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Beyond Mannequin Pis: What things do you enjoy in Brussels?

Beyond Mannequin Pis: What things do you enjoy in Brussels?

Old Nov 15th, 2010, 06:33 PM
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Beyond Mannequin Pis: What things do you enjoy in Brussels?

My husband and I will be spending about 4 nights in Brussels and Bruges in April 2011. I'm finding such a disconnect between what I read about Brussels in the guidebooks (which sounds great) and what I read online (it seems to be the city people love to hate) that I can't decide how to split the time between Brussels and Bruges. We're also spending time in London and Paris before flying out of Brussels, but we've been to both cities a couple of times before.

We're late 40s/early 50s, love fine art and architecture, aren't big nightlife types. I know I want to see the Horta Museum and the Royal Museum of Ancient Art (although I'm unsure what's open—I know the modern art museum is closed but I read that the Ancient Art Museum is largely closed as well). I'm also interested in the Van Buren Museum, the Ixelles Museum, the Museum for Decorative Arts and possibly the Fondation Folon.

I've read so much about what people don't like about Brussels but I'd LOVE to hear what Brussels fans do like about it.
outwest is offline  
Old Nov 15th, 2010, 07:14 PM
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Brussels has amazing art nouveau architecture, including a highly recommended music museum in a converted art nouveau grand magasin, I can only report what other have said because it had not yet opened when we were there. Its grande place is a single early 18th century unit. There is definitely more to see in Brussels than mannikin pis.
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Old Nov 15th, 2010, 07:16 PM
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grand magasin = large department store.
Michael is offline  
Old Nov 15th, 2010, 09:02 PM
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I recently visited Brussels for the first time, and like you, I had heard a lot of negative comments about it. But I did like the city, though the caveat is that we were there for only 24 hours.

We stayed in the St. Catherine's area, which was scenic and pretty. Our dinner, at Bij den Boer, was very good, and reminded me of a good bistro in France. We very much enjoyed our time at the Museum of Ancient Arts (it was all open when we were there), which was main reason I wanted to visit Brussels, and though the Museum of Modern Art was ok. I would have also visited the Magritte Museum, but the other people in my group didn't want to. The Grand Place was as beautiful as I had heard. And it wasn't too grand, or too big, to feel welcoming. Even though the cafes there are touristy, it's worth at least one over-priced drink to sit in the Grand Place. The Belgian fries were everything that DH had been telling me about for years (he visited Brussels as a penniless college student).

If you like beer, definitely go to Moeder Lambic Fontanas, which has fantastic local beers on tap and a very knowledgeable staff.

DH and I have talked about our visit to Brussels, and we would return, and even stay there again, though we would make day trips to other interesting towns and cities nearby. (We started in Amsterdam, then spent one night in Brussels, and two nights in Bruges, and finished the trip in Paris.)
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Old Nov 15th, 2010, 11:14 PM
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Brussels often gets a bad press because it's not as "easy" as some other cities: although there are some attractions right in the city centre, the Grand'Place area is surrounded by some rather ugly modern architecture which leads people to believe that there is no more to Brussels than the Place and the Mannekin Pis (which I think is about as overrated a tourist attraction as you can get!). But you don't have to step much further afield to discover a lot more to the city!

So in addition to the Grand'Place which is absolutely stunning, I would suggest visiting:

- The Place du Grand Sablon - go on a weekend, check out the antiques market, stop off at a pavement café for a drink, buy heavenly chocolates from Pierre Marcolini and fabulous tea from l'Univers du Thé

- The Marolles/flea market district: busy and bustling, especially on a Sunday, full of furniture, antique and junk shops with the odd quirky café thrown in for good measure. Just a short walk downhill from the Place du Sablon. You can then take the glass lift up from Place Breugel to the Palais de Justice on Place Poelaert for great views of the town.

- The Musée des Instruments de Musique ( (as mentioned by Michael above) - wonderful museum housed in the former "Old England" building designed by Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta. You are given a headset when you buy your ticket which then allows you to hear snippets of music from each instrument on display. There is a lovely café/restaurant on the top floor with great views of the city, which can be visited even if you don't have an entrance ticket to the museum.

- Place Jourdan, European quarter, Parc Léopold and Parc du Cinquantenaire - get the metro to Schuman and head down to Place Jourdan to sample what are allegedly Brussels best frites from Maison Antoine, a hut that has been selling fries for over fifty years. Expect to queue, but once you have your fries you can take them to one of the pavement café/bars lining the square (they will have a little sign in the window saying you are welcome to eat your frites there) and order a Belgian beer to help wash them down. Then take a stroll around the neighbouring parc Léopold and have a look at the European Parliament building, or wander up to the Parc du Cinquantenaire where you can also visit the Military museum (free) or Museum of Art and History.

- Natural History Museum ( - a short walk from Place Jourdan, this museum houses an extraordinary collection of dinosaur fossils. The recently renovated dinosaur gallery is definitely a must-see in my book.

- The Belgian Comic Strip center ( - a must for fans of Tintin and classic Belgian comic strip art

- The Forêt des Soignes - huge swathe of old beech forest belting the southern and eastern quarters of Brussels. Great for walking or biking, or, this being Belgium, enjoying a coffee or beer (at the weekend, you can head to the café at the Rouge Cloître, a converted priory and now an art/cultural centre -

Not to mention the Victor Horta museum ( and the Art Nouveau buildings of Brussels (e.g. this guided tour -, and of course the Fine Arts Museum & Magritte museum (

That's all I have time to mention for now, but there's plenty more to see in the city... I'd thoroughly recommend getting the Time Out guide to Brussels, which includes some good itineraries,very reliable restaurant/bar recommendations and a great Art Nouveau walk.
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Old Nov 16th, 2010, 03:44 AM
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I would add to the markets in Brussels - there is a big one with a middle eastern flavour at Gare du Midi on Sundays; a good browse. I also like the ones Hanl mentions.

Also the bars around Place St-Gery are a great place to drink a thé du menthe or a Kriek. I'd also recommend the cafe A La Mort Subite for a genuine old Brussels atmosphere.

If you are interested in the Ixelles Museum they have some original posters by Toulouse Lautrec as part of their permanent collection. Also in and around Ixelles are some interesting shopping streets - the Chaussée d'Ixelles eventually leads onto Place Flagey where there is a small market with food and plants on Saturdays, and a major cultural centre housed in a fab Art Deco building, Le Flagey. Chaussée de Wavre leads into an interesting African area (Matongé), plus some interesting restaurants. Avenue Louise has posh shopping as does Avenue Toison d'Or. Good people watching from the cafes there. Rue Jourdan (as distinct from Place Jourdan) has great restaurants and an Irish pub. At the end of Avenue Louise is a beautiful park, the Bois de la Cambre.

There's probably more to add regarding the Art Nouveau architecture, which is in many districts (not much in the centre of the city, though). It is worth chasing up although since most examples are private dwellings you may not get to go inside. I hear also there are tours run by ARAU (?) which might be worth checking out.

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Old Nov 16th, 2010, 05:47 AM
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Good antiquing too! But I still prefer Antwerp!
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Old Nov 16th, 2010, 06:15 AM
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Thanks for the replies—they're great. Right now we're planning on 2 1/2 days in Brussels and I think there will be a lot to do—
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