Things to do in Brussels, Belgium

About Belgium & Brussels

Belgium is a country of about 30,500 sq. km with a population of over 10.3 million. It is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. It gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1830. It is bordered by France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands and the North Sea. It has rather mild climatic conditions. Cool summers, mild winters and often rainy and humid. It averages about 45°F in winter and about 75°F in summer. It is nevertheless pleasant. But it’s better to have an umbrella/raincoat with you. The country has three official languages – Dutch or “Flemish,” French and German. This adheres to the ethnic make of the population too with the Dutch-speaking region, Flanders in the north and the French speaking region of Wallonia in the south. Belgium is a highly industrialized country with a good manufacturing base and an excellent transportation network. The industries are concentrated more in the northern Flemish areas. Around 3/4th of its trade is with other EU countries. Euro currency started here in 2002. It is one of the founding members of the European Union. It is nicknamed the Capital of Europe and Comic city.

Its capital Brussels is in the center and is bilingual. It is known as the capital of European Union (albeit de facto) since it is the administrative center of the EU. The Head Quarters of NATO, EUROCONTROL and Western European Union are situated in Brussels.
To be specific, the capital is actually the City of Brussels municipality, which is the largest municipality of the Brussels Capital region.

The official website of the city is

Grote Markt (The Grand Place) Brussels

Brussels is a good tourist spot. It is a mix of the old and the new. Some of the areas exude old age charm. The cobbled streets, the quaint shops, cafes and restaurants really make you feel like staying there for more days. The most famous tourist spot within the city is the Grand Place which is a central market square. It has the Town Hall (Hôtel de ville), the Guild houses and the Breadhouse (King’s House). Each of these are magnificent. It was between 1402 and 1455 that the Town Hall was constructed. Town Hall or Hôtel de ville, Grand Place in BrusselsIt has a beautiful Gothic Tower, on which there is a statue of St. Michael considered the patron of Brussels. Before the present structure of the Breadhouse, it was a wooden building in the 13th century where bakers sold their produce. It was converted to a stone structure in the 15th century and later into the Neo-Gothic style edifice in the 19th century.

This is just across the Hôtel de ville and is also known as the Maison du Roi (or King’s House). It did not belong to the king ever but the King’s instructions were usually read from here. Hence the nomenclature. The Grand Place came under attack in the 17th century war with France. It was almost razed to the ground. But the square was rebuilt by the Guilds under planned supervision. Hence the new layout has an organized look though the styles vary from Gothic to Baroque to Louis XIV. In 1998 UNESCO named the Grand Place as a World Heritage Site.
The Guild halls have facades conforming to the relevant occupations or the original occupants. The Swan guildhall housed butchers, the Pigeon guildhall housed painters, the Brewer House the inevitable!. Today these guild houses have restaurants, hotels and shops. Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium
A flower market is held here every Sunday morning. Every even year in August the centre of the Square is covered in flowers. It is called the Tapis des Fleurs. The Square is a good place to hang out in. There are small eateries and good restaurants here where one can sit outside and enjoy the food and the place. This is also a place where musical performances take place at times. It gives a very festive, jovial feel to the place. It is a tourist favorite, so be sure to encounter large number of people in the square. The that adds to the charm.

There are a number of small streets leading from the square. They have a variety of shops and eateries. The most famous of them are the small shops selling Belgium Waffles. One must try these Waffles – they come with a number of toppings – cream and banana, strawberries, nuts et al.

A waffle shop on Rue de l’Etuve
A waffle shop on Rue de l’Etuve
Belgian Waffle with toppings
Belgian Waffle with toppings
A street in Brussels
A street in Brussels

How to get to Grand Place (Grote Markt)-

The Central Station (Gare Central) is close by. You can also take the metro to De Brouckére or Parc. It is walking distance from these places. You can also take Taxi or car. You can check out the details of getting around in Brussels and other Tourist info here.
More details about means of transport at the official site.

Maison Des Brasseurs, Brussels

The Maison des Brasseurs at the Grand Place, was originally occupied by the Brewers Guild. Before the Maison des Brasseurs, the “Gulden den boom” or the “Golden Tree” was located there. The Brewers Guild which was founded in the 14h century. In the late 16th century they bought the house from the “Golden tree”. In the 1695 attack by the French, the Grand Place was bombed and much of the square was destroyed.

The Brewers Guild financed the reconstruction of the building. It was designed by architect William De Bruyn. The man on horse statue on top was added in 1901. It is a beautiful architectural piece.It is a copy of a 18th century work representing Charles of Lorraine, who was a benefactor of the corporation. The building is currently a national museum of the brewery. It is less than ten minutes from the Central Station and is easily accessible.

Town Hall or Hotel de Ville, Brussels

Probably the most beautiful edifice in Brussels, the Town Hall or Hôtel de Ville or Stradhuis (yes, it has a number of names!) stands prominently in the Grand Place Square with its 315 feet tall tower. It is the official seat of the Mayor of Brussels though the administration is located on the Anspach Blvd. Its importance however is not due to this. It is a historic structure that had its inception in 1402 when construction began. On this site, there were some wooden structures – shops and inns – which were demolished to make way for the Town Hall. The original new building was just the left half of the current structure with a small tower. The architect Jacob van Thienen is credited with this work. In 1444 this building was extended with a right wing which was smaller though to that on the left (the authorities did not want to overrun the existing street on the right). Thus the tower is not in the middle. This construction and the current tower were completed in 1449. Jan Van Ruysbroeck is the architect of the tower. In 1455 the statue of St. Michael (shown as triumphant after slaying the Devil) was installed on the top of the Tower. This statue was only removed in 1996 to be replaced by a new one.

The original structure has undergone a number of restoration works. In 1695 after the French attack (by troops of De ville roy) the building suffered immense damage. It was immediately thereafter restored.

By the early 19th century the structure required restoration due to wear and tear – mainly on the statues adorning the building. In the 1840s another restoration work entailed the beautification of the façade with over 200 little statues of the Dukes and Duchesses of Brabant from 6th century A.D. to the 16th century. The Duchy of Brabant consisted of the Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant, Antwerp, Brussels and the Dutch province of North Brabant during the Roman times. It has numerous sculptures on its sides. Ornate and beautiful, the tower has an overpowering presence in the square. That was a little note on the history of the place. It is a great experience even today. 

Le Petit Julien (The Manneken-Pis), Brussels

Leading off from the Grand Place square, a little distance away past crowded streets in a corner is the statue called Manneken Pis. This is a bronze statue of a small naked boy peeing. It is a fountain, with water replacing the pee! This is the most famous statue of Belgium. However, tourists expect it to be big, but it is actually a very small statue placed in a corner of narrow streets.  The Manneken-Pis is at the corner of the Rue de l’Etuve and the Rue du Chene. The Rue Charles Buls leading from the Square becomes the Rue de l’Etuve. The statue is dressed up in colorful costumes on different occasions according to a weekly schedule. The Manneken-Pis has several hundred costumes. The changing of costumes is accompanied by live music. The sculpture was created by the artist Léonard de Crom in 1897.
The exact legend behind this statue is unclear since there are several of them. One version is that the statue is of a two year old duke whose troops took him with them during their fight against the Berthouts. He is supposed to have urinated on the enemy troops. Another version suggests the story of a small boy who urinated on the fuse of explosives to prevent them from exploding. They were planted by enemies trying to destroy Brussels. Another version as we noted on the shop front just opposite the statue talks about the story of Manneken Pis, also known as Le Petit Julien:
“in 1619, I was 5 years old. I got lost in Brussels. After 2 days of frantic searching, my father, a nobleman, found me in an embarrassing position…peeing. As a token of gratitude, he ordered a fountain to be built, with a statue depicting me in that same position.” The picture of this poster is given on the right (click to enlarge).  
The Manneken Pis has a female counterpart called the Jeanneke Pis. This is a modern piece of sculpture made of limestone, by Denis-Adrien Debouvrie, in 1985 and erected in 1987.  This is located on the other of the Grand Place away from Manneken Pis. It is in the east side of Impasse de la Fidélité (Faith Alley) which is a narrow dead end street leading off from Rue des Bouchers (Butchers’ Street).

How to get to the Manneken Pis

After reaching Grand place take the Rue Charles Buls which becomes the Rue de l’Etuve. The Statue is at the corner of Rue de l’Etuve and Rue du Chene. In the picture below, the left hand street is Rue de l’Etuve and the street on the right is Rue du Chene.

Manneken-Pis, Brussels, Belgium
Manneken-Pis, Brussels, Belgium