

Travel to any European city – large or small – and you’ll find that churches are often at the center of the city. Brussels’ Cathedral Saint Michael is no exception. Located just a few minutes walk from the Grand Place and Central Station, the white Gothic church rises against a backdrop of business buildings.

Having been a part of Brussels history for more than 1,000 years, Cathedral Saint Michael connects Brussels present with Brussels past. Both locals and tourists frequent the quiet respite during the day and enjoy regular services on the weekends. The church offers several tours, taking you back to a Brussels that was Romanesque and medieval.

Church History
Cathedral Saint Michael and St. Gudula dates back as early as the 9th century. Originally constructed as a chapel dedicated to St. Michael in the 9th century, it was replaced by a Romanesque church in 1047. The relics of St. Gudula were transferred there and for nearly 1,000 years it was known as the collegiate church of St. Michael and St. Gudela. In 1962 it was upgraded to cathedral status and today it is called Cathedral St. Michel by the locals. It is the official church of the royal family and serves as the seat of the Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, together with St Rombouts cathedral in Malines.

Construction Highlights:
* The building of the present church in Gothic “Brabançon” style began with the choir in 1226.
* Stained glass windows ad confessionals were installed in the 16th century.
* The pulpit was added in the 17th century.
* A full restoration was completed from 1983-1999.

Officially Speaking…
According to the official website, “The building of the Cathedral commenced at the beginning of the 13th century on the orders of Henry I, Duke of Brabant. This period coincides with the appearance of the Gothic style in this area. It took about 300 years to complete this gigantic undertaking. It was finished just before the reign of the emperor Charles V. Its architecture shows the different characteristics of the Brabantine Gothic style. The restoration of the nave from 1983 to 1989 gave the stones, vaults and windows their splendour of former days. It was then possible to uncover important and well-preserved remnants of the Romanesque church of the eleventh century over which the present Gothic church is built (visits to these remains are possible).”

Of Note
Of particular note is the Grenzing Great Organ. It occupies a ‘bird’s nest’ position in the church which meets the acoustical needs of a gothic Cathedral (like other notable Gothic cathedrals in Chartres, Cologne and Strasbourg.)

Gee-whiz facts about the organ:
* It has a total of 4,300 pipes, 63 stops, 4 keyboards and the pedal-board.
* The middle of the organist’s console is large enough to accommodate soloists.
* It is so versatile that it is capable of interpreting compositions in numerous styles and from many different musical eras.
* It was built by German organ-builder Gerhard Grenzing, based in Barcelona, in collaboration with the English architect Simon Platt.

National Events Held in Cathedral Saint Michael
1926 November: Wedding of Prince Leopold and Princess Astrid
1934 February: Funeral ceremony of King Albert l
1935 September: Funeral ceremony of Queen Astrid
1959 2 july: Wedding of Prince Albert and Princess Paola
1960 16 december: Wedding of King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola
1965 30 november: Funeral ceremony of Queen Elisabeth
1993 7 august: National funeral ceremony of King Baudouin
1995 4 june: (Pentecost) Visit of Pope John Paul II
1999 4 december: Wedding of Prince PHILIP of Belgium and Lady MATHILDE d’Udekem d’ Acoz
2003 12 april: Wedding of Prince LAURENT of Belgium and Miss Claire Coombs.
How To Get There:
For a virtual tour of the exterior and map of how to get there click here.

Opening times:
* Monday to Friday: 7 am to 6 pm
* Saturday: 8.30 am to 6 pm (visits from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm only)
* Sunday: 8.30 am to 6 pm (visits from 2 pm only)
Entrance fee: free

Romanesque remains
Open every day from 8 am to 6 pm
Entrance fee: 1 euro (groups: 0,75 euro)

Manneken Pis Makes Tourists Smile

T3-Manneken-Pis.1

For such a little guy, Manneken Pis certainly makes a big splash with tourists and Belgians. Once visitors have stood in the middle of the Grand Place and enjoyed a bite of Belgian chocolate, they often find their way down to the corner of Rue de l’Étuve & Eikstraat to stare, exchange whispers and timid giggles, and snap their photo with Belgium’s famous and irreverant mascot.

What is Manneken Pis?
Manneken Pis (dutch for ‘little pee man’) and also known as ‘Petit Julien’ in french, is a 61 centimeter (24-inch) bronze fountain sculpture of a naked boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. He enjoys a colorful if not confused history and has more outfits than Imelda Marcos has shoes.

The Origin of Mannekin Pis
History tells us that in the 15th century there was a fountain called “Manneken-Pis” about a hundred yards from the Grand Place. In August of 1619, sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy was commissioned by the city to sculpt a new bronze statue of a Manneken-Pis to replace an old statue. Voila, today’s Manneken Pis in all of his glory.

The little tike has survived nearly 400 years of trials and tribulations, having been stolen by prankster students, looted by invaders, and in war time, hidden during bombing raids. Even after all that, he remains Belgium’s best-dressed boy with a wardrobe of more than 800 costumes including outfits giving nods to: Napolean, the Boy Scouts, Saint Nicholas and even Elvis. Costumes are kept in the King’s House, now the City Museum at the Grand-Place.

The Legends of Mannekin Pis
Although no one really knows the true story that inspired Manneken Pis, rumors abound.

One such story recounts that he was a little boy who tried to douse a fire in the city with the only weapon he had at hand.

Another story claims he was the the lost son of a visiting merchant, who upon learning that the boy was found urinating in the garden, had a statue sculpted to thank the citizens for finding his son.

Yet another favorite but unlikely tale claims the status commemorates Duke Godfrey III of Leuven, a two-year-old lord who in 1142 had troops battling armies of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen. It is said that the little two-year-old lord was placed in a basket hung in a tree to encourage the troops to fight for him. From there, he urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.

Inspiring The Whimsical
Fact or folklore notwithstanding, stories that are true and add to the mischievous nature of Belgian’s favorite boy include the following:

1. From time to time, the statue is connected to a keg of beer and the little guy fills cups of beer for the tourists and well-wishers.

2. Explore the many souvenir shops near the Grand Place and you’ll find Manneken memorabilia including our personal favorite: the corkscrew! Key rings, postcards and chocolates are also available.

3. For those demanding equal rights there is also ‘Jeanneke Pis’ (see photo at right), Manneken Pis’ female counterpart located on the east side of the Impasse de la Fidélité/Getrouwheidsgang (Fidelity Alley), a 30-meter dead-end street off the ‘restaurant alley’ Rue des Bouchers/Beenhouwersstraat.

4. Stand at the corner of Rue de l’Étuve & Eikstraat long enough, and undoubtedly, you’ll find the occasional tourist holding his mouth open while posing for a photo as if the Manneken Pis is providing a well-placed drink of water. While this may be off-putting to some, somehow it seems to be an appropriate sight-gag worthy of the irreverance brought about by Belgium’s mischievous Manneken Pis.

Technopolis Brings Science To Life

Brussels-Attractions-Technopolis-bike

If you’re planing a fun family day in Brussels, we recommend adding Technopolis to your itinerary. We’ve taken our son and his friends there many times and they never tire of the excitement that science brings to life.

What is Technopolis?
An initiative of the Flemish government, Technoplis is a hands-on science ‘park’ for children, where they can participate – and learn from – 280 interactive exhibits.

Here, kids (and adults) can ride a bicycle 5 meters in the air, lay on a bed of nails and even fly an airplane (all safely of course!) You can test your running speed against various animals, lift a car and challenge yourself with tricky brainteasers.

The mission at this wonder park is ‘Bringing science and technology to the people’. And bring it they do.

Each year, some 250,000 guests visit the science park for a half-day of fun and learning. The center is comprised of two large floors of activities, a Children’s Science Center for 4-8 year olds, and an outdoor activity area. The center also features a restaurant and gift shop with plenty of science-related toys, games and experiments to take home. Perfect for families, kids’ birthday parties and school groups.

What Is There To Do?
Regular exhibits and activities at Technopolis are categorized into 11 different areas:
1. Air and wind: allows you to land an aircraft and launch a hot-air balloon.
2. Structures: Build a bridge or have a computer take your picture and predict what you will look like in the future!
3. Water: Get your hands wet with bubbles and balls.
4. House: Be a magician and lay down on a bed of nails.
5. Invisible: A hair-raising experience with static electricity.
6. Workshop: Show your strength by lifting heavy objects.
7. Action/Reaction: Take a ride on a bike – 15 meters in the air.
8. Science Garden: Cross over the bridge without falling.
9. Children’s Science Center: Science fun for 4-8 year olds.
10. Grossology: Learn all the gross things about the human body.
11. From Head to Bone: A 3D theatre experience which teaches you about the human body.

Villers-la-Ville:
Explore its Medieval Mysteries

In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Brussels is the quiet and serene ruins of Villers-la-Ville, a Cistercian abbey located 30 kilometers south of Brussels.

We never tire of wandering through this thousand-year-old medieval monastic site, exploring ancient nooks and crannies, discovering secret hiding places, and imagining life in the middle ages full of hardships against a backdrop of some of the most beautiful structures ever built in Belgium.

What is the Villers-la-Ville Abbey?
The abbey’s origins date back to 1146 A.D. when the first monastic order settled in the wooded hamlet with just one abbot and 12 monks. This small tribe of a faithful few were joined by others until the order grew to include some 100 monks and 300 laymen overseeing thousands of acres. Managing the land well gave the order the funds to construct an extensive monastic complex, most of which was built in the 13th century.

T3-Brussels-Attractions-Villers-3The order thrived for several hundred years – even building more structures some 400 years after the first were built. However, French revolutionaries pillaged the monastery in 1794 A.D. and over the subseqent years, the Abbey lost its appeal as a monastic sanctuary.

Today, the Abbey resembles something akin to a scene out of a ‘King Arthur’ movie…tall stone buildings stand abandoned to their former glory with modern-day pilgrims walking through the grounds in Oxfords and tennis shoes. No other place in Belgium allows us to feel as though we’ve stepped back in time to a place where allegiances were made and broken with a sword, life was cheap and short, and commitment to church and God were enduringly simple.

What is there to do at the Abbey?
Depending on what time of the year you visit, you can enjoy taking walks on the grounds by yourself or in small groups, to taking a theme-based guided visit. You can also participate in activity days, attend open-air concerts and theatre, and enjoy exhibitions.

Our favorite activity is to put on pair of walking shoes and simply wander around the 36-hectare grounds (89 acres), exploring the structures, taking hundreds of photographs (the place makes wonderful backgrounds for photographs), peeking into underground holes (said to be prisons and cellars), and examining architectural mysteries such as the stone statue of a dead man lying in front of a circular wheel spoke.

Catch the place on a sunny day in mid-morning or mid-afternoon and all kinds of evocative shadows fall to the ground from the ruined stone structures. One day I was spending an afternoon alone at the Abbey and walked to the back of a buiding on the back of a property only to find a secret garden stop the building!

Visit Waterloo Belgium
and Explore The History

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Waterloo Belgium is just a short short bus, train or car trip south of Brussels. If you want to see where Napolean ‘met his Waterloo’, then this is the place. The famous village of Waterloo lent its name to the battle that decided the course of European history nearly 200 years ago in 1815.

But there’s more to do in Waterloo Belgium than see the battlefield.

Below you’ll find information about how to get there, Waterloo hotels, our favorite Waterloo restaurants, frite shops and ice cream stands as well as the Wellington Museum, a 1000-year-old ‘must-see’ Abbey, and of course, all the attractions surrounding the battlefield.

How To Get To Waterloo Belgium

To get to Waterloo Belgium you can take the train from one of three Brussels stations (Midi, Central or North) to Waterloo.

Once you arrive at the station, you can wait for a ‘W’ bus to take you into town or to the battlefield, or you can turn right out of the station, left on Rue de la Station and walk to the center of town in less than 15 minutes. From the center, you can walk to restaurants and shopping areas downtown, and take buses to the attractions.

Waterloo Central

Waterloo Belgium Tourist Office
When you reach Chaussee de Waterloo, on your immediate right corner (next to the church), you’ll see the Waterloo tourist office. There you can get information about the area and have questions answered by English-speaking representatives.

St. Joseph’s Church
Next to the Waterloo Belgium Tourist Office is St. Joseph’s Church/Royal Chapel of Waterloo. With its distinctive green dome and lantern tower, you can’t miss it. Consecrated more than 300 years ago in 1690, the chapel was restored in 1844 and again in 1968. It remains open during the day for the faithful to pray and the curious to visit. You are welcome to step inside and wander through the small building. Make sure you see the beautiful oak wooden pulpit, rumored to be made by Antwerpian Van Hoof.

Wellington Museum
Across the street from the church is the Wellington Museum, the command center of the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied forces who fought Napolean’s army. In the museum you’ll find documents, engravings, arms and authentic souvenirs relating to the battle.

In addition, you’ll learn the role of the seven nations which took part in the combat. You’ll also find a series of illuminated diagrams explaining the successive stages of the battle. We recommend visiting this museum before going to the battlefield.

The Wellington Museum is located on Chaussee de Bruxelles, 147. It is open year-round (except on December 25 and January 1) from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm. From April 1 to September 30, the museum open longer: from 09:30 am to 6:30 pm. For more information, see: www.museewellington.com

Battlefield Attractions

Getting There
To get to the battlefield attractions from Waterloo central, take the ‘W’ bus south to the Butte de Lion. (Make sure you are on the church side of the street. Otherwise, you’ll head north to Brussels.) Once you arrive near the Butte de Lion, you’ll have a short walk to the attractions.

The Battlefield Visitors Center
Visit the Visitors Center first to get information and tickets for the attractions. Currently, a combined ticket costing 12 euros includes entrance to the: Battlefield Tour, Butte du Lion, Panorama, Spectacle Audiovisual film, plus the Musee de Cire. See below for descriptions of each attraction.

Make sure you stop back by the Visitor’s Center and check out their souvenirs including post cards