Free Time in Brussels? Here's What to Do
Posted by Mary-Frances Walsh
Posted in: Travel Tips
Tags: Travel, Belgium, Europe
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.
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”
Art 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.
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.
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.
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.