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 (Grand Square)
  • Boutique Tintin
  • Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries)
  • Manneken Pis (Little Boy Peeing)
  • Bourse de Bruxelles (Stock Exchange Building)
  • Eglise Saint-Nicolas (St. Nicholas Church)
  • Jeanneke Pis (Little Girl Peeing)
  • Cathedrale des Saints Michel et Gudule (St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral)
  • Parc de Bruxelles (Brussels Park)
  • Palais Royal (Royal Palace)
  • Musee Magritte (Magritte Museum)
  • Mont des Arts (Mount of the Arts)
Grand Place (Grand Square)

1) Grand Place (Grand Square) (must see)

The Grand Square or "Grand Place", also known as the Grand Market ("Grote Markt" in Dutch), has long been the economic hub of Brussels; a top tourist attraction and by far the most iconic symbol of the Belgian capital. Esteemed as one of Europe's most exquisite squares, if not one of the world's, it has earned World Heritage status for its representation of 17th-century Belgian society and culture.

This square has functioned as a marketplace since the 12th century and has grown in importance alongside Brussels' prosperity, evident in the lavish gold embellishments adorning the grand buildings. Originally guild houses for various Brussels industries, ranging from haberdashery to baking, these buildings now house commercial shops and cafes, with some offering outdoor seating for patrons. Notably, No. 10 remained inhabited by the Belgian beer brewers guild for centuries, now housing the Brewers Museum.

During the Bombardment of Brussels in 1695, when Louis XIV's French troops relentlessly attacked the square for 36 hours, many of its magnificent buildings were destroyed; however, they were painstakingly restored to their former splendor, primarily using stone for longevity. Among the surviving medieval buildings are No. 3, once the guild house for tallow merchants dating back to 1644, and No. 5, which belonged to the archers guild (the Phoenix on the facade symbolizes the square's revival from destruction).

The Grand Square has been the witness to many historic events over the centuries, such as the burning of Protestant martyrs by the Inquisition and the execution of counts in the 16th century. Today, on a more peaceful note, it hosts a variety of festive and cultural events, including the biennial "Flower Carpet", a dazzling display of over 500,000 colorful begonias covering an area of 1,800 square meters in mid-August. Also popular is the Ommegang, a medieval-inspired procession revived in 1930 to celebrate Belgium's centenary as an independent state. Other major events include the annual Christmas tree lighting, the Meyboom procession, and musical concerts.

Why You Should Visit:
Without a doubt, the heart of the city. Here, alongside architectural jewels from the 17th century, you'll discover centuries-old bars tucked away in alleyways, offering authentic Belgian beer; restaurants along the narrow Rue des Bouchers serving steamed mussels; stores selling delicious chocolate, lace, and souvenirs, and so much more.

Visit during the daytime to fully appreciate the intricate details on the facades, and return in the evening to witness the buildings illuminated. If you're fortunate, you might catch a special sound and light show after dark, typically around 10:20 PM.
Boutique Tintin

2) Boutique Tintin

Created by the Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, renowned by his pen name Hergé, "The Adventures of Tintin" emerged as one of the most beloved European comic series during the 20th century. It achieved global acclaim, being published in over 70 languages and subsequently adapted for radio, television, theater, and cinema. Today, the Tintin series is as much part of Belgian heritage as Victor Horta's architectural marvels or the famous paintings of René Magritte.

For those fond of comics and the Tintin series in particular, a visit to the dedicated boutique in the Grand Square is an absolute must. Situated just a short distance from the square, it's conveniently accessible and offers a treasure trove of Tintin-related merchandise. You'll find an extensive collection of the famous comic publications in dozens of languages, a variety of prints, bags, t-shirts, rugs, watches, magnets, figurines and more, along with Hergé's other cartoon creations, such as Quick & Flupke. A lovely little store, filled with delightful and increasingly rare items, it will sure bring joy to both children and adults, evoking fond memories of their childhood.

Devotees of Tintin may also consider visiting the Hergé Museum and the Comics Art Museum for a deeper immersion into the world of comics and Hergé's creations.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries)

3) Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries) (must see)

Often credited as Europe's first "mall" of its kind, the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries stand as a remarkable example of a 19th-century covered shopping arcade. While Brussels saw the creation of seven such galleries during the 1820s and 1830s, Saint-Hubert is among the fortunate three that have endured the test of time. Designed by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar, they were officially inaugurated in the year 1847. The covered structure is comprised of two main sections known as the King's Gallery and the Queen's Gallery, each measuring 8 meters (26 feet) in width and 213 meters (700 feet) in length, while a smaller segment is dubbed the Prince's Gallery.

The concept of a shopping gallery originated in Paris during the 1780s when King Louis XIV, facing financial constraints, leased portions of his garden to local shopkeepers. These enterprising individuals then erected small shops within the garden, offering their merchandise, thereby transforming the area into an impromptu gathering place. Later on, this concept of a venue combining shopping and socializing evolved into covered galleries, primarily catering to the affluent classes.

The stately Saint-Hubert arcade primarily houses luxury boutiques, and it's virtually impossible not to pause and appreciate the grandeur of the entrance adorned with magnificent windows and marble decorations. A notable highlight within is Neuhaus, the pharmacy-turned-chocolatier renowned for creating the praline, which first opened its doors in 1857; another standout is the exquisite Tropismes bookstore. Moreover, within the corridors, you'll find a selection of cafes and restaurants that offer an exceptional dining experience.

Climb to the top floor of Le Pain Quotidien restaurant for an elevated perspective and a unique view from the upper part of the galleries.
Manneken Pis (Little Boy Peeing)

4) Manneken Pis (Little Boy Peeing) (must see)

Given its larger-than-life reputation, many visitors to Brussels often find themselves slightly underwhelmed upon coming face to face with the diminutive Little Boy Peeing. This small bronze statue has paradoxically emerged as an unexpected symbol of Brussels. The site has been a water fountain since the 13th century, but the statue in its current form was crafted in 1619 to replace the earlier version with a baroque rendition.

Over the course of history, it has been stolen and thrown into the canal multiple times, prompting the display of a copy (with the original now safeguarded in the Brussels City Museum) to protect it from such mishaps. The enduring presence of Little Boy Peeing, faithfully relieving himself atop a fountain, exemplifies the typical Brussels sense of humor, the folklore of the city itself, and its capacity to poke fun at its own image.

One story claims that the statue commemorates a brave young boy who urinated on a burning fuse, preventing an explosive charge from detonating and potentially destroying the city's fortification walls. In another account, a wealthy merchant, after an extensive citywide search that led to the discovery of his missing son joyfully urinating in a garden, presented the statue as a token of appreciation to the townspeople who had aided in the search. Yet another version of the tale suggests that a young boy woke up to find a fire in the king's castle and promptly used his urine to douse the flames, thus preventing the castle from burning to the ground.

Whichever story one prefers, for about one-third of the year, the statue is dressed up in various costumes by the official dresser – a role typically appointed to an individual. The costumes range from the earliest-known attire, a Louis XV-provided ensemble portraying him as an elegant 17th-century gentleman, to a samurai robe celebrating the friendship between Belgium and Japan, as well as educational outfits symbolizing diverse roles in Belgian society. To date, the peeing boy has donned over 500 different costumes.

Little Boy Peeing has two companion statues: Little Girl Peeing (depicting a urinating girl, installed in 1987 in an alleyway near the Grand Square) and Little Dog Peeing (portraying a urinating dog, erected in 1998 in Dansaert, modeled after a real dog owned by the sculptor). Both of these statues are located approximately 550 meters away from Little Boy Peeing but in different directions.
Bourse de Bruxelles (Stock Exchange Building)

5) Bourse de Bruxelles (Stock Exchange Building)

Across from the church of Saint Nicholas, you'll find the grandiose Bourse, which has served as the city's stock exchange since the 19th century. A seamless blend of Neo-Renaissance and Second Empire styles emerging from the urban beautification project undertaken in the city center during the late 1800s, it is adorned with lavish decorations of fruit garlands, fronds, and reclining nudes.

The confidently designed structure features an array of allegorical figures representing Industry, Navigation, Africa, Asia, and more, which not only mirror the concerns of the 19th-century Belgian bourgeoisie but also exude an air of contentment, suggesting that wealth and pleasure are intertwined. The twin lions flanking the main staircase add a cautionary message – one, with its head held high, symbolizes the rise of stocks, while the other, with its head lowered, signifies their potential decline. The relief of a female figure represents the City of Brussels, while two winged statues below symbolize the forces of good and evil.

Partially ravaged by a fire in 1990, the building has been restored both inside and out, now housing the Brussels branch of the Euronext network, which has also incorporated the Amsterdam and Paris exchanges since the year 2000. While the interior is not open to the public, its exterior remains an impressive sight, with the stairway offering a pleasant vantage point for people-watching or reading.

While the surrounding square frequently hosts various exhibitions, activities, and street performances on weekends, the building is flanked by two renowned cafés: the Art Nouveau Falstaff, on the south side at rue Henri Maus, and the fin-de-siècle Le Cirio on the opposite side at rue de la Bourse. In front of Le Cirio, you'll find the glassed-in remains of a medieval church and convent, discovered by archaeologists in the 1980s and now known as Bruxella 1238.
Eglise Saint-Nicolas (St. Nicholas Church)

6) Eglise Saint-Nicolas (St. Nicholas Church)

Dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Bari, the patron saint of sailors (famously known as Santa Claus), this church has a history dating back to the 12th century but has undergone significant restoration efforts on several occasions – most notably in the 1950s when portions of its exterior were reconstructed in a simple Gothic style. One distinctive feature is the deliberate orientation of its three broad nave aisles, which were built at an angle to the chancel to accommodate a nearby stream. An intriguing relic of the past is the cannonball embedded high up in the third pillar on the left side of the nave, a remnant from the French bombardment of 1695.

Inside the church, you can find valuable artworks such as 'The Virgin and Child' painting by Rubens and the Vladimir Icon from Constantinople, dating back to 1131. Among other art pieces, there's also a splendid gilded copper reliquary shrine in the right-hand aisle, crafted in Germany during the 19th century to honor a group of Catholics martyred by Protestants in Gorinchem, Netherlands, in 1572.

In recent years, there were discussions about demolishing this historic church to make way for vehicular traffic. Fortunately, none of these plans came to fruition, and it remains preserved, much like the charming ancient architecture that surrounds it.
Jeanneke Pis (Little Girl Peeing)

7) Jeanneke Pis (Little Girl Peeing)

Venturing down a narrow alley that branches off from Rue des Bouchers, you'll stumble upon the whimsical fountain-sculpture known as "Little Girl Peeing". In a cheeky nod to the more famous Little Boy Peeing, this creation completes Brussels' unique trifecta of statues featuring a young boy, a girl, and a canine answering nature's call. While Little Boy Peeing claims the title of the eldest among the trio, dating back to 1619, his female counterpart decided to make her entrance "fashionably late" by several hundred years, debuting in the 1980s with a sassy flair.

Carved from blue-grey limestone by artist Denis-Adrien Debouvrie, who lived in the area and was mysteriously murdered in 2008, the statue of the pigtailed girl stands at half a meter in height. She wears the same expression of serene contentment as the Little Boy Peeing, although she hasn't been welcomed just as warmly as her male predecessor. Some might even say that her presence is more tolerated than embraced. Nevertheless, it is believed that tossing a coin into her fountain may lead to the fulfillment of one's deepest wish.
Cathedrale des Saints Michel et Gudule (St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral)

8) Cathedrale des Saints Michel et Gudule (St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral) (must see)

This dramatic cathedral on Treurenberg Hill has graced the landscape since the early 11th century. In 1047, Lambert II, the Duke of Brabant, brought the relics of Saint Gudula to this location, leading to the construction of a Romanesque-style edifice. However, a late 15th-century renovation completely transformed the western facade into a stunning Gothic masterpiece, with glimpses of the original 11th-century church now visible only through strategically placed viewing glass spots in the floor.

Approaching the cathedral through a grand staircase leading to its three entrances, visitors are welcomed into an interior dominated by twelve majestic pillars and intricate stained-glass windows that beautifully exemplify the Gothic style. In the evening, the window at the nave's base, depicting The Last Judgment, is illuminated from within, creating a captivating spectacle. Another standout attraction is the dramatic Baroque-style pulpit, adorned with ornate details and featuring 'Adam and Eve Banished from Paradise', crafted by Hendrik Verbruggen in 1699. Moreover, a relatively recent organ was positioned high above, designed to optimize the acoustics.

Numerous renovations have taken place throughout the 20th century, culminating in their completion in December 1999, just in time for the wedding of Belgian Crown Prince Philippe to Princess Mathilda. The southern tower houses a carillon comprising 49 bells, often played during Sunday concerts. You might even notice a few falcons that have chosen to make their nests within the towers.

Upon entering, be sure to pick up a leaflet providing information about the cathedral's history and details. Access is free, but a small fee is charged for access to the archaeological site beneath the existing floors inside the building.
Parc de Bruxelles (Brussels Park)

9) Parc de Bruxelles (Brussels Park)

Standing proudly between the Federal Parliament and the Royal Palace, symbolic icons of political power and monarchy, the Brussels Park is a large green oasis in the city center. Historically known as the Royal Park, its tree-shaded pathways provide a serene setting for civil servants and office workers who leisurely stroll during lunch breaks.

In the 18th century, during the period of Austrian rule, this area resembled a miniature forest within the city, complete with hills and valleys that served as hunting grounds for the nobility. Eventually, it was transformed into the city's very first park, adopting a classically French-style layout, thanks to the influence of Austrian Empress Maria-Theresia. To make it well-suited to the courtly rituals of the era, the terrain was flattened and reconstructed according to geometric plans, with the subsequent addition of classical statues and significant cultural structures such as the Vauxhall venue, named after the pleasure gardens of Vauxhall in London.

The year 1830 marked a pivotal moment in history when the park witnessed a significant event that led to Belgian independence. A confrontation between revolutionary forces and the Dutch army unfolded here, sending a resounding message that the Belgians sought separation from the Netherlands. The revolutionaries emerged victorious, and on September 27, 1830, the nation of Belgium was born.

Today, the sprawling park, replete with architectural landmarks in every direction, stands as a thriving cultural hub, hosting a plethora of free parties, concerts, and public events, particularly during summer. Opening up to a large pond, it offers broad avenues, symmetrical arrangements, and lovely vistas. Alongside the Vauxhall venue, you'll find statues of Greco-Roman mythology, the Royal Theatre, a bandstand, a playground, the Guinguette Royale (for a nice coffee) and even Kiosk Radio, a bar where you can dance beneath the trees!
Palais Royal (Royal Palace)

10) Palais Royal (Royal Palace) (must see)

Just around the corner from the Royal Square lies the grand and somewhat unwieldy Royal Palace, a rather solemn conversion of late 18th-century townhouses from the 19th century. The extensive project was initiated by King William I, who ruled both Belgium and the Netherlands from 1815 to 1830; however, the Belgian rebellion of 1830 marked the end of the joint kingdom, and since then, the kings of independent Belgium have spent little time in this palace. In fact, while it remains their official residence, the royal family resides at the Royal Castle of Laeken, just outside Brussels.

Each year, during the summer months (usually from late July to early September), the Royal Palace opens its doors to the public. Visitors can tour several of the palace's rooms and learn about the history of the Belgian monarchy.

A visit here can be worthwhile for a few reasons: the tapestries designed by Goya, the magnificent chandeliers in the Throne Room, and the captivating "Heaven of Delight" ceiling in the Mirror Room, composed of over a million jewel beetle carapaces.

An even more intriguing option is to explore one of the mansions within the Royal Palace complex, the Hôtel Bellevue, at the corner of Place des Palais and Rue Royale. This mansion has been transformed into the BELvue Museum, which delves into the brief history of independent Belgium, with corridor displays focusing on the country's kings and rooms dedicated to Belgium as a whole.

The building's location is historically significant, as it was from here that rebellious Belgians fired upon the Dutch army as it attempted to cross Brussels Park in 1830. Original artifacts such as photographs, documents, and letters are on display.
Musee Magritte (Magritte Museum)

11) Musee Magritte (Magritte Museum) (must see)

The captivating Magritte Museum houses an extensive collection of the Surrealist artist's belongings, along with a modest assortment of his early paintings and sketches. Magritte and his wife Georgette resided on the ground floor of this unassuming house from 1930 until the mid-1950s. It's an unconventional location for what effectively served as the headquarters of the Surrealist movement in Belgium, where many of its prominent figures gathered every Saturday to collaborate on a variety of subversive publications and images.

Offering a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of the 20th century's most influential artists, the museum faithfully recreates the ground floor as his studio and living quarters, using original furnishings and decor, with the rest meticulously replicated from photographs. The famous bowler hat, featured in several of Magritte's paintings, hangs near the indoor studio. Many elements of the house itself, such as the sash window, glass doors, fireplace, and staircase, as well as the lamppost out front, prominently appear in the artist's works.

In the garden, Magritte constructed a studio named "Dongo", where he produced his more commercial work, like graphics and posters, although he was often discontented when engaged in such mundane projects. His true artistic passion flourished in the dining-room studio, where he displayed a single work by another artist – a photograph by Man Ray – which remains there today.

Visitors are required to wear shoe-covers when exploring the first and second floors, which were separate apartments during the Magrittes' residency but now house a chronological display of letters, photos, posters, sketches, and other items related to the artist and his time here. There are also personal objects in the attic, which Magritte rented, including the easel he used in his later years.

Why You Should Visit:
Thoughtfully organized over three floors, offering a nice escape into a different world for a few hours.
Interesting to witness the development of Magritte's major themes and his transition into a retired surrealist.
The gift shop features a wide range of art prints on various objects at reasonable prices.

Make time for the Magritte film on the same level as the gift shop, and consider getting an audio guide for the best experience, though note that the ordering can be a bit confusing in certain areas. Also consider buying an "all museums" ticket, which is affordable and grants access to two interconnected museums (Oldmasters Museum, Royal Museums of Fine Arts), eliminating the need to exit between visits.
Mont des Arts (Mount of the Arts)

12) Mont des Arts (Mount of the Arts)

The Mount of the Arts Garden, just below the Royal Square, serves as a lush transitional area bridging the upper and lower parts of the city, creating a link with the Grand Square at the heart of historic Brussels. Originally designed for the 1910 Universal Exposition, the restored complex is now dominated by two striking postmodern architectural structures: the Royal Library and the glass-cubed Brussels Convention Centre perched atop. However, what truly sets this location apart is the fine panoramic view it offers.

While the glass and steel cube that forms the new entrance to the Convention Centre has altered the upper section of the complex, the perspective conceived by architects in the 1950s has largely been preserved. From this elevated viewpoint, the iconic Town Hall tower in the Grand Square is prominently visible, and on a sunny day, you can even catch a glimpse of the Sacred Heart Basilica and the Atomium.

To the west, you'll find the bronze Statue of Albert I, depicted in military attire on his beloved horse. Arguably one of Belgium's most beloved kings, Albert earned national hero status for his unwavering resistance against the Germans during World War I. His tragic death in a climbing accident near Namur, in southern Belgium, in 1934 elicited a genuine outpouring of grief. Across the square from him stands a statue of his wife, Queen Elizabeth, while the dome of the Church of Saint James provides a captivating backdrop.

Within walking distance of the Mont des Arts, you'll discover major museums, including the entertaining Musical Instruments Museum (MIM), housing a remarkable collection of over 2,000 musical instruments from various countries and historical periods, some dating back over 500 years; the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, with its extensive collection of more than 20,000 drawings, sculptures, and paintings spanning from the early 15th century to the present day; and the Magritte Museum, located within the former residence of the renowned Surrealist artist René Magritte, offering a comprehensive showcase of his exceptional works.

Walking Tours in Brussels, Belgium

Create Your Own Walk in Brussels

Create Your Own Walk in Brussels

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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)
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Brussels Beer Tour

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The European Quarter Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.3 Km or 0.8 Miles
Brussels Historical Churches Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.4 Km or 2.7 Miles
Grand Place Walking Tour

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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
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

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Belgian Beer Tour of Brussels

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