If you’ve started to plan your trip to Brussels, you probably already have attractions like the Grand Place and Manneken Pis on your list. In this article, we’ll be delving a bit deeper and letting you know the best secret spots and hidden places in Brussels you’ll want to add to your list.
If you’re planning a trip to Brussels and want to see a lot of attractions, consider getting the Brussels City Card, which includes access to 49 museums.
Navigating around Brussel’s hidden gems
Brussels is quite small and easy to get around on foot, but there’s a lot to visit that’s spread out over the city.
Getting from Brussels Airport to Brussels city center
Getting to the city center from the airport is easy. There’s a direct train that stops at Brussel Centraal, and from there it’s only a 5 minute walk to the Grand Place.
There’s plenty of transport available – take your pick of the tram, bus, metro and train. Google Maps works well to tell you the best route to take to where you want to go. The Brussels inner-city public transport uses one ticket across the various transport types and will get you all across Brussels.
Historical Hidden Gems
Brussels is a city steeped in history, and there are plenty of hidden gems that showcase its rich past.
Cinquantenaire Park is a sprawling green space located in the heart of Brussels. It was created in the late 19th century to celebrate Belgium’s 50th anniversary as an independent nation. The park is home to several interesting historical landmarks, including the Arcades du Cinquantenaire, a massive triumphal arch that was built to commemorate the country’s independence.
The park is also home to the Royal Military Museum, which houses an impressive collection of military artifacts and memorabilia. Visitors can explore exhibits on everything from medieval weapons to modern-day tanks. The museum is a must-visit for history buffs and military enthusiasts alike.
The Horta Museum is a hidden gem that pays tribute to one of Brussels’ most famous residents, Victor Horta. Horta was a pioneering architect who is credited with helping to create the Art Nouveau movement. The museum is located in Horta’s former home and studio, which he designed himself.
Visitors to the Horta Museum can explore the architect’s stunning living quarters and see many of his original designs and furnishings. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions that showcase the work of other Art Nouveau artists and designers.
Place du Grand Sablon
Located in the heart of Brussels, Place du Grand Sablon is a beautiful square that is home to some of the city’s best restaurants. The square is surrounded by stunning architecture and is the perfect place to enjoy a meal or a drink. One of the most popular restaurants in the area is Le Pain Quotidien, which offers a range of delicious organic dishes that are perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Another popular restaurant in the area is L’Atelier en Ville, which offers a unique dining experience that combines traditional Belgian cuisine with modern twists.
Rue des Bouchers
Rue des Bouchers is a narrow street in the centre of Brussels that is lined with some of the city’s best restaurants. The street is known for its lively atmosphere and is the perfect place to enjoy a meal with friends or family. One of the most popular restaurants on the street is Chez Leon, which is famous for its delicious mussels and fries. Another popular restaurant on the street is La Villette, which offers a range of traditional Belgian dishes that are made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
Desserts at Chouconut
If you want to indulge your sweet tooth, stop by local cafe Chouconut. They have pastries that are to die for, and delicious Vietnamese coffee. It has a wonderful atmosphere, and big comfy chairs to relax in.
Try Belgian Beer at Le Pantins
If you want to drink beer in Brussels like a local, head to Le Pantins. This bar is always packed and has an amazing selection of different Belgian beers to try.
Discover the history of chocolate
Chocolate is probably on your list of things to do in Brussels, whether that’s taking a tour of a factory or just buying some from a shop.
Get the best of both at the Choco-Story museum, which is just around the corner from Manneken-Pis. You’ll get a chocolate making demonstration, and time to wander around to learn all about cacao and the history of chocolate.
Go on a hunt for classic Belgian comic book murals
If you’re a fan of comic books and happen to be in Brussels, you’re in for a treat. The city has commissioned around 60 comic book murals throughout its streets, not only as a way to prevent graffiti but also to celebrate the rich comic book culture in Belgium. It’s definitely worth spending a few hours to scout for these murals, as each one tells a unique story. However, there are four murals in particular that are considered must-sees. One of them is the TinTin mural, located in the city centre. Another iconic mural is the Lucky Luke mural, along with an Asterix and Obelix mural, both located near Het Zinneken. These two murals are the largest ones and are truly impressive. And, of course, you can’t miss the Smurf mural, which is located across from Brussels-Central main exit, on the ceiling of the underpass. So, if you’re a fan of classic Belgian comic books, make sure to go on a hunt for these amazing murals.
For a unique experience, visitors can head to Mini-Europe, a miniature park located in the Heysel Plateau. The park features over 350 detailed models of famous European landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Acropolis.
Visitors can walk through the park and see the models up close, and can even interact with some of them. For example, they can make a wish in the Trevi Fountain, or watch a bullfight in the miniature version of the Plaza de Toros in Seville.
Mini-Europe is a fun and educational experience for visitors of all ages, and is a great way to see some of Europe’s most famous landmarks in miniature form.
Find the golden shells that lead to Santiago de Compostela in Spain
If you find yourself wandering the streets of Brussels, keep an eye out for the golden scallop shells scattered across the city. These iconic symbols are part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage that leads to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. In fact, there are over 50 golden shells in Brussels alone, making it just one of the many destinations across Europe where these shells can be found.
While starting the pilgrimage to Spain might not be feasible during your trip to Brussels, it can still be a fun treasure hunt to spot the golden shells during your explorations. And if you’re looking for an easy one to find, head to the corner of Grand Place, where a golden shell awaits you.
The birthplace of Audrey Hepburn
Did you know that Audrey Hepburn was born in Brussels? Head to No.48 on Rue Keyenveld and you’ll see a plaque stating that Audrey Hepburn was born here on May 4th 1929. This is very off the beaten track, so few tourists make it out here unless they are seeking it out.
Berlin Wall fragments
If you’ve visited Berlin, you’ve probably seen fragments of the Berlin Wall around the city. But, many more wall fragments are actually displayed across Europe, to signify a unified Europe.
There are 4 pieces of the Berlin Wall in Brussels. Two of them are behind the EU parliament building, and two are outside the NATO headquarters.
Ghent, another stunning city in Belgium also has a fragment on display.
Unexplored Neighbourhoods and Shopping
Brussels is a city with many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. While the popular tourist destinations such as the Grand Place and Manneken Pis are worth a visit, there are many lesser-known neighbourhoods that offer a unique experience.
Ixelles is a neighbourhood located south of the city centre. It is known for its vibrant nightlife, trendy bars, and restaurants. The neighbourhood is also home to some of the most beautiful Art Nouveau architecture in Brussels. One of the most popular attractions in Ixelles is the Place Flagey, a large square surrounded by cafes and bars. The square is also home to the Flagey building, a former radio and television broadcasting centre that has been converted into a cultural centre.
Another must-visit attraction in Ixelles is the Tenbosch Park, a beautiful green space that offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The park features a large pond, walking paths, and a playground for children.
Saint-Gilles is a neighbourhood located southwest of the city centre. It is known for its diverse population, trendy cafes, and bars. The neighbourhood is also home to the Parvis de Saint-Gilles, a large square surrounded by cafes and restaurants. The square is a popular meeting place for locals and tourists alike.
One of the most popular attractions in Saint-Gilles is the Horta Museum, a museum dedicated to the life and work of the famous Belgian architect Victor Horta. The museum is located in Horta’s former home and features many of his original designs.
Another must-visit attraction in Saint-Gilles is the Maison Pelgrims, a beautiful Art Nouveau building that was designed by the architect Gustave Strauven. The building is located on the Rue Defacqz and features a beautiful facade with intricate details.
Shop at the Parisian-Inspired arcades
Another one of Brussels’ best-kept secrets is the beautiful shopping arcades to enjoy. You’ve probably heard of the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, the most popular and home to some of the top chocolatiers in Brussels.
If you want to visit one off the beaten path, we can recommend Galerie Bortier, which is devoted to second hand books and new artists. It’s very peaceful and beautiful.
There were originally over 50 of similar shopping arcades across Brussels, but only a handful remain now.
Go shopping on Rue du Bailli
If you’re interest in local, secret spots in Brussels then Rue Bailli is a must-visit. It’s home to a mix of vintage and boutique shops, local restaurants and cosy cafes.
Visit Marolles Flea Market and The Sablon
The Sablon neighbourhood is the antique centre of the city. Everything here is one of a kind, and you’ll find everything from small collectibles to furniture.
Next to the Sablon is the Marolles neighbourhood which hosts the Marolles Flea Market. Every morning from 8am to 2pm, Place Jeu de Balle transforms into a huge market.
Hidden Artistic Gems and Museums
Brussels is a city that is rich in art and culture. There are many hidden artistic gems scattered throughout the city that are worth exploring. In this section, we will highlight two of the most significant artistic gems that you should visit during your trip to Brussels.
Mont des Arts
Mont des Arts, which translates to “hill of the arts,” is a beautiful and picturesque area in Brussels that is home to several museums, galleries, and art institutions. The area is located between the Royal Palace and the Grand Place and offers stunning views of the city.
One of the most notable museums in the area is the Magritte Museum, which is dedicated to the life and work of the famous Belgian surrealist artist, René Magritte. The museum houses the largest collection of Magritte’s work in the world, including paintings, sculptures, and photographs.
In addition to the Magritte Museum, there are several other museums and galleries in the Mont des Arts area that are worth visiting, including the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, and the Museum of Musical Instruments.
Royal Museums of Fine Arts
The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium is a complex of four museums that are located in the heart of Brussels. The museums house an extensive collection of art from the 15th to the 21st century, including works by Flemish Primitives, Bruegel, Rubens, and Magritte.
The four museums that make up the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium are the Museum of Ancient Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fin-de-Siècle Art, and the Wiertz Museum. Each museum has its own unique collection of art and is worth exploring.
One of the highlights of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium is the Magritte Museum, which we mentioned earlier. The museum is dedicated to the work of René Magritte and houses over 200 of his works, including paintings, sculptures, and photographs.
Museum of the Far East
When you step into the Museum of the Far East, you won’t think you’re in Brussels. It’s a complex of three buildings – the Chinese Pavilion, the Japanese Tower, and the museum of Japanese Art.
They were built in the 20th century, with materials sourced directly from China and Japan. Once the King died, the buildings were donated to the Belgian state and they have had the status of protected monuments since 2019.
Visit an Art Nouveau museum
In Brussels, even the most ordinary attractions are housed in beautiful historic buildings, making them worth a visit. This Musical Instruments Museum probably won’t be top of your city break itinerary, but the late 1800s Art Nouveau architecture is stunning. It’s worth a look even if you don’t want to go inside. But, if you do, you’ll found a collection of over 1000 instruments – one of the biggest collections in the world.
Visit the Villa Empain
This stunning art deco home is one of the best hidden gems of Brussels. It’s a bit further out, but it’s well worth a visit. It gives you a real snapshot into a 1930s home, and also has different art exhibits.
Hidden gems in Brussels FAQs
What are hidden gems in Brussels?
Hidden gems in Brussels refer to the lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path attractions and spots in the city that are not as widely recognized as the popular tourist destinations. These hidden gems often offer unique experiences, cultural treasures, and local flavors that can’t be found in guidebooks or mainstream travel itineraries.
Where can I find hidden gems in Brussels?
You can find hidden gems in various neighborhoods and corners of Brussels, both in the city center and its outskirts. Rue des Bouchers, Marolles, Ixelles, and Saint-Gilles are known for their hidden treasures, while areas like Rue de la Prévoyance and Rue Antoine Dansaert offer a mix of secret spots and artistic delights.
What are some specific hidden gems in Brussels?
Some specific hidden gems in Brussels include the Musical Instrument Museum, which houses a remarkable collection of musical instruments from around the world, and the Brussels City Museum, where you can explore the city’s history and art. Additionally, the comic book murals scattered across the city, such as the famous Tintin mural, are a delight for comic book enthusiasts.
Are there any hidden gems in the city center of Brussels?
Absolutely! Brussels city center has its fair share of hidden gems. From the stunning Brussels Cathedral, also known as St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, to the art nouveau buildings and hidden alleys, there’s always something unique to discover in the heart of Brussels.
How can I discover hidden gems in Brussels?
To discover hidden gems in Brussels, it’s recommended to explore the city on foot or by bike. Take leisurely walks through the streets, step away from the main avenues, and venture into the lesser-known neighborhoods. It’s also worth joining guided tours or seeking recommendations from locals to uncover the best-kept secrets of Brussels.
What are some unusual things to do in Brussels?
Brussels offers plenty of unusual and unique experiences beyond the usual tourist attractions. You can visit quirky museums like the Museum of Fantastic Art or the Museum of Natural Sciences. Another offbeat option is to explore the underground art scene in alternative venues like Recyclart or Beursschouwburg. Additionally, discovering hidden street art or searching for Audrey Hepburn’s birthplace can make for memorable and unconventional activities.