It was a big task, but we set ourselves the target of seeing what Central Brussels, the immediate area around the Grand-Place, had to offer in one day. We started our whistle stop tour at 10am, and by the evening, we felt that our target had been met, although we needed a well-deserved beer afterwards! We would recommend at least three days to see this area of Brussels properly, however, time constraints were such that we did not have this luxury.
Our itinerary started at the de Brouckere metro station to the north of the Grand-Place and our first stop was staring us in the face almost as soon as we had exited the metro station. The Gaston Lagaffe mural clings to a narrow sliver of wall and depicts the well-loved anti-hero character from Spirou magazine playing with his yo-yo. Brussels has a great history of comic books, with Herge’s Tintin being perhaps the most internationally famous. Over recent years the artistry has leapt out of the pages and onto the walls of Brussels, with rich and colourful murals appearing regularly. The Comic Strip Walk takes in more than 60 murals and has transformed Brussels into a gallery and open-air museum.
The Royal Galleries Saint-Hubert
Further along from the mural is the entrance, or perhaps exit, depending how you wish to look at it, of The Royal Galleries Saint-Hubert. We only had time to do a little bit of window shopping at these luxury brand stores, but the design of the galleries themselves is well worth checking out.
St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral
A short walk east along the Rue de l’Ecuyer took us to the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral. This imposing church was only given cathedral status in 1962, however the history of this sacred site probably stretches back to the 9th century. It seems likely that there was a chapel dedicated to St. Michael at that time, but by 1047 the chapel was replaced by a Romanesque church. The relics of St Gudula were then brought to this church and the church was dedicated to the two saints, who were also to become the patron saints of the city.
The Scorpion Mural
When you exit, it is worth going to the rear of the cathedral and taking a quick walk up Treurenberg to see the Scorpion mural, one of the more famous Brussels murals, depicting the swashbuckling comic character Armando Catalano.
Charles Buls Fountain
We swung back down the hill towards the Grand-Place taking in the Charles Buls Fountain as we went. We were interested to know just who Charles was, and after a little digging, we realised that this ex-Mayor of Brussels was probably the main man to thank for preserving and restoring the facades of the Grand-Place buildings. An important figure indeed!
The Grand-Place then welcomed us, and we couldn’t help but be in awe of its stunning architecture. The square dates back to the 12th century and is surrounded by guild houses, the Hotel de Ville and the Maison du Roi which date mainly from the late 17th century. It was easy to see why the Grand-Place had been registered on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO in 1998. We took our time walking round the square taking in the facades of these magnificent buildings. The ground level of many of these buildings were cafes and restaurants, giving the Grand-Place an excellent atmosphere.
Museum of the City of Brussels
The most impressive structure is that of the town hall and you can go on a tour of its lavish interiors. However, we chose to visit the Museum of the City of Brussels, which is opposite the hall. The museum doesn’t take too long to go around, but it gives a handy insight into how the city developed from its modest origins and you also have the chance to see the original Manneken Pis (the statue that the selfie-crowds swarm around, is actually a copy!). There is an added bonus for visiting this museum which is that the entrance ticket also includes entry to the GardeRobe MannekenPis museum.
Everard 't Serclaes sculpture
We then headed across the Grand-Place to join the throng in front of Brussels most famous boy. On the way, we made sure that we rubbed the Everard 't Serclaes sculpture. It is said to be lucky to rub the monument of this 14th century patriot, and, in particular, if you rub his arm, it is said that you will return to Brussels. Judging by how shiny the monument is, it seems that many people believe this!
Also on the way was the famous Tintin Mural Painting which grips the side of its building. This drawing comes from The Calculus Affair and was originally drawn by Hergé, the pen name of Brussels cartoonist Georges Prosper Remi, and brought back many happy childhood memories for us.
Quite why a little statue of a boy has been taken into the hearts of the people of Brussels and become the symbol of the city internationally, we don’t quite understand. The bronze sculpture of the Mannekin Pis (which means “Little Pisser” in Dutch), however, is a must-see icon in the centre of Brussels. The statue is really quite small, but it certainly brings a smile to everyone’s face.
The Mannekin Pis was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619, but due to having been stolen several times, it was permanently removed in 1965 and replaced with the replica that is currently on view. It seems, however, that there had been an even older version of the statue dating from the mid-15th century, but not much is known about this statue. There was quite a contrast in the large crowd in front of the replica and with the one or two tourists that inspected the original statue in the Museum of the City of Brussels. Maybe visitors are more interested in the story than in the genuine article?
GardeRobe Manneken Pis
Famously, the Manneken Pis is often dressed in a costume and a schedule of its clothing can be found online. The day we visited, the little boy was naked, but our next stop, just around the corner, was the GardeRobe Manneken Pis. This is a museum displaying around 100 of the 1,000 costumes which have been worn by the statue. The tradition of clothing the statue dates to the 17th century and today the Manneken Pis is clothed around 130 times per year. It is only a small museum and only really needs a quarter of an hour to see, but it is highly entertaining, allowing us to see how the Mannekin Pis was dressed as Nelson Mandela, Uncle Sam and Obelix, to name a few of its characters. Pride of place amongst the costumes, however, is the replica of the costume given by King Louis XV of France in 1747, which was the first outfit in Manneken Pis’ wardrobe.
The Comic Strip Walk
We then took in a number of the murals along The Comic Strip Walk, with there being around a dozen or so in the area around the Mannekin Pis.
Church of Our Lady of Good Help
As we went along the walk, we took the opportunity to check out the Church of Our Lady of Good Help and the Saint Nicholas Church. The Church of Our Lady of Good Help is a relatively small place of worship from the 17th-century, but the original chapel built on the site was an important stop for pilgrims on route to Santiago de Compostela. It is quite noticeable that the church is a little different from its contemporaries, since its architecture was based on a circle rather than the more traditional Latin cross.
Saint Nicholas Church
Perhaps unsurprisingly, being so close to the market square, the Saint Nicholas Church was named after the patron saint of merchants. The church exterior architecture was fairly plain, but inside the church could boast a rich collection of art by artists such as Jean Van Orley and Smeyers.
The Grand-Place at night
By now our tour had come almost full circle, bringing us back to the Grand-Place. The sun had set, and the square had lit up. Arguably the Grand-Place is more stunning in the evening, and if anything, the square seemed to be even busier and more alive.
On the way back to the underground, we had a stop at one of Brussels lesser known attractions – Jeanneke Pis. Many visitors don’t realise that the Mannekin Pis has had a sort of companion since 1987. Jeanneke Pis is also a bronze statue, but of a little girl squatting and urinating! Not sure what Brussels’ fascination with urinating children is, but the statue proved to be another interesting stop. The statue can be a little hard to find, but if you go to the Delirium Café (they have over 2,000 different types of beer available – a world record!), then you can find the statue down the alley along the side of the bar.
The Delirium Café proved to be a little too crowded for us, especially since we had our little son on the trip. So, following our whirlwind tour of central Brussels, we decided to take a well-deserved beer at the Café de l’Opera, which was handily beside our metro stop at de Brouckere. We tried the award-winning Delirium beer, and we weren’t sure if it was the best beer in the world or the most needed one, but it was certainly the most satisfying way to round off our Brussels adventure.
Join us next time when our family adventures continue in Brussels, Belgium.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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