Top Historic Sights in Brussels, Belgium

Explore the historic highlights of Brussels

St. Nicholas Church

The Église St-Nicolas is a delightful little church behind the Bourse in Brussels. It is surrounded by fine old houses that seem to huddle under it. This small church is almost 1,000 years old, but little remains of the original structure. Its 11th-century Romanesque lines are hidden by a 14th-century Gothic facade and the repairs made after the French bombardment of 1695. A cannonball fired by the French in 1695 ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Brussels, Belgium

La Grand-Place

La Grand-Place in Brussels is a remarkably homogeneous body of public and private buildings, dating mainly from the late 17th century. The architecture provides a vivid illustration of the level of social and cultural life of the period in this important political and commercial centre. Around a cobbled rectangular market square, La Grand-Place, the earliest written reference to which dates back to the 12th century, feat ...
Founded: 17th century | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Brussels Town Hall

The oldest part of the present Town Hall is its east wing together with a shorter belfry. It was built and completed in 1420 under direction of Jacob van Thienen. Initially, future expansion of the building was not foreseen, however, the admission of the craft guilds into the traditionally patrician city government apparently spurred interest in providing more room the building. As a result a second, somewhat longer wing ...
Founded: 1420-1444 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium are a group of art museums in Brussels. There are four museums connected with the Royal Museum, and two of them (the Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of Modern Art, Brussels), are in the main building. The other two (the Constantin Meunier Museum and the Antoine Wiertz Museum) are dedicated to specific Belgian artists, are much smaller, and are located a few kilometers from th ...
Founded: 1803 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg

Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg is a neoclassical church located in the historic square of Place Royale in central Brussels. The medieval abbey church that originally stood on this location was demolished by command of Charles Alexander of Lorraine during his expansive urban planning projects, despite having escaped the great fire of 1731 that destroyed the nearby Coudenberg Palace. The new church was built in line with rue ...
Founded: 1776 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Royal Palace of Brussels

The Royal Palace of Brussels is the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians in the centre of Brussels. However it is not used as a royal residence, as the king and his family live in the Royal Palace of Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels. The facade we see today was only built after 1900 on the initiative of King Leopold II. The first part of the present-day building dates from the end of the 18th century. ...
Founded: 1783 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon

Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon is characterized by its late Brabantine Gothic exterior and rich interior decoration including two Baroque chapels. The history of the church dates to the early 13th century when Henry I (1165-1235), the Duke of Brabant, recognized the Noble Serment of Crossbowmen as a guild and granted them certain privileges, including the right to use a plot at the Sablon/Zavel as an exercise g ...
Founded: c. 1400 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula has been since 1962 the co-cathedral of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, together with St. Rumbold"s Cathedral in Mechelen. A chapel dedicated to St. Michael was probably built on the Treurenberg hill as early as the 9th century. In the 11th century it was replaced by a Romanesque church. In 1047, Lambert II, Count of Leuven founded a chapter in this church and organi ...
Founded: c. 1047 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Chapel Church

The Église de la Chapelle (French) or Kapellekerk (Dutch) is a Roman Catholic church founded in 1134 by Godfrey I of Leuven near what were then the town ramparts. The present structure dates from the 13th century. Part of the structure was damaged by the French during the bombardment of Brussels in 1695 as part of the War of the Grand Alliance. It was restored in 1866 and again in 1989. It contains work by Jer&ocir ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Church of Saint John the Baptist

The Church of Saint John the Baptist at the Béguinage, attributed to the Flemish architect Lucas Faydherbe, this building is a notable illustration of the Italian-influenced Flemish Baroque style of the 17th century. The church was part of the béguinage Notre-Dame de la Vigne of Brussels (an architectural complex which formerly housed beguines, lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows o ...
Founded: 1657-1676 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Halle Gate

The Halle Gate is a medieval fortified city gate of the second walls of Brussels. It is now a museum, part of the Royal Museums for Art and History. Built in 1381, the gate was named for the city of Halle in Flemish Brabant which it faces. The original gate included a portcullis and drawbridge over a moat. The structures that housed these are still visible. While the other six gateways and the defensive walls were demoli ...
Founded: 1381 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Horta Museum

The Horta Museum is dedicated to the life and work of the Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta and his time. The museum is housed in Horta"s former house and atelier, Maison & Atelier Horta (1898), in the Brussels municipality of Saint-Gilles. Housed in the Art Nouveau interiors is a permanent display of furniture, utensils and art objects designed by Horta and his contemporaries as well as documents relate ...
Founded: 1898 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Hôtel Tassel

The Hotel Tassel is a town house built by Victor Horta in Brussels for the Belgian scientist and professor Emile Tassel in 1893–1894. It is generally considered as the first true Art Nouveau building, because of its highly innovative plan and its groundbreaking use of materials and decoration. Together with three other town houses of Victor Horta, including Horta"s own house and atelier, it was put on the " ...
Founded: 1893 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Hôtel van Eetvelde

The Hôtel van Eetvelde is a town house designed in 1895 by Victor Horta for Edmond van Eetvelde, administrator of Congo Free State. Together with the Hôtel Tassel, the Hôtel Solvay and his own House and atelier it was put on the "UNESCO World Heritage List" in 2000 as the core of epoch-making urban residences Victor Horta designed before 1900. The visible application of 'industrial' materials such as st ...
Founded: 1895 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Rouge-Cloître Abbey

Rouge-Cloître Abbey is an Augustinian abbey, founded in 1367. The name Roodklooster or Rouge-Cloître means the Red Hermitage. Apparently, the walls of the original hermitage were coated in crushed tiles, which produced the characteristic colour. The hermitage was built in 1366 by a priest called Gilles Olivier and a layman called Walter van der Molen. William Daniel, a priest of the parish of Boendael, also ce ...
Founded: 1367 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

La Cambre Abbey

The Abbey of La Cambre or Ter Kameren Abbey is a former Cistercian abbey in Ixelles, Brussels. The abbey church is a catholic parish of the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels and home to a community of Norbertine canons while other parts of the monastery house the headquarters of the Belgian National Geographic Institute and La Cambre, a prestigious visual arts school. The abbey was founded about 1196, by its patroness Gis& ...
Founded: c. 1196 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Hôtel Solvay

The Hôtel Solvay is a large Art Nouveau town house designed by Victor Horta on the Avenue Louise in Brussels. The house was commissioned by Armand Solvay, the son of the wealthy Belgian chemist and industrialist Ernest Solvay. For this wealthy patron Horta could spend a fortune on precious materials and expensive details. Horta designed every single detail; furniture, carpets, light fittings, tableware and even the ...
Founded: 1898 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Forest Abbey

Forest Abbey is a Benedictine Abbey founded in 1105, beside a creek, a tributary of the Zenne, southwest of the city of Brussels. The abbots of Affligem, which had been the ecclesiastical owners of the parish since the bishop of Cambrai ceded it to them in 1105, decided to build a priory for women in Forest, Forest Abbey. The first abbess of the Forest priory was named in 1239. Also in the 13th century, the Romanesque chu ...
Founded: 1105 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Royal Palace of Laeken

The Royal Palace of Laeken is the official residence of the King of the Belgians and the royal family. It sits in a large park called the Royal Domain of Laeken, which is off-limits to the public. The Palace at Laeken should not be confused with the Royal Palace of Brussels, in central Brussels, which is the official palace (not residence) of the King of the Belgians and from which affairs of state are handled. The pala ...
Founded: 1782 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Stoclet Palace

The Stoclet Palace was built by architect Josef Hoffmann for banker and art lover Adolphe Stoclet between 1905 and 1911. Considered Hoffman"s masterpiece, the Stoclet"s house is one of the most refined and luxurious private houses of the twentieth century. The mansion is still occupied by the Stoclet family and is not open to visitors. It was designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO in June 2009. The Stocl ...
Founded: 1905-1911 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Belvédère Castle

Belvédère Castle is a Belgian royal castle in Laeken which currently houses Albert II of Belgium and his wife Queen Paola of Belgium. Belvédère was originally built in the 1780s, but the castle was bought by King Leopold II in 1867. The castle was meant for his sister Carlotta of Mexico, but she chose to live in Tervuren which left Belvédère empty for a while. In 1890 a fire broke ...
Founded: 1780s | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Château Malou

The Château Malou was built in 1776 in the neoclassic style by a wealthy merchant called Lambert de Lamberts. The current building replaced a small hunting lodge from the 17th century. One of the owners of the château was the orangist minister Pierre-Louis Van Gobbelschroy, until the end of the Dutch period in 1829. After Belgium gained its independence from The United Kingdom of Netherlands, the château ...
Founded: 1776 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Château du Stuyvenberg

Stuyvenberg Castle is a residency of the Belgian Royal Family, located in Laeken, Brussels. It was built in 1725, acquired for 200,000 franks by the Belgian State in 1840, and later bought by Leopold II who donated it to the Royal Trust. It is near the Royal Palace of Laeken, the official residence of the King and Queen of the Belgians. The first Belgian King Leopold I used the castle for his mistress Arcadie Meyer-Clare ...
Founded: 1725 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Rivieren Castle

Rivieren Castle was originally a defence tower and the present-day castle was build in different phases from the 12th to the 19th century. Originally a possession of the Clutinck family, the castle later changed ownership several times until it finally was sold in 1973. Today, the castle is used for conferences, receptions, expositions and similar kinds of events.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Wawel Castle

Wawel Hill – a Jurassic limestone rock, a dominant feature in the landscape of Kraków, have provided a safe haven for people who have settled here since the Paleolithic Age. It is supposed that the Slav people started living on Wawel hill as early as the 7th century. Early medieval legends tell stories about a dreadful dragon that lived in a cave on Wawel Hill, about his slayer Krakus, and about the latter’s daughter Wanda, who drowned herself in the Vistula rather than marry a German knight. Towards the end of the first millennium A.D Wawel began to play the role of the centre of political power.In the 9th century it became the principal fortified castrum of the Vislane tribe. The first historical ruler of Poland, Miesco I (c.965-992) of the Piast dynasty as well as his successors: Boleslas the Brave (992-1025) and Miesco II (1025-1034) chose Wawel Hill as one of their residences.

At that time Wawel became one of the main Polish centres of Christianity. The first early Romanesque and Romanesque sacral buildings were raised here, including a stone cathedral that was erected after the bishopric of Kraków was established in the year 1000.

During the reign of Casimir the Restorer (1034-1058) Wawel became a significant political and administrative centre for the Polish State. Casimir’s son, Boleslas the Bold (1058-1079) began the construction of a second Romanesque cathedral, which was finished by Boleslas the Wrymouth (1102-1138). In his last will of 1138, this prince divided Poland into districts, and provided that Kraków was to be the residence of the senior prince. In 1291 the city of Kraków along with Wawel Hill temporarily fell under the Czech rule, and Wenceslas II from the Premysl dynasty was crowned King of Poland in Wawel cathedral.

In 1306 the Duke of Kuyavia Ladislas the Short (1306-1333) entered Wawel and was crowned King of Poland in the Cathedral in 1320. It was the first historically recorded coronation of a Polish ruler on Wawel Hill. Around that time, at the initiative of Ladislas the Short, the construction of the third Gothic cathedral began, the castle was expanded and the old wooden and earthen fortifications were replaced by brick ones. The tomb of Ladislas the Short in the cathedral started a royal necropolis of Polish kings in Krakow.The last descendant of the Piast dynasty, Casimir the Great (1333-1370) brought Wawel to a state of unprecedented splendour. In 1364 the expanded gothic castle witnessed the marriage of Casimir’s granddaughter Elizabeth to Charles IV accompanied by a famous convention of kings and princes, subsequently entertained by a rich burgher Wierzynek. The accession to the throne in 1385 of Jadwiga from the Hungarian dynasty of Andegavens, and her marriage to a Lithuanian prince Ladislas Jagiello (1386-1434) started another era of prosperity for Wawel. The royal court employed local and western European artists and also Rus painters. During the reign of Casimir Jagiellon (1447-1492) the silhouette of the hill was enriched by three high brick towers: the Thieves’ Tower, the Sandomierz Tower and the Senatorial Tower. The first humanists in Poland and tutors to the king’s sons: historian Jan Długosz and an Italian by the name Filippo Buonacorsi (also known as Callimachus) worked there at that time.

The Italian Renaissance arrived at Wawel in the early 16th century. King Alexander (1501-1506) and his brother Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) commissioned the construction of a new palace in place of the Gothic residence, with an impressive large courtyard with arcaded galleries which was completed about 1540. Sigismund’s patronage also left an indelible impression in the cathedral, where a family chapel was erected, known today as Sigismund’s Chapel - the work of Bartolomeo of Berrecci Florence, and through various foundations, one of which was that of a large bell, called the Sigismund to commemorate the king. Close artistic and cultural relations with Italy were strengthened in 1518 by the king’s marriage to Bona Sforza. Alongside Italian artists, German architects, wood workers, painters and metal smiths worked for the king. The last descendant of the Jagiellonian dynasty, Sigismund II Augustus (1548-1572), enriched the castle’s interiors with a magnificent collection of tapestries woven in Brussels. In the “Golden Age” of Polish culture Wawel became one of the main centres of humanism in Europe.

The reign of Sigismund III Waza (1587-1632) also made a strong impression on the history of Wawel. After a fire in the castle in 1595 the king rebuilt the burned wing of the building in the early Baroque style. The relocation of the royal court to Warsaw was the cause of a slow but nevertheless steady deterioration in the castle’s condition. The monarchs visited Kraków only occasionally. Restoration of the castle was undertaken during the reign of John III Sobieski, the Wettins and Stanislas Augustus to counteract neglect.

After Poland had lost its independence in 1795, the troops of partitioning nations, Russia, Prussia and Austria, subsequently occupied Wawel which finally passed into the hands of the Austrians. The new owners converted the castle and some of the secular buildings into a military hospital, and demolished some others, including churches. After the period of the Free City of Kraków (1815-1846) Wawel was once more annexed by Austria and turned into a citadel dominating the city. By the resolution passed by the Seym of Galicia in 1880, the castle was presented as a residence to the Emperor of Austria Franz Josef I. The Austrian troops left the hill between 1905-1911. At the turn of the 20th century a thorough restoration of the cathedral was conducted, and shortly afterwards a process of restoration of the royal castle began which lasted several decades.

When Poland regained its independence in 1918, the castle served as an official residence of the Head of State, and as a museum of historic interiors. During the Nazi occupation the castle was the residence of the German governor general, Hans Frank. Polish people managed to remove the most valuable objects, including the tapestries and the “Szczerbiec” coronation sword to Canada, from where they returned as late as 1959-1961. At present, the main curators of Wawel are Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection and the Metropolitan Basilica Board on Wawel Hill.