During our recent trip to Europe, we used Brussels as a home base for a week of Belgium exploration. And though we had a fantastic time stuffing our faces with waffles and exploring medieval cathedrals and stunning city squares, we found out one hard truth about Belgium: it’s expensive. The high cost of accommodations and food can put a serious dent in your wallet if you’re not careful.
Thankfully, you can put away your wallet while sightseeing in Brussels, because it is full of incredible attractions that don’t cost a cent. These are the 12 best free things to do in Brussels, Belgium:
Free Things to do in Brussels
1. Stand in Awe at the Grand Place
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, the Grand Place is surrounded by ornate buildings dating to the late 17th century.
Though the Grand Place is definitely the most “touristy” spot in Brussels, we found ourselves returning multiple times throughout our visit because it is just so beautiful.
My favorite way to spend an afternoon in Brussels was to grab a chocolate-drenched waffle and people watch in the Grand Place (That said, I could enjoy just about any place or activity as long as I had a chocolate drenched Belgian waffle. I’m not terribly hard to please).
Grand-Place, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
2. Giggle at the Mannekin Pis
Paris has the Eiffel Tower. Rome had the Colosseum. Brussels has…well…a statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain basin. Leave it to the Belgians.
Adding to the general strangeness, the Mannekin Pis owns an extensive wardrobe and is often outfitted in costumes that reflect the season and current events.
It is so small it would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the dozens of tourists stopping to snap a picture.
Note: The statue on display today is a replica of the original, which is now housed in the Museum of the City of Brussels.
1000 Brussels, Belgium
Further Reading: 13 Things to Know Before Visiting Belgium
3. Window Shop in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
A beautiful glazed shopping arcade, the Galeries Royals Saint-Hubert is a great place to drool over decadent chocolates and upmarket accessories.
We loved the way the chocolate shops in Belgium are set up like high-end jewelry stores, offering the most tantalizing displays of chocolaty goodness imaginable. As an avowed chocoholic, I was happy to see someone finally giving chocolate the reverence it deserves.
And though this is a list of FREE activities, we would like to mention here that if there ever were a time to shell out a few (okay, quite a few…) euros, it would be here. Trust me, a euro spent on Belgian chocolate is a euro well spent. I’m pretty sure Benjamin Franklin said that.
Mary chocolate was my absolute favorite. We went into full-fledged mourning when we ran out of the stash we brought home.
Rue du Marché aux Herbes 90, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
4. Feel Small at the Palais de Justice
Sam’s favorite building in Brussels is the Palais de Justice, Belgium’s most prominent court building. Designed by architect Joseph Poelaert, the structure is massive and truly awe-inspiring. In fact, it is even bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It also has an interesting history—several high-profile criminals have escaped custody on its grounds.
Beautiful architecture, political intrigue, and sprawling city views? Yes, please!
Place Poelaert 1, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Further Reading: A Guide to Traveling Belgium by Train
5. Get Political at the EU Parliament Buildings
If you’re interested in learning more about European history, head to the European Union Parliament Buildings. Tours are free and include a helpful audio guide.
Wiertzstraat 60, B-1047 Brussel, Belgium
6. Relax in the Parc de Brussels
When you need a break from sightseeing, head to the beautiful Parc de Brussels and spend a few minutes—or a few hours—sitting on a park bench watching the locals pass the afternoon.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch here on the only sunny afternoon of our trip!
1000 Brussels, Belgium
Further Reading: How to Spend a Perfect Day in Ghent, Belgium
7. Browse the comics at Cook & Book
I’m a total book nerd, so I look for interesting bookshops in every new city we visit. One of my favorites in the entire world is Cook & Book in Brussels.
It is divided into eight sections, each with unique décor and its own restaurant.
I could have gladly spent our entire trip in this store.
Place du Temps Libre 1, 1200 Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Belgium
8. Marvel at the Atomium
Perhaps the most recognizable landmark in Belgium is the Atomium—a massive metal structure constructed for the 1958 World Fair.
Thought the entry fee is €15, we enjoyed simply admiring it from the ground. (More money to spend on chocolate!)
Just be aware that it is pretty far outside the city center, so you’ll need to hop on the metro.
Square de l’Atomium, 1020 Bruxelles, Belgium
9. Take in the street art
One thing that surprised us in Belgium was the amount of quirky street art we saw. You can find large comic book murals painted on walls all throughout Brussels.
Our favorites depicted the famous comic book hero Tintin.
Further Reading: A Day Trip to Bruges, Belgium
10. Admire the Notre Dame du Sablon
The Notre Dame du Sablon is a beautiful Gothic church located in the Sablon district of Brussels. It was originally completed in the 15th century.
Rue de la Régence 3, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
11. Visit St. Nicholas Church
Another church in Brussels worth visiting is St. Nicholas Church. It dates back nearly 1,000 years, though much of the current structure has undergone renovations.
Be sure to check out the painting of the Virgin and Sleeping Child by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens.
Petite Rue au Beurre 1, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
12. Tour the Royal Palace
Binge watched every season of The Crown and Victoria? Channel your inner monarch and take a stroll through the Royal Palace in Brussels.
Since we visited in the off-season, we weren’t able to go inside. But we did have a chance to admire the exterior.
Note: The palace is only open to the public between July 22 and September 3.
What is on your Brussels bucket list?
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