We get that you associate Brussels with, let’s say, fries, beer, chocolate, Manneken Pis and the Atomium. Let’s make this clear for once and for all: Victor Horta should be included to that list. Along with fellow architect Henri van de Velde, Victor Horta counts as the main representative of Art Nouveau in Belgium. The former house-and-studio-in-one-massive-and-beautiful-mansion of the Brussels’ prodigy of architecture, located in Saint-Gilles, is easily accessible by tram and bus. The naturally curved stained-glass windows enlighten the wavy stairway to what must be heaven, which figures as the icing on this mouth-watering Art Nouveau cake. Around the turn of the century, the outspoken decorative Art Nouveau was a short and sweet counter reaction against the more academic art of the 19th century. The Horta Museum offers as former residence and studio of the maestro an exclusive glimpse behind the quite luxurious scenes and regularly host temporary exhibitions.
We’re avoiding the centre this first day and head to the Museum of Ixelles, which is situated on the other side of Avenue Louise. As the temporary exhibitions are certain to be spectacular, the permanent collection of this museum is often overlooked. Pardon our shamelessly pretentious namedropping, but it’s just too good to resist: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Albrecht Dürer, Pierre Alechinsky, Constant Permeke, Théo Van Rysselberghe, James Ensor, and so on. Need we say more?
After that architectural splendour and pompous art, we’re glad the Museum of Natural Sciences, with stuffed animals, thousand of minerals, the evolution of man and lifelike mammoth skeletons sounding like a refreshing change of scenery, is less than a 1 km’s walk from Museum of Ixelles. We pledge – and we don’t do this lightly – the almost 30 skeletons of the Iguanodons of Bernissart, of which the discovery in 1878 in a coal mine changed paleontological sciences for good, will make you wish Jurassic Park was not only a movie.
Last stop on this museum loaded day is the Cinquantenaire Museum. As 1 of the 4 Royal Museums of Art and History this collection contains an absolutely staggering collection of historical objects from almost all corners of the world. Sarcophagi, a Merovingian drinking horn, a maoi statue (one of those figures that made Easter Island world famous) are nothing compared to the Chimu offering bearer (with both ears as opposed to the version that was made world famous by Hergé in The Adventures of Tintin). You’re bound for a journey around the world in the majestic surroundings of the Cinquantenaire Park, as if this museum stacked day in Brussels wasn’t tiring enough already, right?
You’ll love us for this one as there’s no better way to start a busy day of museum visits than having a luxurious brunch at one of those Brussels’ rooftop wonders in the monumental MIM. On the 11th floor of the Musical Instruments Museum you’ll enjoy a glass of bubbles while admiring the centre of Brussels. We’d almost forget that the floors beneath you house a marvellous collection of instruments from pretty much all over the world, including the home made six-independent-piston-valved and seven-belled trombone, the precursor of the more common known saxophone, by Adolphe Sax.
With a slight indigestion we descend the Mont des Arts (translated the Mountain of Arts, ladies and gentlemen) towards BOZAR, another Art Nouveau gem. As this is the Centre for Fine Arts Victor Horta - you must remember that astonishingly harmonious museum of yesterday - was the right man on the right spot to design this partly underground palace. Reflected by a typically Belgian delicate realization, the project was conceived just a tad bigger than his own residence, but ultimately resulted in the first, to quote Horta, “just an arts centre” of Europe. As it’s not a museum, BOZAR specializes in temporary exhibitions, which never disappoint and moreover there’s always something happening at this cultural hotspot. If you have the chance to visit a show in the impressive, world-renowned Henry Le Boeuf Hall, don’t think twice.
Majesty is key this day as our next stop lays on top of the Mont des Arts at Place Royal. 4 out of the 6 Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium are situated at or near the museum stacked Place Royale, only the Wiertz and Meunier Museums are in the former studios of both artists in Ixelles. Fear not however, as these 4 are undoubtedly too much to handle on 1 day already. We’d like to summarize them for you in chronological order. The Old Masters Museum includes renowned works from the 15th to the 18th century, mainly from the former Southern Netherlands. A procession of critically acclaimed masters is on display at this one: from Rogier van der Weyden to Peter Paul Rubens. The Modern Museum focuses on art from the late 18th century until now, with the best-kept secret “The Assassination of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David as cherry on top. The Fin-de-Siècle Museum commemorates a glorious period in the history of Brussels through a varied collection that reflects on the unique, creative excitement that was brought about by this art form around the turn of the century. If you haven’t heard about him by now, which would be scandalous after 2 days spent in Brussels, the Magritte Museum shows you what the Belgian painter René Magritte was all about with some 200 pieces by the master of surrealism himself.
Weekends are fun, especially when they last a day longer. In all honesty, 2 days are never enough to discover Brussels and its museums. 3 days aren’t either, but we planned chocolate and beer tastings to soften the pain. By adding a visit to the Belgian Comic Strip Center to it, we can officially announce this day as distinctly Belgian. And what’s even better: all these museums are open every day of the week, so it doesn’t matter how your weekend is shaping up.
We start of this beautifully Belgian day with a perfect addition to your breakfast: chocolate. Choco-Story, the Brussels’ chocolate museum, offers a full education on every foodie’s favourite theme: chocolate. However interested you may be by the fascinating history of chocolate (long story short: Mayans and Aztecs grew cocoa beans, that stuff conquered Europe and we Belgians decided to turn it into edible gold): you’ll get to taste all sorts of flavours, from white chocolate to 99% cocoa chocolate. You’ll discover as well how easy it looks to make these sweets rich of texture and surprisingly subtle tastes by master chocolatiers. Oh and if the tastings turn out to be insufficient, there’s still the museum shop.
The Belgian Comic Strip Center is a magical museum, because of its fine architecture by – you guessed it – Victor Horta, but foremost because of what we call the Ninth Art, which is practiced to perfection by many Belgian comic authors. Dive into the world of some of the most notable comic heroes, such as Bob and Bobette, TinTin and Spirou, or get to know more about some contemporary cartoonists that are regularly on display at the temporary exhibitions.
We finish off this glorious day with – remember we’re in Belgium – beer. And boy, do they know a thing or two about that stuff at the Museum of the Belgian Brewers, only a few steps from Choco-Story, but for evident reasons planned as the last museum on this route. The rich tradition of Belgium’s finest deserves some explanation through various memorabilia, while an historical overview of the brewing process, from 18th century methods to state-of-the-art techniques, shows you how we’ve been preparing the golden liquid through the ages. In what looks like a medieval inn right on the Grand Place you can start reminiscing on what’s been a wonderful weekend while tasting all sorts of typically Belgian flavours. Cheers!