Belgium expert Véronique Autphenne shares ideas for free activities to fill your days in Brussels, leaving your pockets with plenty of cash for beer, mussels, and artisan chocolate.
Comic Book Walk
Belgium has produced a tremendous variety of comic books, from Tintin, the Smurfs, and Le Chat, to lesser known figures such as Cubitis. In fact, they’ve become a national art form. Brussels offers a fantastic walking tour that showcases this native art form by taking you through various neighborhoods with over thirty open-air comic book murals painted on the sides of building. You can pick up a walking map at the Visitor Center or download a printable walking map.
Jeu de Balle
The Jeu de Balle is a colorful flea market taking up an entire square in the traditional neighborhood of the Marolles. If you’ve seen the Tintin movie, this is the spot where he purchases the Unicorn ship that starts his adventure. Who knows what treasure you may dig up among the heaps of wares merchants bring to the square each day?
The market is especially bustling on Sunday and you’ll want to go early for the best selection. On a nice day, the square’s cafés are crowded with families enjoying coffee or lunch.
The European Parliament’s flashy state-of-the-art visitor center was subject to some criticism when it opened in the midst of a recession and growing fiscal austerity. But the museum is open and the whole experience is over the top, with electronic displays, interactive electronic guides available in 23 languages, and video walls.
This museum is a favorite among Belgian schoolchildren and it’s easy to see why. With its impressive collection of armor, weapons, uniforms, and aircraft from Tsarist Russia to the two World Wars, it’s easy to get lost in here for hours. And did we mention it’s free?
A highlight of the visit is the Aviation Hall, a huge glass and iron hangar where you’ll find 19th century balloons, biplanes, and WWII fighters used by the Belgian Air Force. There’s a small café in the hangar where you can enjoy the aircraft over a glass of beer (when in Brussels…)
Experience Brussels (eB)
Just above the Brussels Information Center (BIP) – the place to pick up maps, brochures, and Brussels Cards – lies a charming exhibit about the city of Brussels as it exists today. This feels more like a funhouse than history museum, where you’ll learn the interesting tidbits that will make you and your family sound like experts on the city.
About the author: Véronique Autphenne was raised on three continents and has had a passion for travel ever since she can remember. While her travel plans have changed slightly since she became the mother of three boys (less spas, more dirt), she has found that traveling with children can be just as rewarding and is certainly always an adventure. She and business partner, Paige Totaro, run a travel consulting company, All Over the Map, to help families plan their own adventures. She also edits the blog, Belgium with Kids and co-authored the e-book, Brussels with Kids.