Brussels Introduction Walking Tour, Brussels

Brussels Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Brussels

Brussels is a major European metropolis with a remarkable history and cultural heritage, renowned for its cuisine and gastronomy, as well as for its historical and architectural landmarks, some of which are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. The history of Brussels is closely linked to that of Western Europe, during which the city has evolved from a small rural settlement to an important metro-region, repeatedly changing hands between various duchies, empires, republics and kingdoms (Leuven, Brabant, Burgundy, Spain, France, Austria, and the Netherlands), until finally becoming the capital of independent Belgium in 1830.

The city stemmed from a modest chapel built around 580 A.D. by Saint Gaugericus on an island in the river Senne, although the official founding of Brussels is usually placed around year 979, when Duke Charles of Lower Lotharingia transferred the relics of Saint Gudula from Moorsel to this chapel and built the first permanent fortification on that same island. Because of its favorable location on an important trade route between Bruges, Ghent, and Cologne, Brussels became a commercial center of the textile trade and in the 17th century established itself as the center of the lace industry. In the course of the 17th-18th centuries, the city, much as the rest of the Southern Netherlands, was subject to a dispute between France, Spain, and Austria which, at some point, caused the destruction of a good third of its buildings in the downtown area. The ensued reconstruction profoundly changed the appearance of Brussels and left numerous traces on its tapestry visible today.

The foreign rule over Brussels ended in the early 19th century – first with the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 on the battlefield of Waterloo, and finally in 1830, with the Belgian revolution and ultimate departure from the Netherlands, seeing Brussels become the capital and the seat of government of the newly-established Belgium. After WWII, Brussels underwent extensive modernization and, as of the early 1960s, has been the de facto capital of the European Union, the Benelux, and the NATO.

Nowadays a major center for international politics, Brussels is often referred to as the "Crossroads of Europe". The arrival of many modern offices, built with little regard to the aesthetics and historical context of their surroundings, resulted in numerous architectural landmarks of the city being demolished, thus giving name to the process of Brusselization.

Despite the drastic changes, Brussels is still replete with architectural marvels, museums and world-famous specialty shops. Its main attractions include the historic Grand Place, Manneken Pis, the Museums of Art and History, and more. Because of the long tradition of Belgian comics, Brussels is also hailed as a capital of the comic strip. To explore these and other attractions of Brussels, take this self-guided introduction walk.
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Brussels Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Brussels Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Belgium » Brussels (See other walking tours in Brussels)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: audrey
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Grand Place (Grote Markt)
  • Boutique Tintin
  • Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert
  • Manneken Pis
  • Stock Exchange Building
  • Saint-Nicolas Church
  • Jeanneke Pis
  • St Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral
  • Royal Park
  • Royal Palace
  • Magritte Museum
  • Mont des Arts (Arts Mountain)
Grand Place (Grote Markt)

1) Grand Place (Grote Markt) (must see)

The Grand Place ("Grand Square" in French), otherwise known as Grote Markt (Dutch for "Grand Market"), is the central square in Brussels – a top tourist destination and by far the most memorable landmark of the Belgian capital. Recognized as one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, if not the whole world, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. Surrounded by opulent guildhalls with cafes, the Choco-Story chocolate museum, and dominated by two larger buildings: the Gothic-style City Hall, and the King's House or Breadhouse (French: Maison du Roi, Dutch: Broodhuis) accommodating the Brussels City Museum, the Grand Place never ceases to amaze.

Here, alongside 17th-century architectural jewels you will find many centuries-old bars hidden down alleys and serving authentic Belgian beer, restaurants offering steamed mussels along the narrow Rue des Bouchers, stores selling delicious chocolate, lace and souvenirs, and so much more.

Renowned all over the world for its decorative and aesthetic wealth, the Grand Place is also steeped in history and has witnessed, over the centuries, many historic events including the burning of Protestant martyrs by the Inquisition and the beheading of counts in the 16th century, as well as the bombardment of the City Hall by the French with flaming cannonballs in the 17th century, destroying much of the area. The houses surrounding the square were quickly reconstructed in stone by the various guilds; among them, the house of the Brewers guild now sheltering the Brewers Museum.

Nowadays, on a more peaceful note, the Grand Place regularly sees numerous festive and cultural events. Among them is the “Flower carpet” (77x24 m, 1800 sq meters) organized every two years in mid-August, featuring more than 500.000 colorful begonias set up in patterns. The first such flower carpet was “rolled out” in 1971 and has since become a tradition attracting thousands of tourists. Also popular is the Ommegang, a historical procession rooted in the medieval times, revived in 1930 to mark the centenary of Belgium as an independent state. Other major events include the annual Christmas tree, the procession of the Meyboom, musical concerts, and more.

Why You Should Visit:
Without a doubt, the heart of the city. Gorgeous and breathtaking, even in terrible weather.

Go during the day to better appreciate the details on the facades and come back in the evening to see them lit.
If lucky, you might be able to catch a special sound & light show after dark (around 10:20 pm).
Boutique Tintin

2) Boutique Tintin

Created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, known by his pen name Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin was one of the most popular European comics in the 20th century, published in more than 70 languages worldwide and adapted for radio, TV, theater, and cinema. Today, the Tintin series is as much part of the Belgian heritage as Victor Horta's architectural marvels or Rene Magritte’s famous paintings.

For those fond of comics and the Tintin series in particular, the Tintin boutique in Grand Place is a definite must-visit place. Located half a block from the square, it is very easy to find and is packed with loads of the famous comic publications in dozens of languages, various prints, bags, t-shirts, rugs, watches, magnets, figurines and many other Tintin-themed merchandise. A lovely small shop with lovely objects that are now quite rare, it will make happy every child and some adults, too, bringing back all the good memories from one's childhood.

You may also want to visit a new Galerie Tintin at 35, Place du Grand Sablon.

Opening Hours:
Mon: 12-6pm; Tue-Sat: 10am-6pm; Sun: 11am-5pm
Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert

3) Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert (must see)

The Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert are an excellent example of a 19th century covered shopping gallery. While the total of seven such galleries were built in Brussels between the 1820s and 30s, the St. Hubert Gallery is one of the three that have survived. Designed by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar, it was officially opened in 1847. The two primary sections of the gallery are called the King’s Gallery and the Queen’s Gallery, each measuring 8 meters (26 feet) wide and 213 meters (699 feet) long, and a smaller section therein is dubbed the Prince’s Gallery.

The concept of a shopping gallery originated in Paris in the 1780s when King Louis XIV, then financial restrained, rented portions of his garden to shopkeepers. The latter constructed little shops within the garden to sell their wares and thus attracted many people, making it a de facto meeting place. Later on, this concept of a shopping/gathering venue evolved into the covered galleries which were meant primarily for the richer classes.

The stately 19th-century Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert arcade houses luxury boutiques, clockmakers and chocolate shops. A particular standout among them is the Neuhaus confectionery shop opened in 1857. Also, within the corridors of St. Hubert Gallery today you will find a number of cafes and restaurants offering great dining experience.

Why You Should Visit:
A small gallery with grand architecture; lots of shops – high-end in appearance, but pretty well-priced.
Top quality chocolate is a bit costly but if you want to indulge, this place offers a good selection.

Go to the top floor of "Le Pain Quotidien" for a view from the upper side.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Manneken Pis

4) Manneken Pis (must see)

Cast from bronze, the small statue of a naked boy urinating into the basin of a fountain, known as the Manneken Pis or “Little Man Peeing”, is probably one of the most popular landmarks of Brussels. Created in 1619 by the Brussels sculptor Hieronymus Duquesnoy, this statue has been renowned for both, its humor and the various legends associated with it.

One of them claims that it commemorates a young boy who urinated on a burning fuse to prevent an explosive charge from detonating and destroying the city’s fortification walls. Another story tells of a rich merchant whose son had disappeared and, after an extensive search throughout the city during which the lost boy had been found happily urinating in a garden, the statue was presented, reportedly as a token of appreciation, by the boy’s father to the townspeople for helping with the search. Another version suggests that a young boy woke up to a fire in the king’s castle, urinated on it, putting out the fire, and thus saved the castle from burning down.

At some point, the statue was stolen, and what we see today is a copy made in 1965. The original is housed in the Maison du Roi ("King's House"), aka the Brussels City Museum. To delight multiple visitors, several times a week the little man is being dressed up in a different costume. To this date, it has worn the total of over 500 costumes.

Why You Should Visit:
To see the most overrated tourist attraction in the world – blink and you'll miss it.

To complete the trifecta you should also visit Jeanneke Pis (pissing girl) and Zinneke Pis (pissing dog). Jeanneke Pis is about 550 meters away from Manneken Pis (or about 300 meters from Grand Place) and the pissing dog is also about 550 meters away, but in a different direction.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Stock Exchange Building

5) Stock Exchange Building

The headquarters of the Brussels Stock Exchange (aka the Bourse) was built over a five-year period, from 1868 to 1873, and sprang from the health and beautification project undertaken in the city center in the late 1800s. The building represents a blend of Neo-Renaissance and Second Empire styles, in which the former, sometimes known as Renaissance Revival, is a broad architectural term applicable to many 19th-century revival styles that are neither Greek nor Gothic. As for the Second Empire style, it reflects elements highly fashionable during the Second French Empire and was widely popular between 1865 and 1880.

The Stock Exchange building boasts detailed ornamentation and houses several sculptures created by famous artists, such as the Jacquet brothers, de Groot, Carrier-Belleuse and Rodin. Its pediment is supported by six columns and adorned with the relief of a female which represents the City of Brussels. Figures on both sides of her symbolize industry and trade. Beneath the pediment are the two winged statues representing good and evil. While the building itself is closed to the public, its exterior is in clear view and sitting on the stairs leading up to the Stock Exchange can provide a good resting spot for those watching or reading.

Why You Should Visit:
Beautiful building that has always been a focal point of this part of Brussels. Still, it is the square outside the building that draws most attention as a venue of various exhibitions, activities and street shows on weekends. Coffee at the square is also a good idea.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Saint-Nicolas Church

6) Saint-Nicolas Church

The Saint Nicolas Church is one of the oldest churches in Brussels. It dates back over 1,000 years, and is located behind the Bourse (Brussels Stock Exchange) surrounded by similarly old-looking houses. Charming in appearance, the building in fact has very little left from the original. Its 14th century Gothic facade now covers the primordial 11th century Romanesque lines, and a tall belfry once present in the Middle Ages which used to serve as the city's watch tower, is now gone after collapsing unexpectedly in 1714 killing one man and a pig. In 1695, the church completely burned down during the French bombardment of Brussels. A remnant of that event is a cannonball still lodged in one of the chapel's pillars.

Inside the church there is “The Virgin and Child” painting by Rubens, as well as the Vladimir Icon from Constantinople dating back to 1131. Relics of the Martyrs of Gorkum – Catholic priests executed during tumultuous religious period of the late 1500s – are also kept within the church. In recent years there have been attempts to tear down this temple in a bid to make way for vehicular traffic. However, none of these materialized and the Saint Nicolas Church has been spared, much as the surrounding cute ancient architecture.
Jeanneke Pis

7) Jeanneke Pis

The Jeanneke Pis or “Little Girl Peeing” is a modern statue and a fountain designed to complement the iconic Manneken Pis (Little Man Peeing) in Brussels, which is now part of the famous trifecta featuring a pissing boy, a girl and a dog (Zinneke Pis). While Manneken Pis is the oldest of the three, created in 1619, its girl counterpart was “stylishly late” (as much as several hundred years) – created and installed between 1985 and 1987. The girl's statue measures approximately half a meter in height and was made out of blue-grey limestone by artist Denis-Adrien Debouvrie. The Jeanneke Pis shows the same facial expression of contentment as the Manneken Pis, although she has not been welcomed just as warmly as her male predecessor. Some even say her presence is more tolerated rather than embraced like that of the Manneken Pis. Still, it is believed that throwing a coin into her fountain may render one's deepest wish granted.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
St Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral

8) St Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral (must see)

The dramatic St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral in Treurenberg Hill has been in place since the early 11th century. In 1047, Lambert II, the Duke of Brabant, had the relics of St. Gudula brought to this site, for which purpose a Romanesque-style church was erected. However, the renovation performed in the late 1400s gave the western facade of the cathedral a totally new Gothic look. Glimpses of the original 11th-century church can now be seen only through the viewing glass spots set in the floor.

Leading to the three gates of the cathedral is a large staircase passing through which visitors can enter the interior dominated by twelve pillars and the detailed stained-glass windows accentuating Gothic style. The window at the bottom of the nave, depicting The Last Judgment, gets illuminated in the evening from within. A standalone attraction inside the cathedral is the dramatic Baroque-style pulpit with ornate detail, featuring Adam and Eve Banished from Paradise, created by Hendrik Verbruggen in 1699. Multiple renovations to the temple occurred throughout much of the 20th century were completed in December 1999, just in time for the marriage of the Belgian Crown Price, Philippe, to his bride, Princess Mathilda. The southern tower of the cathedral carries a carillon made up of 49 bells which are often played during Sunday concerts.

Why You Should Visit:
A monumental piece of architecture complete with outstanding stained glass windows and a relatively new organ perched above everyone's heads to maximize the acoustics.

When you first walk in, take a leaflet providing info about the cathedral's origin and details. This way, you will have more appreciation for what you're actually looking at.
There's no admission fee but there is a tiny fee if you want to see the archaeological site beneath the existing floors inside the building.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Royal Park

9) Royal Park

The Royal Park, otherwise known as Brussels Park, is the largest public park in the Belgian capital, and is surrounded by a number of key locations, such as the Royal Palace and the Belgian Parliament building. It covers an area once occupied by the medieval court of Brabant which originated in the 11th century.

In the 18th century, under the Austrian rule, the area resembled a little forest within the city, with hills and valley, which was later turned into a classical style park, courtesy of the Austrian Empress Maria-Theresia, to be enjoyed by the wealthy citizens. Following that, the terrain was leveled and reconstructed according to the geometric plans designed by Guimard and Zinner, with classical statues and important cultural buildings added later on, including the Waux-hall music venue.

In 1830, the park was the site of a significant historic event which led to Belgian independence. A clash between revolutionary forces and the Dutch army within the park sent out a clear message that the Belgians wanted to break away from the Netherlands. The revolutionists succeeded and, on September 27, 1830, a new nation of Belgium was established.

Today, the Royal Park is a popular cultural hub hosting free parties, concerts and public events during summer.

Why You Should Visit:
Biggest park in the heart of Brussels (besides Cinquantenaire) with lots of architectural landmarks to feast one's eyes on in every direction.
The national parade route passes along the park and, in the summer, there's also a big annual music festival taking place right beside.
There is a good playground for kids in the middle of the park and lots of cute little cafes serving small bites and local craft beer.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Royal Palace

10) Royal Palace (must see)

The Royal Palace of Brussels is the working office of the Belgian King in which the monarch executes his duties as a Head of State, i.e. grants audiences and deals with national affairs. The Royal Palace is not the residence of the royal family; the latter reside on the outskirts of Brussels in the Royal Castle of Laeken. The Royal Palace overlooks Brussels Park in front of it, and is separated from the park by a long square, called Place des Palais. The present-day appearance of the palace dates back to around 1900, while the palace grounds were once part of a very old palatial complex, called Coudenberg Palace, emerged in the Middle Ages.

One of the most famous elements of the palace is the Mirror Room renowned for its unique ceiling fresco and central chandelier adorned with wing cases from millions of Thai jewel scarab beetles. Called the Heaven of Delight, the fresco was created by the team of 29 artists led by Jan Fabre and took over three months to complete; it features myriads of shapes glowing in a changing greenish-blueish color, depending on the angle the light hits the surface.

Why You Should Visit:
For a short period of time, between late July and early September, the Royal Palace is open to the public; the entry is free and visitors are allowed to take pictures.
From the salon room through the passageway, the back halls to the prestige ballrooms, attention to details is rewarded – and that's from the floor up to the ceiling.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10:30am-3:45pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Magritte Museum

11) Magritte Museum (must see)

The Magritte Museum is dedicated to showing the works of the famous Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte. Centered in Paris, the surrealist movement began in the 1920s and incorporated an element of surprise and unexpected connections. Known for his humorous and witty images, Magritte challenged the viewer’s perception of reality. He is known for saying, “If the dream is a translation of waking life, waking life is also a translation of the dream.” His artwork featured common objects in uncommon circumstances, such as umbrellas, pipes, stones, apples and men in bowler hats.

The museum opened in 2009 and has over 25,000 square feet of exhibit space and five exhibition levels. With over 200 original paintings, sculptures and drawings, the museum is the largest collection of his works in the world. Works on display include The Empire of Light, Scheherazade, and The Return. In addition to serving as a repository for Magritte’s works, the museum is also the hub of research and information related to the artist. The collection is arranged chronologically and provides an overview of the artist’s life and the progression of his artwork. The Magritte museum is housed in the lovely Altenloh Hotel, a restored neo-classical landmark which is part of the Museum of Modern art complex on Brussels’ Place Royale.

Why You Should Visit:
Very well laid out over three floors – a nice escape into a different world for a few hours.
Interesting to see the genesis of Magritte's major themes and also what happens when one becomes a retired surrealist.
The gift shop has a lot of prints of the art on various objects for good prices.

Make time for the Magritte film on the same level as the gift shop.
For the best experience, get an audio guide – however, beware the ordering can get a bit awry in places.
Consider buying an “all museums” ticket, as it is inexpensive and allows access to two additional beautiful museums, which are interconnected, so you don't have to go outside.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Fri: 10am-5pm; Sat-Sun: 11am-6pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Mont des Arts (Arts Mountain)

12) Mont des Arts (Arts Mountain)

The Kunstberg or Mont des Arts, translating as a "hill/mountain of the arts", is a historic site in the center of Brussels. The showcase square was created for the Universal Exposition in Brussels held in 1910. It featured a park and a monumental staircase with cascading fountains descending the gentle slope from Place Royale down to Boulevard de l'Empereur/Keizerslaan.

The original square was destroyed during the post-war construction frenzy, known as Brusselization; between 1954 and 1965, the square and its surroundings gave way to massive, severely geometric postmodern structures, such as the Royal Library of Belgium and the Congress Palace. The Mont des Arts offers one of Brussels’ finest views. From the vantage point on a hill, the famous tower of the Brussels Town Hall in Grand Place is clearly visible. On a sunny day, the Koekelberg Basilica and even the Atomium can be seen as well.

Major museums are located within walking distance of the Mont des Arts: the Musical Instruments Museum (MIM), displaying a collection of over 2,000 musical instruments from many countries and from different time periods, with some pieces over 500 years old; the Royal Museums of Fine Arts containing over 20,000 drawings, sculptures, and paintings spanning from the early 15th century to the present; and the Magritte Museum, dedicated to showing the works of the famous Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Brussels, Belgium

Create Your Own Walk in Brussels

Create Your Own Walk in Brussels

Creating your own self-guided walk in Brussels is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Brussels Historical Churches Walking Tour

Brussels Historical Churches Walking Tour

As well as being Belgium’s political and cultural capital, Brussels is the spiritual home of its most significant churches. Historically, the city has been predominantly Roman Catholic, especially since the expulsion of Protestants in the 16th century. The pre-eminent Catholic temple here, located just a couple of minutes from the Grand-Place, is the Brabantine Gothic Cathedral of St. Michael...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.4 Km or 2.7 Miles
Mont Des Arts Cultural Walk

Mont Des Arts Cultural Walk

Mont des Arts, meaning "hill of the arts", is one of the most important cultural sites in Brussels. A classic among the city’s vantage points, it offers a fine city garden and restored showcase of architecture, in addition to several great museums.

Start your journey by traveling towards the old part of the city, where you’ll find the BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts, greatly admired...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles
Grand Place Walking Tour

Grand Place Walking Tour

World-famous for its imposing Baroque-style buildings, such as the Town Hall, the King's House and the House of Dukes, the Grand Place of Brussels a whole is indisputably a masterpiece of human creative genius, with a special quality of homogeneity and coherency.

The buildings around the Grand Place, all different but built within a very short period, admirably illustrate the Baroque...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.3 Km or 0.2 Miles
Brussels Beer Tour

Brussels Beer Tour

Belgians are not very prone to boasting, except with things such as chocolate, fries and, evidently, beer. They treat beer the way the French treat wine: for the makers, it's a prized art; for the drinkers, it is something to be savored and discussed. They say that, on average, Belgians drink 150 liters of beer per year per person, and one would often see them sipping it from early in the...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
The European Quarter Walking Tour

The European Quarter Walking Tour

Along with Luxembourg and Strasbourg, Brussels is one of the European Union’s de facto capitals. The office blocks of the European Quarter are mainly concentrated along and between two wide boulevards – rue de la Loi and rue Belliard – which Léopold II built to connect his Parc du Cinquantenaire with the city center.

Begin your exploration with the EU’s most symbolic construction, the...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.3 Km or 0.8 Miles
Chocolate Tour in Brussels

Chocolate Tour in Brussels

Belgium is considered one of, if not the, best producer of chocolate in the world. The country's capital, Brussels abounds in opportunities to taste more than 2,000 different varieties of this delectable treat. There is a plethora of chocolate shops in the city which offer chocolates of all imaginable shapes, sizes and colors.

Planète Chocolat’s chocolate-making demonstration make a...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

What to Buy in Brussels: 15 Ideas for Travelers

What to Buy in Brussels: 15 Ideas for Travelers

It's no secret that Brussels is not all about JCVD muscles and EU headquarters. Small country as such, Belgium abounds in signature items, such as beer, chocolates and... the peeing boy. All of these have made prime Belgian souvenirs for years. Now you can explore the Brussels gift scene in...
Belgian Beer Tour of Brussels

Belgian Beer Tour of Brussels

Belgium is world-renowned for its beers and Brussels is the best city to sample the huge variety of flavors. We'll show you the best places to buy them and to drink them. We'll even show you a family brewery where the liquid gold is produced right in front of your eyes! This tour is meant...