Brussels, as with most European capital cities, can sometimes be expensive. But, there are still plenty of things that will help you learn about the history and culture, and practise the language, which are absolutely free.
1. Explore the Old Town
Brussels’ pretty old town is a maze of narrow medieval streets, lined with crooked old buildings and quaint shops and cafes. The old quarter centres around the cobbled Grand Place square, which in itself, is well worth a look. Built as a merchants’ market in the 13th century, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful enclosed squares in Europe, with its ornate guild halls and decorative façades. If you’re lucky, you may catch the daily flower market held on the square, or one of the many free concerts that take place throughout the year.
2. Admire St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral
Located at Treurenberg hill, the gothic architecture of the St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral is impressive to say the least. The cathedral dates back to the 11th century, and over the years has been used as the venue for a variety of state events. Whether you want to look at the architecture from afar or have a look within the cathedral, you’ll be able to for free.
3. Enjoy some window shopping in Galeries St-Hubert
Brussels’ famous Galeries St-Hubert is a stunning glass-roofed arcade housing a range of up-market shops and boutiques. Divided into three parts – the “Galeries de la Reine” (the Queen’s Gallery), the “Galerie du Roi” (the King’s Gallery) and the “Galerie des Princes” (the Princes’ Gallery) – the arcade was built in 1847 as the world’s first covered shopping gallery, and remains one of Europe’s most sophisticated.
4. Take a tour of the European Parliament
The European Parliament buildings in Brussels have formed the backdrop to many momentous events and decisions since the parliament’s formation. It’s the epicentre of the EU and the place where new laws are passed, and constantly welcomes European and world leaders. From Monday to Friday, you can take the audio guide tour around the parliament and, during part-sessions, you can even attend a parliamentary sitting. You can find more details on the European Parliament website.
5. See the Manneken Pis
One of Brussels’ most visited sites is the Manneken Pis, a diminutive bronze fountain on the corner of Rue de l’Étuve and Rue du Chêne, not far from the Grand-Place. The little urinating boy, sculpted in the early 17th century, is said to represent the child of a visiting nobleman who lost his son in the city, and then found him again, urinating happily at this spot.
6. Take a stroll around Le Botanique
What was once the city’s botanical garden is today a cultural centre, housed in a distinctive neoclassical glass and wrought-iron building. The 19-century greenhouse now hosts Francophone theatre, dance and performance art, although the attractive gardens surrounding it do still remain.
7. Get a great view of the city from Place Poelaert
From the Square Brueghel L’Ancien in the Marolles area, you can take the outdoor glass lift up to Place Poelaert (home of the Palais de Justice) for free. Once at the top, you will get a fantastic view of Brussels with three major landmarks in the distance – the Basilica, the Hotel de Ville and the Atomium.
8. Test your willpower in the chocolate shops
Belgium is renowned the world over for its chocolate, and as you’d expect, Brussels is full of fantastic looking chocolateries that house some truly mouth-watering creations. Whilst some visitors may choose to stay outside and drool at the delectable offerings from a safe distance, many of the shops will allow people to sample one or two! Of course, it may be hard to resist the urge to buy, but if you have to spend a euro or two, there can be few better ways to treat yourself!
9. Enjoy the city’s museums for free on the first Wednesday of the month
While some Brussels museums are always free, others offer free entrance on a monthly basis – on the first Wednesday of the month. Among the participating museums are the Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Find out more on the Brussels Museums website for more information.
10. Walk the Comic Strip Route
With more than 700 comic strip authors, Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometre than any other country in the world! Belgium has a prestigious history when it comes to illustrations too, and in fact, was home to the creators of both Tintin and the Smurfs, some of the world’s best loved comic strip figures. Designed by the Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art and by the « Wall Art » association, the Comic Strip Route is a trail incorporates 24 original frescoes and statues from the world of the comic strip.
Cactus offers General French courses in Brussels at a variety of levels. For full details, or to book, please visit the Cactus Language website.