Top 10 Ways to Experience the Culture of Brussels
Brussels is a city of mixtures – it has two official languages (Dutch and French) and is both a Belgian city and the seat of a number of international institutions, most famously the United Nations and the European Union. This makes the city a culturally fascinating blend of local and international that is emphasised by Belgium’s strong focus on cuisine, arts, celebrations and all things culture. But what are the top places to experience this Brussels culture during a trip?
Monuments and must-see locations
One of the most famous landmarks in the city is the ‘little man pee’ – a small bronze fountain that shows a naked boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. The story behind the fountain dates back to the 1100s. Duke Godfrey II of Leuven was just two years old at the time and his troops were in battle with those of the lords of Grimbergen. To encourage the troops, the little lord was placed in a basket in a tree, so they could see him. He then urinated on the enemy troops who eventually lost the battle. So, the fountain was created to commemorate the battle! The statue even has special costumes for different times of the year and special events.
Cathedral des Saints Michel et Gudul
The original cathedral dated from the 9th century but was replaced by a Romanesque church in the 11th century. The relics of St Guldula were transferred there, adding to its name. Its current Gothic style dates from 1226 with 16th century stained glass windows, confessionals and a 17th century pulpit. During restoration work in the 1980s-90s, a Romanesque crypt was even found under the choir.
The Grand-Place is the central market place of the city and is surrounded by impressive guild houses, the Town Hall and the Bread House. It is the top tourist destination within the city and is an UNESCO World Heritage site. There is a brewer’s museum inside the brewer’s guild building and even the Brussels’ Botanical Gardens where there are frequent concerts and exhibitions.
The Atomium was built for the World Fair in 1958 and represents an atom (technically a metal crystalline molecule magnified 165 billion times) so that it is over 100 metres high. It was designed and created by Andrew Waterkeyn and is used for exhibitions, so it is a great place to check out while visiting the city. You can use the various molecules of the building to get amazing views across the city so take a camera.
There’s no better way to get involved with the culture of a place than to take part in a cultural event or activity. There are some notable ones across the year in Brussels.
This takes place on the 1st Tuesday and Thursday of July and sees some 2000 people parade through Grand-Place dressed as Renaissance nobles, soldiers, guildsmen and even entertainers
Fete de Saint-Nicholas
Taking place on December 6th, this is a popular one if you are travelling with the family. Saint Nicholas is often said to be the story behind Santa Claus and he travels the streets of the city with his assistant Zwarte Piet delivering presents and sweets to all the kids.
Plantation de Meibloom
The Processional Giants and Dragons of Belgium and France are one of the oldest traditions in Brussels, taking place each year on August 9th. It commemorates when the guild of St Lawrence was given the right to plant a Tree May or meibloom as part of its status of corporation.
The city has plenty to offer visitors in terms of museums, art galleries and cultural centres. If you don’t feel comfortable touring these on your own, you can always seek the companionship of luxury escorts within Brussels to offer some local knowledge to the trip.
Brussels City Museum
The City Museum is located within the King’s House and is filled with fine arts masterpieces that often have a connection with the history of the city. There are altarpieces, faience and a fine collection of Brussels tapestries as well as the original Manneken-Pis statue.
Centrale for Contemporary Art
This is one of the newer museums, opened in 2006 and is a home for anyone who loves contemporary art as well as those seeking to learn more about it. The centre has a range of major exhibitions but also new talent that come through the associated arts programs. Many young Brussels artists get their first exhibition at the centre.
Coudenberg Palace was first built in the 12th century, overlooking the city. It had been greatly expanded and embellished since and was one of the finest palaces in European at its height. Sadly, it was damaged by fire in 1731 and the ruins demolished for the current Royal Quarter. But there is still a lot of remains to be seem and these have been transformed into a museum.