Are you looking for hidden gems in Brussels, Belgium? Do you want to know some of the city’s deepest darkest secrets? Well, look no further because we’ve got you covered!
One of our favourite things to do during city breaks is to seek out hidden places and secrets within the town or city we happen to be exploring at the time.
In Brussels, I stumbled across a golden shell affixed to a cobblestone in a darkened corner of Grand-Place. This was the start of our quest to discover what this golden shell was and what other secrets lay hidden within the city.
The ten facts and stories that follow are the most interesting secret spots and hidden places in Brussels that we discovered during our most recent trip there. I hope you enjoy reading all about them…
10 Secret Spots & Hidden Gems in Brussels
1. The golden shells that lead to Santiago de Compostela in Spain
I suppose we should start at the place that persuaded my husband and me to find more of Brussels’ hidden gems: the golden scallop shells that you’ll find scattered across the city.
There are over fifty golden shells in Brussels and we later found out that they exist throughout Europe as part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which leads to the shrine of Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.
Although you might not want to start a pilgrimage to Spain during your trip to Brussels, it’s fun to look for the golden shells throughout the city.
As I mentioned earlier, I saw our first golden shell sighting in a corner of Grand-Place, so keep a lookout as you explore this beautiful area of the city.
2. Forget Tintin! Look for the lesser-known Brussels street art and comic book murals
If you’ve read our previous Belgium travel blogs, then you’ll know all about the street art and comic book murals that adorn the sides of shops, houses and other buildings throughout Brussels.
While Tintin, the Smurfs and Asterix are arguably some of Belgium’s most famous comics, there are well over fifty murals to discover within Brussels.
We’d recommend heading out on a self-guided walking tour to find as many of the comic book murals as you can – and make sure you seek out some of the lesser-known murals as well. We have a guide to help you do that.
3. Look up! The “hidden” Smurfs mural on a ceiling underpass
Speaking of street art, you might find the Smurfs mural particularly difficult to find.
If you look on Google Maps, it’ll show the mural is located opposite the Bruxelles-Central train station.
But where exactly is it?
Well, you’ll find it on the ceiling of the Putterie Passage (sometimes nicknamed Smurfs Passage) opposite the train station. Because it’s on the ceiling, you won’t know it’s there until you enter this passageway and look up!
This particular mural is huge. It covers 206 square metres and took over 60 litres of paint to create.
Personally, I’m thinking about the poor soul who had to paint the mural with their arm up in the air. But hey, it’s a perfect mural and well worth finding!
4. The oft-overlooked peeing statues
Most visitors to Brussels have heard of Manneken-Pis, which is a statue of a peeing boy that originated in the 1600s. He’s something of a mascot in Brussels.
But fewer people know about the two other peeing statues in Brussels.
Manneken-Pis has a sister called Jeanneke-Pis. Her statue was built in the 1980s and she’s particularly difficult to find (unless you know what you’re looking for).
You’ll find her behind some red bars along Impasse de la Fidélité. Impasse means “dead end” didn’t you know?
Basically, she’s hidden in an alleyway surrounded by restaurants, so it’s unlikely you’ll stumble across her unless you’re specifically looking for her.
The other peeing statue is of a dog called Het Zinneke (sometimes also called Zinneke-Pis) and he was built in the 1990s.
You’ll find him peeing up the side of a bollard along Rue des Chartreux, once again, away from most of the hustle and bustle of the main tourist districts.
If you look at the three peeing statues on a map, you might notice they form a kind of triangle.
Coincidence? I think not.
But I haven’t yet been able to find out why. Do you know? Please tell me.
5. The REAL Manneken-Pis statue few people know about
While we’ve established that many tourists know all about Manneken-Pis, very few know that the peeing boy statue you see on the corner of Rue de l’Étuve and Rue du Chêne isn’t the real Manneken-Pis statue.
He’s a replica. Say, what?!
Over the centuries, many people have “kidnapped” the Manneken-Pis statue – from English soldiers in 1745 to Louis XV of France in 1747 to a student’s prank in 1963.
The last known “kidnapping” was in 1965. This one would prove fatal to Manneken-Pis as he was found a year later, broken into two pieces. No one to this day (apart from the “kidnapper”) knows how it happened.
And so the city decided to replace the fountain’s Manneken-Pis with a replica and place the original statue (now fixed) in the Brussels City Museum where he still stands on display today.
6. Discover the history of chocolate at this little museum
Okay, hands up if you plan on going on a chocolate walking tour while in Belgium.
Do you plan to taste the delicacies of arguably one of the world’s most famous types of chocolate while you’re there? Yep, I thought so!
Why not add learning about the history of chocolate to your list while you’re at it?
In Brussels, you can visit the Choco-Story Museum, which is just around the corner from the Manneken-Pis statue.
You’ll enjoy a chocolate-making demonstration (including free samples), followed by a wander around the exhibits to learn all about cacao and how our favourite sweet treat came to be.
Whenever I read other travel blogs about Brussels, I rarely see the Choco-Story Museum mentioned, which leads me to believe this museum is something of a hidden gem in Brussels.
7. The unassuming birthplace of Audrey Hepburn
Another oft-forgotten Brussels secret is that Audrey Hepburn (yes, the iconic actress) was born in Brussels.
Head to No. 48 on Rue Keyenveld and you’ll see a plaque stating that Audrey Hepburn was born here on May 4th 1929. She would remain in Brussels for the first few years of her life.
Because her birthplace is off the beaten track and so far outside of the main tourist hub of Brussels, very few make it out here unless they know there’s a secret spot in Brussels to discover.
8. The Berlin Wall fragments that left Germany
If you’ve visited Berlin in Germany, then you might’ve seen fragments of the Berlin Wall throughout the city.
But did you know that many more wall fragments have made their way across Europe and beyond? It’s to signify a unified Europe, which was not always the case.
In Brussels, you’ll find four pieces of the Berlin Wall. You’ll find two of them behind the EU Parliament building, while the other two are on display outside the NATO Headquarters.
Once again, you’d never know they’re there unless you happen upon them or purposefully seek them out.
Ghent, another beautiful city in Belgium, also has a fragment of the wall on display.
9. The beautiful (and lesser-known!) Parisian-inspired shopping arcades
Other secret places in Brussels that should be a part of your itinerary are the beautiful Parisian-inspired shopping arcades.
While many tourists flock to Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, which is understandable given many of the top chocolatiers in Brussels have flagship stores there, very few tourists find the other lesser-known arcades.
My favourite was Galerie Bortier on Rue de la Madeleine, which is devoted to second-hand books and up-and-coming artists. It’s a peaceful place and oh-so-beautiful (especially at Christmas time).
My other favourite was Passage du Nord on Rue Neuve – the architecture is simply stunning!
Modelled after the shopping galleries you’ll find throughout Paris in France and built within the first half of the 19th century, there were once over fifty of these shopping arcades in Brussels.
Now only a handful of these arcades remain, rarely frequented by tourists, which I think is a shame.
10. The stunning Art Nouveau museum nobody tells you about
A Musical Instruments Museum would probably rarely make it onto anyone’s bucket list or city break itinerary.
But in Brussels, where even the most ordinary attractions are housed within stunning architectural masterpieces, I’d argue this is one such museum that belongs on your list.
Presenting a collection of more than 1,100 musical instruments, the Musical Instruments Museum on Rue Montagne de la Cour in Brussels boasts one of the richest collections in the world.
But it’s the late 1800s Art Nouveau architecture that has me fangirling over this one. This building is stunning and well worth a look at even if you don’t feel like venturing inside.
Discover More Interesting Facts & Brussels Secrets
If you want to find out more about Brussels and its many secrets, you might like to read some of our other Belgium travel blogs:
- The Peeing Statues in Brussels: Secrets You Didn’t Know
- Is Brussels Worth Visiting? 17 Reasons To Visit Brussels, Belgium
- Self-Guided Chocolate Walking Tour in Brussels
- Brussels Street Art & Comic Strip Self-Guided Walking Tour
- Brussels At Night: A Guide For First Time Visitors
- 2 Days in Brussels, Belgium: The Perfect Weekend Itinerary
- Brussels In A Day: Action-Packed One Day In Brussels Itinerary
And there you have it – ten secret spots and hidden gems in Brussels that are well worth finding. Which ones are you most excited to visit first? Let us know in the comments below…
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