As one of Europe’s cultural epicenters, the museums of Brussels are world famous. There seems to be a museum for everything in the Belgian capital, so whether you’re into art, history, science, innovation or pop culture, there’s sure to be an exhibition that’ll get you excited.
But with almost 100 to choose from, which of Brussels’ museums should a visitor be aiming for? From art to atoms, here are 10 museums that every Brussels tourist should try their best to see.
Open 10am – 5pm Tue – Fri, 11am – 6pm Sat – Sun
Brussels’ art museums and galleries are incredible, and the very best place to start your Belgian adventure is the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Belgium. Found grouped together in a complex in the lively inner-city area of Zavel, the complex focuses on Belgian art history, hosting works that date back to the 15th century. Here you will find famous paintings by the Flemish Primitives, along with works from the Flemish Renaissance and Baroque periods. Keep an eye out for names like Memling, Bosch, Bruegel, Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens.
Open 10am – 5pm Mon – Fri, 10am – 6pm Sat – Sun
While you’re in the Zavel area, a shrine to famed surrealist René Magritte can be found right next door. One of the most popular of Brussels’ art museums, The Magritte Museum boasts the world’s largest collection of Magritte works (no less than 230 individual pieces). It also takes visitors on a journey through the artist’s life, with artifacts and personal items helping art-lovers understand the genius behind the canvas.
Open at various times from July to September – check website for details.
The home of the Belgian Royal Family Since 1965, the Royal Palace of Brussels (Palais Royal de Bruxelles) is one of the most accessible royal residences in the world. Provided you’re in the city at the right time of year – the palace generally opens in late July and closes in early September – you’ll gain access to a serious chunk of the not-so-humble abode, including the imposing throne room, the stunning mirror room, and many rooms designed to entertain. If you’re a fan of marble, chandeliers and unashamed opulence, this is the building for you!
Open 10am – Midday/12:45pm – 5pm Tue – Fri
Painter, sculptor and writer Antoine Wiertz was a somewhat controversial 19th century figure who has come to embody the Belgian Romantic movement. Wiertz loved the spectacular, as seen in his paintings that stretch up to 10m in length. From famous pieces like Greeks and Trojans fighting over the body of Patroclus and Two Girls (La Belle Rosine), through to his lesser known earlier works, the Weirtz Museum offers visitors a spectacular stroll through this artist’s life and labors.
Open 9:30am – 5pm Tue – Fri, 10am – 5pm Sat – Sun
Known locally as MIM, the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels offers visitors an incredible look into the history of human-produced sound. Founded way back in 1877, MIM began with a collection of 172 instruments from around in the world. In the last century and a half it has expanded exponentially, with both traditional and mechanical instruments displayed throughout the art nouveau building, which also now houses its own concert hall. This is certainly the best music museum in Brussels, and is arguably one of the finest in the world.
Open 10am – 6pm Mon – Sun
Taking pride of place in Parc du Cinquantenaire you’ll find Autoworld Museum Brussels, an expansive display of the world’s most famous cars. Featuring over 250 cars that cover the complete history of four-wheeled transport, Autoworld car museum in Brussels is an absolute must for petrol-heads. Monthly exhibitions feature cars of specific brands, models or countries, and interactive displays give you hands-on insight into these stunning feats of engineering. Buy your tickets online to avoid the queues, and be sure to visit the Art and History Museum directly behind Autoworld – a museum of ancient art Brussels is rightly proud of.
Open 9am – 5pm Tue – Sun
While you’re in Parc du Cinquantenaire, stroll to the other side of the park’s Triumphal Arch and check out the imposing exhibition that is the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History. Covering no less than 1000 years of Belgian warfare, this comprehensive museum has it all – from medieval armor to modern-day airplanes, and royal swords to sniper rifles. In essence the Royal Army Museum of Brussels tells the Flemish story, and offers incredible insight into how the Belgium of today came to be.
Open 10am – 6pm Mon – Sun
Tintin, The Smurfs, Lucky Luke; while comics may not jump to mind when you think of Belgium, in reality they probably should. A surprisingly entrenched part of the Belgian culture, comics have been the preferred mode of expression in this country since the beginning of the 20th century. The Brussels Comic Book Museum pays homage to this fact, featuring loads of original artwork and historic artifacts displayed in a beautiful art nouveau warehouse.
9. Train World
Open 10am – 5pm Tue – Sun
Train world is regularly listed as Brussels’ best museum, and for good reason – it doesn’t see itself as a train museum, but a train opera. Located in Schaarbeek Station, it features over 20 exhibits and locomotives that offer a museum experience that is about as hands-on as any in the world. A treat for adults and kids alike, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to sit in the driver’s seat of a train, be it steam, electric or otherwise, look no further than the famous train museum of Brussels!
Open 10am – 6pm Mon – Sun
It’s fair to say that no museum in the world is quite as eye-catching as Atomium, a 102m (335’) tall structure that dominates the skyline around Parc d’Osseghem Laeken. Constructed in 1958 for the World’s Fair, it takes its shape from a unit cell of an iron crystal – only it’s one that’s been magnified 165 billion times. The nine 18m (60’) spheres that make up the structure (connected by tubes that are 3m [10’] in diameter) houses a permanent exhibition about the ‘58 World’s Fair, as well as temporary exhibitions that cover everything from science to art and history.