Things to Do in Brussels - page 2
Blending the classic atmosphere of an American diner with the devil–may–care edge of rock ‘n’ roll, the Hard Rock Café is much more than just a café – it’s an international institution, and it was only a matter of time before the legendary restaurant made its way on to Belgian soil. Opening its doors in 2012, the Hard Rock Café Brussels has been enticing locals to swap their French fries and Belgian waffles for some all-American soul food ever since and there are few more atmospheric spots to tuck into a burger. Taking over a restored 16th-century building in the heart of the capital, fans of the Hard Rock Café will find all their favorites on the Brussels’ menu, from Bar-B-Que Ribs to Wildberry Smoothies, but of course, the Hard Rock Café has always been about more than just the food.
Walking down the tree-lined Avenue Louise is the best way to experience the city’s best in luxury and fashion. Belgian and international designer labels line the elegant thoroughfare, which runs adjacent to the Boulevard de Waterloo. Here you’ll find upscale clothing shops for both women and men, with smaller, more affordable boutiques interspersed.
The avenue was commissioned by King Leopold II in 1847 to provide more direct access to the city’s Bois de la Cambre area. Named for his daughter Princess Louise, it now serves as a main street in the heart of Brussels. Keep your eyes peeled for art deco townhouses, extravagant hotels, and small, manicured parks and gardens. The avenue is also home to some of the city’s tallest office buildings. Or go for a leisurely stroll along the avenue’s 2.7 kilometers and be content with window shopping and people watching.
Culture, art, and history abound in this Belgian national museum. The four main collections span periods of time from prehistory in national archaeology and classical antiquity, to European decorative arts and non-European displays. Explore artifacts from all over the world, with collections dedicated to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome and also movements in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and even Art Deco European arts. Trace the evolution of art in Europe from the 10th century or journey through the arts of India, China, pre-Columbian Americas, and other non-European civilizations.
Unique pieces in sculpture, tapestry, historic jewelry, and even glassware are some of the museum’s highlights, as well as the overview of history of mankind from prehistoric times. The museum contains more than 350,000 historical artifacts in total in its permanent collection. It routinely houses some of Europe’s finest traveling exhibitions.
The Porte de Hal, or Halle Gate, is what remains of the city’s second fortified wall, making it one of the most historic structures in Brussels. Built to defend the capital city in 1381, it guarded the interior with a medieval drawbridge and moat. Though many of the other structures from this time period have since been destroyed, the Porte de Hal was used as a prison, thereby still standing and recalling an earlier age. The stonework and style of the gate’s tower still looks like it was lifted straight from the Middle Ages.
The museum goes into detail about the city’s fortification, history, and folklore. Various weapons and armor are on display, including the parade armor of the Archduke Albert of Austria. Here visitors can learn in depth about the trade guilds and battles that make up the history of Brussels. Three stories up a winding staircase take you to the Battlement, with panoramic views of the city.
The Natural Sciences Museum of Belgium in Brussels explores the natural evolution of our planet going all the way back to prehistoric times. It has Europe's largest dinosaur exhibitions with over 30 complete skeletons, both originals and reproductions, as well as bone fragments from dinosaurs. The museum also includes the Gallery of Evolution which has displays on the history of life on earth. The BiodiverCITY section teaches visitors about biodiversity. There is an animal kingdom section with displays on various groups of animals, such as mammals, whales, animals of the North and South Poles, insects, shells, and more. Another section of the museum has exhibits on minerals including 2,000 rocks from the earth and the moon. Some sections of the museum have interactive touchscreens and audio guides to teach visitors more about the exhibits. Along with the permanent exhibitions, the museum has a rotation of temporary exhibits.
One of Brussels’ newest museums, the Fin-de-Siècle celebrates the city’s history as an artistic capital at the end of the 19th century. Though a tempestuous time politically, artists emerged during this time period that pushed the envelope away from classical traditions into modernism. Covering a span from 1868-1914, the museum chronicles the changing attitudes in art. Realism, Impressionism and Art Nouveau emerged during this time, ending only with the start of the first World War and with Belgium leading the way.
Historic collections of 19th- and 20th-century art are here explored with the newest technologies, like touch screens and interactive multimedia. Music, photography, and literature are represented as well, though less so than visual arts. Collections of the many facets of Art Nouveau, from furniture to decorative arts, are a highlight for many. With four floors to explore and many detailed descriptions throughout.
Learn the history of a nation at Belgium’s BELvue Museum, housed in the 18th-century Bellvue Hotel in the center of Brussels. Trace the story of Belgium from the Belgian Revolution, through World Wars I and II, and in its royal and political progression as you walk through its 12 rooms. Filled with historical documents and artifacts as well as engaging multimedia displays, each room represents a different crucial period in Belgium’s history. The rooms are meant to be explored in chronological order.
Photographs and royal items on display give a real sense of time and place. Curators strategically placed windows that look out onto some of the very places the museum tells the history of. Visitors can see the Mont des Arts and Brussels Park, crucial sites of the Belgian Revolution, from museum rooms and hallways. Temporary exhibitions also bring contemporary stories of Belgian heritage and politics to life.
La Maison Autrique was the first house built by Belgian architect Victor Horta, with early elements of his famous Art Nouveau style apparent in the design details. Although the entry and ground floor reflects the classic architectural style of the 19th century, when it was built, the halls and other rooms are illuminated by open space and natural light, an innovation at the time.
The house is simpler than Horta’s later projects, as it was built as a comfortable home for engineer Eugène Autrique and his family. It was completed in 1893, but was recently renovated and reopened to the public. With a striking exterior of iron pillars and columns, Horta’s touch can be seen with the use of light and color in the home’s intricate stained glass in the interior. The classic town house is at once both an embodiment of a traditional private Belgian home and the modern step toward Art Nouveau.
More Things to Do in Brussels
Famous Brussels architect and leader of the Art Nouveau movement Victor Horta built this town house along Avenue Louise in 1894. Horta designed the house in great detail and with precious material from floor to ceiling. From the carpets and walls to the furniture and the light fixtures, Hotel Solvay is a display of luxury and design. The iron and marble staircase was built in collaboration with Belgian pointillist painter Théo van Rysselberghe.
Along with three of Horta’s other Brussels town houses, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site for its contribution to the development of Art Nouveau in architecture. Chemical magnate Arthur Solvay commissioned the house with unrestricted budget and creative freedom, so Horta was able to realize all of his design ambitions for the space. Hotel Solvay is the best preserved of the four houses, having undergone several renovations and keeping original art and functionality in place.
At the Brussels Gueuze Museum you will see the working brewery almost unchanged from 1900. You can view all the steps of lambic’s mysterious journey and perhaps even catch the brewer mixing or bottling the beer.
Beer is one of the best things about Belgium and that’s showing no disrespect to Belgium because the beers are out of this world! A style of beer particular to Brussels is lambic beer which is allowed to spontaneously ferment using wild yeast from the atmosphere; it has a distinctive sour taste.
The Cantillon Brewery is the last brewery left out of the 70-odd that once brewed lambic in Brussels. Its specialties include gueuze (a blend of one-and two-year-old lambics), kriek (lambic with cherries added) and framboise (lambic with raspberries).
This Brussels town house is widely considered to be the first structure built in Art Nouveau style. Designed by architect Victor Horta in 1894, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site along with three of Horta’s other iconic hotels. Horta was a pioneer of the Art Nouveau transition away from the classical tradition to modern architectural design.
The town house’s floor plan, materials, and decorations, including custom built furniture, were highly innovative at the time of their construction. The two main parts are connected by a steel structure with a glass roof that brings in much of the rooms’ natural light. With mosaics and stained glass throughout, much of the house’s beauty is due to the small lavish details Horta urged. The use of stone alongside a modern use of metal materials was groundbreaking in the 19th century. The open floor plan and curved lines of decoration blend seamlessly with the square structure of the rooms, another progressive architectural move.
The Ciamberlani House is a townhouse in Brussels that was built by Paul Hankar for the Italian artist Albert Ciamberlani in 1897. Hankar and Ciamberlani collaborated on the design and details of the house, and it is one of the major Art Nouveau buildings in Belgium. Architect Adrien Blomme renovated the house in 1927 resulting in aspects of both Art Nouveau and Art Deco in the interior. One of the most remarkable details about this building is the spectacular sgraffito on its facade. The facade combines elements of ironwork, bricks, and natural stones. Two large, semi-circular windows on the first floor allow sunlight to flood the rooms located in this section of the house.
A row of six windows, which are separated by cast iron posts and flanked by small columns, illuminates the second floor. On the top level there is another sgraffito designed by Adolphe Crespin with a frieze of sunflowers and seven medallions themed around the Labors of Hercules.
One of the city’s most striking landmarks, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart was built to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Belgian independence. King Leopold II laid the first stone of the Roman Catholic basilica and parish in 1905. World War I delayed construction and it took nearly 60 years to complete. Today the Art Deco style monument with its red brick and distinctive green dome holds two museums and is one of the five largest churches in the world.
Visitors can marvel at the size and design of the basilica from the outside or climb the interior for some of the best views of Brussels and the Flemish Brabant countryside. Walking out onto the platform near the top of the basilica dome grants panoramic views almost 80 meters up from the ground. There are also eight bright stained glass windows depicting the life of Jesus that were designed by Belgian painter Anto Carte.
The Cinquantenaire District in Brussels is the area of the city surrounding the Cinquantenaire Park. The park itself was built to commemorate 50 years of Belgium's independence. Dominating the park is the Triumphal Arch and three museums. The museums located here are Autoworld, which showcases the evolution of the automobile throughout history; the Royal Museum of Art and History, which contains a wide range of art and artifacts from pre-history forward; and the Belgian Army Museum and Museum of Military History, which examines the development of military technology throughout history along with the major campaigns fought on Belgian soil. In the summer, the park hosts concerts, festivals, drive-in movies, and it is the starting point of the Brussels marathon. This district, also known as the European District, is the heart of the European Union. The buildings that house the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council of Ministers can be found in this area.
Just a short drive outside of Brussels, this village offers some of the area’s best luxury shopping with access to 95 designer shops. The area’s traditional Limburg style of architecture is reflected in the form of the buildings, and the location in the quiet countryside carries over into the village. Conceived as a historical mining village, it is now filled with high-end boutiques containing both local Belgian brands such as Essentiel, Olivier Strelli, and Sarah Pacini, and internationally known labels such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. Prices are often significantly lower than similar nearby shops.
Of course it is important to refuel after a long day of shopping, and the village has both traditional Belgian treats such as waffles and moules frites in addition to Italian cuisine at the center’s outdoor Gastronomia Cellini. Just be sure to bring enough strength to carry multiple shopping bags.
One of Belgium’s most famous beers and exported all around the world, Stella Artois has been brewed in the Belgian town of Leuven since 1926, when it was originally launched as a Christmas beer.
Today, touring the Stella Artois Brewery in Leuven has become a popular pastime for beer lovers and visitors can go behind-the-scenes, learning how the careful blend of malted barley, hops and water is achieved and watching the high-speed bottling process, before sampling a pint of Stella Artois and shopping for souvenirs at the Stella gift shop. The brewery has a history dating back six centuries, with its namesake Sebastian Artois taking over as master brewer in 1708, and is now run by the world’s biggest brewing company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, producing not only Stella Artois, but other iconic brands like Leffe and Hoegaarden.
Belgium has produced more comic-strip creators than any other country, and one of the world’s favorite comic characters flowed from the pen of Georges Remi, who breathed life into Tintin and his trusty terrier Snowy in 1927 under the name Hergé.
Tintin’s outlandish adventures are published in over 70 languages, and more than 200 million copies of all 24 titles have been sold around the world. Hergé is now commemorated at his own museum just outside Brussels.
The building itself was designed by French architect Christian de Portzamparc and the architecture is all part of the attraction -- a sparkling white, minimalist and box-like contemporary affair. One exterior wall of the building comprises a massive image of Tintin, while another bears Hergé’s distinctive signature.
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