What have the pyramids of Giza, Taj Mahal, the Grand Place and other remarkable sights in Brussels in common? They are all listed as part of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage.
Brussels is revered for the sheer abundance of its heritage, which testifies to its history, which is almost 1000 years old. This caught the attention of UNESCO and other cultural organisations.
In this guide you will get to see the most unique and charming UNESCO sites of Brussels. You will discover designs of one of the founders of the “Art Nouveau” movement, museums, enjoy some high-quality time in a green landscape and brunch or dine in Brussels’ hotspots.
Is your appetite wet yet?
1. Grand place
The grand place is Brussels’ most outstanding and undeniably most astonishing square. It is encircled by some beautiful buildings from the late 17th century.
As recognised as one of the most stunning squares in Europe, the Grand Place is likely to stick in your thoughts as the catchiest attraction in Brussels. It was declared a UNESCO site in 1998 for its excellent “world value”.
Once every two years, in the month of August, the square is blanketed with a flower carpet that brings an additional touch of magic to the already magnificent Grand Place!
The oldest and only building open to the public is the city hall. It is a gothic architectural beauty. It was built in the fifteenth century and has a 96 metre high tower with a statue of the Archangel Michael. Its ceiling is embellished with a seemingly endless array of chandeliers. It provides guided tours on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Address: Grand-Place de Bruxelles, 1000 Brussels
2. Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Just 1-minute walk from the grand place is another UNESCO gem of Brussels – the Galaires Royales Saint-Hubert. The ideal location for shopping while admiring architectural brilliance. The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is a nineteenth century roofed retail district with an elegant style of Italian design and architecture, making it the first glazed shopping gallery in Europe. Today, it is still amongst the most prestigious and stylish.
There are lots of jewellers, famous chocolate stores, high-end boutiques, restaurants and bars as well as a small cinema and theatre.
The gallery consists of three sections –the Empress Gallery, the Princess Gallery and the Emperor’s Gallery.
3. Maisonettes by architect Victor Horta
Every lover of Art Nouveau is familiar with the name Victor Horta. Acknowledged to be one of the most powerful and significant architects in the field, Horta’s townhouses are a delight to behold. In Brussels, four of his houses are great examples of how the art nouveau style can be integrated into architecture: Hotel Eetvelde, Hotel Tassel, Hotel van Solvay and Maison & Horta Atelier.
Unfortunately, Hotel Eetvelde, Tassel and Solvay are in private ownership and cannot be visited by tourists. However, it is still worth a visit as you can admire its outstanding art nouveau façade.
The Maison & Horta Atelier was his private home but is now a museum allowing visitors to explore the refined features of Art Nouveau. White stone-fronted façades, ornamental structural components, high-class ironwork, natural illumination of oriel windows or roof skylights… You can admire all the characteristic elements of Horta and his craftsmanship here.
The mansions have obtained world heritage label due to the impeccable way in which it has been preserved.
Hotel Eetvelde: Avenue Palmerston 4, 1000 Brussels
Hotel Tassel: Rue Paul Janson 6, 1020 Brussels
Hotel Solvay: Avenue Louise 224, 1050 Brussels
4. Stoclet Palace
Constructed between 1905 and 1911 along one of the most prestigious avenues in Brussels, the structure was designed by the Austrian Joseph Hoffmann and is the artist’s masterpiece. The proprietor, Adolphe Stoclet, was a merchant and a collector of art. Designed with no restrictions in terms of finance or aesthetics, the structure and gardens together exhibit austere, geometric lines marking the end of Art Nouveau, and the start of the more restrained Art Deco.
Numerous artists aided in the realisation of this project, amongst them Michael Powolny , Gustav Klimt, Richard Luksch, Frantz Metzner and Koloman Moser. Although not a public monument, the Stoclet Palace is listed as a UNESCO site because it is a well-kept reference to western austerity in the early 20th century. Address: Avenue de Tervueren 281, 1150 Woluwe-Saint-Pierre
Beautiful façade of the place: culturaltrip.com
5. The Sonian Forest
The Forêt de Soignes (Sonian Forest) is well known among the locals in Brussels who are looking for nature – it is included in the Natura 2000 network- and is an incredible green belt, of which part is located in the southern part of Brussels. Covering an area totalling 4,400 hectares, it was formerly part of the “charcoal forest”, an essential source of fuel.
It was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2017.
At present the forest is mainly made up of European oaks and beeches. Various trees are older than 200 years and date back to the Austrian period.
While in the forest, definitely do check out the museum built in an old farm. It exhibits displays on flora, wildlife, the past history of the forest and its management.
In addition, a visit to the forest gives you the chance to enjoy a number of important heritage sites: the former racecourse of Boitsfort, the site of the former abbey of Rouge-Cloître, the Royal Museum for Central Africa, the park of Tournay-Solvay and the La Hulpe castle.
6. Palace of Justice
It’ s not a palace for royalty, but for lawyers and judges. The Palace of Justice is Belgium’s most significant courthouse. It was designed by Joseph Poelaert, who also restructured the Théatre Royal de la Monnaie and constructed the Church of Our Lady of Laeken and the Church of Sainte-Cathérine.
By order of the government of Belgium, it was an expensive undertaking, which led to the demolition of a section of the Marolles area to make space for the construction.
The eclectic and neo classical construction, perched on the gallows hill, is an architectural beauty. It is presently under extensive renovation and is on the provisional list – an essential stage prior to its official listing as a World Heritage Site.
If you are amazed by the outward appearance, the interiors will astound you. It’s certainly rewarding to be explored. The open foyer of 100 meters high is stunning. The inner courtyard has two storeys and a cellar, all of which are visitor-friendly.
Opening hours: Mondays to Fridays from 8 am – 5 pm
Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays: closed
Address: Poelaert Square 1,
Transportation: subway Louise, lines 6 and 2
tramway lines 94 and 92
Nearby sites: Musical Instruments Museum –856 m
Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon –511 m
Magritte Museum –820 m
Royal Museums of Fine Arts –719 m
Coudenberg, Former Palace of Brussels –884 m
Where to eat?
- Bia Mara, Rue de Marché aux Poulets 41, 1000 Brussels Great location, Brussels’ best fish and chips restaurant, affordable
- Noordzee, Rue de Sainte Catherine 45, 1000 Brussels Fresh and affordable seafood, excellent for a quick lunch
- SAN, Rue du Flandre 19, 10o0 Brussels Belgian Michelin-starred head chef Sang-Hoon serves dishes that are more affordable, while still maintaining the top quality and culinary techniques he has mastered so eloquently. Looking for something really exceptional? reserve a table here!
- Skievelat, Rue de Joseph Stevens 16-18, 1000 Brussels At Skievelat it’s all about good food in a leisurely atmosphere. The ultimate option if you are in search of a fulfilling lunch within a budget in the Sablon area.
- Gazetta, Rue du Longue Haie 12, 1050 Brussels Those who love pasta will enjoy this savvy Italian diner that offers some really delicious dishes, amongst them excellent tiramisu.
- Pei et mei, Rue du Rollebeek 15, 1000 Brussels The perfect blend of traditional and modern, in terms of both meal and ambience. The smooth interior, the kind stuff and the superb food all contribute to making Pei &Mei one of the finest restaurants in town. The lunch menu, containing 3 dishes and wine for €19, is great value for money.
- Pistolet original , Rue du Joseph Stevens 24-26, 1000 Brussels Welcoming, comfy, modern and oriented towards everything that is Belgian. Located a few blocks from the Place du Grand Sablon. The menu is full of delicious mouth-watering suggestions. A bit pricey, but that’s to be expected, because this place is focused on local products and high quality produce –you get what you pay for. If you want a fast and yummy lunch, this place is a must try…