Though decidedly less expensive than the likes of other European capital cities such as Amsterdam or Paris, there’s no denying that a visit to Brussels may well cost you a pretty penny depending on what activities you’re planning to partake in and where you wish to stay. Luckily, there are a myriad of free things to do in Brussels which are fun, cool, and wont’ break the bank! Here’s your complete guide…
Experience Grand Place (Grote Markt)
Regal and beautiful, hands down one of the best experiences in Europe to be had is to stand in Brussels’ Grand Place and admire the beauty of the grand 17th-century Guild houses. The crown jewel of the square is the Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville in French) which is the only medieval building left in the square and dates back to the 15th-century.
Otherwise, the true highlight of Grote Markt are all of the Guild Houses, which were largely rebuilt at the turn of the 18th-century. While each Christmas season sees a free nightly light show take place in the square, there’s also a bi-annual (once every two years) flower carpet held in August for a few days. The free event sees a million begonias set up and covering the entirety of the square.
Visit Brussels Cathedral
Though often overlooked in favour of chocolate tours and walks to see the tiny statue of the urinating boy, Brussels Cathedral is a stunning structure that boasts a millennia worth of history and enough architectural features to match. Located just a few minutes walk away from Mont des Arts, the ecclesiastical building is dedicated to St Michael and St Gudula.
Easily one of the best free things to do in Brussels, the cathedral finds its roots as far back as the 9th-century, when a chapel to St Michael likely existed on site. The church you see today was built between the 11th and 15h-centuries, with the twin towers on the front façade having been constructed in 1485.
See Manneken Pis
Many visitors are drawn to Brussels for one of the most unusual (and very free) attractions that the Belgian capital city has to offer: the chance to see a small statue of a weeing boy! Often dressed up in various outfits and drawing crowds from near and far for several centuries, what may well surprise you is that this is not actually the original statue.
Instead, the early 17th-century Manneken Pis is now in the Brussels City Museum. Meanwhile, you should also note that there are two lesser-known statues with a similar ‘theme’. Jeanneke Pis is a girl urinating to be found at Impasse de la Fidélité/Getrouwheidsgang,, while Het Zinneke is a statue of a dog urinating.
Discover Brussels’ Hidden Gems
After you’ve wandered through the covered alleys, admired Grand Place and seen the small statue of the urinating boy, there’s a whole secret side of the city, just waiting to be discovered. Personal favourites include the crypt of Brussels Cathedral (which features the ruins of the original Romanesque Church on site), as well as a statue just off Grand Place which visitors and locals alike touch for good luck. Check out my complete guide to secret spots in Brussels for more Belgium wanderlust.
Visit Brussels’ Christmas Markets
Widely regarded to be among one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe, each year for the last month of the year or so, Christmas Market stalls pop up across the Belgian capital city. From vin chaud (mulled wine) to unique and handcrafted gifts, there’s no shortage of things to enjoy, peruse, and purchase at the market.
And while most of the attractions at the markets are paid for (for example a giant Ferris Wheel), the markets themselves are free to stroll around, not to mention the sheer number of beautiful illuminations across the city to be marvelled at. Most notable of all is the nightly light show at Grand Place, which is a beautiful (and free) sight to behold.
Discover the Comic Book Route
It’s no secret that some of the best comics come from Belgium (Tintin and Spike & Suzy to name but a couple). As such, there is a plethora of street art to discover celebrating these world-renowned comics in the form of a Comic Book Route. Free and fun for all the family, check out more details about the art featured here.
Enjoy Free Museums
Though most of Brussels’ museums require a fee to visit, there’s a way around this: each month, on the first Sunday of every month, many of the city’s major museums are free to all visitors. Particular highlights of this monthly tradition include GardeRobe MannekenPis (a museum dedicated to the wardrobe of the Manneken Pis statue), Erasmus House (which is one of the city’s oldest Gothic Houses), and Brussels City Museum (where some of the city’s most prestigious art work is now on display).
Spy the View from Mont des Arts
For those who enjoy discovering a city from a bird’s eye perspective, a hike up to the Mont des Arts district of the city is an absolute must. Also known as Kunstberg (or Art Hill in English), the historic area features the likes of the Royal Library of Belgium, and the Congress Palace of Brussels.
Shelter from the rain at Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Much like the covered passages of Paris, Brussels too has its own beautifully appointed arcades. All high ceilings and dating back to the mid-19th-century, there are two Galleries in the very heart of the city: Galerie du Roi and Galerie de la Reine.
Designed by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer, the covered passages are best-seen at dusk and feature an assortment of boutiques (including chocolate shops), bars, bistros, and even a museum. A must-see when in Brussels, the free to visit arcades are also perfect way of whiling away a rainy morning in the city.
Attend free concerts in Brussels
If you’re planning on visiting Brussels in the summer, then it’s worth noting that there are always new events and shows taking place. From a Jazz event to free concerts in Chapelle des Minimes throughout the spring and summer, there’s always something new to explore, listen to, and discover…