Art aficionados, beer drinkers, comic book fans, and lovers of chocolate, moules-frites, and Belgian fries will find themselves right at home in the elegant and exciting Belgian capital. There are many incredible things to do in Brussels, and anyone planning a European vacation has to include the city on their itinerary.
Brussels has a long history stretching back to medieval times, and you can start your journey at the Grand Place, where you’ll be surrounded by 17th-century guildhalls, the historic Hotel de Ville, and interesting museums where you can learn more about Belgian culture, history, and art.
There’s Art Nouveau architecture to discover, historic churches to visit, and the futuristic Atomium building to explore. Then there are royal palaces, beer museums, fine Belgian restaurants, and who can forget the European Parliament, where you can see how Brussels became the European capital.
With so many things to see, do, and eat, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Brussels for you. Tick off these fun and unique Brussels bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’re going to have an incredible time exploring the Belgian capital!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 15 Best Things to do in Brussels, Belgium
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15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Brussels
1. Explore centuries of history and culture at Grand Place
If it’s your first time in Brussels, there’s no better place to start your sightseeing itinerary than the iconic, UNESCO World Heritage-listed Grand Place. This is the historic center of the city’s Old Town, and you’ll love strolling through centuries of history and culture as you take in the sights, sounds, and attractions!
The Grand Place is home to a beautiful collection of buildings and architecture that’s spread around a large, central square. The square itself has been a marketplace since at least the 12th century (and likely much earlier), while much of the architecture you see dates back to the late 17th century.
You’ll enjoy the splendid Gothic and Baroque designs that surround the square. Delve a little deeper, and you’ll learn that the famous guildhalls and the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) were all remarkably reconstructed in the wake of a French bombardment that reduced the city to rubble in 1695. The residents of Brussels rebuilt their city, and it rose from the ashes stronger, more vibrant, and eventually richer than ever before.
The Hotel de Ville somehow survived the attack and is one of the few older buildings in the Grand Place. It dates back to the 15th century, and you can learn more about all this local history by visiting the Brussels City Museum, which is located in the King’s House, or by joining a walking tour of the city center.
2. Search for the famed ‘Manneken Pis’ statue
There’s no shortage of unique Brussels sightseeing attractions to visit, but one of the most popular is Manneken Pis, a tiny statue that’s somehow become one of the city’s most-visited spots.
Manneken Pis is a strange statue, and when you see it, you’ll wonder why it’s so popular. If you speak Dutch, you’ll know that the statue’s name literally means “Little Pissing Man” because it’s quite literally a statue placed on a fountain with a well-placed stream of water coming out of it!
The fountain where the statue is found was for a long time one of the city’s most important water sources, with references to it dating back to the 15th century. The statue was first built in 1618, although the one you see today is a replica.
Students would frequently attempt to steal the statue, so the authorities decided it was best kept in the City Museum, just around the corner in Grand Place.
Manneken Pis is certainly an unusual attraction, but given its long history, it’s part of the quirkier soul of Brussels. If it weren’t for the tourists taking photos, you would struggle to even find it!
3. Sample Belgian beers in Brussels
If you love an excellent beer, you chose the right country for vacation because the bars and breweries of Brussels are overflowing with quality beverages.
You’ll have endless beer choices in any bar, but to really learn more, we suggest either joining a craft brewery tour or visiting one of the many beer museums in the city (where tastings are a must!).
The most popular is the Cantillon Brewery and Museum, which was first established in 1900 and has since become a Brussels legend.
The Schaerbeek Beer Museum offers a more intimate insight into Belgian brewing history. It’s a museum started off the back of one person’s personal collection of 300 different beers! After that, head over to the Museum of the Belgian Brewers for another look at all things beer.
4. Explore the futuristic Atomium
The number one tourist attraction in Brussels isn’t an art gallery, a museum, or even a Belgian craft brewery; it’s a strangely futuristic building that was built for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.
You’ll find Atomium in the northern suburb of Laeken, in the large public park where the fair was held over 60 years ago. At the time, Atomium’s unusually sleek design represented the future. And although it spent many years slowly falling apart in the park, it was renovated in the 2000s. After the renovation, it reopened to great fanfare, and today it’s been revitalized as an enduring symbol of the past, present, and future of Brussels.
Atomium consists of multiple spherical platforms (atom-like in shape) that stand over 100 meters tall. On the bottom floor (the bottom sphere, we should say) of this unique building, you can learn about the history of the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.
The second, third, fourth, and fifth spheres all hold ever-changing art galleries and exhibitions that provide a showcase for local and international projects. The sixth and final sphere is where you can find a restaurant and spectacular panoramic viewing gallery offering unbeatable vistas over the surrounding park and suburbs.
5. Learn about the European Union at the Parlamentarium
A visit to the fascinating Parlamentarium is one of the best things to do in Brussels. Because if you know even a little about European politics, you might know that Brussels is home to the European Parliament.
The EU Parliament is one of Europe’s most important organizations, with members democratically voted in from each of the constituent EU member states. The EU parliament makes decisions, debates motions, and passes laws and legislations that have far-reaching effects – and you can learn all about it at the Parlamentarium visitors center!
Parlamentarium is a unique exhibition that provides you with an in-depth but easy-to-understand breakdown of European history. You’ll learn the circumstances and events that brought about the desire and need for a unified Europe, particularly after the Second World War. And you’ll also learn how the union has expanded in recent decades.
The story of Europe is told through videos, galleries, and exhibitions. Along the way, you’ll learn about the work the EU does today and how it can make a difference to the lives of ordinary Europeans. Parlamentarium is located within the aptly named European Quarter, where you can also see many of the EU’s Brussels-based offices, ministries, and institutions.
6. Explore Europe in miniature at Mini-Europe
Head to Laeken in the north of Brussels, and you can visit one of the city’s quirkiest attractions. Mini-Europe offers visitors the chance to explore Europe in miniature, with a vast park dedicated to miniature versions of European landmarks.
There are over 350 different mini attractions within the park. You’ll find the famous replicas of iconic sights like the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben, as well as explosive dioramas of Vesuvius.
Everything is built to a scale of 1:25, and you’ll marvel at the detail of the dioramas and figurines found across Mini-Europe. Although it’s mini in character, the park is vast in ambition, and you’ll need at least two hours to truly explore.
7. Explore the museums and monuments at Cinquantenaire Park
Escape the bustle of Brussels by visiting the pleasant surroundings of Cinquantenaire Park, a public park that first opened in 1880 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Belgian Revolution and the formation of the modern country.
The park was designed to not only be a public space but to hold epic monuments and memorials. You can’t miss the lavish Cinqueantenaire Arch, which took decades to build and stands tall in the center of the park. Around the arch, you’ll find landscaped gardens and water features, making this a wonderful place for a morning or afternoon stroll.
Intriguingly, many of the public buildings built here for later expos and fairs are now home to some of the best museums in Brussels. If you’re interested in military history, head to the Military Museum. Here you’ll learn about Belgium’s role in conflicts, with particular attention paid to the Great War of 1914-18, in which the nation was swept up.
At the Art and History Museum, you’ll find a unique selection of historical exhibitions from prehistory to the modern era. There are art and history exhibitions here, and you can learn about the ancient world of the Egyptians and Romans, as well as medieval and contemporary art.
The third museum in the park is Autoworld. This museum holds one of the largest collections of automobiles in the world, and you’ll be able to peruse classic cars dating back to the earliest years of motoring in the 19th century, as well as modern supercars and royal limousines.
8. Visit the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
Visit Brussels, and art lovers will find themselves in one of the most art-loving cities in the world. There are galleries and art museums seemingly on every corner, but the most revered institution in the city is the Royal Museums of Fine Arts Belgium.
Yes, that’s museums, plural – because this prestigious fine arts collection is so enormous, they need a total of six separate museums to even begin displaying all the art! The vast number of works in the collection numbers around some 20,000 pieces – ranging from medieval masterpieces to contemporary modern art.
The focus, of course, is on fine arts, and if you have time to visit all six museums during your stay, you’ll see how the interpretation and impression of this genre have changed over the last 500 or so years.
Start at the Old Masters Museum, where you’ll see the best Flemish paintings from the middle ages on display. The Modern Museum offers a more contemporary exhibition. You’ll love the contrasts between the two (if you can only visit two, as they are all in different locations, then we recommend these two first).
The remaining four museums in the collection are devoted to more specific painters, sculptors, artists, and genres – including the Wiertz Museum, the Meunier Museum, the Magritte Museum, and the Fin-de-Siecle Museum. Each of these museums offers a targeted insight into the past, present, and future of Belgian fine arts.
9. Join an Art Nouveau Walking Tour
Exploring Brussels, you might start to realize that the city has a particularly unique architectural style in certain districts. This is Art Nouveau, of which there are hundreds of examples across the capital.
Art Nouveau rose to prominence as an extravagant style in the 1890s, and Brussels was one of the cities to fervently adopt the new designs. Art Nouveau was unique in that it went against previous, rigid forms of design that Europe had seen in centuries past. Instead of looking to religion and conformity, Art Nouveau instead looked to nature and the unusual.
Today, you can learn more by visiting the Horta Museum, which is dedicated to Art Nouveau pioneer Victor Horta. To really understand more about the style and just how much of an effect it has had on the built environment of Brussels, we recommend joining an Art Nouveau walking tour of the city. These tend to focus on the Saint-Gilles area, where the highest concentration of Art Nouveau is waiting to be found.
10. Take a chocolate tour of Brussels
Belgium is a nation of chocoholics, and some of the world’s finest and most prestigious chocolate brands have a long history in the country.
As the nation’s capital, much of the chocolatey action goes down in Brussels, where there are countless chocolate shops (both family-run businesses and internationally-known brands) serving up everything from milk chocolate to praline.
With so much choice, you might not know where to begin your chocolate adventure. With that in mind, one of the most fun things to do in Brussels is a chocolate tour! You’ll learn the origins of chocolate, including how the Aztecs enjoyed brewing cacao into a hot drink long before Europeans began turning cacao into chocolate bars in the mid-19th century.
Tours will vary in length, and the number of shops visited, but they are a great way to explore Brussels and enjoy lots of tasty treats. If you’d rather explore on your own, we recommend at the very least visiting the following chocolate shops: Neuhaus, Galler, and Mary. These are the oldest and best chocolate shops in Brussels, with Neuhaus dating back to 1857!
You can also visit Godiva, one of the biggest chocolate brands in Brussels. To learn how to actually make chocolate, then you’ll want to visit the Choco-Story. This is part museum and part kitchen, where you can book chocolate-making workshops run for small groups.
11. Nerd out at the Belgian Comic Strip Center
The Belgians have an affinity for comic books, and some of the world’s most timeless comic book characters originated here (or just over the border in France, too). You can delve into the fascinating world of comics and rediscover your inner child with a trip to the Belgian Comic Strip Center.
Visiting this colorful, quirky, and fun museum is one of the most unique things to do in Brussels, and we know you’re going to love exploring tales of famous comics and characters like Tintin and the Smurfs. In fact, Belgium has at least 700 official comic book writers, so we expect you’ll be introduced to many more comics you might never have heard of.
The Belgian Comic Strip Center is located in a beautifully well-preserved Art Nouveau building just a short walk away from the Grand Place. Inside you’ll find exhibitions exploring different comics and their authors. The fun doesn’t end with the museum, either, because Brussels is a city that’s dedicated to its love of comic books.
Across the city, you’ll find many famous comic strip locations that inspired authors, as well as a wonderful selection of murals depicting characters and scenes from comic books. You can find many of these by yourself. But the Belgian Comic Strip Center also runs guided tours along the Comic Book Route, which offer visitors an alternative way to experience Brussels.
12. Feel like royalty with a visit to Belgium’s Royal Palace
One of the most regal and impressive places to visit in Brussels is the Royal Palace, a magnificent building you can find towering over Brussels Park.
This is one of many royal palaces in Brussels, and despite being arguably the most impressive, the royal family spends very little time here. They prefer their residence in the north of Brussels, but if you do see the Royal Palace Guard outside, it means someone royal is at home.
The palace dates back to the late 18th century. It stands on the site of another palace that was destroyed previously, and once work commenced, successive kings and queens added their own touches to the residence. The palace is closed to the public for much of the year, although it’s well worth visiting the site and the adjacent Brussels Park anyway.
If you’re in Belgium in the summer, it’s traditional for the King of Belgium to open the doors for public tours (he doesn’t lead the tours!) between July and August.
13. Be awed by Notre Dame du Sablon
Brussels has its own Notre Dame, a local church that’s bound to awe with its beautiful architecture and unique history.
You’ll find Notre Dame du Sablon (a church dedicated to Our Blessed Lady of Sablon) on Rue de la Régence, and you’ll instantly fall in love with the magnificent Brabantine Gothic facade that the church is famed for.
The church can trace its origins back to the 13th century, making this one of the oldest buildings in Brussels. It was originally gifted to the Crossbowmen’s Guild by Henry I, who was the Duke of Brabant.
It was extended over the years, with the main elements you see today being built in the 15th century and with Neo-Gothic elements then added several hundred years later in the 18th and 19th centuries.
14. Revel in festive cheer at a Brussels Christmas market
Christmas is one of the best times of year to visit Brussels, and you’ll love how the city’s streets and squares are filled with markets and Christmas cheer!
Brussels isn’t as well known for its Christmas markets as other European cities (we’re looking at you, Germany) but trust us, these aren’t markets to miss. The markets open on the last Friday in November, and they’ll stay open until January 1, meaning you can ring in the New Year here too.
You’ll find small markets all over the city, but the center of the Christmas activity is always the Grand Place (where else in Brussels?), where you’ll find market stalls, carol singing, and lots of festive food and drink.
15. Dine on moules-frites and Belgian fries
When in Brussels, you have to try the local specialties (chocolate aside!), which include the two classic Belgian dishes moules-frites and Belgian fries.
Moules-frites is best described as the Belgian national dish, and it consists of mussels served with frites (or fries). The mussels are often cooked in a broth or sauce and best washed down with a Belgian beer. For some of the best moules-frites in Brussels, head over to Chez Léon. This place is super popular, so be prepared for a wait!
Belgian fries are exactly what you think they are. These are thickly-cut potatoes that are fried twice and served up as a snack or side and covered in liberal quantities of sauce (especially mayonnaise).
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Brussels. What’s your favorite thing to do in Brussels?
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