With Europe in the middle of an economic crisis, many of us have had to cut back our entertainment budgets.While we all know it doesn’t cost anything to stroll through Grand Place or hang out with Mannekin Pis, it can be difficult to come up with activities, in the capital, that don’t cost an arm and a leg. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit at home.
There are plenty of free things to do in Brussels and we’ve listed 10 of our favourites.
1. Take to the streets with a walking tour
Even in tough economic times, foot power remains free. If you need guidance, Visit Brussels has created a series of thematic walks you can follow. Check out your favourite fictional characters on the Brussels Comic Strip walk or the Tintin Walk; Become a fasionista on the Fashion Trail; or explore the city’s famous architecture on the Art Nouveau Walk. Print off your PDF map and hit the road!
2. Go Green in a Park
Brussels may be bustling and busy, but there are plenty of quiet green spaces to discover, no matter what part of the city you find yourself in. A few of our favourites include:
For a full list of parks in Brussels, on an interactive map, check out the Parks and Gardens of the Capital Region website (French and Flemish only).
3. Find Religion in Brussels’ Churches
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the beautiful art and architecture of Brussels’ churches and cathedrals. Although a few charge a nominal fee for entrance, most of the city’s churches are free or simply ask for a small donation. Beautiful examples include: St Gudule and St Michael’s Cathedral, The Church of Our Lady of Laeken, Notre Dame au Sablon, and The National Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
4. Justice for all at the Palais du Justice
It may be a controversial sight in the city, but Brussels’ Palace of Justice is free to explore (at least those areas open to the public). Bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, this giant building towers over the Marolles neighbourhood below. Beside the Palace of Justice, is one of the best free views of Brussels at Place Poelaert, named for the building’s architect.
5. Mingle with royalty at the Royal Palace
Although the Royal Palace of Brussels is only open to the public during the summer months, it is free to walk through many of the staterooms and suites on a self-guided tour. The Royal family demonstrate their support for the arts with a different cultural exhibition each year.
6. Find peace at the Abbey de la Cambre
The former Cistercian abbey, Abbey de la Cambre, founded in the late 1100s, is now the headquarters of the Belgian National Geographic Institute and the visual arts school, La Cambre. You can freely visit the beautiful grounds and gardens as well as Notre Dame de la Cambre, the small abbey church.
7. Get militant at The Royal Museum of Armed Forces and of Military History
If you are interested in the history of the military and armed combat, you can freely explore the Royal Museum of Armed Forces and of Military History. Collections include exhibits from Medieval times to the European Forum of Contemporary Conflicts. You can see planes, tanks and all manner of weapons and uniforms from throughout history.
8. Learn about the European Parliament in the heart of Europe
If you are interested in politics, you can tour the European Parliament’s plenary chamber with a free audio guide, available in all 23 of the official EU languages. You can also visit the new, free Parlamentarium Visitor’s Centre, where you can take an interactive journey through the European Union’s member states.
9. Visit with Belgium’s dearly departed at the Ixelles Cemetery
Walking through graveyards is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the Ixelles Cemetery has some famous residents, if you are up to a visit. Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta is buried here and he also designed the tombs of sculptor Édouard Louis Geerts and chemist Ernest Solvay. Belgian chocolate master Frederic Neuhaus is also buried here, as are painter Antoine Wiertz and writer Camille Lemonnier.
10. Enjoy the city’s museums for free on the first Wednesday of the month
While many of Brussels’ major museums charge entrance fees, if you are flexible with your dates, you can visit many of them for free on the first Wednesday of the month. Participating museums include: The Museum of Musical Instruments, The Magritte Museum, Cinquantenaire Museum (Royal Museums of Art and History) and many others. You can see a full list here.
This list is just scratches the surface of the free activities in Brussels. There are many small quirky museums which are always free. The Brussels Capital Region Portal has a huge list of free activities, arranged by category, and incredibly, it’s available in English. So get out there and enjoy the best (free) things Brussels has to offer!