Brussels hop-on hop-off Guide
Exploring Belgium's beautiful capital city in a day or two...
Belgium’s capital is not only a city of contradictions, it’s also Europe’s best kept secret. It exudes a touch of Paris with its wide boulevards, impressive old buildings and arty Saint-Gilles district. But then there’s the ultra-modern side, evident in the surrealist Magritte Museum, and let’s not forget the laid-back atmosphere in a city famous for its café culture… Brussels is also renowned for its great food, delectable chocolate, and surprising touches of absurdity, like the city’s famous landmark, a statue of a little boy urinating.
This fascinating city is also where the famous cartoon character, Tintin was created. Fashion is considered some of the most innovative in the world, making shopping in Brussels a dream come true… You can lose yourself in the African quarter, or relax in the olde worlde charm of Grand Place, party through the night in the lively bars and clubs, or immerse yourself in art and architecture.
Whatever you decide to see on your visit to this treasure trove of historic delights and modern magic, there’s no better way to explore Brussels than on a comprehensive Hop On Hop Off tour on an open-top double decker bus. There are two 75-minute routes, and both start and end at the same place – the city’s busy Central Station. The first route, the Atomium Route, is a great introduction to Brussels, while the second route, the Brussels-Europe Route, will give you an insight into this extraordinary city’s history and culture.
To familiarise yourself with the city, take the entire routes first, then hop on and off the bus to explore at whim.
How much does it cost?
At the time of writing, the combined tour costs US$ 29 for and adult and US$ 16 for a child (4-12). It is valid for 24 hours and covers unlimited rides on both routes, namely: the "Atomium Route " and the " Brussels-Europe Route " (A 48 hours ticket costs US$ 39.50 for an adult and US$ 21 for a child, and buying it makes more sense, as it gives you much more time to really explore the city without being under pressure (Click here and pick the 48 hours option).
Weekdays – buses depart every 30 minutes. First departure 10am, last at 4pm
Weekends - buses depart every 15 minutes .First departure 9.30am, last departure 5pm.
The above departure times refer to the summer. Frequency is lower during winter
Places to see and things to do along the route
A) The "Atomium Route" (Blue):
1. The bus tour starts off from busy Central Station, the country’s main railway station. There is lots to explore around the station itself, including the famous Comic Strip Museum, which occupies an exquisite line of warehouses, designed by the Belgian art nouveau architect Victor Horta in 1906.Comic strips are a new art form created in Belgium after the Second World War and made famous with the popular character, Tintin and his dog Snowy.
Grand Place is Brussels most beautiful square
Also in the vicinity is the city’s most beautiful square, Grand Place, a vast square amidst the maze of cobbled streets, which is lined with beautiful old Guild houses. Amongst them is the 15th Century Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), whose golden spire has a copper statue of St Michael on top. Right opposite is the Maison du Roi (the "Breadhouse"), where Hapsburg royalty used to stay; it’s now home to the Musee de la Ville de Bruxelles, or the "Museum of the City of Brussels", which is devoted to all aspects of the city's history. You’ll also find some excellent chocolate shops in the square.
From here you can also walk to the beautiful Gothic Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula, Belgium’s national church, built in the 12th Century. Take a look inside, at the 16th Century judgment window above the West façade, and the magnificent Baroque pulpit. There’s also a museum here with displays of religious treasures and a crypt where you can see the foundations of the 8th Century church that existed here before the church was built.
2. The bus stops at Arenberg Street in the city centre, close to the famous Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert ("Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert"), a covered shopping area built in the 19th Century with shops at ground level and apartments on the other two levels. Today you’ll find a selection of luxury shops here, as well as tea shops and restaurants.
3. Your next hop off point is at Place Rogier, a famous square at the fringe of the Rue Neuve area, Brussels’ most popular shopping district. In the square itself you can explore the 18th Century Église Notre-Dame du Finistère, or take a break from hectic shopping in one of the coffee houses here. Also nearby is the Le Théâtre de la Monnaie, so named because it was located near the city’s old mint.
4. Hop off at the next point, Royal Serres, (the Royal Domain), located in the suburb of Laeken just outside the city centre. This is the royal residence, where the Royal family dwells. Built in 1772, it became the royal residence under King Leopold the Third. Take a look at the Royal green houses, which were built in the 1870s and are home to magnificent tropical plants. They are only open to the public in April and May.
The Royal Green Houses in Laeken
In the Royal Park’s northern corner you’ll find two fascinating monuments built by King Leopold the Second in the early 20th Century and designed by Parisian architect Alexandre Marcel. They are the Chinese Pavilion and the Japanese Tower. You’ll also be able to see delicate Chinese porcelain and Japanese items on display.
5. The Atomium, one of Brussels' best known landmarks, is your next hop off point. This giant model of an oxygen molecule was built for the World Fair in 1958 and was restored in 2006. From the top you’ll enjoy a panoramic view of the 500-acre estate of Heysel Exhibition Park, where a number of vast exhibition spaces are located.
Next to the Atomium, in Brupark, you’ll find the famous Mini Europe, which is a miniature park with many replicas of European monuments, including a mini Eiffel Tower and Berlin Wall, and a number of restaurants and cafes. Other entertainment here includes the water park called Oceade, which offers a number of rides and a tropical beach, and Kinepolis, a vast movie complex with 24 different cinemas including an IMAX theatre. The Planetarium of Brussels is also located here; offering a number of fun exhibitions and interactive displays.
6. The National Basilica of the Sacred Heart is the next stop on your route. Located on top of a hill in Koekelberg, This fascinating building, with its 80-metre high copper dome and touches of Art Déco, has long become a city landmark and is well worth exploring. Nearby is the city’s Aquarium, which is home to a vast number of amphibians and invertebrates, and offers an insight into the wonderland under the sea.
7. Hop off at the next point along the route at Tour & Taxis, Brussels’ canal quarter, which has recently been restored to its former glory. The Tour and Taxis Complex includes a number of chic stores, bars and restaurants and also hosts temporary exhibitions, shows and events.
8. At the next stop you can hop off the bus and go shopping in the hip and trendy Antoine Dansaert Street, where stores sell the latest in fashion and design. There are also a number of top hotels and restaurants in the area.
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9. Your next hop off point is at the Bourse, Brussels’ Stock Exchange, which was built around 1868 and boasts an exceptionally beautiful façade. Nearby you’ll find the lively Place Saint-Géry, a square full of bars and cafes that is very popular with students.
10. Next stop is at Manneken-Pis, Brussels’ famous statue of the little boy, located just three blocks from Grande Place. The town loves this little statue so much that he even has a huge wardrobe of clothing donated by people from all over the world. At the tourist office in the Hotel De Ville, in Grande Place, you can find out when he will be dressed in one of these outfits. You can also see a selection of his outfits on display at the Musee de la Ville.
11. The last stop on the route takes you back to Central Station.
B) The "Brussels-Europ Route" (Red):
1. This hop-on, hop-off bus tour also departs from Central Station – see point No. 1 in Route One, the Atomium Route, above, for more information about the area.
2. Place Royale is the first hop off point along this route. Surrounded by impressive old buildings, this historic square is just a stone's throw from some of Brussels' very best museums, including the famous BELvue and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, a museum-complex that is home to four outstanding museums. BELvue is an historic museum that tells the story of Belgium from the time that Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1830 and boasts a unique exhibition that is entirely dedicated to Belgium's monarchs.
The complex of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium boasts four museums, including the Museum of Ancient Art (Musee d’Art Ancien), which houses a vast collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings from the 15th to the 18th century. A passageway leads to the Museum of Modern Art, where you can view a stunning collection of Belgian Surrealist art including haunting works by Rene Magritte, Picasso, Chagall, Henry Moore and many others. The Museum of Modern Art also includes the Antoine Wiertz and Constantin Meunier Museums, which are specifically dedicated to the work of those two famous 19th century Belgian artists. Last but not least in this complex is the ultra-modern Magritte Museum that displays some 200 original paintings, drawings and sculptures of the internationally-famous Belgian surrealist artist, including some of his finest creations, like The Return, Scheherazade and The Empire of Light.
3. Place Sablon is the next hop off point along the route. The official name of this stately square is Place du Grand-Sablon, and it’s home to the beautiful church, the Notre Dame du Sablon whose statue of Mary is reputed to have magical healing properties, which is why the church is so famous. The square hosts a major antiques and book market every weekend and the area surrounding it is full of narrow streets worth exploring. Nearby is Place du Petit Sablon, a lush little square surrounded by 48 bronze statuettes, each representing one of the city’s 16th Century guilds.
4. Hop off at the next stop, on Louise Avenue, which is famous for its excellent shopping. Nearby you’ll find Brussels’ most striking building, the Palace of Justice, an immense law court built in 1879 and inspired by the temples of the Egyptian pharaohs. From the viewing platform in front of it you can enjoy spectacular views over the city. If you head south from here, you’ll come to a district called La Marolle, which is named after a 17th Century religious order who used to live in the area.
5. At your next hop off point you can explore the famous Horta Museum, which occupies the well preserved former home and studio of the famous architect Victor Horta, whose magnificent Art Nouveau buildings can be seen all over Brussels. Notice the architect’s incredible attention to detail in everything he designed, including the vertical letterbox and street number on the building’s façade, and the magnificently sculpted stairway and marble mosaic dining-room floor.
6. The bus stops close to the The Abbey of La Cambre ("Abbaye de La Cambre"), a beautiful old church near the lush 300-acre park, Bois de la Cambre, located on the edge of the city. Once a favorite place for royalty to go horseriding, this magnificent park boasts a lovely swan-filled lake at its centre.
7. Explore one of Brussels’ hippest areas at the next stop, at Place Flagey, located close to the Ixelles Ponds. In the square you’l find the restored Flagey Building, which looks like an ocean liner. Built in 1938 as the country’s broadcasting centre, it now houses a concert venue, movie theatre, restaurant and bar. The fast-food caravan on the square itself is praised for serving some of the best frites (fries) in town.
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8. Hop off the bus at Place du Luxembourg ("Luxemburg Square"), part of the city’s European Quarter, where most of the country’s administrative buildings are located. The most impressive building here is the glass-cladded International Congress Building that houses the European Parliament. The complex of buildings is collectively called Espace Leopold, and includes a debating chamber, inter-parliamentary delegations and political groups.
9. Next hop off point along the route is at Leopold Park, where you’ll find the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, which boasts one of the finest collections of dinosaurs on earth and excellent displays on the Artic and Antarctic regions.
10. At your next stop, why not hop off to explore the Musée du Cinquantenaire? This excellent museum is nestled within the massive Parc du Cinquantenaire (French for "Park of the Fiftieth Anniversary") and boasts thousands of impressive displays from over five continents, ranging from pre-historic artifacts to ancient Middle Eastern archaeological relics, and from delicate Far East antiques to contemporary European decorative arts…
Vintage aircrafts at the Royal Military Museum
Another museum in the complex is the Royal Military Museum, with a display of 130 vintage aircraft as well as artillery from the First World War, and Nazi Flags from World War Two. You’ll also find the AutoWorld here, a vintage car museum with over 350 classic automobiles, including a 1911 Model T Ford, a Renault from 1924 and a 1956 Cadillac. Once you’ve had enough of exploring the museums, you can take time out to relax in the park itself.
11. The bus stops at Schuman station, Brussels’ railway and metro station serving the city’s European Quarter.
12. Hop off the bus at Palais Royale, opposite the centrally located Parc de Bruxelles. You’ll find a cluster of magnificent buildings in the Royal Palace complex, including the Palais des Académies, former home of the Prince of Orange, and Place du Trone, an impressive equestrian statue of Leopold the Second. The 19th Century Palais Royal is now used as a royal office and for state functions, as the Royal family stays in Laeken (see hop-off point No. 4 in the Atomium Route, above). You can explore the Royal Palace with its beautiful Throne Room and dining-room, magnificent chandeliers and tapestries.
13. The hop-on hop-off bus returns to Central Station, where you can either explore the sights in the vicinity or hop on to another bus and travel along the Atomium Route.
And here is something that is well worth knowing about: Taking a hop-on, hop-off bus tour is one the best ways to explore any large city, as it saves you lots of precious holiday time and takes you EXACTLY to those places you really want to visit... (Not to mention the great views you can enjoy from the open top...). We have dozens of free "Hop on hop off guides" that cover quite a few cities across the world, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, Athens, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Berlin and lots of other city-destinations..... All you have to do is to click here to see them in a webpage format (with embeded videos), or here, to view and download them as eBooks (PDF format).