Brussels is both a historical crossroads of cultures and an archetypal melting pot for art, architecture, and music , while maintaining its own unique perspective—and sense of humor. We offer you a 48-hour visitors’ guide, which highlights important cultural touchstones as well as some more low-key things to do in Brussels.
Six different museums comprise the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, with impressive collections spanning centuries of Flemish and Belgian art. There’s so much to see, it’s easy to spend several hours here. We recommend the Combi ticket which allows entry to the Modern, Old Masters, Fin-de-Siecle, and Magritte Museums.
Stroll through the sculpted, geometric green areas of Mont des Arts where you can enjoy the splendid city view from the esplanade at the end of the park, particularly at sunset.
Fans of fine art, music, and architecture will fall in love with the Palais des Beaux Arts. This extensive Art Nouveau palace is a work of art itself and plays host to art exhibitions, theater, film and literary events. Above all, though, this is the place to hear excellent classical music concerts in Brussels.
The Comics Art Museum is a great alternative to fine art. This museum, located inside an extraordinary Art Nouveau building, includes a library, auditorium, and permanent and temporary exhibits to satisfy family visitors and comic junkies alike. The majority of comics are Belgian, and international guests might be surprised to discover that familiar faces like Tintin and The Smurfs originated in Belgium.
Markets & Their Neighborhoods
The historically working-class Marolles district promises the “real” flea market experience with their daily market at Place du Jeu de Balle. Old books and records, appliances, instruments, clothing, antiques, jewelry, and more: sort through the junk to discover hidden gems—and the perfect souvenir.
The Sunday morning market at Gare du Midi is Brussels’ busiest and most famous. Locals come here to do their weekly shopping for fresh fruits, vegetables and delicacies like olives and cheeses. Prices really start dropping around closing, so stick around for some crazy bargains.
Antique-lovers are in for a real treat with the weekend antiques market at Place du Grand Sablon, as well as the many little shops, restaurants, and cafes open in this historical neighborhood throughout the week. The area is also home to some of the top Belgian chocolatiers, the perfect opportunity to satisfy your own sweet tooth or pick up those chocolates you promised your friends.
The panoramic spectacle of the Grand Place, or Grote Markt, is a touristic must and well worth visiting despite its heavy traffic. A striking combination of Gothic and Baroque architecture frames this historical central square, including splendidly ornate guildhalls and the soaring nobility of the Town Hall. You’ll want to take a photo or two.
Nearby, the Manneken Pis is probably one of Europe’s oddest tourist sites, an otherwise innocuous 17th century bronze statue of a boy urinating, which has somehow become a symbol of Brussels’ pride (and humor). The statue also has lesser-known female and canine counterparts, the Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke Pis respectively, if you have the time and patience to search them out. However, if the tiny mascot fails to impress, you can console yourself with a fresh waffle served nearby—delicious!
A bizarre but beloved structure, the Atomium was originally constructed for the 1958 World’s Fair Expo but has become a beloved symbol of the city. Enter each of the spheres to view exhibitions and visit the top for a sweeping view of Brussels and beyond. If the heights stir your appetite, stop in at the Panoramic Restaurant for a unique dining experience.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a stylish 19th century arcade near the Grand Place, provides ample opportunity for dreamy window shopping, not to mention it’s a nice spot for breakfast.
Drinks around Place Ste. Catherine
Le Vismet presents a classy but unpretentious setting for delicious seafood. Thanks to an open kitchen, you may be able to observe the chef’s expert preparations depending on where you’re seated. Alternatively, settle in at Le Pré Salé for some traditional Belgian comfort food. The moules-frites are their specialty. If drinks are your desire, drop by Monk, a cosy local bar away from the tourist grind. Here you can sample a selection of excellent Belgian beers and tasty snacks like cheese and sausage. For more ambiance, visit L’Archiduc, a small but authentic 1930’s jazz bar in a Brussels Art Deco style, and they still host occasional live music ensembles.
Concerts in the Evening
A perfect close to your evening, Brussels presents a rich ground for classical music concerts. The Palais de Beaux Arts houses several superior concert spaces from the expansive to the intimate, and its renowned Henry Le Boeuf Hall is the most exquisite. Seating 2,100, this beautiful oval concert hall boasts acoustic brilliance from every angle. An experience you won’t soon forget.