As the capital of Belgium and of the European Union, Brussels offers no shortage of things to see and do. I was lucky to visit a few years ago and had an amazing time. Whether you’re the type of traveler who prefers to leave their agenda as open as possible or you love to make your plans in advance like I do, there are a few big things you’ll definitely want to find time to experience while you’re in town.
From gorgeous old cathedrals to a super-modern structure whose design is inspired by science, you can’t miss these five Brussels attractions:
- GRAND PLACE.
You’ll find public squares in many European cities, but few squares are as stunning or as opulent as the Grand Place. This massive square is lined by old buildings with impressive facades – everywhere you look, you’ll find beautiful statues, gold details and embellishments, and incredible artistry. Once primarily used as a market, the square is now a popular spot for local celebrations and festivals, as well as a prime locale for tourists to snap a photo or two.
The shiny (and strange-looking) Atomium was constructed for the World’s Fair in 1958. Instead of dismantling it when the fair was finished, they turned it into an attraction for locals and tourists alike.
Visit today, and you can explore the spheres of the Atomium, each of which holds a different exhibit or attraction. There are a few permanent exhibits, including ones that highlight the 1950’s and the World’s Fair where the Atomium made its debut, as well as temporary exhibits, event space, and a restaurant. You’ll want to time your visit to this one carefully, as the lines can get quite long.
- MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS MUSEUM.
If you like music – or better yet, can play an instrument – the Musical Instruments Museum is a great place to spend a couple of hours exploring. You can see hundreds of old instruments of all kinds up close, learn about the evolution of a variety of instruments, and can even hear many of them through borrowed headphones. Plan to grab a snack or a meal in the restaurant at the top of the museum for some of the most incredible views (and photo ops!) you’ll find in the whole city.
- SAINT-MICHAEL CATHEDRAL.
Like public squares, Europe is known for a number of impressive cathedrals. The most well-loved in Brussels is the Saint-Michel Cathedral. It’s a beautiful example of Gothic architecture, and it’s easy to lose track of time inside as you admire its stained-glass windows. For a small fee, history buffs will definitely appreciate a trip to the cathedral’s archeological site, located beneath its floors.
- MANNEKIN PIS.
You can’t visit Brussels without a trip to Mannekin Pis, the infamous statue of a little peeing boy. Given the statue’s fairly small size, you might be surprised by the sheer size of the crowds that surround Mannekin Pis. You’ll almost always find groups of tourists hoping to get a glimpse of this public piece of art, but it’s worth waiting a minute or two to navigate the crowd and check out this well-known landmark in person.
While there are lots of other things to see and do while you’re in Brussels, these are the things that truly make this city shine. If you have time, you may also consider spending a day in Bruges.