A weekend in…
The heart of Europe
If the European Union is what brings you to Brussels, you cannot miss visiting the glass forest that is the Leopold Quarter and the Squares District. Together, they form the so-called European District. Here, all the legendary European administration buil
EUROPE’S MOST IMPORTANT HEMICYCLE
The European Parliament in Brussels is one of two European Parliaments, as the other one can be found in Strasbourg, France. The Brussels seat is intended for parliamentarian commissions, whereas Strasbourg is the setting of the monthly plenary meetings. To understand what the European Parliament does for you, you can pay a visit to the Parlamentarium – the enormous visitor centre of the parliament. This interactive museum can be explored in all 24 official European languages and speaks to all ages and demographics.
Rue Wiertz 60 (Trône, metro 2 and 6). Free admission to Parlamentarium. Open from 9am to 6pm on weekdays (except Mondays, when it opens at 1pm) and from 10am to 6pm on weekends.
The Europa Building is the newest giant in the European quarter. It has been in use since 2016 and houses the European Council and the Council of Europe. Its façade is constructed with 3,750 antique oak windows from all 28 member states of the Union. Inside, you’ll find a giant, egg-shaped construction, which lights up at night, shining its light through the many windows. More than anything, this building reflects the transparency of the administration and the enlightenment of the European values.
Rue de la Loi 147 (Shuman, metro 1 and 5). Free admission to visitor centre as well as the weekly tours. The visitor centre is open on weekdays from 10.30am to 4pm (or until 1pm throughout August). Free tours are available every Friday at 8am (online registration required). Free, private tours can be booked for groups of 20 people or more if requested at least three months in advance.
The Berlaymont Building is the king of the European district, in terms of both size and importance. It is the home of the European Commision; the organ that makes the most important decisions. Yet, it is its 240,000 square metres of floor space, spread over 18 gigantic floors, that make it stand out from the crowd. Besides offices for 3,000 ‘eurocrats’ and conference rooms aplenty, the building houses a television studio, a garage for 1,100 cars, a cafeteria that seats 900, a Nordic sauna, and more coffee corners than modern calculus accounts for.
Rue de la Loi 200 (Shuman, metro 1 and 5). Free private tours available for groups of between 15 and 150 people, if booked at least ten weeks in advance.
AN INTERACTIVE TRIP THROUGH TIME
The history of Europe of course goes back way longer than that of the Union alone. In the fantastic House of European History, you can explore it all in a wildly interactive exhibition. Armed with a tablet, you can relive the last 2,000 years in one of the city’s state-of-the-art cultural temples, which is not on most tourist maps. History freaks better go early, because, when done right, a visit to this fascinating house can keep you occupied for half a day and more.
Rue Belliard 135 (Trône, metro 2 and 6). Free admission. Open from 1pm to 9pm on Monday, from 9am to 6pm on other weekdays, and from 10am to 6pm on weekends.
THE GREEN LUNG WALKING WITH DINOSAURS
The Museum for Natural Sciences is a must-see for families with kids. A walk through its halls brings you eye to eye with numerous distinct animals and our ancestors. Yet, the crown jewels of the museum are the dinosaur skeletons. The mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex in particular will transport you straight to Jurassic Park. The recently-revealed Allosaurus Arkhane is also worth your while, as it is the only skeleton of its kind in the world.
Rue Vautier 29 (Trône, metro 2 and 6). €7 (discounts available). Open from 9.30am to 5pm from Tuesday to Friday and from 10am to 6pm on weekends.
Amidst the sea of glass, Parc Cinquantenaire adds a welcome touch of greenery to the European District. The park was built as a prestige project of King Leopold II, the infamous monarch who adorned the country with precious art and architecture that he financed through slavery in his personal colony: Congo (see page 59). Most prominent in the park is the big archway from which the Belgian ‘tricolour’ waves. In its gigantic auxiliary buildings on the side, you’ll find the Art & History Museum, the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History and Autoworld (see page 60). But more than a cultural centre, Parc Cinquantenaire is the ideal spot for ‘eurocrats’ and business people to picnic, relax or sunbathe between world-changing meetings.
Entrance near Rue de la Loi 240 and Avenue de Tervuren 1 (Shuman, metro 1 and 5). The park is open 24/7. Art & History Museum: €10 (discounts available); open from 9.30am to 5pm from Tuesday to Sunday (from 10am on weekends). Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History: €10 (discounts available, card payments only); open from 9am to 5pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Autoworld: €14 (discounts available); open daily from 10am to 6 pm (to 5pm on weekdays from October to March).