City Guide to Brussels, Belgium: Part 2 | Must See Attractions
Brussels, Belgium is a lively city with so much to see and do. From architecture to gardens, and a rich sense of history to the epicenter of European Union politics, visiting Brussels is quite an experience! We’ve included our two day sightseeing itinerary with all of the must see attractions. Read on and use our sightseeing map to create your own personalized itinerary!
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We explored several cities in Belgium (Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, and Brussels!) from top to bottom and couldn’t fit it all in just one article. Be sure to read the rest of our Belgium City Guides!
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Sightseeing Brussels, Belgium
In preparation for visiting Brussels and wanting to make the absolute most of our time in the city, we created a comprehensive sightseeing itinerary, researching all the destinations we could find. So, to possibly make your research on sightseeing in Brussels (and other destinations) easier, we’ve kept our maps with all of the information we gathered (accurate at the time of our sightseeing).
Finding hours, prices, and general information can sometimes be challenging, so we’ve tried to include these details on our maps and provide appropriate links below.
We encourage you to explore the map below, copy it to your Google account, and make the map your own. It’s a fantastic resource to have on hand when touring the city!
NOTE: We used this sightseeing map for our personal sightseeing adventures, because of that some notes may not make perfect sense, and some information could be outdated. Information on this map was valid at the time of creation. All prices are shown in US dollars but are actually Euros (local currency). That being said, feel free to save it to your Google account and use it as a starting point (or modify it accordingly) for planning out your personalized itinerary in Brussels, Belgium.
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Must See Attractions in Brussels - Two Day Sightseeing Itinerary
We were able to see and experience Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges on day trips while based in Brussels. However, we dedicated two full days to exploring Brussels!
Note: Most of Brussels’ must see attractions are within walking distance of city center. However, a few places further out require public transportation, a vehicle, or a bike. So, to streamline things we decided to do the further out attractions all on the same day, which for us, was day two of our itinerary for Brussels.
Brussels Sightseeing Itinerary, Day 1
Royal Palace of Brussels
We like to start the day out bright and early and with the things on our sightseeing list that can be most crowded later in the day. For this reason, our first destination in Brussels was the Royal Palace.
The Royal Palace of Brussels is located in city center and is the official home of the King and Queen of the Belgians.
The palace is open to visitors each summer starting on July 21st and going through September. Before visiting, be sure to check the most recent information on their website. When we arrived, the palace was unfortunately not open to visitors. However, we enjoyed the exterior of the palace and a nice walk through the park in front of the palace.
Royal Square and Mont des Arts
From the Royal Palace of Brussel we headed west on Place des Palais (the street in front of the palace) and made a left on Rue Royale. After just a block, you’ll find yourself in Royal Square, which is surrounded by the Royal Palace, Royal Museums, and the Royal Library.
It’s a great square to take a few minutes to walk around and enjoy the royal architecture. But we were quickly off in search of great views of the city!
We made an exit from the square by turning west onto Rue Montagne de la Cour and this is where you’ll start to see a view that’s worth a few pictures. As you walk down the road and continue on the pedestrian path, the vista will open up.
Just before going down the stairs to the left or right, you’ll have an incredible view!
The garden below, Mont des Arts Garden, has become a local hotspot and popular city square. To be honest, the garden, literally translated to ‘hill/mount of the arts’ is a beautiful garden from afar, but unfortunately as we approached it the graffiti and trash took away from its beauty. We hope this was just bad timing on our part!
St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral
After taking in the amazing views of Brussels, head north to visit St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral.
The cathedral was built between 1226 and 1276, but not given its cathedral status until 1962. Because St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral is the national church of Belgium, it’s where royal weddings and funerals are held.
Information on the church can be found on their website.
While at St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, see if you can find the Falcons nest on the dome!
Falcons had almost disappeared in Belgium (most of Europe for that matter) before conservation efforts began to bring them back. Knowing that makes the Peregrine Falcons nest that was found at the top of the cathedral in 2004, that much more special!
The Falcons for Everyone project was started and there are pictures and a live webcam of the nest!
Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
If you want to shop in luxury, take in ornate and beautiful architecture, and sit at a café where famous painters and writers of their time gathered, then Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert should be on your list of places to see!
Construction of this magnificent shopping arcade was completed in 1847 and includes two sections, each over 100 yards in length. On a sunny day with blue skies, the glass and cast iron ceiling is a vision to be seen!
A short walk from Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hurbert is the Le Grand-Palace.
Walking through La Grand-Palace is an experience that will have you in awe! The particularly ornate building fronts make this a popular spot (and for good reason) for visitors to take pictures.
The cobbled market square is a UNESCO Heritage Site and the buildings around it are remarkable:
Hotel De Ville - City Hall, which can be recognized by the bell tower
The King’s House - Which is now the City Museum
Homes of public authorities
The makeup of this market square is unique to most, as it doesn’t have a any churches or places of worship. The entirety of the square is mercantile, commercial, and governmental in nature. Additionally, you may notice the streets surrounding the square are named after foods (or at least we certainly notices!).
Museum van Cacao En Chocolade
Hopefully you haven’t filled up yet on the delicious treats Brussels has to offer yet, because the next stop is Museum van Cacao En Chocolade!
This museum is easy to miss, as the front blends into the surrounding storefronts and their signage is lacking. So keep a keen eye out for it!
The museum is privately owned and was established in 1998. There unfortunately isn’t much history or chocolate artifacts here. However, there’s a chocolate experience that’s very interesting (read delicious!).
Upon our arrival, we waited just a few minutes before the next presentation began. While we waited, there were several chocolate samples to enjoy, including white chocolate, cocoa butter, 100% cocoa and a range of milk to dark chocolates. There’s also a fountain of chocolate to dip cookies in, as if there wasn’t already enough chocolate!
The chocolatier who presented the demonstration during our visit, knew several languages, including English, and gave a very interactive and engaging presentation on making pralines. The presentation lasted about 10 minutes and at the end, everyone was invited to try samples of the pralines.
To no ones surprise, Shannon asked for a picture with the chocolatier (along with a few extra samples!).
Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon
After filling up on chocolate pralines, make your way back up the hill to visit Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon (Église Notre-Dame du Sablon).
The stained glass, murals, and pillars make this Gothic church from the 15th century a sight to see!
Jardin du Petit Sablon
Across the street and slightly uphill from Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon, is Jardin du Petit Sablon.
If you have the chance to see it in spring then you’re in luck! In addition to the year around manicure trees and hedges, the garden is full of flowers in the Spring.
In 1890, Jardin du Petit Sablon replaced the Saint John Hospital’s cemetery. Of particular interest here is the ten statues of intellectuals, artists, and political figures that form a semicircle around the center fountain of Counts Edgmont and Horne. These symbols of the resistance against former Spanish tyranny stand atop the pillars and each pillar of the wrought iron fence that encloses the garden is unique and topped with statues representing historical professions.
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
Next, we headed to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium which was founded in 1845 by a royal decree.
The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium houses works of art by Belgian Artists. The 20,000 drawings, sculptures, and paintings date back from the 15th century to the present.
In addition to the ‘Rubens Room’, which displays more than 20 paintings by Rubens, the museum also displays Flemish paintings. Beyond the artwork, the interior architecture may be appreciated from the ground floor and the balcony of the building.
The official museum website offers information on the museum, including exhibit details and practical information on opening hours and ticket prices.
Tip: You may choose to start your day with the Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon, the Jardin du Petit Sablon and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belium. Putting these before the Royal Palace will lesson the overall walking distance of the day. However, we enjoy seeing the more popular sights first thing in the morning, when the crowds are thinner. We felt these two sights were better placed at the end of our day, so we could see the palace and the city from the popular viewpoints at Mont des Arts first.
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Brussels Sightseeing Itinerary, Day 2
Parc du Cinquantenaire
A great place to start the day is at Parc du Cinquantenaire!
This iconic archway and gate is often compared to Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. It’s so large that it was nearly impossible to fit all of the gate and us into a picture, even with our camera that features a wider than average lens. We tried, but eventually settled for just a portion of it in the background.
Surrounding the archway and gate is a park that was commissioned by King Leopold II to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Belgium’s independence. It’s a 30 hectare, symmetrical garden situated between Avenue des Nerviens, Tervueren and Avenue de la Renaissance.
Tip: The sun rises to shine on the front of the arch, making for great pictures of the front of the gate. However, plan your visit accordingly because if the sun is shining brightly, it will cast a glare that makes it challenging to get a picture of the back of the arch.
Extending from the sides of the arch are three museums: Autoworld, the Cinquantenair Museum, and the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History. Even if you don’t plan on visiting the museum, the Armed Forces and Military History museum has a free entry to the top of the arches.
European Parliament is next on the itinerary, but because of the distance, we recommend using public transportation from Parc du Cinquantenaire. On the other hand, the walk is a great way to see non-touristy areas in Brussels!
There are three separate locations of Parliament within Europe. The first, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, is where the administrative offices are. Then meetings of all of Parliament are held both in Strasbourg, France, and in Brussels, Belgium. Additionally, committee meetings for parliament are held in Brussels.
When visiting Parliament in Brussels, be on the lookout of the exterior of the building, for the words ‘European Parliament’ printed in each official language of the European Union. We took a moment to see how many languages we recognized and how many we could actually read!
For visitors, during the work week, tours are given nearly every hour to the Hemicycle. It’s a free audio tour of the Hemicycle that's less than 30-minutes and takes place entirely in the Hemicycle.
Tip: Be prepared to show your photo ID or passport when passing through security at the European Parliament in Brussels.
Additional activities can be done at Parliament and we recommend visiting Parlamentarium for an interactive experience of the visitors center. It’s free of charge and can be experienced in all of the European Union’s 24 official languages. It’s a great way for visitors of all ages to learn about Parliament!
Next, make your way to Halle Gate (Porte de Hall), part of the second surrounding wall of Brussels.
Inside this 14th century medieval gate is the Royal Museums of Art and History, a museum showcasing the medieval City of Brussels. Both the exterior and the interior will make you feel as if you’re stepping back in time!
Visitor information can be found on the Brussels’ Museums website.
National Basilica of the Sacred Heart
You’ve probably seen the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart off in the distance already. It’s just as much a sight to be seen up close as it’s from afar!
Walking down the greens to the front of the basilica leaves quite an impression, as you’d expect.
National Basilica of the Sacred Heart is one of the 10 largest Roman Catholic Churches in the world (by area) and the largest Art Deco style building in the world.
To be fair, it’s a big building to decorate for sure, but don’t expect to see the ornate decorations like you may have seen in other churches throughout Belgium. It’s clean and more modern than most churches we’ve seen throughout Europe.
Tip: To enter, follow the signs and go to the left (when facing the basilica) and around to the back side of the basilica.
Another iconic destination in Brussels, Belium is Atomium. It’s a bit outside of city center, so we took public transportation to get here.
Atomium was built for Expo 58, the 1958 Brussels World Fair. It’s 102 meters tall and with tickets, visitors can take an elevator ride to levels 1 and 2 for the permanent exhibition (the story of the pavilion and Atomium), levels 3, 4, and 5 for the temporary exhibition, and to level 6 for the panoramic 360 view.
Next on our sightseeing itinerary is Mini-Europe, another well known attraction in Brussels.
At a scale of 1:25, Mini-Europe is a miniature park with over 350 buildings representing around 80 cities. This isn’t just a park to walk through and admire, it’s interactive as well! This is a great place to stop if you have kids.
Park information, including tickets can be found on the Mini-Europe website.
Botanical Garden of Brussels
Near the Northern Quarter financial district, the Botanical Garden of Brussels is free to visit. The garden is set in front of Le Botanique, a music venue and cultural complex. The garden is expansive and well worth the walk on the various paths that take you through trees, flowers, and a pond. We found that many locals and tourists were relaxing on the steps of the main building, Le Botanique, and on the grass near the pond. It’s a great place to have a picnic!
Royal Museum for Central Africa
The last stop on our Brussels sightseeing itinerary was the Royal museum for Central Africa, an ethnography and natural history museum.
The museum closed for renovation in 2013 and is scheduled for reopening in June 2018. If it’s open during your visit to Brussels, we recommend visiting! Otherwise, unfortunately it’s probably not worth a visit, since it’s a trek out of city center and the building is covered in scaffolding.
More Must See Attractions in Brussels to Add to Your Personalized Sightseeing Itinerary
All located in central Brussels, there’s a series of fountains that you may, or may not want to see while in the city!
It all started with Manneken Pis which is a statue of a naked boy urinating into a fountain. It dates back to 1618 or 1619 (the date isn’t agreed upon) and has since become a well-known landmark in Brussels. And if you want a souvenir, don’t miss the miniature statues that make a (great?) gift.
Lesser known is Jeanneke Pis, a fountain of a little girl urinating located in the Ilot Sacré neighborhood (1987). Finally, there’s Zinneke Pis, the statue of the urinating dog. This one is a bit harder to find and isn’t a functioning statue.