BELGIUM - AUGUST 11: BELGIUM, BRUSSELS, The Grand Place in Brussels. (Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)

U. Baumgarten via Getty Images

Grand Place

Top choice in Brussels

Brussels’ magnificent Grand Place is one of the world’s most unforgettable urban ensembles. Oddly hidden, the enclosed cobblestone square is only revealed as you enter on foot from one of six narrow side alleys: Rue des Harengs is the best first approach. The focal point is the spired 15th-century city hall, but each of the antique guildhalls (mostly 1697–1705) has a charm of its own. Most are unashamed exhibitionists, with fine baroque gables, gilded statues and elaborate guild symbols.

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Nearby Brussels attractions

1. Maison du Roi

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This fanciful feast of neo-Gothic arches, verdigris statues and mini-spires is bigger, darker and nearly 200 years younger than the surrounding guildhalls…

2. Le Pigeon

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Victor Hugo lived here at the artists' guildhall during a part of his exile from France in 1852.

3. Le Cygne

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The lovely butchers' guildhall, featuring a carved swan above the door, hosted Karl Marx in 1847. Ironically, it’s now home to the Grand Place's finest…

4. L’Arbre d’Or

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Notice the hop plants climbing columns here! At the former brewers' guildhall, which is still the Belgian brewers’ headquarters, two atmospheric but small…

5. L’Étoile

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The square’s smallest building, surmounted by a star, is where city hero Everard ’t Serclaes died in 1388. A fairly contemporary ‘tradition’ claims you’ll…

6. Brussels City Museum

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Old maps, architectural relics and paintings give a historical overview of the city. Don’t miss Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1567 Cortège de Noces (Wedding…

7. Chaloupe d’Or

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The dressmakers' guildhall is now a particularly splendid grand café whose upper-storey rooms (when open) offer fine views across the square.

8. La Brouette

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The grease-makers' guildhall has faint gold wheelbarrows above the door. The statue of St-Gilles (the grease-makers' patron) was added in 1912.