Things to Do in Belgium - page 3
Just a short stroll from Brussels’ central sights, the Sablon district has long been one of the city’s most affluent and atmospheric neighborhoods. Renowned for its elegant architecture and lively antiques market, the area is crammed with terrace cafes, hip restaurants, contemporary art galleries, and fine chocolatiers.
Dominating the Gothic and Baroque mansions of Brussels’s glorious cobbled Grand-Place from the south side, the spectacular City Hall has a flamboyant Gothic façade and more restrained classical additions lying around a courtyard behind it.
Begun in 1402, this beloved local landmark was largely designed by Flemish architect Jacob van Thienen, but its distinctive lacy central belfry is the work of his compatriot Jan van Ruysbroeck and doubles the height of the façade, reaching up to 320 feet (97 m). It is adorned with a copper statue of St Michael – the patron saint of Brussels – killing a dragon; the belfry is useful to navigate by when lost in the charming tangle of streets of Brussels old city, especially when gloriously floodlit at night. The entire building is encrusted with 294 sculptures of saints and public figures, which were added by 91 different artists during the late 19th century.
A tour of the interior begins with a stunning marble staircase lined with busts of the mayors of Brussels from 1830 onwards and incorporates visits to the Gothic Chamber, Marriage Chamber and College Chamber. They are all largely neo-Gothic in style, thanks to the 19th-century restoration of the town hall, and are decorated with burnished wood paneling and ornate tapestries depicting ancient trades.
Spanning around 74 acres (30 hectares), sprawling Cinquantenaire Park (Parc du Cinquantenaire) was named in honor of the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence, which was celebrated there with the 1880 National. Today, the park is home to three museums, along with the Great Mosque of Brussels and a triumphal arch dating to 1905.
There are more than 600 beers brewed in Belgium, from fruit and white beers to Trappist ales brewed by monks, strongdubbels and yeasty lambics. The Flanders region has been known for its specialty beers since the Middle Ages and the Bruges Beer Museum (Brugs Biermuseum), sandwiched between the Markt and Burg in medieval Bruges, provides a high-tech overview of the development of the Flemish brewing industry. The museum opened in 2014 and its tours are cleverly guided by iPad, educating visitors on the many different varieties of Belgian beer, their fermentation and brewing methods. All ingredients can be tasted along the way and interactive touch screens offer beer challenges, explain provenances and suggest food pairings; for kids there is a special tour that involves finding and rescuing an 850-year-old bear.
All tours of the museum end up in the tasting room, for panoramic views over the medieval architecture of Markt as well as the chance to taste three of 16 draught beers accompanied by cheeses to mop up the alcohol. Soft drinks are available for all visitors younger than 16.
Site of one of the 19th century’s largest and bloodiest battles, Waterloo Battlefield is where, on June 18, 1815, Napoleon’s French troops were vanquished by a coalition of British, Dutch, and German forces. Located outside of Brussels, the Waterloo Battlefield (Champ de Bataille de Waterloo) is a popular destination for history buffs.
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.
Historium Brugge lets you travel back in time and experience Bruges as it was during its Golden Age. Through multimedia and special effects, medieval history comes alive in this interactive museum—one of the city’s most popular attractions—as you explore themed rooms with an audio guide, climb a Gothic tower, and peruse historical exhibits.
Set back from a main street in a small park behind a medieval gate, the Groeningemuseum is one of the finest art museums in the country. It holds a collection that covers around 600 years of Flemish and Belgian painting, from the 14th through the 20th century, with 11 rooms arranged in chronological order.
One of Belgium's Royal Museums of Fine Arts, the Magritte Museum is devoted to the works of Belgian surrealist René Magritte, whose innovative creations are said to have influenced artists like Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns.
Occupying a 26-acre (10.5-hectare) site behind the city’s grandiose railway station, Antwerp Zoo was built in 1843 – when it was outside the city walls – in colorful Art Nouveau style; as well as being one of the oldest zoos in the world, it must be the only one where the elephants are housed in an Egyptian temple swathed in hieroglyphics.
Currently the zoo has more than 5,000 animals of around 950 species; family favorites such as lions, tigers, polar bears, zebras and gorillas, are housed among the spacious and colonnaded enclosures, themed habitats, Arctic pools, aquariums, reptile house, aviaries, winter gardens and petting zoo for toddlers. There are daily talks plus penguin and sea lion shows; elephant, seal and hippo feeding sessions; 3-D movies in the Planetarium; and plenty of eating options for families, from waffle stands to brasserie dining.
Despite its early foundation, this is one of the more forward-thinking of European zoos, running successful conservation and breeding programs and looking to run sustainably on its own resources. Recent breeding successes have included rare Malayan tapirs, endangered okapi and Eurasian black vultures, while fresh additions at the zoo are the spectacular Reef Aquarium and the restored Flemish Garden, where two cute koala bears have taken up residence as part of an international breeding initiative. A new Savannah habitat is also being planned.
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Between the late 19th century and World War II, the historic Red Star Line carried more than two million passengers across the Atlantic Ocean to start new lives in the United States, and this compelling museum was opened in September 2013 to tell the story of the migrants and showcase the backstory of the shipping company. Housed in the red-brick former company sheds, washrooms and waiting rooms in Eilandje, north of the city center, the museum buildings themselves are protected monuments. Here medical examinations took place, luggage was disinfected and would-be emigrants were assessed for suitability to enter the US. The museum’s permanent collections include a touching number of letters, faded photos and multimedia presentations of personal interviews, all displayed cleverly against a colorful, well-curated selection of posters, model ships and Red Star Line souvenirs; individuals seeking out family histories can do so in the Warehouse, where the shipping line’s records are computerized and available to all. The newly built lookout tower replaced an earlier chimney that was pulled down in 1936; it haspanoramic views across the waters of the River Scheldt and surrounding quays.
Opened in 1987 in the now-fashionable Zuid neighborhood, the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA)contributed to the rejuvenation of the formerly dilapidated district. Transformed into a cutting-edge gallery by architect Michel Grandsard, the museum exhibits more than 4,750 multimedia works by some of Flanders’ foremost contemporary artists.
Featuring six different galleries, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium house more than 20,000 works of art dating from the 15th to the 21st centuries. Individually and collectively, the Brussels museum complex provides a fascinating overview of the great movements and artists of Western art, from the medieval to the modern era.
In pole position at the heart of Antwerp’s lovely, medieval Grote Markt, the Brabo Fountainstands in front of the ornate, pennant‐encrusted Stadhuis (Town Hall) and was created in 1887by the renowned Flemish sculptor Jef Lambeaux. The flamboyant Baroque statue represents alegend concerning the origins of the city: more than 2,000 years ago Antwerp was a smallsettlement in the Roman Empire when a Russian ‘giant’ called Druon Antigoon settled on thebanks of the River Scheldt and charged ships to sail up the river; if sailors refused to pay the toll, Druon Antigoon cut their hands off in revenge. A Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo –rumored to be a relative of Julius Caesar – refused to pay and subsequently killed the giant in aduel, cutting off his hand and throwing it into the Scheldt. The hand became a symbol ofAntwerp’s freedom and still features on the city’s coat of arms; the bronze Brabo Fountainfeatures Silvius Brabo atop a pedestal awash with mythical sea monster, his body twisted in theact of throwing the hand into the river.
Ever since the now-iconic ‘Antwerp Six’ (Walter Van Beirendonck, Dries van Noten, Dirk van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee, Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela) took the international catwalks by storm back in the 1980s, the city of Antwerp has firmly cemented its place on the global fashion radar. Since then, Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Hogeschool) has become one of the world’s leading design schools and the city has become synonymous with cutting-edge fashion.
It’s fitting then, that Antwerp’s hugely popular Mode Museum (MoMu) should put the spotlight on the fashion industry, showcasing a vast permanent collection of over 25,000 fashion-related items. The clothing, fabrics and textiles include pieces from as far back as the 16th century, intricate lacework and embroidery, tools for artisan textile processing and ethnic costumes, alongside a library of over 15,000 fashion books, catalogue and magazines. Even the museum’s location is on-trend, housed in the same building as the Flanders Fashion Institute, the Brasserie National and the Hogeschool’s fashion department.
Please note: The ModeMuseum (MoMu) is currently closed for renovation. The reopening is scheduled for fall 2020.
Found in a former waterside warehouse in the on‐trend area of Zuid south of Antwerp city center, FoMu first opened in 1986 but moved to its current home in 2004. Its clean, white lines are perfect for presenting a series of temporary photographic exhibitions sourced from its own collections, which are among the most important in Europe. Treasures in the collection include images by Henri Cartier‐Bresson and Man Ray, while recent shows have included the hard‐hitting pictures of photographic journalists Broomberg & Chanarin, who examine racial tensions and colonialism in their work. Daily movie screenings curated by Cinema Zuid are held on the premises as well as workshops and lectures.
Choco-Story: The Chocolate Museum in Brussels offers a chance to expand your knowledge of the beloved sweet while trying out locally produced chocolates. This small museum is dedicated to the history and manufacture of chocolate and offers all sorts of chocolate-related exhibits, plus plenty of free samples.
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.
Famous for one of the world’s largest collections of work by Flemish baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp(KMSKA) showcases art by Flemish masters such as van Dyck and Jordaens. The acclaimed gallery, which opened in 1890, exhibits 15th-century masterpieces beside more-modern works by Titian, Modigliani, and Rodin.
Please note: The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp is currently closed for renovation. The reopening is scheduled for 2020.However, most of the art can still be viewed at different venues throughout the city.
In the 16th century Antwerp – along with Paris – was one of the leading lights of the Northern Renaissance; among the brightest stars on the city’s stage at that time was Christophe Plantin, who established a printing workshop in his imposing townhouse in 1555. As well as contributing one of the most popular fonts still in use today, Plantin developed one of the busiest and most advanced publishing houses in northern Europe, now a UNESCO World Heritage-listed museum of print and early book publishing.
After Plantin’s death in 1589, his son-in-law Jan Moretus took over the printing empire and it remained active until 1867. Today the museum is laid out as if the compositors had just downed tools; the period workshops and rooms showcase printing presses dating back to the 16th century, graphic anatomical drawings featuring dissections, a vast collection of prints by Antwerp masters dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, and a library of 30,000 rare volumes. The artist Peter Paul Rubens, another local boy made good, illustrated many of the books published by the Plantin workshop and painted some of the family portraits displayed in the museum but the masterpiece of the collection is undoubtedly the priceless 36-line Gutenberg Bible dating from 1455.
Behind the facade of a dark, grey Neogothic structure lays a collection of artifacts that tell the story of the city of Brussels. This intricate building is known as the Maison du Roi ("King's House”) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structure is also known as Broodhuis (bread market), a nod to its use as such in the 13th century.
From its early development to medieval era to present day, learn about the city’s history through its tapestries, paintings, sculptures, and photographs. Altarpieces, porcelain and silverware round out the collection of historical objects on display. Exhibits cover everything from urban development to the social, political, and cultural life of the capital. Envision the past with 3D models to scale of the city in different time periods. Of particular note is the costume collection of the statue of Manneken-Pis, an emblem of Brussels said to have nearly 800 wardrobe choices.
Founded in 2013 to showcase Belgium’s contemporary beer scene, today the Brussels Beer Project (BBP) has taprooms in both Brussels and Paris. In the Brussels location, you'll find 17 taps with a number of BBP classic brews, along with a few new beers and a handful of offerings from outside breweries.
Right across the road from Antwerp’s other great family attraction, the zoo, Aquatopia is housed in a biscuit-colored Art Deco building and aims to educate and entertain kids on life in our oceans. With seven, maze-like themed marine habitats from rainforest to mangrove swamp, it provides a stimulating way to teach children about the amazing natural world beneath the sea. More than 10,000 fish and reptiles from over 250 species – from sea horses to sharks to iguanas – are housed in 40 aquariums with interactive presentations providing information on each tank; glass tunnels lead underwater so youngsters can get up close to the rays, eels and striking angel fish, enjoy the colors of the coral and watch turtles lumbering through the water.
Right in the center of Brussels, a stunning art nouveau and neoclassical building is home to a vast collection of musical instruments from around the world. The Musical Instruments Museum (aka the MIM) showcases everything from Western keys and keyboards to classical instruments from medieval times through the late 1800s.
- Things to do in Brussels
- Things to do in Bruges
- Things to do in Ghent
- Things to do in Zaventem
- Things to do in Antwerp
- Things to do in Ypres
- Things to do in Liège
- Things to do in Netherlands
- Things to do in Luxembourg
- Things to do in Flanders
- Things to do in Lille
- Things to do in Dordrecht
- Things to do in Nord-Pas de Calais
- Things to do in South Holland
- Things to do in Champagne