Brussels is an international city that has a strong sense of history and a modern cosmopolitan flair. The parliament of the European Union meets here, and the mix of French, Dutch and immigrant cultures makes for a lively and interesting atmosphere. Brussels is a user-friendly city with good restaurants, a vibrant nightlife and plenty of sightseeing opportunities. Of course, visitors can’t forget the famous beers and chocolates that are produced in the city and in the surrounding regions.

Like many other European cities, Brussels can be an expensive place to visit. However, there are plenty of free activities that tourists can put on their itinerary. Here are the best free attractions in Brussels.

Grand Place

Grand Place

Photo: Yabby / Flickr

This atmospheric and photogenic square sits in the heart of Brussels. The square itself is a lively place filled with a mix of locals and tourists. The main reason to visit the Grand Place, however, is to appreciate the amazing Baroque-era buildings that surround the square. These impressive, palatial structures are some of the most photo-worthy Baroque-era buildings in all of Western Europe. This is a great site to visit year-round. The buildings are lit up at night, and a huge lighted Christmas tree is placed at the center of the square during the wintertime.

Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History

Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History

Photo: quinet / Flickr

This free museum has an impressive collection of arms and history-themed exhibits. Even people who are not interested in military history will be impressed by the artifacts, which include weaponry and armor from as far back as the Medieval era. This museum is worth an entire afternoon, as it is rather large. The highlight for most people is the aircraft exhibit hall, which contains more than 100 planes from different eras of aviation history.

Window-Shopping in the Place Sablon

Place Sablon

Photo: La Citta Vita / Flickr

This is one of the most upscale areas in the entire country of Belgium. It features some amazing architecture and exclusive boutiques that sell high end goods. This is arguably one of the best places in Brussels for both architecture-viewing and window-shopping. There are also a high concentration of chocolate-makers in Place Sablon, so you can experience one of Belgium’s greatest traditions. A number of chocolate shops offer free samples, so you can enjoy a few tastes and maybe even make a small purchase.

Stroll Around Old Brussels

Old Brussels

Photo: infomatique / Flickr

Brussels has one of the most interesting old towns in Western Europe. Still characterized by cobblestone streets (which are definitely more picturesque than pavement, but quite a bit harder to walk on), this part of the city has a great atmosphere. With numerous shops and interesting historic buildings, it is possible to wander for an afternoon without trying to find any site in particular and still enjoy yourself immensely.

Spend an Afternoon in Parc de Bruxelles

Parc de Bruxelles

Photo: La Citta Vita / Flickr

Like many other attractions in Brussels, this large park is surrounded by impressive historic buildings (including the Royal Palace). The park itself features French-style gardens that date back more than 200 years. Locals come to the expansive lawns to lounge during the summertime. There are a number of free concerts and performances held inside the park during the warmer months as well. People who come during the summer may also be able to visit the Royal Palace, which is free and open to the public during the month of August.

Tour the European Union Parliament Building

European Union Parliament Building

Photo: Xaf / Flickr

This modern structure is the heart of the European Union. Many of the most important debates and meetings in modern European history have taken place inside the parliament building’s meeting rooms and halls. It is possible to visit this structure and take a self-guided tour of the halls and meeting rooms using an audio guide to explain what you are seeing.

Walk the Comic Artist Trail

Smurf in Brussels

Photo: jeff_c / Flickr

Tin Tin and the Smurfs are the most famous Belgian comic characters, but there are hundreds of world-class comic artists who come from this small country. Local arts groups in Brussels have designed a Comic Strip Route that can be seen as part of a self-guided tour. This tour features are two dozen statues, frescoes and murals celebrating the best loved comic characters of Belgian artists.

Have you ever taken a vacation in Brussels? Let us know what we should add to our list of the best free things to do in Brussels in the comments section below.

Josh Lew
Josh Lew
Josh Lew has traveled widely in Asia and the Americas. He has contributed to popular travel sites like Gadling and Brave New Traveler and currently writes a weekly travel column for MNN. His work has also appeared on the websites of CNN and Forbes Magazine.

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