If You Only Have Three Days in Brussels
After you’ve seen the essentials—the City Centre, the government buildings, the botanic gardens and tulips, it’s easy to grab a bus or train to the surrounding towns for a flavor of rural life and many more fantastic experiences.
Place Poelaert 1, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Visiting a country’s Supreme Court may not rank high on your list of things to do, particularly when the building in question has been covered in scaffolding for almost 10 years. Brussels’ Palace of Justice (Palais du Justice) has been mired in controversy from day one. It was the largest building constructed in the 19th century and, at 160 by 150 meters, is even larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Constructing this monster of a building required leveling an entire section of Brussels. It just happened to be a working-class area. The wealthy landlords received pockets full of cash, while the residents ended up out in the cold. These days the Palace of Justice is controversial because of the on-going battle to remove the scaffolding, left behind by the now bankrupt renovation company. Peek behind the scaffolding however and you may be surprised to find sweeping staircases, marble statues and a grand reading-room. It is free and open to the public year-round, unless a sensitive trail is taking place.
Kasteleinsstraat 49, 1050 Elsene, Belgium
The Contemporary Art scene in Brussels is thriving, but it can also be intimidating to newcomers. Many galleries can feel cold or stuffy, and visitors can be put off by the high prices of the works on display. Maison Particulière is a different kind of gallery. Here, nothing is for sale and the space is warm and inviting. Visitors are encouraged to relax on comfortable furniture and enjoy the art as if it was in their own homes. The art on display is on loan from private collectors, passionate about sharing their art with the public. They choose which of their works to include, based on a particular theme. Each room, in this beautiful gallery, reflects the personality of the individual collector, and stepping inside is like taking a peek into their own private world. Maison Particulière makes contemporary art feel accessible and demonstrates how you can live with art in a non-confrontational way.
Square de l'Atomium
I wasn’t sure what to think when I first saw a picture of the Atomium in a Belgium guidebook, but it turned out to be one of the coolest kitschy tourist attractions I’ve ever visited. The Atomium was built for the World’s Fair hosted by Brussels in 1958. It’s not quite as famous as other monuments like the the Eiffel Tower and Space Needle, built for similar expos, but in some ways it’s far more intriguing. Visits start with an elevator ride to an observation deck. After returning to the ground floor, visitors explore remaining levels of the Atomium by escalator and stairs. The exhibits inside focus on the history of the Atomium and on Belgian design. The exhibits aren’t always thrilling, but there is absolutely nothing like spending a couple of hours wandering around inside a giant metal atom.
Avenue du Football 1, 1020 Bruxelles, Belgium
Located at the foot of the Atomium, Mini Europe is the only park where you can have a tour around Europe in a few short hours. A truly unique voyage ! Stroll amid the typical ambiance of the most beautiful towns of the Old Continent.
Groot-Bijgaarden, 1702 Dilbeek, Belgium
Most garden-lovers have heard of the Dutch tulip garden, Keukenhof, a few hours north of Belgium. Few, however, have heard of Belgium’s own wonderful spring tulip garden at Groot-Bijgaarden Castle. Also called Grand Bigard (in French), the castle gardens are home to 1.5 million spring bulbs, including tulips, hyacinths, crocus and daffodils. Parts of the castle are open to the public, during this time, and each room hosts a different flower display, such as an orchid exhibit in the chapel. Two large greenhouses, on the grounds, host exhibitions by local flower growers ranging from roses to lilies and even rare tropical blooms. It’s a paradise for garden-lovers and photographers alike. You can even purchase bulbs to take home and plant for yourself.
Kasteelstraat 40, 1750 Lennik, Belgium
A short train or car ride from central Brussels will get you to the village of Gaasbeek, home of the beautiful Gaasbeek Castle (Kasteel Van Gaasbeek in Flemish). This 16th-century chateau looks like something out of your favourite fairy tale. But it’s more than just a pretty face. The Flemish government has owned Gaasbeek since 1980 and, during the summer months, its extensive art and furniture collection is on display. There are regular special exhibitions and even concerts held on the castle grounds. The grounds and gardens are extensive and are a popular spot for family picnics on summer weekends. On Sundays, guided tours of the castle’s medicinal garden are given by one of the gardeners.
Buizingen, 1501 Halle, Belgium
Hallerbos (Flemish) or Bois de Halle (French) is a beech forest just south of Brussels. It’s a popular spot for walking, cycling and horseback-riding. Every spring, for a few short weeks, the forest makes a magical transformation into a blue carpeted wonderland. Millions of tiny bluebell flowers bloom under the shade of the beech trees and people flock to the forest to catch a glimpse. Timing is everything, too soon and the bluebells aren’t out yet; too late and you’ve missed the show for another year. But that’s what makes seeing it so special.