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A Tour of Brussels Street Art, Architecture & Street Food

by Roberto
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One day in Brussels is sufficient to see much of its attractions. It’s hardly a city that is going to set your world on fire, but if you take the time to experience its nuances, it can be enjoyable. Those particular nuances are Brussels Street art, its formidable architecture and its delicious street food. Follow my guide on the best suggestions on things to do in Brussels in a day.

I came with the knowledge that certain places that were right up my alley would not be open during my January visit. The Royal Palace only opens for the summer months. However as I made my way to the tourist office I was met with the information that the Hotel De Ville, that opulent town hall of the city, only opened Wednesday and Sunday. Except not the Wednesday I was there, as there was a function taking place.

Also the famed light show of the Grand Place, had just finished its Christmas programme and a new programme had not yet begun. If visiting Brussels its wise to check the website, https://www.brussels.be/ for information on future light shows. I had also missed the christmas markets which had now finished.

So realising that much of the city attractions were closed or inoperational I decided to go home. No, of course I didn’t. Travel is an organic thing and therefore never goes to plan. For every  plan A that fails there must be a plan B. Before my visit I had been advised to visit the Margitte gallery, but Brussels is a treasure in terms of street art. Why visit a gallery when there’s so much fun to be had out on the streets. And so the theme of my visit was born, street art, street food and street architecture.

Arriving in Brussels

Brussels airport is located some 13 kilometres outside the city. The airport met me with large screens above travelators, with loud video and sound introducing the Flemish masters. It wouldn’t sway me from my street art. Once you have passed the luggage control, finding your way to the city isn’t a difficult task. The train station is located two floors below the arrivals hall, and take the train to Brussels Central. There’s an opportunity to skip the queue for tickets as machines are located in the arrival hall, with one way tickets costing €9 to the city.

The journey to the city took 22 minutes. Finding myself in Brussels I put my time to good use by walking in the wrong direction, and ending up near the hotel before I planned. So I took stock and lightened my load.

My hotel for my nights visit was the Hotel Floris Arlequin Grand Place, and for €62 per night it was more than adequate. Reception was kinda plush and boutique in style. However the corridors were rundown, but I’m yet to sleep in a hotel corridor. The bedroom was cosy, and there was an option of one overlooking the Grand Place, but as the hotel wasn’t somewhere I planned om spending much time so I declined. The 7th floor restaurant, where breakfast was served had great views down on to the magnificent square. I’ll return to that later.

More than comfortable. Bedroom at Hotel Floris Arlequin Grand Place,

Things to do in Brussels in a day

Walking Tours

The weather in January Brussels was a little Irish. It was moderately cold, and it attempted to rain many times throughout the day without ever really succeeding. So it was that sort of rain where you don’t feel it but nonetheless get wet, Dress appropriately. I did as I left the hotel. There are options on how to see the streets and the street art and one such option for instance is Sandemans new Europe Free walking tour. As ever if you take a free walking tour please tip, these guys share their love of a city, but everybody’s got to live.

Personally I prefer to be self-propelled and try to see what I find around every corner. I do come loaded with a Google Maps loaded full of possibilities though. Therefore my first port of call was Brussels tourist office, which I found located on Rue Royale 2, near the Palais Royale. The tourism office sells mini booklets on Brussels street art, with handy maps to help you find it. The €2.50 on the comic strip route booklet was money well spent.

Brussels Street Art

The map of the comic strip route has in addition the bonus of taking you past most of the best sights in the city. Street art is everywhere throughout the city and some of my favourites I stumbled upon by accident. Street art is of course a visual thing and to share it this section will be heavy on the photographs. Unfortunately some of the art is at the mercy of those without talent and has borne the effects of its street side location. One piece in particular known as XIII has been completely destroyed by people who think writing their name is cool. Despite the best efforts of those whose motive is to destroy rather than create, there is much to see.

One piece in particular known as XIII has been completely destroyed by people who think writing their name is cool. Despite the best efforts of those whose motive is to destroy rather than create, there is much to see.

Le Scorpion

The first Brussels street art mural I came across by accident was Le Scorpion so naturally I have to include. The swashbuckling hero Armando Catalano is found near Brussels Cathedral on Rue de Treurenberg, and was the colourful introduction I needed.

Le Scorpion, Brussels Street Art
Le Scorpion- my first Brussels Street art mural

Odijin Verjus

The mural to Odilin Verjus has suffered somewhat from vandalism, but its main character is left untouched. The lady in question is actually based on the real life Josephine Baker, who was famed during the jazz age of the 20s and 30s for her banana dance. Where she wore clothes mostly made of bananas. She later became part of the French Resistance and contributed to the civil rights movement in the United States. She appeared in three of the books of Odilin Verjus. This mural is on Rue des Capucins.

 Odilin Verjus, Brussels Street Art
Odilin Verjus

Young Albert

The Young Albert work on Rue des Alexiens, is a tragic one of sorts. It depicts a mischievous boy, making his way in post war Brussels. But the tragedy lies in the cartoonist Yves Chaland who tragically died at the age of 33 before fame and recognition came his way. He was later seen as a progressive light in the cartooning world.

 Young Albert, Brussels Street Art
Young Albert

Yoko Tsuno

The colourful piece below is of  Yoko Tsuno was one of the first heroines of Belgian comics, as they finally caught up with the modern world. This Japanese lady fought villains in space and earth and through time. Worthy of being a hero today too. I reckon I could watch a movie on that.

 Yoko Tsuno, Brussels Street Art
Yoko Tsuno

Thorgal

Perhaps my favourite comic piece of Brussels street art is that of Thorgal. Standing a quite a height above the street on Place Anneessens, the colours and details are most impressive. Thorgal was a young warrior in the days of the vikings, and first appeared in Tintin magazine. It’s a jaw dropping mural and one that’s worth seeking out on any visit to Brussels.

 Thorgal, Brussels Street Art
Thorgal- my favourite of comic book Brussels Street art

Ric Hochet

The mural below makes clever use of its location blending house and story together. The character is Ric Hochet a crime solver, seen here trying to rescue the damsel in distress from a knife wielding killer in dark clothing. Its one of the more action filled pieces, and is on Rue De Bon Secours.

 Ric Hochet, Brussels Street Art
Ric Hochet

Victor Sackville

Victor Sackville was a character who thwarted the Germans during World War I, a James Bond of the day. This mural captures Brussels during that period. It’s on Rue du Marche au Charbon.

 Victor Sackville, Brussels Street Art
Victor Sackville

Broussaille

The first comic book mural to grace the walls of Brussels was of Broussaille, and of a couple walking and enjoying each others company. The best way to enjoy Brussels from my experience. It’s on Plattesteen and its so iconic it has to be seen. It’s found not far from Grand Place for those limited with time.

 Broussaille, Brussels Street Art
Broussaille

Tintin

Of course the most famed of characters is Tintin. Written by Herge, the scene here is from The Calculus Affair, as Tintin and Captain Haddock seek to rescue Professor Calculus. Tintin is published worldwide and has sold more than 230 million copies, so this mural is inevitably the most sought out. If you are on your way to the Manneken Pis you will kill two birds with the one stone on Rue de L’etuve.

Tintin, Brussels Street Art
Tintin

Spirau

The Spirau mural covers the majority of a five floor building of Rue Notre Dame de Graces of the Marolles district. This comic has been running since 1938 and so is befitting this excellent piece.

Spirau, Brussels Street Art
Spirau

The Scouts of the Beaver Patrol

Scouts of the Beaver Patrol, located on Rue Piermans, about super scouts who save the world instead of learning to tie knots.

 The Scouts of the Beaver Patrol, Brussels Street Art
The Scouts of the Beaver Patrol

Le Chat

A mural to Le Chat is located on Boulevard Du Midi near the Porte de Hal on the extreme south of the tour.

Le Chat, Brussels Street Art
Le Chat

Billy and Buddy

Billy and Buddy on Rue du Chevreuil on a famed comic strip about a boy and his dog. Another I have never heard of.

Billy and Buddy, Brussels Street Art
Billy and Buddy

Asterix

One of the most manic of characters Asterix, is well depicted attacking a Roman camp, on the wall of a playground on Rue de la Baunderie. Its a famed scene from the comic, that has found world fame since its inception in 1959.

Asterix, Brussels Street Art
Asterix

Not comic book Brussels street art

Of course Brussels street art is not limited to comic strips and I found some wonderful ones besides. On Rue de Namur this depiction of two elderly men enticed me from my path. Loved the detail. Wandering near the stock exchange, on Rue d’eclipse the abstract balloon head man was also amongst my favourites. If they are balloons. It’s by Strange Bird I believe and is called “in my head”. I’ve been trying to decipher the meaning of this. My instagram pal yogendra_willi suggests we are all a bit strange without the masks. That works for me.

It’s by Strange Bird I believe and is called “in my head”. I’ve been trying to decipher the meaning of this. My instagram pal yogendra_willi suggests we are all a bit strange without the masks. That works for me.

The bottom one, says a smile isn’t influenced by colour. Isn’t that perfect to discourage inequality. There is so much to see if you delve deep into the city and traverse all its back streets, but with only a day in Brussels all good street art tours must come to an end.

Brussels Street Art
The best of Brussels Street art
Brussels Street Art
in my head
Brussels Street Art
Men on cats with brushes chasing a plastic bag. How wonderful!
Brussels Street Art
A smile isn’t changed by colour. Beautiful sentiment

Brussels Architecture

The architecture in Brussels is sporadically interesting. For the most part it’s a non event, and then bam you are met by something which confounds the eyes.

Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula

The principal cathedral in Brussels centre is that of St Michael and St Gudula. Built over the course of 300 years between It has a pleasing facade which is approached through a scattering of trees. It’s very Gothic in appearance with twin towers, in a similar style to that of Paris’ Notre Dame, however without the fine ornate details.

You are free to take a stroll inside, where the nave is lined with the statues of the 12 apostles. The cathedral has fine stain glass windows, and its treasures include the 11th century Drahmal Cross and a carved marble altarpiece. I took most delight though in the unusually suspended organ, and particularly in the 17th century wooden pulpit, designed by Hendrik Franz Verbuggen. It depicted the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, and was somewhat chilling in its depiction.

Click to view slideshow.

Park de Bruxelles

The Park de Bruxelles is at the heart of the political and royal centre of the city. On one side of the park are the government buildings with the Palais Royale. Neither were open on this winters day so I took a stroll through the park. I seemed to attract disturbing images on this trip, a statue was desecrated in the park and appeared to bleed from the eyes. Some people have a strange sense of humour.

Click to view slideshow.

Churches of Brussels

The imposing sight of the Law Courts drew me up Rue Royale. Should you wish to delve into the history of Brussels and culture yourself in art galleries then I suggest to follow in my footsteps. The Magritte, Palace of Coudenberg, and many galleries grace this stretch.

Also to be found here is the fine facade of the neo-classsical 18th century church, Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg. It was not surprisingly not open on this unfortunate of days. Across the street is the art nouveau exterior of the Magical Instruments Museum, one of the finest examples of this architecture in the city.

The even more aesthetic 15th century gothic church, Eglise Notre-Dame-du-Sablon is to be found further southwest along the route. It has fine carvings on the archways over its doors, another interesting pulpit, and some beautiful chapels. The entrance to the St Ursula Chapel is very ornate and perhaps the highlight of the interior.

At the crux of the hill the  Law Courts were buried under a mass of scaffolding, but i’m sure will be fantastic to view once the refurb is completed. It’s a colossal building, tsanding strong atop the hill, showing the strength and dominance of the law. A handy lift takes you back down to street level with a chance to look over the city.

Click to view slideshow.

Hallepoort

The Hallepoort or Halle gate is the last remaining tower from the second wall of Brussels. Don’t ask me what happened to the first wall, I have no idea. The tower was built in 1381 and has survived due to its use as a prison over the centuries. It gets its name from the French city of Halle which it faces. Amazingly the fairytale like tower was open, so I duly obliged. Entry will cost €7 and the daily hours are from 930-5. It now hosts a division of the museum of armour, with various artefacts scattered across its floors.

Access to the upper levels is via its stairs and the hollow centre of the stairs is perhaps one of the buildings greatest features. Lined with statues at various points it spirals upwards to the buildings top. Amongst the exhibitions are armour used by royalty and a display on the trade guilds of the city. An audio guide in multiple languages will take you through the various exhibits.

Finally the tour ends in the battlements where sadly the city views are a little average. Not enough height. But the tower itself is worth dropping in to should you find yourself nearby.

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Hallepoort
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Ceremonial Horse armour
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The spiral stairs

Grand Place

Architecturally Brussels is all about the Grand Place. Nothing in the rest of the city is reflective of this fine square and nothing prepares you for just how grand it is. Whatever your approach you will be greeted by the most stunning of buildings. The Grand Place has been a market since the 11th century. In the 15th the Hotel De Ville its enormous town hall was built. The square suffered ruin in 1695 after a cannon ball attack by the French. This spurred a rebuild by the trade guilds, under approved guidelines and the result of this is the square we see today.

I approached under the archway containing the sculpture of Everard ‘T Serclaes, touching the arm is said to bring luck. From here the square opened out and I set my eyes on Maison du Roi. This was the residence of ruling Spanish monarchs, dating from 1536. It has a stunning facade and now hosts the Musee de la Ville, with paintings and costumes for Mannekin Pis. I didn’t knew he wore clothes ever.

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Everard ‘T Serclaes
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Maison du Roi

Of course we come to see the Hotel de Ville the squares centerpiece, It is enormous and standing back for a full view is advised. The town hall was finally completed in 1459 and is a joyful mix of towers, turrets, and columns to delight the eyes. Its belfry is 96 metres tall. As earlier mentioned tours are available Wednesday’s and Sunday’s of the interior, which is laden with tapestries and works of art.

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Hotel de Ville

Architecture of the Grand Place

Yet despite the magnitude of these two buildings it’s the houses of the north-west part of the square that caught my eye most. Their gables resembled the waves of the sea in my mind, each different to the other, an expression of their architects individuality. The design didn’t stop there, extending all the way down. Keep an eye out for Le Cornet with a gable shaped like a boats bow, and the roof of the bar L’Roi d’Espagne with its copper dome.

I spent ages walking from one side of the Grand Place to the other, simply admiring the skilled craftsmanship, and what is surely one of the most beautiful squares I have set my eyes upon. The light show at night is fabled to be fantastic but I can’t vouch for that.

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Facades of the Grand Place
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North West Corner of the Grand Place
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North side of the Grand Place
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Grand Place
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Exhilarating style of the Grand Place

Statues

What is often found on a Brussels itinerary but might not be to everyone’s taste is the trio of peeing statues found around the centre. The most famous of these is the Manneken Pis, which was first put in place in 1619. The current one is a replica, the original having been stolen and destroyed in 1817. It is said that the statue commemorates the 12th century son of a Duke, who took a leak on a battlefield, but no one knows for sure. The statue is on Rue de l’Etuve & du Chene.

A  further two statues Zinneke Pis of a dog doing its business is on Rue de Chartreux and the squatting Jeanneke-Pis is on Impasse de Fideliite.

Click to view slideshow.

Street Food and Beer

I’m very much into street food when travelling solo, or at least somewhere that I can grab something quick and be on my way to see more of a city. These are the joints I stopped by to keep my fuel levels up.

Panos

This sandwich shop on Rue du Marche Aux Herbes was what I needed after my flight. A chicken breast sandwich with cheese and a cappuccino to wash it down. Not mind-blowing but perfect.

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Nothing wrong with a sandwich

Frites

A trip to Belgium isn’t complete without frites, considering they invented the things. Otherwise known as French Fries of course. I had been suggested Fritsland, but of course it was closed. Story of the day. So the nearby Manneken Frites it would be, served with a dollop of mayonnaise.

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Fries how they were meant to be

Waffles

As much a part of Belgian life as Fries, are waffles. Along with chocolates they are probably the most dominant shop fronts in the city. Those shop fronts do a wonderful job to drag you in, with the most tantalising of displays. And so I would find myself enticed by one of these window displays. I can’t quite recall the name of the place, located near the Manneken Pis, but for my frist introduction to Belgian waffles it was amazing. They are fluffier. Smothered with Belgian milk chocolate. Perfect. My mouth danced.

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Theres a waffle for everyone

Exki

As evening fell and my intent to dine on mussels and frites waned, I thought back to the excesses of the day and went healthy. This chain supplies a selection of healthy soups and the beef empanada was very tasty. It’s not going to fill you with foodlust but it might be just the tonic you need after waffles and frites.

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I occasionally lie to myself and eat healthy.

Coffee

Sitting and enjoying a coffee while people watching is an essential in any city, and even in winter the perfect place to do this in Brussels is Cafa Don Jaime in the Galaries Royales St Hubert. The location is truly beautiful, the coffee delicious, and the people frequenting the boutiques are exuberant.

Click to view slideshow.

Beer

This is Belgium and there’s only way to finish a day in the city. As one of the world masters of beer, their strong concoctions have to be tried. Of course there are many places to do so, but as a first time visitor, for choice and variety, Delerium was the ideal place to start. And finish as it turned out cause after two beers the early flight got the better of me.

Delerium’s flagship beer is Tremens. It’s a blonde beer, and at 8.5% you wouldn’t/ shouldn’t have too many. Elected as best beer in world, I can see why, despite the strength it doesn’t have too robust a flavour, making it quite drinkable. Dangerous. The bar itself is a lively place across several levels. They boast of having 2008 beers, which is quite the selection.

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Probably the best beer in the world

Brussels feels like a lesser capital to some of those in the countries surrounding. That said, I found the people a friendly and helpful bunch. It has its own distinct culture, a cuisine that has much influenced the world, and in the Grand Place and its street art, attractions well worthy of a days exploring.

In addition if you are planning on travelling extensively in Belgium, I suggest you take a look at my Travel Guide to Bruges.

I would be delighted if you would like, comment, pin or share.

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Brussels Street Art and Architecture

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