Feel like exploring the treasures of Belgium’s capital city? Brussels is full of familiar and not-so-familiar treats for culture fans. As well as all the museums, theatres and cinemas you’d expect in a capital city, Belgium’s multi-cultural heart has hidden gems around almost every corner. If you want the biggest blockbuster or the latest LGBT screenplay, Shakespeare in French or Cervantes in Flemish, somewhere in Brussels there will be something for you. Men and women, children and the elderly, everyone can find their activity on Brussels’ cultural agenda.
With contributions from Brussels Museums, European Youth Forum, Brussels For Her, English Youth Theatre, Bruxellois, une fois!, BCT-Brussels Childbirth Trust and English Speaking Mums in Brussels, Belgium.
Museums by day and night
There are more than a hundred museums in Brussels, offering something for all tastes and ages. Museum Advisor lists museums by theme, while Nocturnes offers cheap access and guided tours in Brussels museums every Thursday evening during the autumn. But the big annual event for museum-lovers is Museum Night Fever, when about thirty museums open their doors until 1am, to showcase the best of young Belgian and Brussels artists.
Unusual, special museums you’ll only find in Brussels include the Magritte Museum: the world’s only museum dedicated to this surrealist master. And the Musical Instruments Museum is an art nouveau masterpiece in its own right – with a rooftop café offering views across the city.
A stage for everyone
There are lots of hidden theatre gems in Brussels, catering to audiences in several languages.
Popular Brussels venues include the tiny Beursschouwburg arts centre (Auguste Ortsstraat 20/28) and the 19th century Botanique (Rue Royale 236), a former national orangery. The Zinnema concert hall (Rue de Veeweyde 24-26) and Recyclart (Rue de Manchester 15) offer intimate plays and concerts on a regularly updated programme. The Royal Puppet Theatre of Toone (Rue du Marché-aux-Herbes 66) gives the stage to Marionettes, who perform comedy and classics in a hidden red brick theatre. If puppets playing Hamlet and Cyrano de Bergerac aren’t enough for you, you’ll also find a bar serving classic Belgian beers in the same venue. And no longer offering performances, but still a listed building worth a detour, there is the Théâtre de la Gaîté (Rue de la Gaité 26). This former cabaret, disco and shop retains its early 20th century architecture, including a mask of “Gaity” over the entrance.
For those looking to get on stage or enjoy a performance in other languages, there are also plenty of options. The Warehouse Studio Theatre (Rue Waelhem 69A) in Schaerbeek is part-owned by English-speaking theatre groups, with Irish, British and American classics among the entertainment on offer. Spanish theatre group TeatroBe (Chaussée de la Hulpe 182) can also be found in Brussels by those hoping to try out their theatre skills.
On the silver screen
Brussels is of course home to the big cinemas you expect in a capital city. But much smaller venues are what really makes Brussels special for film buffs and can be found dotted around the town. Every year, Pink Screens is the Brussels Queer Film Festival showing films that celebrate sexualities and different genders.
Not forgetting the young…
Children and students also have much to entertain them in Brussels. Amongst the favourite spots for a younger audience, there is the museum GardeRobe MannekenPis (Rue du Chêne 19), which exhibits all of the little boy’s outfits. The Belgian Comic Strip Center (Rue des Sables 20), is a must see for anyone who wishes to immerse themselves in Tintin, the Smurfs or Spirou’s world. For science and motor fans, the Museum of Natural Sciences (Rue Vautier 29), Autoworld (Parc du Cinquantenaire 11) or Train World (Place de la Princesse Elisabeth 5) are the perfect places to learn while having fun. If you want to wander around old tanks and military aircrafts, the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in the Parc du Cinquantenaire will astonish every family member.
For creative-types, Bozar (Rue Ravenstein 23) regularly offers children’s concerts. There is also an English Youth Theatre, offering weekly classes for 6 to 18-year olds at three city venues. The Théâtre de la Montagne Magique (Rue du Marais 57) provides a range of classes and events in French for children and adults.
The events listed in free magazine Kidsgazette are usually “incredible,” community groups say, and there are many free festivals in Brussels for kids. One highlight is the SuperVlieg SuperMouche festival in June, when an entire park is turned over to children’s games and activities for a whole weekend – for free!
“I wanted to create a group where people were able to share pictures, videos and comments on Brussels’ folklore. People ended up sharing amazing stuff: a lot of personal stories, historical documents and pictures, too.”, Michel Wajs – Admin of Bruxellois, une fois!
Festivals and cultural events for young people
Yo!Fest. is Europe’s largest political youth festival, created to bring young voices together with European decision-makers. It is organised by the European Youth Forum, a platform representing over 100 youth organisations from all around Europe. The event aims to spark debates, inspire ideas and celebrate what it means to be a young European. Expect free activities, debates, music and performances, all found right outside the European Parliament in Brussels.
If you are looking for a creative hub and open co-working space, the European Youth Forum recommends Kano Brussels (Boulevard Barthélémy 20) by the canal. Kano Brussels occupies a huge, empty complex of former art studios and hosts cultural events every week.
“The European Youth Forum’s vision is to be the voice of young people in Europe, and we work to empower young people to participate actively in society. Projects such as this Community Guide that aim to bring visibility to the work of young community leaders and help young people engage in initiatives that matter to them are really valuable. This is why we are excited to be a part of this project.”, Carina Autengruber, President of the European Youth Forum.
A woman’s place
Brussels for Her encourages face-to-face meetings for women. Group events focus on the local aspect of networking. In addition, the WoWo (Wonderful Women) Community fosters respect, optimism and excellence through events designed for a female audience. Professional Women International is a Brussels based membership association, part of the PWN Global network. Like WoWo, PWI encourages women in Brussels to grow and succeed in their chosen sphere.
TOP TIP: A day in Brussels
The heart of old Brussels, known as the Marolles and once home to 16th century artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, is the perfect place to start a unique Saturday in the city, says Michel Wajs of Bruxellois, une fois!
- 6h Be the first to get the best deals at the Vieux Marché on Place du Jeu de Balle
- 8h Have a pistolet bread roll with jam and a bowl of coffee at La Clef d’Or (Place du Jeu de Balle 1)
- 9h Wander in the “brocs” and antique shops of Rue Blaes and Rue Haute until you arrive at the market of antique dealers on Place du Grand Sablon
- 11h Go for a café-croissant at L’Entrée des Artistes (Place du Grand Sablon 42)
- 13h Head into the city centre and for lunch try “Américain-frites” at the Taverne du Passage (Galerie de la Reine 30), the perfect place to enjoy this classic Belgian meal
- 15h30 Walk south and visit the wonderful Grand Place. You can also try the best Belgian biscuits at Maison Dandoy, just off the Place (Rue au Beurre 31)
- 16h30 Go check out the Manneken Pis and, more importantly, the Musée GardeRobe MannekenPis that displays all of the little boy statue’s outfits
- 19h Enjoy a nice beer at Le Cirio (Rue de la Bourse 18)
- 20h End the evening on Place Sainte Catherine with a meal at La Belle Maraîchère (Place Sainte-Catherine 11a)