Brussels Landmarks: A Fascinating Journey Through the Heart of Europe

famous landmarks brussels

If you’ve included the small country of Belgium on your list of European destinations, you’ve made an excellent decision. And Brussels, the capital city and headquarters for the EU, and Nato is the perfect base for your trip. Every part of Belgium can be reached by car or train from Brussels in less than three hours.

Be sure to plan for enough time in Brussels to take in all this fantastic city has to offer. Following are just a few highlights to hit that include some of the must-see famous landmarks in Brussels.

Grand Place

Brussels, capital of Belgium
Brussels, capital of Belgium

Once you visit Grand Place, Brussels’ main square, you’ll see why it is often called the world’s most beautiful square. The square has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998 and for good reason. Its history dates all the way back to the 12th century when it began as a market square vital to the city. At that time, it was filled with halls and houses mostly made of wood.

The elegant Gothic town hall in the square was added in the 15th century along with trade guilds in the bordering houses. In 1695, Lous XIV’s troops bombarded the square and it had to be almost entirely rebuilt. Future renovations would follow including in the 19th century when Grand Place took on its current appearance.

Many festivities are held at Grand Place fairs, concerts, and other cultural events such as the Christmas Tree and Nativity scene and the summer flower carpet.


The Atomium
The Atomium

Brussels’ architecture is an eclectic mix of the old and the new, and rising high above the city, the Atomium welcomed the atomic age to the city when it was erected for the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958. The structure was originally intended to be dismantled after the fair, but it was such a hit, authorities decided to leave it standing. It is now a permanent fixture of the Brussels skyline.

Made of steel and aluminum, the Atomium rises to a height of 102 meters. It resembles the composition of an iron crystal that has been magnified 165 billion times with nine steel balls balancing on sticks. Each of the spheres contains exhibitions and is accessible by stairs, an escalator, or an elevator. A glass-roofed elevator will whisk you to a restaurant on the top sphere where you can enjoy a Belgian beer with a panoramic view.

Town Hall

Town Hall, Grand Place
Brussels Town Hall

The majestic City of Brussels town hall is the star of the Grand Palace and has been since the Gothic building was erected in the 15th century. Its facade is adorned with countless sculptures and its soaring tower is topped with the city’s protector, the archangel Saint Michael.

The town hall was lost to fire in 1695 when Louis XIV’s troops bombarded the city. Only the tower and the walls were left standing. The interior was rebuilt soon after and in 1712 two rear wings were added to create the L-shaped building it is today. Victor Jamar reimagined the Gothic interior in 1868 in the style of French architect Viollet-le-Duc, his mentor. The halls were replenished with sculptures, paintings, and tapestries from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries representing local and regional history.

Brussels City Museum

Brussels City Museum
Brussels City Museum

Standing opposite the Brussels’ City Hall on Grand Place, the Broodhuis (Bread House), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is where you’ll find the fascinating Brussels City Museum. The building is known as Maison du Roi (King’s House) in French and was named after the Roman Holy Emperor Charles V who was once the owner of the Bread House. Destroyed by fire in the 16th century, it was rebuilt during the 19th century in Gothic Revival style by Victor Jamaer, the city architect.

In addition to its history and facade, the museum inside gives an extensive overview of the history of Brussels with an emphasis on the arts, crafts, architecture, and urbanism. For security reasons, it also houses the original Manneken Pis, an important city symbol from the 17th century.

The museum also houses many important historical masterpieces and artifacts including the Weathervane of St. Micheal at the Town Hall from 1455 and the Three Graces, a masterpiece signed by Della Porta.

Mannekin Pis

Mannaken Pis, Brussels
Mannaken Pis, Brussels

This little whimsical statue is one of Brussels’ best-known and best-loved landmarks. The statue of a little boy urinating was erected in 1619 and has been stolen and returned several times over the years. The original one is safely stashed at the Brussels City Museum.

You’ll hear different stories from the locals about the little boy relieving himself in public from a child who had “to go” in the middle of a parade to working as a little fireman to smother out a bomb.

The Mannekin Pis is a part of many celebrations in the city. It is said that he has thousands of outfits, and the locals dress him up to fit the occasion. Bands play as the little peeing boy doles out Belgian beer for everyone.

The statue is a little hard to find on your own but is included in most tours. Look for him down the lane to the right from Town Hall. See if you can find the little peeing boy’s lesser-known sculpture family his sister Jeanneke Pis and his dog Zinneke who also do their business on the streets.

Royal Palace

royal palace brussels
Royal Palace, Brussels

Offering both beauty and history, the Royal Palace is surrounded by a peaceful park and Belgian historical monuments to explore. The grand palace provides an official home for the Royal family although they spend their time at Laeken. The public can visit a few special rooms at the Royal Palace in Brussels between late July and early September.

Alphonse Balat designed the majestic interior for Kind Leopold II with imposing stone columns and the vast white marble staircase. Along with the mirrors, gilding, and bay windows, the vestibule and main stairway harmonize with the palace as a whole.

The large anti-chamber dates from the Dutch period after the Battle of Waterloo united all of the Netherlands and is adorned with a frieze that depicts the political history of the time. The suspended portraits of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Princess Charlotte of Wales are by English painter George Dawe.

The most enthralling room in the palace is the Mirror Room with its strange ceiling composed of a mosaic of beetle wings.


Parlamentarium in Brussels City
Parlamentarium in Brussels City

The Parlamentarium has been visited by more than 1.5 million people. Its visitor center is of interest to people of all ages and the program can be experienced in all 24 languages of the EU. Handheld media guides explain how the European Parliament works, the goal of European integration, and how Members are working to meet current challenges.

The learning experience at the Parlamentarium is dynamic and interactive. Visitors walk away with knowledge about European cooperation and how Parliament operates. The visitors center is open seven days a week with free self-directed tours that take an average of 90 minutes.

You must book your visit onlineor by phone (+32 2 283 2222). If not, you will only be admitted if space is available. The weekday hours are 1 pm to 5 pm on Monday, 8 am to 5 pm Tuesday-Friday, and 9 am to 5 pm on weekends

Mini Europe

Mini Europe Miniature Park
Mini Europe Miniature Park

Experience all of Europe’s best architectural achievements in one place at the amazing theme park Mini-Europe. A thrilling experience for all, especially children, the park features scaled-down models(1/25th of their actual size) of famous landmarks across the continent. You’ll see models of over 350 landmarks including Paris’ Eiffel Tower, London’s Big Ben, Athens’ Acropolis, the Berlin Wall, the canals of Venice, Naples’ Mount Vesuvius, and much more.

The park’s adorable turtle mascot is especially appealing to children, and the displays are described in cute and informative ways. Each replica has visual and sound effects, and many of them are interactive.

Mini Europe is located near the Atomium and can be reached by metro, tram, or bus. It’s a very affordable attraction for families with adult tickets priced at 16.50 euros (USD 18) and 12 euros (USD 13) for children. Combo tickets that include admittance to the Atomium can be purchased. Note that the park closes from January to mid-March.

Belgian Comic Strip Center

Belgian Comic Strip Center
Belgian Comic Strip Center – Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Belgium isn’t just all about history, politics, and religion. The country is the birthplace of a slew of legendary comic book characters and home to over 700 comic strip artists. Many of them quite famous.

The little country has such a large repertoire of comic characters created by its citizens, it pays tribute to them with a delightful museum. The Belgian Comic Strip Center features European comics and their stories with permanent and temporary collections and a Comic Strip Library containing more than 60,000 works.

The Comic Strip Center is another inexpensive attraction for families with adult tickets priced at 10 euros (USD 11), 7 euros (USD 8) for ages 12-25, and 3.50 euros (about USD 4) for children under 12. It’s open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.

Royal Museum of Fine Arts

Royal Museum of Fine Arts
Royal Museum of Fine Arts – Image courtesy of elPadawan

Belgium’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts is actually a group of six separate art museums in one place. Located in the Brussels historic center, it includes Oldmasters Museum, Meunier Museum, Modern Museum, Magritte Museum, Wiertz Museum, and the Fin-de-Siècle Museum. Altogether, the museums include a collection of around 20,000 works from the 15th century to the modern day.

Some of the artists you’ll see works by include Rodin, Rubens, Magritte, Gauguin, and many more. Also on display is a collection of works from the Flemish school including Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel.

To fully appreciate the museum’s vast collection, it’s suggested that you allow at least 2 and a half hours for your visit. The museum is well worth the price of 15 euros (USD 16.50). Children are admitted free. It’s also free for all visitors after 1 pm on the first Wednesday of each month. Each separate museum has its own hours of operation which can be found on the museum’s official website.

Mont des Arts

Mont des Arts
Mont des Arts

The Mont des Arts is an urban complex and historic site located on a hill at the junction between downtown and uptown Brussels. One can easily spend an afternoon at the complex relaxing in the lush gardens that surround the statue of Albert I where he sits facing Queen Elizabeth on the other side of the road at Place de l’Albertine. You’ll also enjoy panoramic city views. At sunset the views are picture postcard perfect, and after dark, the lights of the city glitter below.

Afterward, pay a visit to the KBR, Brussels’ main library and manuscript museum, and the Brussels Congress Centre Square. Also located on-site and within walking distance of several cultural institutions and major museums including the Museum of Musical Instruments, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, the Bozar Center of Fine Arts, and more. In all, the picturesque hill has as many as 10 museums.

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

This restored arcade from the mid-19th century attracts visitors for both its stunning architecture and the shops, cafes, restaurants, theaters, and art galleries. Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert was originally designed to bring the shopping experience indoors. The building has been a place for artistic and literary types, journalists, and theatergoers. It is said that the arcade was a favorite hangout for Victor Hugo.

One of the first covered shopping arcades in Europe, the Renaissance-style arcade is dedicated to royalty and comprised of three splendid halls – the Queen’s Gallery, the King’s Gallery, and the Princes” Gallery. Visitors can browse the stores for retail therapy or simply window shop. Stores sell everything from clothing to diamonds and luscious Belgian chocolates.

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is located about a half-mile from Grand Place. You’ll find a list of stores and their opening times on its website.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Brussels’ best-known landmark?

Located in the historic heart of Brussels, Grand Place is the city’s best-known landmark.

What are the top 3 famous museums in Brussels?

The top 3 famous museums in Brussels are the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, the Atomium, and Mini-Europe.

What are the top 3 famous religious monuments in Brussels?

Brussels’ top 3 famous religious monuments are Brussels Cathedral, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and the Cathedral of St. Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon.

What are the 3 famous parks & gardens in Brussels?

Three famous parks & gardens in Brussels are Bois de la Cambre, Parc de Bruxelles, and Leopold Park.

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