Brussels is a much nicer city than many people expect. Of course, it is known for its modern architecture in the EU district, and its embassies and NATO buildings. But the city centre is truly historic, full of beautiful medieval buildings and streets and alleys. And since it is not too big, you can easily explore the centre on foot. Where to go and what to see on your walk through Brussels?
Palace of Justice
A great place to start your walk is at the Palace of Justice, a very large and impressive building at the Poelaartplein. You can’t miss it once you are there. The building has been in renovation for a very long time so part of it could still in scaffolding. But walk around it anyway. Most of the building has been restored already and it is beautiful all around.
But the most impressive and most instagrammable place is inside the building. It has a huge hall and great stairway inside, which is freely accessible to the public. It is a great spot for photos and not very well known. So there usually won’t be any crowds in your way. Make sure to go up the stairs inside and see the view from the upstairs balconies all around the big staircase. You will find some great places for photos here.
From the Palace of Justice to the Sablon Square
Walking southward over the Rue Blaes with its many vintage and antique shops you will get to the Sablon neighbourhood, which dates back to the 12th century. Its grandeur attracted a lot of nobility in the 15th and 16th century. And that’s where many buildings around the Grand Sablon and Petit Sablon are from. In the middle is the 15th-century Église Notre-Dame. The big square is surrounded by antiquarians and chocolatiers and the smaller has a lovely garden where you can enjoy flower beds and tranquillity in the middle of the city. The garden is surrounded by 48 bronze statuettes depicting ancient Brussels professions. You are literally surrounded by local history here.
The Place Royale and Museum District
From the Petit Sablon, the next stop on your walk through Brussels is the Place Royale, the spacious plaza standing atop the ruins of the former Coudenberg Palace. Among the cream-coloured neoclassical buildings are some of the country’s most beloved museums. Two of them are the Magritte Museum, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, and the Musical Instruments Museum, housed in a beautiful art nouveau building.
Royal Palace Around the Corner
Just around the corner from the Place Royale is the long part of the Royal Palace. It is a great building just opposite the royal park. And on the other side of the park is the Palace of the Nation, the seat of the federal parliament. The Royal Palace of Brussels symbolises the constitutional Monarchy. This is the King’s administrative residence and main workplace, where he works daily with his staff. In his office at the Brussels palace, the King receives the representatives of political institutions, foreign guests (heads of state, ambassadors) and other guests.
A tradition has been established since 1965 to open the Brussels Palace to the public every summer after the National Holiday of 21 July until September. Inside the palace, you get see many amazing rooms and art
Mont des Arts and the Garden
From the Royal Palace, you should walk back to the Museum district opposite the Place Royale. Walk past the Museum of Musical Instruments and down the stairs and you will end up on top of the staircase overlooking the gardens and the medieval city centre of Brussels behind them.
A Highlight of Your Walk Through Brussels: the stunning Grand Place
Walk down the stairs, through the garden, and from there into the city centre. In the Îlot Sacré, all cobbled alleys eventually lead to Grand Place. It is a magnificent display of medieval architecture and urban grandeur. The city’s main market square has a remarkably homogeneous and has been described as a miracle. Especially eye-catching are the 15th-century town hall, often mistaken for a church, and the King’s House, home to the City Museum.
Grand Place and all the little alleys around it are a great place for a break. You will find many cafes and restaurants here. Some streets are dedicated to Italian restaurants, others to Greek, again others to all kinds of Asian restaurants, and much more. You will also notice that almost every alley is lined with candy shops and chocolatiers. You cannot miss them and they are a must-try for every visitor. Both the Belgian candy as well as the chocolate are delicious. Go try!
Galeries Royales de Saint-Hubert
On your way over to the Grand Place you may have passed this place already: the Galeries Royales de Saint-Hubert and its Taverne du Passage. Make sure to go back there if you did not go in already. It is a beautiful shopping arcade that conjures up visions of 19th-century flaneurs, artists, intellectuals, and Brussels’s most stylish, who all flocked to this remarkable construction upon its opening in 1847. The galeries was one of the first of its kind in Europe, inspired by the architect’s fondness for the Italian Renaissance. Walk through the entire arcade and enjoy even more candy and chocolate shops here.
The Most Famous Statue: Manneken Pis
Typical of Belgian humour, Brussels’s pride and joy is a small statue of a rebellious boy peeing into a water fountain. You will have to cross the Grand Place after your visit to the Galeries Royales and walk through the Karel Bulstraat and Stoofstraat in a straight line, up to the famous statue Manneken Pis. Be warned: you will be surprised by its size. Around the statue is the Îlot Sacré or ‘Holy Island’, the neighbourhood with the most historic and touristy streets of Brussels. These streets are known for its many Belgian waffle restaurants. So if you didn’t already have one, then take a break from your walk through Brussels here and have a waffle .
Last Stop on Your Walk: La Bourse
One more spot you have to see on your walk through Brussels is La Bourse, the former stock exchange just a short walk from the Grand Place. It is another beautiful building and square that you really should not miss seeing. The square is where people get together to celebrate big national events and things like New Year’s Eve. The neoclassical decorations on the building’s façade are partly from the hand of famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
The streets around it have many nice international restaurants and cafes. And, of course, this could be a good spot to get some world-renowed Belgian fries. You can get them at many places. One I recommend is Fritland, on the corner right opposite La Bourse. It is famous for its delicious fries. So you may end up queuing for a bit. It will be worth it though! The line moves fast and contains quite a lot of locals, so you know they’re doing something right.
There is More to Explore on a Walk Through Brussels
Brussels has a lot more to see than the places I mentioned above. The EU quarter and the park right next to it are great to visit. You can even tour the European Parliament there, which is a lot more interesting and inspiring than you may expect. The architecture alone is worth visiting and walking around the EU part of town. Not far away from it, are several historical residential areas with many amazing buildings showing the rich history of this capital. Brussels also has a lot of street art all around, very popular comic stores, art museums and, of course, the Smurfs. Just outside the city is the world-famous Atomium. You will need a car or public transportation to get there. But if you can, do it! It is a great sight to see and experience.
If you like exploring a city on foot, be sure to check out this article about the ancient Roman city of Maastricht.