Brussels, Belgium — home of comic strips, a Belgian fry museum, huge art, and the MOOF.
It’s more than just waffles, centuries-old churches and the de-facto capital of the EU… but it’s not the European city you associate with lots of stuff to see. Yes, the city avoided bombing during World War II (though it was occupied following Belgian surrender), meaning a lot of the historic buildings are still around…
But you didn’t come to One Weird Globe to hear about that. I’m trying something new with this post (and would love your thoughts in the comments) — use the links below to move around the page, and check the map near the end to see where they all are around the city. Heading onwards from Brussels to explore the rest of Belgium? – Check out this post on awesome things to do in Ghent!
Where else should a tour of Brussels weird side begin? Plenty of different origin stories, from a selling place for urine (the ammonia content was used to tan leather) to a witch turning a child into stone for peeing on her property. Today’s pissing statue is better protected from the throngs of tourists with a classy iron fence, the better to protect it from vandals. It’s here to represent the ‘irreverent spirit’ of Brussels, which can certainly look stodgy amidst the city’s history or all the European Union symbols.
It’s far from offbeat, and the area surrounding it is as touristy as expected. Still, it’s a fine start to your Brussels trip.
For centuries, Brussels has had a peeing boy statue… so why not add in a peeing girl statue to the mix? Commissioned in 1985 and erected in 1987, she’s about a half-meter tall (though she’s squatting, so if she were to stand she’d be somewhat larger than our peeing boy). It’s located down a short, dead-end alley, meaning you might pass right by it as you’re looking at the nearby restaurants and never know it’s there.
The created legend is less ambiguous, but less inspiring: built in honor of loyalty, your wish will be granted if you can land your thrown coin in the fountain’s bowl. This is no easy task thanks to the imposing iron fence, but it’s worth trying.
Manneken Pis Garderobe
How many different ways can Brussels attract tourists via peeing statues? Last one, promise. In 1747, the soldiers under Louis XV’s command stole the statue, but the king made it up by having an outfit made for the statue. Other the years, countries, organizations, and other entities have made close to a thousand outfits for the Mannekin Pis — all having to accommodate the toddler’s pose and peeing, of course. That 1747 outfit is the oldest in the collection, but there are records of older outfits.
Elvis Presley and Dracula are seen above, while dozens of countries have all contributed a costume that was worn in the past.
Pick up a booklet to read during your visit with some information, then give it back or pay 1 € to keep it as a souvenir. It’s worth reading for the rather bureaucratic process of getting an outfit on the statue alone.
Address: Rue de Chêne 19 Elkstraat (GPS: 50.844166, 4.351045)
Admission: 8 € (free 1st Sunday of month)
Opening hours: 10am-5pm Tue-Sun (closed Mondays and a handful of holidays)
More info: mannekinpis.brussels
Belgian Comic Strip Center / Brussels Comic Book Museum / Musée belge de la Bande dessinée
Belgium is the home of many talented comic strip artists, from ‘unfortunately unknown’ to characters like Asterix and the Smurfs. It’s located in Europe’s oldest shopping mall (though it’s a bit tough to see, to be honest), and feels like a great, old-world settings for this newish art form.
Finish up in the upper floors, then head back to the ground floor and go to the library to enjoy any number of comic books. Few are in English, but they’re still fun to look at — and the admission cost is included with your ticket.
Dozens of comic murals / Brussels Comic Book Route
Brussels loves their comics, as evidenced by a comic strip festival held in September to the dozens of multi-story murals throughout the city. Meander through the downtown / central area or the Sablon-Marolles to see some of them, or make a point to see all 50 by picking up a paper map from the tourist information office in the Grand Plaza (1 euro). As some of these comics date back to the mid-20th century (and may not have been seen much outside of Europe), so they may not be familiar to those that read the funnies in the US.
OK, so you might be familiar with Tintin… Wherever you go around downtown / central Brussels, keep your eyes open for these large and colorful pieces.
Address: throughout Brussels, pick up a map at the Tourist Information Center at the Grand Place / Grand Plaza (GPS: 50.846732, 4.352406)
Opening hours: open 24/7, best seen during daytime
More info: https://www.brussels.be/comic-book-route
It’s not every art galley whose ceiling is dictated by the art. Presenting some of the largest paintings I’ve ever seen in a museum — those ‘small’ pieces at the bottom are the standard sorts of European art sizes… The larger piece above is that big. The work is that of Antoine Wiertz, a “controversial artistic figure of the Belgian Romantic movement”.
A closer look at the pieces in the lower right — while there are a few artistic nudes in the mix, the majority portray darker topics like war and weapons at a grandiose scale. Even as someone not particularly into art museums or art galleries, this one grew on me the longer I stayed — and free admission didn’t hurt, either.
Address: Rue Vautier / Vautierstraat 62, 1050 Brussels (GPS: 50.837241, 4.375735)
Opening hours: Tuesday–Friday: 10am-12pm and 12:45pm-5pm.
More info: https://www.fine-arts-museum.be/en/museums/musee-wiertz-museum
Fantastic Art Museum
Now here’s one for anyone that loves the creepy stuff! The bad news first: the Musée d’Art Fantastique De Bruxelles is only open on weekends from May to September, and only in the afternoons (from 2-5pm). That means you’ll need to plan your trip around this one, though they’re also open for special events (we went during a Halloween-themed event, which was the only way we could have attended). As you might guess, this is one fantastique collection not meant for the squeamish. Kids are welcome, and we saw a couple during our visit
Flying skeletons, anyone? Lots of fun.
Museum of Original Figurines (MOOF)
It’s an odd sort of acronym, but then again it’s an odd sort of place. The Museum of Original Figurines offers over 1,000 sculptures and exhibits across a 1,300 square meter museum. Many of these pieces are of the limited-edition variety, with many posed in the worlds their characters call home.
A lot of these ‘toys’ are probably never played with, and are only enjoyed from the opposite side of the glass. Still, it’s a great glimpse into some beloved characters along with some lesser-known stories.
Sewer Museum (Musée des égouts – Pavillon de l’Octroi)
Those with sensitive noses may want to give this one a pass — the older part of the facility will walk you past a working, active sewer line, and the smell is noticeable throughout the more modern museum part. Complete with models of Brussels’ system and panels showing the mathy dimensions behind a sewer pipe (they’re not all circular as you might have guessed), the French-and-Dutch only museum has just enough graphic assistance to help an English-only speaker out.
You’ll soon transition into the second, older part that is unquestionably authentic, from a look at some decades-old equipment, then go for a walk along a part of the river you don’t want to fall in. You’ll emerge across the street and more thankful for the men and women that keep this system running. It’s fine for kids, by the way, but there’s nothing specifically geared towards them.
Belgian Fries Micro-museum (Home Frit Home)
Finally answering the question ‘where’s the fries museum?!’ after visiting the Hamburger Museum in Florida, the Belgian fries museum aims to differentiate their artisanal offerings from the more industrial French fries. Calling it a ‘museum’ might be a bit misleading — the term ‘micro-museum’ is used on-site, which is fairer. It’s essentially a house with two levels open to the public, albeit on weekends only or by appointment.
A small souvenir shop features some fun stuff, but thankfully the fry-patterned underwear is not for sale. A worthy visit only needs about 15-20 minutes, and is rounded out by a small temporary gallery in the front room and basement.
Brussels Toy Museum (Musée du Jouet)
This museum goes well beyond simply showing old toys and does their best at making them available for play. They made ’em a lot sturdier back in the day, after all, so parents can settle in and relax while their protégé’s play. While a little cramped, the pieces installed offer a great variety of playthings, from fire engines and tram to kitchen sets and board games.
Who needs a rocking horse? There isn’t a ton of info about the toys themselves, so don’t approach it for a full course on a toy’s history. Even an adult(ish) like myself can enjoy seeing some of the fun stuff old enough to have been played with by parents or grandparent. Watch the open hours — they take a lunch break from 1pm to 2pm.