Brussels is an incredible city and one of Europe's smaller capital cities.
There is a good mix of old and new stuff, fancy buildings, simple places, busy streets, and quiet spots.
We've picked out some great things to see and do in Brussels. There's everything from comic book fun to beautiful art, old churches to going out for beers. Here's our list of the best things to see and do in Brussels.
1. Grand Place
Grand Place should be at the top of your list of things to see in Brussels, as it is known for being one of Europe's most beautiful medieval squares.
Historic buildings from the 17th century surround the square, showcasing beautiful architecture.
December is the best time to visit as it transforms into a magical place. The buildings are lit up, and there's Christmas music in the air. A huge Christmas tree and a manger display stand proudly in the center, with seats around for people to sit down. The streets around the square have Christmas market cabins, and it's just a lovely atmosphere.
The whole area is filled with shops, restaurants, and more history, making it a great place to explore.
2. Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert's is a beautiful, glass-roofed arcade in the city's center and is one of the best places for shopping in Brussels. It is known for being the first covered shopping arcade in Europe.
This isn’t just your average shopping arcade that you might find in most capital cities; this one is fancy and posh. Most people end up window shopping as some price tags can be through the roof. We still recommend you visit and walk through even if you are not buying anything.
Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert offers a blend of history, architecture, and luxury shopping unique to Brussels.
The Atomium is an icon of the city and Belgium and is always rated as one of the top things to see in Brussels.
This unique structure, a symbol of architectural history, was initially built for the World Fair in Brussels (Expo 58) and has since become the top tourist attraction in Europe's Capital.
The Atomium is a historic and architectural marvel. It looks way bigger in real life than in pictures.
You'll learn about its history and a fantastic, incredible laser light show.
The visit typically takes about two hours, from buying tickets, which cost about 32 euros, to finishing the tour. You take an elevator up and then walk down, making it an excellent place for those looking for the perfect Instagram shot.
If you're with kids, there's a model village-sized ‘Europe' right next to the Atomium, making for a full day of activities.
4. Mini Europe
One of the unique things to do in Brussels is to explore Mini Europe!
Some of the cool features here are the chimes of Big Ben, the gondolas in front of the Doge’s Palace, the Grand Place in Brussels, The Eifel Tower, and the Acropolis.
The park features 350 detailed miniatures and attractions, all at a scale of 1/25, complete with visual and sound effects.
The park is particularly popular with families and kids. There's a set route for visitors to follow, which helps keep things moving smoothly.
The attention to detail in the miniatures is impressive, and there are interactive features like cranks to race miniature bicyclists and microphones for sound effects, primarily geared toward children.
5. The Town Hall
The Town Hall can be found on Grand Place and is one of the best things to see in Brussels.
In our opinion, it's the best building amongst many impressive ones in the area and was built in the first half of the 15th century; it's known for being one of the most stunning buildings around. The level of detail is incredible, with many ornate statues and a tall, elegant central tower about 96 meters high.
This place is popular with tourists who love to take photos. But because it's so popular, it can be hard to get a picture without lots of people in it.
6. Musical Instruments Museum
The Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels differs from most cities' usual museums.
The building combines architectural styles with an Art Nouveau entrance and a neoclassical design that fits well with the nearby Place Royale.
There are about 9,000 instruments, with around 1,200 on permanent display. From the viola da gamba from the Court of Brussels to the modern theremin and the African Kora, the museum has all sorts of instruments and their histories.
The entrance fee is 15 Euros, including an audio guide, which is helpful because it tells you about the instruments and lets you hear what they sound like.
One of the highlights is the view of the city from the third floor, which provides a fantastic photo opportunity. Put this on your list of must do things in Brussels.
7. Parc du Cinquantenaire
Parc du Cinquantenaire is Brussels's version of Hyde Park or Central Park.
This park is a vast green space at the city's western end, perfect for enjoying peace and quiet without leaving the city.
The park is an excellent relaxation spot and features impressive structures like the Belgian version of the Arc de Triomphe and two museums.
The park's esplanade, situated in front of the Palais, is a versatile area regularly used for various events. It hosts activities from the start and finish of the 20 km Brussels run to environmental festivals, bicycle festivals, concerts, and even drive-in movies.
Autoworld in Brussels has over 250 cars and is the perfect place for anyone interested in cars and automobile history. It can be found in the Southern Hall of the Cinquantenaire, one of Belgium's most beautiful architectural buildings.
There is a special area dedicated to sports and racing cars and a section called “Belgium at Autoworld” that explores the close relationship between Belgium and the automobile industry.
Every 2-3 months, Autoworld hosts different themed temporary exhibitions, so there's always something new to see.
All these are housed under one roof, making it a perfect place to spend time, especially if you are after things to do in Brussels when it's raining.
The museum is part of the impressive Parc Cinquantenaire, which adds to the overall experience with its striking architecture and incredible views.
9. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium is known for its extensive collection of art from the Flemish School, including several masterpieces by Peter Bruegel.
While it used to focus more on traditional themes like religious scenes and pastoral images, it now has a broader range of art. This includes works from more modern artists like Magritte and pieces from the art nouveau movement.
The Rubens paintings, particularly those featuring rosy, generously proportioned women, are still a highlight for many. The museum's development in showcasing contemporary artists alongside the classics has made it one of the must see things in Brussels.
10. Notre-Dame des Victoires au Sablon
Notre-Dame des Victoires au Sablon is the most famous cathedral in Belgium.
The architecture is impressive, but the way the light filters through the stained glass adds something extra special to the church.
A good time to visit is between 11 and noon, when fewer people are present, and the sunlight shines beautifully through the windows.
The high Gothic ceiling and intricate statues and art showcase the majestic influence of the Catholic Church, with the craftsmanship and dedication evident in the artwork demanding respect and admiration.
Even if you're not a fan of religion or church politics, it's hard not to be impressed by the stunning art.
The best part for Frugal travelers is that there's no entrance fee.
11. The Museum of Natural Sciences
The Museum of Natural Sciences is home to the famous Bernissart Iguanodons in the largest Dinosaur Gallery in Europe.
Apart from dinosaurs, the museum offers a lot more. You can learn about human evolution in the Gallery of Humankind, journey through the Gallery of Evolution, discover city wildlife in BiodiverCITY, and see items that represent the Museum's 250-year history.
Another popular part is ‘Luminopolis,' an interactive hall where visitors solve puzzles in an escape room-like setting.
The entry fee is cheap, but there's so much to see that it might take effort to cover everything in one visit without rushing but it should be on your list of things to visit in Brussels.
12. Illusion Brussels
Illusion Brussels is an excellent place if you are after things to do with kids in Brussels. There are many fantastic illusions, with the rooms and chair perspective illusions being favorites. These illusions make for some hilarious and memorable family photos.
The concept behind Illusion Brussels is simple yet brilliant. It's an attraction that's easy to run but provides maximum fun. It's an excellent choice for something different, especially if you're looking for a fun activity that takes little time or effort.
The number of people allowed in at a time is well-managed, so you don't feel rushed and can take your time to enjoy each illusion.
13. Manneken Pis
There is a debate about whether Manneken Pis is one of the best things to see in Brussels as it's one of those famous sights that many people feel they have to tick off their list, even though it could be more impressive.
It's tiny, standing only about 22 inches high, but despite its size, it draws a big crowd and is a popular spot for visitors. While there's nothing extraordinary about the statue itself, the fact that it's so well-known makes people curious to see it. People often find the experience could be more impressive, similar to seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time and realizing it's so tiny.
It's still on this list; we had to include it as it's so famous.
14. Schaerbeek Station in Brussels
Train World can be found in the old Schaerbeek station and is a fantastic museum and one of the cool things in Brussels.
Belgium was the second country in the world to start building railways, and this museum does a great job of showcasing that history. The collection includes locomotives from the earliest days to modern diesel and electric ones, plus hundreds of rail-related items.
Families can enjoy activities like playing with a simulator, exploring a miniature village, and walking in the upstairs area.
With an entrance fee of €15, it offers excellent value for anyone keen on railway history.
15. Cantillon Brewery
Cantillon is a local, family-owned brewery and is one of the best places for beer in Belgium. The brewery offers an enjoyable self-guided tour, but the highlight for many is the three beer tastings included with the tour. You could skip the tour, head straight to the bar, and spend more time drinking!
The bar is upstairs and offers a relaxed, quiet atmosphere, and while a couple of beers are on tap, the focus is mostly on bottled beers.
16. Brussels Comics Museum
The Brussels Comics Museum is home to a private collection of figurines from Belgian comics like Tintin, Spirou, and The Smurfs, as well as American comics such as Spider-Man and Batman.
The museum offers more than just figurines. You'll find these comic characters in various formats, including video games, explanatory videos, and cartoons, in a period movie theater.
It's a great place if you are after things to do in Brussels for families, as adults will find themselves reminiscing of the time they were a kid. At the same time, children will love the visual and colorful displays.
We've shared our favorite things to do in Brussels, but we're sure many more hidden gems are out there.
Did we miss your favorite spot in Brussels? Do you have any tips for first-time visitors? Let us know in the comments below! We'd love to hear about your experiences and recommendations.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.