Free Time in Brussels? Here's What to Do

Posted by Mary-Frances Walsh on 10/4/2012
Posted in: Travel Tips
Tags: Travel, Belgium, Europe

Things to do in BrusselsComic Brussels
Among Belgium’s most famous exports is the work of comic artist and writer Hérgé, whose Adventures of Tintin introduced the button-nosed young detective in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1930). In 22 more adventure books, Tintin ventured across the world, chasing villains and missing treasure from the Congo to Peru, to Tibet and even the moon. Hérgé’s works have been translated into more than 100 languages and in 2011 Stephen Spielberg brought Tintin to the big screen. If you are looking for unique things to do in Brussels, then visit Brussels’ Comic Strip Museum where you’ll find exhibits that show how comic strips are made and their role in Belgian popular culture. Be prepared for titling in French and Flemish only – but the myriad displays of original artwork speak for themselves. 

Things to do in BrusselsSurreal Brussels
René Magritte is one of Belgium’s most famous painters and one of the major figures of 20th-century Surealism, along with contemporaries like Man Ray, Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí. He is credited with a “deadpan” style that captured ordinary objects in out of the ordinary ways, emulating the Surrealists’ intent to “liberate the imagination.” You’ll find an extraordinary collection of Magritte’s work at Brussels’ Musée Magritte on the Place Royale, where over 200 diverse works include his drawings, paintings, prints, commercial art and more; this is surely a destination on our “things to do in Brussels” list. 


Things to do in BrusselsArt Nouveau Brussels
At the turn of the 19th century, Brussels was a prosperous city and spending eagerly on new construction. A leading architect of the time, Brussels-born Victor Horta, is considered a creative genius behind the popular Nouveau Architecture movement. Stepping away from classical design, Horta designed public buildings, like Brussels’ Palais des Beaux-Arts, which made use of light and open space in ways not previously done. He built town houses that emphasized swirls, curves and flowery elements and the use of iron and glass in structure and design – four were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll find his work showcased at the Horta Museum, housed in his restored home and studio.

Things to do in Brussels“Peasant” Brussels
Nicknamed “Peasant Bruegel,” Belgian Pieter Bruegel the Elder is considered one of the greatest 16th-century Flemish painters; he is renowned for painting detailed, colorful scenes of ordinary people sharing meals, dances and festivities. He captured views of 16th-century life that otherwise would have been lost, as ordinary life was not the focus of his peers. As you search for things to do in Brussels, keep in mind that you’ll find a major group of Bruegel's works at The Royal Museums of Fine Arts, including the wintry The Numbering at Bethlehem and the fantastical The Fall of the Rebel Angels. Both have been captured, as historic masterpieces, in high-resolution digital form by The Google Art Project.  


Things to do in BrusselsChanson Brussels

If music or popular culture is more in your line of interests, the Fondation Jacques Brel displays audio recordings and film footage of the Belgian-born singer-songwriter who shot to fame in Parisian cabarets and music halls in the 1950s and 1960s. Like his contemporary Edith Piaf, Brel sang in a thoughtful, theatrical style; his songs included the heart-stirring “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” (Don’t Leave Me). Though hugely popular in Europe, Brel only later became known in America through his translated songs and the Off-Broadway revue, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (1968). This is a simple museum of film and audio archives that provides a friendly, in-depth look at a Belgian icon.


Things to do in BrusselsMoules-Frites Brussels

One of my biggest concerns as I chart out things to do in any city, not just Brussels, is where to eat well. My Brussels recommendation? A heaping plate of freshly steamed mussels served with perfectly crisped “French” fries; this Belgian staple should not be missed. The mussels are typically made with your choice of broth – prepared with cream, garlic, white wine, “natural” and many others – meant to be mopped up with crusty bread. Some of the recommended venues include: Aux Armes de Bruxelles, Le Pré Salé and Restaurant ‘T Kelderke.

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