Things to Do in Belgium - page 2
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 Filled with historical documents and artifacts as well as engaging multimedia displays, each room represents a different crucial period in Belgium’s history.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The heart of medieval Bruges and the nucleas of the modern city, Bruges’ Market Square (the Markt) is one of the most striking in Europe. Bordered by rows of medieval townhouses, the 1-hectare square is the focal point of city events, with souvenir stores and restaurant seating spilling onto the streets during the summer months and a vibrant Christmas market and open-air ice rink transforming the square for the festive season.
The Market Square is also home to some of Bruges’ most celebrated architectural works, including landmarks like the 12th-century belfry, which offers spectacular views from its 83-meter high tower. Additional highlights include the 19th century Neo-Gothic Provincial Courthouse and the towering central statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, which honors the political leaders who led the 1302 Battle of the Golden Spurs.
More Things to Do in Belgium
One of Belgium’s best fine art museums, the Groeningemuseum, holds a collection that covers around 600 years of Flemish and Belgian painting, from the 14th through the 20th century. Notable pieces include the 15th-century Flemish painter Jan van Eyck’s Madonna with Canon Van der Paele. This piece was completed in 1436 and features highly sophisticated techniques such as fine detailing and the use of multiple layers of oil and varnish to achieve texture and depth. This painting is regarded as one of Van Eyck’s most ambitious works.
Other works on display include Hans Memling’s Moreel's Triptych; Hieronymus Bosch’s The Last Judement, Gerard David’s Judgment of Cambyses, which depicts the corrupt Persian judge Sisamnes being flayed alive, and other pieces by early Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden and the surrealists Magritte and Paul Delvaux.
Originating from a chapel built back in 942 for Saint Jean-Baptiste, Ghent’s standout attraction is the historic St Bavo Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal), notable as the location of Emperor Charles’ baptism. Today, the cathedral’s crypt is the last remaining remnant of the original Romanesque structure and the majority of the cathedral dates back to the 16th century, renamed in honor of Saint Bavo of Ghent.
Don’t be distracted by the cathedral’s less-than-impressive exterior, a muddle of Romanesque, Gothic and baroque architecture, because a breathtaking collection of artworks, sculptures and carvings adorn the interiors. The dramatic centerpiece is the show stopping ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’, a 24-panel Hubert and Jan van Eyck polyptych, completed in 1432 and housed in the chapel of Joost Vijd. Additional highlights include an oak and marble rococo pulpit by Laurent Delvaux, Rubens's The Conversion of St. Bavo and the tombstone of Bishop Triest.
The medieval quays of Graslei and Korenlei face each other across the canalized River Leie and originally formed part of Tusschen Brugghen, the city’s thriving harbour. Their banks are lined with a rare architectural treat – the loveliest gabled guild houses and warehouses in Belgium, built between the 1200s and 1600s by rich merchants and guilds whose wealth came from trade. The streets are united by St Michael’s Bridge, from where their gabled delights can be seen at best advantage, and although considerable restoration work has taken place, these distinctive townhouses have maintained their allure.
Graslei is lined by canal-side restaurants blessed with a graceful backdrop of gabled gild houses; the oldest is the Het Spijker (Stockpile House) at no. 10; other ornate façades once contained the guild houses of the stonemasons, the free boatmen and the grain measurers as well as the former customs house.
Moated Gravensteen Castle is a circular, gray fortress built in 1180 alongside a split in Ghent’s River Leie to symbolize the power of Philip of Alsace, who was the ruling Count of Flanders. Although a wooden castle had existed here for centuries, the new fortification was built to send out a clear message of his supreme power to his political enemies. Philip had been on several Crusades and clearly modelled the design of his new home on the austere crusader castles scattered around the Mediterranean Sea from Portugal to Greece. Its two-meter (six-foot) thick walls were made of Tournai limestone and fortified with battlements while the castle’s towers and turrets housed stables, a church and state apartments as well as a torture chamber to deal with anyone brave – or foolish – enough to cross Philip. Following extensive restoration in the late 19th century, today the torture chamber is a gruesome museum displaying guillotines, branding irons and thumbscrews.
Antwerp’s Grote Markt (Grand Market Place) is one of the city’s main attractions. Around the edges of the triangular-shaped marketplace you’ll find lovely buildings, most notably Our Lady’s Cathedral and several 16th-century guild houses. Although many of these buildings burned down at the end of the 16th century, they were rebuilt in the same style to showcase the excellence of Flemish architecture when Antwerp was a major European port city. The biggest building on the marketplace is the city hall. In the center of the marketplace, right in front of city hall, you’ll see the Brabo Fountain. The statue was built to honor this folklore tale: the Roman soldier Brabo defeated Antigoon, a giant who charged a fee to cross the river Schelde. Those who couldn’t pay had their hand cut off by the giant and thrown into the river. Brabo stopped this nonsense by cutting off the giant’s hand, and now has a bronze fountain to celebrate his heroics.
It took 300 years to complete the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral and its architecture spans styles from Romanesque to Gothic to Renaissance. The Renaissance stained-glass windows are amazing and fill the cathedral with light. Inside, the chapel is not overly adorned after plundering by various invading armies.
The cathedral sits atop the ruins of an 11th century Romanesque chapel the remains of which can be viewed in the crypt. Saints Michael and Gudule are the male and female patron saints of Brussels. All Royal weddings take place here and many concerts are held throughout the year. On Sundays a concert is played on the carillon of 49 bells.
There is also a family of Peregrine Falcons who live in the northern tower of the cathedral. In front of the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral is a viewing spot and on Sunday afternoons local bird experts are on hand to answer any questions.
Antwerp’s main railway station is a much-loved city landmark, a spectacular domed building of majestic proportions on Koningin Astridplain and nicknamed the Spoorwegkathedraal (Railway Cathedral) by its local fans. It was designed by Flemish architect Louis Delacenserie and was completed in 1905; it is 400 m (1,300 ft) long with a grandiose façade completely covered in fancy patterned brickwork and gilded flourishes. Along with a massive central dome topped by an ornate cupola, it has eight smaller towers and an interior lavishly decorated in different shades and patterns of marble. The platforms are covered by a vast glass-and-iron vaulted ceiling designed by Clement van Bogaert, while Jan van Asperen was responsible for the elevated section of track that passes four km (2.5 miles) through the city; this was completed in 1898 and ornamented with over 200 white stone mini-towers.
Brussels is the administrative heart of the European Union and the Espace Léopold buildings are where parliament meets throughout the year to debate and discuss the future of Europe. The main building of the European Union Parliament complex is the Paul-Henri Spaak building, an impressive glass structure with a distinctive arched roof, it’s been nicknamed "Caprice des Dieux" (whim of the gods) after a similarly shaped French cheese.
The hemicycle is where parliament debates; it seats the 736 Members of the parliament, numerous translators and a gallery for the general public. The semicircular shape is designed to encourage consensus among the political parties.
There are a number of interesting works of art on public view including May Claerhout’s sculpture Europa, which has become a favorite among tourists.
The Sablon District is a neighborhood in Brussels that was once home to the city's elite. In the 15th century, the Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon was rebuilt, and it later became the site of royal baptisms. The district began to expand during this time, and more nobles began to call it their home. Soon it was the richest part of the city. In the 19th century, the area was transformed when Rue de la Régence split the Sablon District into two sections. At the beginning of the 20th century, the district began to decline, but in recent years it has become hip again.
Today you can stroll through the cobbled streets of the Sablon District and soak up a little history. Antique and art lovers can enjoy the galleries during the week and find treasures at antique markets on the weekends. The district has also become the perfect place to find Belgian chocolates from names like Godiva, Wittamer, Pierre Marcolini and more.
The Palace of Justice is believed to be the largest building constructed in the 19th century. It’s covers 260,000 square feet (24,000 square meters) and dominates the Sablon area. It was built on an area known as Gallows Hill overlooking the working-class parts of the city. Around 3,000 houses were demolished to make way for the building that is larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This angered locals and the word "architect" became a derogatory term.
The style of the imposing grey building is described as Assyro-Babylonian. It’s dominated by columns and a large glittering golden dome. The courts were commissioned by Leopold II and designed by Joseph Poelaert, and ended up costing 45 million Belgian francs to build.
The Royal Saint Hubert Galleries are a series of shops and restaurants in Brussels that are covered by panes of glass. They were designed by the architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer in 1847 and are often referred to as the umbrella of Brussels. The galleries are divided into three different sections: the Galerie de la Reine, the Galerie du Roi and the Galerie des Princes. The glass roof helps protect visitors from rain or cold weather. In the past, visitors had to pay 25 cents on Thursdays and Sundays and 10 cents on other days just to access the galleries. Of course today it is free to visit, and over 6 million people visit each year.
The galleries have something for everyone. There are boutiques selling the latest fashions as well as more classic clothing. Accessories shops sell gloves, hats, umbrellas and more. Several jewelry stores are located here along with book stores, chocolate shops, and other specialty shops.
A large public park, the Cinquantenaire Park (or "Parc du Cinquantenaire" as it is known in French) is dominated by buildings built for the 1880 National Exhibition which also celebrated fifty years of Belgian independence. The centerpiece of the park is a triumphal arch finished in 1905.
To the north of the arch is the Royal Military Museum. To the south are the Royal Museums for Art and History (these hold artifacts gathered from around the world), and AutoWorld, a vintage car museum with over 350 classic cars, one of the largest collections in Europe.
If you’re looking for an impressive place to lie under a tree the Cinquantenaire Park is especially lovely in the summer when it’s filled with locals making the most of the sunshine. Also in summer the area surrounding the arch is turned into a drive-in cinema. There’s discounted tickets for people driving vintage cars and a lawn reserved for people on bicycle or foot.
Things to do near Belgium
- 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 Picardy