At a recent press conference at the famous Albertina Gallery in Vienna, its director said that in his childhood, beautiful sunny weather had meant “weather for a museum”. Many galleries and museums, including the Albertina, used to not have artificial lighting for a long time. If you wanted to enjoy the view of the paintings, it was better to go to the museum in sunny weather when natural light flooded the exhibition rooms. Today, the situation is exactly the opposite. Museums and galleries are visited mainly when it is cold or raining outside.
The weather in Brussels is extremely unpredictable. One day, the sun may beat down and the next day, it will be raining without a break. It’s good if you have a reliable weather forecast app that makes it easier to plan your activities. I use yr.no – it absolutely worked in Brussels, too. So we were able to leave the day when it was supposed to rain for museum visits.
Again, I would recommend buying the special Brussels Card (24-, 48- and 72-hour cards on offer), which allow you unlimited use of public transport, free admission to more than 40 museums and discounts on other attractions.
More info: here
(1) Let´s start our tour of the Belgian museums at the Mont des Arts (Hill of the Arts), where the Royal Museums of Fine Arts – Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique (Place Royale 1) are located: 8 floors, 6 museums, over 20,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures – currently the most visited museum in Belgium.
It was founded in 1801 by Napoleon Bonaparte and was opened two years later. The main building was designed by famous Belgian architect Alphonse Balat, the chief architect of King Leopold II.
The exhibits are arranged chronologically. In one of the most important parts – in the Museum of Old Masters, the visitor will get an overview of the development of Dutch painting in particular from the 15th to the 18th century. The museum has several paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (The Fall of Icarus, The Census of Bethlehem…) and his sons, but there are also works by Brussels painter Rogier van der Weyden, Hieronymus Bosch, Lucas Cranach, Antony van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens and other world-famous painters. One of the top paintings is The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David.
In the collection of the Fin-de-Siecle-Museum, you can see the works of artists from the middle of the 19th century to the First World War (James Ensor, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Fernand Khnopff…).
In 2009, the Magritte Museum was opened within the Royal Museums. René Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian surrealist painter who – as one of the few artists – became a legend during his lifetime. The museum is located in the building of the neoclassical hotel Altenloh. About 200 of his original paintings, drawings and sculptures are exhibited here. The Empire of Light is a succession of 27 paintings with this popular Magritte motif. One of the three most important paintings of this series hangs in this museum.
More information: Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts
Note: Magritte fans should also visit the René-Magritte-Museum (Rue Esseghem 35, Jette) – the apartment in which the artist lived from 1930 to 1957. Here, in the corner of the dining room, he created his paintings. In the bedroom, his stuffed dog Loulou lies on the bed.
More information: Magritte Museum
***** If it is not raining outside, enjoy the beautiful views of the Mont des Arts.
(2) Not far from the Royal Museums, you will find Old England (Montagne de la Cour 2) – an extravagant Art Nouveau building made of glass and iron, originally a department store. It was designed in 1899 by Belgian architect Paul Saintenoy. Today, the Museum of Musical Instruments is located here.
The museum has a large number of different musical instruments from around the world. You can not only look at them but also listen to their sounds.
Of course, part of it is dedicated to the saxophone – this instrument was invented by Belgian inventor and musician Adolphe Sax. He patented his invention in 1846. On the ground floor, there is a huge cheerful colorful music box and when it is turned on, its music spreads throughout the museum.
One floor is dedicated to the building and the style of Art Nouveau.
There is a restaurant on the top floor – unfortunately, closed at the time of my visit, but we found a beautiful view of the city in the side windows.
More information: Musée des Instruments de Musique
Note: there are many examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Brussels. Today, several houses are museums dedicated to the building or the architect. However, I will write about them in a separate article.
***** If weather permits, take a walk around and don’t forget to notice the Whirling Ear. This ear by American sculptor Alexander Calder rotated in Brussels in 1958 at the World’s Fair in front of the American Pavilion. Then it disappeared for some years, and since 2000, it is here again – at Mont des Arts.
(3) The Belgians have been on the top of the avant-garde since the end of the 19th century. So it is no wonder that there are also a large number of galleries in Brussels. I visited the Valérie Bach Gallery (Rue Veydt 15), one of the most beautiful galleries of modern art in the city. It is located in the former Royal Skating Rink.
More information: Valérie Bach
In the beautiful, spacious rooms, we saw interesting installations connected with video projection and changing paintings by French-Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez.
***** Art installations are not only hidden in galleries and museums, but you can also meet them right on the street. One of them is Bleus sur Jaune – Blue on Yellow (Place de la Justice) by the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren, who covered this place with the so-called urban forest of 89 blue and white flags on yellow poles.
(4) Comic strips are called the Ninth Art and Brussels – the capital of comic strip. There is the Museum of Comic Strips – Center Belge de la Bande Dessinée (Rue des Sables 20) in the city which will attract not only fans of Tintin, the Smurfs and other comic strip heroes, but also enthusiasts of Art Nouveau architecture as the museum is housed in a building designed by famous Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta. More about the museum in the blog article: Brussels – the capital of comics
***** I recommend making use of the nice weather in the city to go for a walk through the streets where you will find the house facades painted with scenes from famous older and new comic strips. More detailed information is also in the above-linked article.
(5) If you are one of those who prefer to look at shiny shop windows instead of paintings, then the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert – stretching from Marché aux Herbes through Rue des Bouchers to Rue de l´Ecuyer and with one smaller Galerie des Princes to Rue des Dominicains – is the right address for you. The Royal Galleries are among the oldest covered shopping arcades in Europe. They were designed by the young architect Jean Pierre Cluysenaer as a replacement for dirty, poorly lit narrow streets with simple apartments for workers. Karl Marx, who was living in Brussels at the time, did not like it. The masterpiece, which he called the “ugly face of capitalism,” was inaugurated in 1847 with the participation of King Leopold I.
Today, the galleries are a popular place for shopping for luxury goods such as handbags, perfumes, wedding dresses, books, jewellery, lace, etc. Chocolate lovers will also enjoy it here as the best Belgian chocolate factories such as Godiva, Léonidas, Marcolini, Neuhaus and Délices du Roy have their stores in the galleries as well. Shop assistants with white gloves will fill a beautiful gift box with pralines of your choice. By the way, one Belgian annually eats 6.8 kg of pralines!
In the galleries, you can also sit in elegant cafes. I ordered a coffee with a waffle and on my second visit to Brussels, I chose the delicious almond speculaas at Maison Dandoy. They have a huge selection there!
Sitting in the cafe, I watched the people walking along the passage, and I also thought about how easily the word Love could be changed to the word Hate, not just made up of big brown (like chocolate) letters displayed here.
***** If it’s nice outside and you don’t want to sit inside, you can buy waffles (gaufres) in small shops or mobile vans right on the street.
(6) Finally, we would have a tour of the European Quarter. The entrance to this part of the city begins at Place du Luxembourg. The building with a clock is a remnant of the old facade of the former railway station.
The European Parliament is housed in the large glass palace of Paul-Henri Spaak (named after the former Belgian Prime Minister, the first EP President) with a 72-meter-high cylindrical dome. The people of Brussels call it Caprice des Dieux (God’s Caprice) after a cheese of the same shape. Inside, there is the Hemicycle where decisions are made concerning all of us. No plenary session took place at the time of my visit. A tour in these areas is also possible for individual visitors, do not forget to take your passport or ID card, you must also pass a security check. More info: visit the EP
The Parliamentarium is a visitors center in the European Quarter and offers a wealth of material on the history of the EU through a free interactive exhibition. Audioguides are available in all EU languages. I have to admit, I didn’t stay here long. The information is too detailed, you need much more time and probably a special interest. More info: Parlamentarium
A better alternative could be a visit to the House of European History (free entry) in the building of the former dental clinic. The permanent exhibition begins with the myth of the goddess Europe and brings closer the history of our continent from ancient times to the present and future. More info: here
In front of the Paul-Henri Spaak building, don’t forget to notice the bronze statue by May Claerhout, symbolizing Europe. The figure holds an “E” or Greek epsilon – the euro symbol.
The seat of the European Commission is in the Berlaymont Palace, named after the monastery that once stood here. The building was built in the 60s of the last century according to the design of the architect Lucien de Vestel, later renovated and reopened in 2004 with a new facade of numerous lamella windows.
***** In fine weather, you can take a break at the nearby Parc Leopold with other tourists, schoolchildren and Eurocrats. It was as if a bird parliament was holding a session there – the geese flew from one place to another, gagotted all over the world, and gradually ducks, seagulls and other birds joined in as well.
Don’t be surprised if people eat fries on the benches. Just a few steps away – at Place Jourdan – stands the famous Maison Antoine kiosk. The company was founded in 1948 by Antoine Desmet, today it is run by the third generation; it is the oldest, best and most popular “frietkot” in the city. Local people also come here and sometimes you have to wait in line for half an hour. Belgian pommes frites are as big as a woman’s little finger, double-fried on beef fat, thanks to which they remain perfectly crunchy. They are sold in paper bags with a sauce of your choice.
And finally, you can walk to the nearby Arc de Triomphe – Arcade du Cinquantenaire in the park of the same name. Its construction took place in 1905 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Belgian Revolution. At the top, you can see is a bronze quadriga. The female figures at the bottom of the monument represent the Belgian provinces. The colonnades on both sides hide mosaics depicting scenes from the history of Belgium.
And if the offer of museums was not enough for you, you can choose from these museums in the premises of the monument: Royal Military Museum (weapons, uniforms, military aircraft), Museum of Art and History (archaeology, applied arts, etc.) and Autoworld (300 different cars).
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid and Katka (mu72), Travelpotpourri