In one turn, I was awed by one of the most, if not the most beautiful medieval square in Europe. By another, I found myself standing under a 102-meter tall iron atom. That is Brussels, a city in which a mélange of architectural styles exists.
Home to the European Parliament, NATO, and various international organizations, Brussels has long been known as the de facto capital of Europe. But there is much more to the city than just politics and diplomacy. Belgium’s capital boasts an outstanding artistic taste reflected through numerous architectural treasures, from the ornate splendor of the Grand Place, the Art Noveau stores to the modern Atomium.
1. Grand Place
Enclosed by golden-trimmed Baroque guild houses, Grand Place is undoubtedly Brussels’s most gorgeous place. The cobblestone square measures around 7,500m2 and has been used as a marketplace since the 12th-century. Today, this World Heritage Site still hosts a flower market, the Christmas market, as well as a spectacular flower carpet in late summer.
Interestingly, Grand Place only reveals itself as you enter from one of the six narrow side alleys. The square is hidden when looking from the distance. Only the soaring spire of Hôtel de Ville – Grand Place’s pièce de résistance – is visible. Completed in the 15th century, this Gothic-inspired city hall rarely fails to impress visitors.
2. Central Quarter
Surrounding Grand Place is the Central Quarter – a former covered market and the origin of Brussels. It is among the city’s most attractive neighborhoods where elegant buildings in Haussmann style line cobblestone roads. The area also houses several sights, including the iconic Manneken Pis and the magnificent Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. Opened in 1847 by King Léopold, this gallery is the very first shopping arcade in Europe. It includes elegant cafes, cultural places, and luxury shops. But most notable (to me) is the first store of the Belgian chocolatiers (Jean) Neuhaus – the inventor of praline.
Pralines, chocolate, and waffles are what Belgium has long been known for. But here in the Central Quarter, they come in countless forms, shapes, and flavors. In short, if you are a sweet lover, this place is where your wildest dream comes true. Each shop is more irresistible than the previous one, making a trip to Brussel a feast for the eyes, noses, and obviously the tongue. Even now, I can still remember the light, soft meringue from Aux Merville de Fred or the addictive sweet treat from Neuhaus.
3. Royal Quarter
As its name implies, the Royal Quarter has been home to Brussels’s aristocracy since the 15th-century. The neighborhood is adjacent to the bustling Central Quarter yet it presents a peaceful elegance.
Royal Quarter is filled with museums, exhibitions, as well as some of Europe’s finest Art Noveau buildings. Greenery also plays an important role here. For example the leafy Parc Royal or the tree-lined paths of the beautiful Mont des Arts.
4. Leopold Quarter
East of the Royal Quarter is where Brussels made its name as the de facto capital of Europe. The European Commission, the European Council, and the European Parliament are all located in this area. They are housed in postmodern structures, featuring sleek lines, glass-and-steel facades. The buildings offer a stark contrast to the charming old town.
At the periphery of this diplomatic district is Parc du Cinquantenaire or Park of the 50th Anniversary. It was built during the reign of Leopold II to celebrate 50 years of Belgian independence. Today, Parc du Cinquantenaire is one of the most beautiful parks in Brussels with many tranquil places to rest and play. It also serves as a venue for various events, such as concerts and festivals. At the south-eastern point, a grandiose arch with two arms extending to house three museums, including the Autoworld, the Art and Military Museum.
Annexed by Brussels in 1921, the northern suburb of Laeken is the Belgian monarchs’ domain. That includes the Palace of Laeken, the Royal Greenhouse, and the Church of Our Lady whose crypt contains the tombs of the royal family, to name a few. But surprisingly the main attraction of this area has nothing to do with the aristocracy. Instead, Atomium – a 102-meter tall structure made of metal – takes the spotlight.
Located in Heysel Plateau, Atomium was originally constructed for the post-war World Fair 1958, or Expo 58. With nine interconnected spheres, it represents an iron crystal magnified by 165 billion times. Designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn, the monument was intended to survive not beyond 1958. However, its popularity and success soon made it a landmark of Brussels.
Tips for visiting Brussels
- Please note that international high-speed trains, like the Eurostar, arrive and depart from Gare du Midi, south-west of the Grand Place. Gare Central only serves domestic trains.
- The area around Gare du Midi holds the second biggest flea market in Europe on Sunday morning.
- Although the Manneken Pis is an icon of Brussels, its size and appearance failed to impress me. But if you want to find him, he is just a stone’s throw away from the Grand Place. Just exit through Rue Charles Bul.
- Next to the Atomium is the Mini-Europe park with 1:25 scale maquettes of famous buildings across Europe.
49 thoughts on “Brussels and Its Architectural Treasures”
I would love to see Brussels! It seems to be quite the eclectic mix.
It is 🙂 But not only in architecture, I think this kind of mix reflects in their daily life as well.
Technically I’ve been to Brussels but I arrived about 3pm one afternoon & left about 9am the next morning so I didn’t see anything except my hotel room near the Gare du Midi. Plus it was raining so I honestly didn’t want to go anywhere BUT I really actually regret not heading into the central city to have a look around. Your photos just add to that regret 😀
Oh, pity! But did you have any chance to try any sweet there? If not, you have a reason to go back to Belgium 🙂 Architecture is great, but their chocolate is better!
I think I will have to plan another trip back there in that case haha
We were in Brussels a few years ago. What a great city and what a charming country! In my opinion underrated and getting overshadowed by its neighboring countries.
By the way, I nominated you for “versatile blogger award” because I think your blog is amazing.
It is very kind of you, Evangelina! I really appreciate it. Unfortunately, I was nominated not so long before 😉 You can find my answers here: https://lenjourneys.com/2017/02/17/versatile-blogger-award/.
No problem. At least you know I love your blog. 😘
You made my day! Thank you 🙂
Oh we spent so little time in Brussels!
Back in the day they brought groups to see the little boy peeing! lol
Such a shame! Bad tour 🙂 The statue is not that impressive. Tiny and hide in a corner. If there were no crowd, I could not recognize it.
Em đang định làm 1 tuần 2 nước HL với Bỉ. Brussels và Bruges đi 3 ngày 2 chỗ được khg anh?
Dư xăng honey à. Bruges cách Brussels có 45-60 min đi tàu à 🙂
Thiệt 2 lúa hết sức, ở EU mấy năm mà em chưa đi HL với Bỉ đó anh, ahihi! Em đang định khoảng tháng 6 hoặc 7 xuống dưới đó nè.
HL với Bỉ hè chắc là đẹp. Chứ mà mùa đông chụp lên thấy ghê à. HL thì giá cả mắc hơn ở Đức, Bỉ thì sàng sàng nên cũng ok 🙂
Ghê vậy anh, HL mắc hơn Đức lun! 🙁
Uh mắc hơn, nhưng mà vẫn còn rẻ hơn Norway. Nếu chỉ ở Amsterdam không thì e có thể xài vé ngày. Nhưng mà ra khỏi thành phố là e phải xài thẻ NS 🙂
Great reportage, as always, Len.
I’m not a big fan of Brussels (either of Belgium in general) but your pictures are quite interesting. You have a very positive approach 🙂
Thank you very much! 🙂
What an interesting city. I have never been to Europe. The Atomium building is really cool. Can you/did you go inside?
Yes, it is a museum inside 🙂 Actually, you went from sphere to sphere. Each sphere has a different exhibition. At the top, there is even a restaurant. Totally cool building!
That sounds cool. I want to walk around inside an atom.
Great post. Although I have been in Brussels a number of times, somehow I missed taking a more in-depth look at what the city has to offer. You have motivated me to go and try again 🙂
Many thanks! 🙂
Thank you 🙂
Really beautiful shots of Brussels! My memory of the city includes getting a bit tipsy for the first time in my life after my Belgian friend swapped his beer with mine. I also remember while we were walking to a bar, a friend pointed out the French-Flemish division in the city. Did you try the fries? It was a revelation for me!
Thanks for your compliment, Bama! The French-Flemish (or Dutch) division sounds really true. I have read somewhere that although everyone in Brussels speaks French. The city is surrounded by Dutch-speaking municipalities. So I wonder how they can communicate with each other? English or not communication at all?
Obviously, French fries is a must when you are in Belgium! I tried both types: potatoes (classic) and sweet potatoes. I prefer the latter type more 🙂
I am glad that you like it 🙂 Cheer!
Beautiful structure indeed! Good selection!
Thanks a lot! 🙂
Brussels is beautiful and Your photos also! We have been there few times. Thank You.
You’re welcome 🙂
Thank you for these pic. The are excellent!
I live in Brussels and I fully agree that this city is amazing. I focus more on street photography and people. In Brussels you may find so many nationalities and cultures so it is an excellent place to shoot.
Let me invite you to my blog, where you may find the gallery of these.
And by the way – agree with your opinion about Manneken Pis 🙂
Honestly, I could not even find it at first 🙂 I only saw it after leaving a chocolate shop. It’s tiny and disappointing! The same goes for Mona Lisa in the Lourve 🙂 I think the museum has much more to see than just that painting.
this is great, thanks for sharing.
when you get a chance, please check out the music/art blog.
Thank you! I’ll surely check it out 🙂
I went to Brussels three months ago and this article made me miss it so much! Loved it!
Glad that you like the post, Jasmine! Brussels architecture is indeed beautiful. But what I miss most is the sweets. They are addictive 😛
I had waffles for breakfast and chocolate after every meal! 🤣 this was definitely the highlight of my trip.
Beautiful photographs that made me fall in love with Brussels. Clearly I need to go see it for myself.
Everything you´ve written is now in my itinerary. Can´t wait to see it in June! Thanks so much Len, as usual, your photos and tips are very helpful.
You welcome! But I must warn you it won’t be easy to pull the kid from all those sweet shops. They are seductive, even for adults 😛
I certainly believe that…you will for sure read about my version of Brussels..I`m excited!