Six hundred years ago, Brussels was just a nice place to stop and buy a waffle on the way to Bruges. Today it's a city of one million people, the capital of Belgium, the headquarters of NATO, and the seat of the European Union. The Bruxelloise are cultured and genteel — yet you may notice an impish sparkle and joie de vivre, as evidenced by their love of comic strips and their civic symbol: a statue of a little boy peeing.
At a Glance
▲▲▲ Grand Place Main square and spirited heart of the Lower Town, surrounded by mediocre museums and delectable chocolate shops.
▲▲▲ Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium Museums displaying Old Masters (14th–18th centuries), turn-of-the-century art (19th–20th centuries), and works by the prominent Belgian Surrealist painter René Magritte.
▲▲ Manneken-Pis World-famous statue of a leaky little boy.
▲▲ BELvue Museum Interesting Belgian history museum with a focus on the popular royal family.
▲ City Museum Costumes worn by the Manneken-Pis statue and models of Brussels’ history.
▲ Costume and Lace Museum World-famous Brussels lace, as well as outfits, embroidery, and accessories from the 17th–20th centuries.
▲ Museum of Letters and Manuscripts Modest museum preserving papers from popes to Picasso.
▲ St. Michael’s Cathedral White-stone Gothic church where Belgian royals are married and buried.
▲ Belgian Comic Strip Center Homage to hometown heroes including the Smurfs, Tintin, and Lucky Luke.
▲ Musical Instruments Museum Exhibits with more than 1,500 instruments, complete with audio.
▲ European Parliament Soaring home of Europe’s governing body.
▲ Royal Army and Military History Museum Vast collection of weaponry and uniforms.
▲ Autoworld Hundreds of historic vehicles, including Mr. Benz’s 1886 motorized tricycle.
▲ Matongé African immigrant district, with international eateries and fine turn-of-the-century architecture.
▲ Royal Museum of Central Africa Excellent but far-flung exhibit about the former Belgian Congo, featuring ethnology, artifacts, and wildlife.
Town Hall Focal point of the Grand Place, with arresting spire but boring interior.
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences Europe’s largest dinosaur gallery.
Cinquantenaire Museum Eclectic but unexciting art and archaeology museum.
Atomium Giant homage to the atomic age with fun exhibit and panorama deck.
Mini-Europe Models of 350 famous European landmarks.