Brussels has long been one of Europe’s key economic and cultural hubs — a tradition which can be traced all the way back to the Middle Ages.
Today, the Belgian capital — and one of the European Union’s three parliamentary bases — is blessed with fine museums, fabulous historic architecture, and open green spaces. It’s also a destination that doesn’t take itself too seriously; comic book heroes are revered alongside the masters of Flemish art. The Bruxellois love their city and you will too. It’s the capital of European cool!
This Brussels city guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.
Top Oz Tours now offers a great range of fully escorted multi-day tours and river cruises in Europe. And we're offering $100 AUD per person off all new bookings placed via our new tour concierge line. Browse the available options, find the tour of your choice, and contact us to make your booking. It's that easy!
There’s no shortage of top things to do in Brussels that will connect you to the city’s rich history.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Grand Place is the historic centre of Brussels and a fine starting point for exploring the city. After being bombarded by French troops in 1695, Grand Place was rebuilt in the amazing mix of gothic and baroque architecture we see today.
One of the best ways to explore Brussels and learn more about its history is on foot with a volunteer Brussels Greeter. Greeters are passionate about their city and will share a wealth of knowledge about its history and culture. They’ve also got plenty of tips for food and shopping highlights off the usual tourist trail.
Along with Strasbourg and Luxembourg, Brussels is home to the EU’s European Parliament. The Parliamentarium (European Parliament Visitors’ Centre) in Brussels provides information on the history of the EU and the rather complicated workings of its legislative assembly.
Top cultural activities in Brussels
Brussels is billed as the capital of the comic strip — and with good reason.
Belgian artists have created many global comic icons, including Tintin, the Smurfs, and Lucky Luke. The Comics Art Museum is one of the city’s must-visits and charts the history and development of comic art. There are sections devoted to all of Belgium’s best loved characters.
There are more than 40 murals dotted across Brussels depicting scenes from comic books. Pick-up a map from the tourist information centre and head out on a comic-themed self-guided walking tour. Tintin fans will also want to visit the Hergé Museum. Located just outside of the capital, it’s dedicated to the life’s work of Georges Prosper Remi — better known as Hergé — the reporter-sleuth’s creator.
A statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain may seem an odd choice for a cultural icon, but Manneken-Pis is a Belgian national treasure and one of the capital’s top sights. Therefore, you may be a little surprised to learn that the statue at the fountain is actually a stand-in. You can see the original at the Brussels City Museum in Grand Place. On special occasions, Manneken-Pis is dressed in elaborate costumes selected by a special committee. His expansive wardrobe of some 900 outfits is also held at the museum.
Brussels has a superb range of art and history museums, and several of them offer free entry on the first Wednesday of the month. The collection of facilities that make up the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium cover everything from the revered Flemish era of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, to the Surrealist movement. For a deep dive into Belgium’s backstory and democratic traditions, drop by the engaging Belvue Museum in the heart of the Museum Quarter. You’ll gain a better understanding of what makes this progressive nation tick.
You should also check out the nearby, pleasantly surprising Musical Instruments Museum. It houses instruments dating back to the 1500s, and an audio guide allows visitors to hear what each one sounds like when played.
So important is beer in Belgian culture that in 2016 it was registered on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage list. The Museum of Belgian Brewers on Grand Place is dedicated to the history and development of Belgian beer from brews produced by Trappist monks to modern craft beers.
Great places to eat in Brussels
Seafood sits at the centre of Brussels’ culinary scene, and the national dish of Moules-Frites (mussels with chips) is a fixture on bistro menus across the city.
The best seafood restaurants are found around Quai aux Briques (known to locals as the ‘fish markets’), and stalwart Francois is arguably the most popular option. In all weather, Brussels locals stand at outdoor tables devouring takeaway seafood and chips from Mer du Nord.
At La Villette, traditional Belgian dishes can be washed down with around 40 types of beer. If 40 aren’t enough, the Delirium café made the Guinness Book of World Records for the size of its beer menu. It currently boasts over 2,500 different brews!
When it’s time for a sugar hit, you can’t go wrong with a Belgian waffle. There are two types to choose from: the thick and sticky gaufre (typically served hot with no toppings), or the light and crispy liege. The ridiculously popular Waffle Factory will see you right.
If that doesn’t satiate your sweet tooth, a chocolate walking tour certainly will! Brussels is the world capital of chocolate-making and is jam-packed with talented chocolatiers (many of which can be found around Grand Place). Big names include Neuhaus (the inventor of the praline), Godiva, and Leonidas — all of which have a number of stores in the capital. The tour will lead you to a broad cross section of independent salons.
Top Oz Tours offers a great range of Belgium day tours and guided experiences. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book through us, and you’ll have access to the widest choice of activities and most competitive prices.
Brussels offers visitors plenty of opportunities for a spot of retail therapy.
The Rue Neuve pedestrian area is the city’s busiest shopping precinct and is home to all the usual big brand stores. For something uniquely Brussels, visit the charming Galleries Royales St Hubert. These beautiful glass-roofed galleries opened in the mid-1800s and are visited by six million shoppers each year. Boutiques within offer giftware, clothing, jewellery, and chocolate.
In keeping with its place as capital of the comic book, there are numerous shops and galleries that specialise in comic art and collectibles. The best-known and most comprehensive is Multi bd. Both Tintin and the Smurfs have their own boutiques.
The once rundown area around Rue Antoine Dansaert gained a new lease on life when young Flemish designers moved in and set up boutiques. It’s now the must-go destination for cutting-edge Belgian fashion. Top independent designers share space at Stijl.
Ways to relax in Brussels
Counter your holiday diet of waffles, chocolate, and beer with some gentle exercise in any of Brussels’ delightful green spaces.
Cinquantenaire Park offers an extensive network of beautifully maintained gardens to dally in, while the tree-lined alleys of Osseghem Park and Laeken Park are ideal for a shady stroll. Nearby you’ll find the Atomium — another of the city’s most popular attractions.
Thousands of trees line the pathways of pretty Elisabeth Park. The pathways are laid out to form the monogram of King Leopold II, who commissioned the building of the park in the late 19th century. You’ll need the use of a helicopter to appreciate the full effect!
Brussels Park is a great spot to take a break from sightseeing and watch the world go by. Food trucks can be found in close proximity to the manicured Jardin du Mont des Arts, making it ideal for enjoying a casual lunch.
Looking to explore further afield during your stay in Brussels? The stunning historic towns of Ghent and Bruges are situated within easy reach. Book a day tour and visit top heritage sites like St Bavo’s Cathedral, St Nicholas’ Church, and the Castle of the Counts of Flanders.
Browse our range of Brussels tours and experiences here.
Do you have any tips to add to our Brussels city guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world — and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, she has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Louise’s favourite way to see the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. She also has a passion for her home state of Victoria and loves exploring its diverse regions.