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Walk this way: Touring Brussels on foot

Walk this way: Touring Brussels on foot

by host

A guide to some of the city’s hidden gems — and not a peeing boy in sight.

in Brussels

Illustration by Flora Bai for POLITICO

This article is part of the Brussels guide special report.

It’s hard to be a tourist in a city you know like the back of your hand.

But one of the joys of Brussels is that it’s home to a lot of hidden gems. So we’ve come up with a walking tour of the city that takes in a few of them, some of which may be new to you even if you’ve lived here for years.

And if you’re an actual tourist, or have just moved here, it’s a handy list of places to visit after you’ve ticked off the obvious sights such as the Grand Place and various peeing statues.

Here’s a list of 10 go-to places in Brussels, ranked in an easy-to-follow manner, from central recommendations to the ones located a bit outside. We recommend taking public transport or a bike at some point.

A few notes before you put on your sensible walking shoes:

Doing this walk in one go would take north of four hours (not including stops for food and drink).

The gap between the last two stops is the longest, so maybe hop on a bike or public transport for that part.

It rains in Brussels. A lot. Like, for weeks on end. And seemingly without warning. So maybe take a hat.

Starting point: La Bellone

We start at Maison de la Belonne, a beautiful 17th-century mansion now used as a cultural center and hidden away on Rue de Flandre, just off Place Sainte-Catherine. If you live in Brussels, chances are you’ve passed by without even knowing it’s there, which is understandable as it’s tucked away behind a very ordinary-looking entrance.

Stop 2: Place de la Chapelle

Take a nice stroll south through the city center (or hop on a bus) to Marollen (or Marolles), one of the most entrancing neighborhoods in Brussels, home to the flea market on Jeu de Balle as well as antique shops and thrift stores. We’re heading to Place de la Chapelle, which is dominated by the magnificent gothic Notre-Dame de la Chapelle. Outside you’ll find a statue of the artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who is buried in the church.

Stop 3: House of European History

Stephanie Le Coq/EFE via EPA

Moving from the city center to the European Quarter, the House of European History is a great place for any tourist who also happens to be an EU nerd. It’s also one of those places that many people who work in the Brussels bubble say they plan to visit but don’t find the time to do so. They should as it’s worth the trip (and it’s free). The museum is also located in beautiful Parc Léopold, which is a bonus.

Stop 4: Place Saint-Boniface

Andrew Nash/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Moving away from the EU Quarter, we come to the eclectic and busy Matonge, Brussels’ African district. Place Saint-Boniface is a small but charming square with a neo-Gothic church and many coffee shops and restaurants (we like the cinnamon buns at Swedish cafe Fika).

Stop 5: Parvis de Saint-Gilles

William Murphy/ Creative Commons via Flickr

We’re moving to the south of the city, but first comes a stop at the Parvis de Saint-Gilles, which is home to one of Brussels’ oldest markets. On Thursdays and on the weekends, you’ll find some great food trucks too, serving up here anything from Eritrean food to Spanish croquetas until late at night.

Stop 6: Tenbosch Park

A roughly 20-minute walk from Saint-Gilles and you reach a tiny park named Tenbosch in the middle of the Ixelles neighborhood. Tenbosch has many faces, from cherry blossoms in the spring to frost-covered trees in winter but what’s special about it is that it contains more than 70 different trees and plants (there’s even a fig tree, actually producing fruit). It’s also a little labyrinth for people with a poor sense of direction, and getting lost can sometimes be fun.

Stop 7: Abbaye de la Cambre

This former Cistercian abbey dating from the 12th century (and now an art school), located in a peaceful green oasis with gardens and ponds, isn’t a hidden gem. But unlike the nearby Bois de la Cambre, which has more people than trees, the abbey is almost deserted at all times. It’s an ideal place to have a walk and relax, especially if you’ve just come from the hustle and bustle of the city center.

Stop 8: Van Buuren Museum

Julien Warnand/EFE via EPA

If you’re getting tired at this point, you might want to take a tram to the next stop (or it’s about a 30-minute walk) but however you get there, the Van Buuren Museum in Uccle is a delight, with magnificent gardens and a diverse collection of sculptures and paintings. From the outside, it looks like a normal house, but it sure isn’t. Its owners, Alice and David Van Buuren, decided to turn their house into a private art collection. It became a museum in 1975 and was declared a National Heritage Site in 2001. Now that you know it exists, you can visit it every day (except Tuesdays) from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Finishing point: Anderlecht’s Hall of Fame

A bit further away from the center, Anderlecht’s Hall of Fame is well worth a visit. What’s that, you ask? Brussels’ (budget) version of Amsterdam’s NDSM. It’s an impressive collection of graffiti on hundreds of pillars extending under the busy Brussels Ring. When you’re there, you can also visit the nearby Parc des Étangs.

And that’s it. You’ve seen cool things across the city. Maybe it’s time to relax with some food and drink. Don’t worry, this guide has you covered for those too.

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