The Heysel (Dutch: De Heizel) is Brussels' northern most district, and its most leisure centered district. The Atomium is its most famous attraction, but the district has a lot more opportunities for activities and interesting sights to offer.
The Heysel is a large plateau in the north of Brussels. It was chosen as the location of the 1935 Brussels International Exposition because it was on the outskirts of the city back then, and ample open space was available to construct infrastructure. The impressive Centenary Palace (Dutch: Eeuwfeestpaleis) is one of the last remaining buildings of the 1935 World's Fair. After the event, much of the buildings were torn down again and a large section converted into a park.
The Heysel was returned to its former glory in 1958 when Expo '58 was organized here, and the Atomium was built as a monumental landmark to celebrate the event. Although it was planned to be demolished afterwards, the Atomiums depiction of a giant iron crystal became so popular among locals and tourists that it was decided to preserve it. Over half a century later, the Atomium still dominates the skyline of northern Brussels. Most of the other buildings and the iconic cable car were neglected after the Expo, and were eventually demolished because they became a hazard.
One of the buildings to take their place is the Kinepolis cinema complex, which when it opened in 1988 was one of the largest in the world with 25 projection rooms and over 6 700 seats. A lot of restaurants and bars developed around it, known among locals as the village.
The Heysel attracted international attention in 1985 when a football match in the nearby Heysel stadium escalated into riots between Liverpool football hooligans. With 39 spectators dead and over 600 wounded, it was the deadliest disaster of its kind at the time. The 55-year-old Heysel Stadium, already in a state of disrepair, was razed and replaced by the King Boudouin Stadium where football maches — albeit more peaceful ones — are still occasionally being held. It also hosts the Memorial Van Damme, one of the most important athletics events in Europe.
The Heysel preserved at least some of its Expo '58 vibe, and is a popular leisure area for locals and tourists alike.
De Heysels most important transport hub is the 1 metro station, with over half of the attractions in the district in a 300 m radius around it.
The easiest way to reach the Heysel is by metro, take line 2 and get off at . The journey takes about 30 minutes from the historic centre, and will require a transfer from lines or at either or . Line follows a parallel trajectory as line but only goes until , so you can transfer between either line at any station of line .anywhere in the city, direction
The transfer stations from lines International District. Travel in a group whenever possible, and avoid to make a transfer at or after sunset. Much of the journey to Heysel also traverses the International District, so don't get out of the metro unless you really have to — stations , , and are particularly unsafe.and are in Brussels notorious
Tram . It is a good alternative to the metro for those who wish to enjoy the city instead of traversing it underground by metro. Alternatively, trams metro station and serve the eastern section of the Heysel plateau, and stop at the Museums of the Far East (Japanese Tower, Chinese Pavillion) as well as the Royal Greenhouses. Get of at 3 . Travel time for tram from in the centre is ca. 25 minutes.has its terminus in the shadow of the Atomium, above ground of the
Several bus lines can take you to the Heysel from many other Brussels districts, but bus connections tend to be slow since buses get stuck in traffic. Take bus transport hub, take bus metro station , , or Noctis bus .for the Museums of the Far East (get off at for the Royal Greenhouses or for the Japanese Tower and Chinese Pavillion). To reach the
Since the Heysel is a plateau, the journey from the city centre to the Atomium and all other attractions will be uphill. A 4 cycle road follows the trajectory of tram through the forest on the east side of the Royal domain, and is a safer route than cycling through downtown Laken. There are Villo stations at nearly every attraction to drop off your Villo bicycle, the most central one being 5 Villo Atomium right under the Atomium. It might be more pleasant, however, to take the metro to reach the Heysel, and then enjoy the downhill ride by bike on the way back!
Although it's possible to reach the Heysel by foot, it takes quite a hike uphill from the city centre. You'll also have to pass through the dangerous International District, which makes the option not recommendable.
By public transport
The Heysel attractions are near 3 public transport hubs:
- The near the Atomium and Mini-Europe in the north-west of the district; metro station
- The Museums of the Far East and Royal Greenhouses served by the bus and tram stop;
- The Church of Our Lady of Laeken. metro and train station close to the
About a dozen Villo stations are in range of the Heysel attractions, the most notable ones being 1 Villo Atomium under the Atomium, 2 Villo Araucaria near the Museums of the Far East, 3 Villo Bockstaelplaats near the Church of Our Lady of Laeken, and the 4 Villo Heysel station itself at the Centenary Palace.
From any of the 3 public transport hubs, all relevant attractions can be reached within a few minutes by foot.
Several architectural sights and curiosa are decorating the Heysel, of which the Atomium is of course an unavoidable tourist attraction as the icon of Brussels.
- 1 Atomium, Square de l'Atomium/Atomiumplein ( ), ☏ . Daily 10:00-18:00. Ticket sales end at 17:30. Unavoidable icon of Brussels and Belgium, important place for international tourism, unique creation in the history of architecture and emblematic vestige of the World Fair in Brussels (Expo 58) the Atomium continues to embody its ideas of the future and universality, half a century later. In its cultural programme it carries on the debate of 1958: what kind of future do we want for tomorrow? Our happiness depends on what? Its renovation in 2006 gave its original brightness back, and the new equipments guarantee its durability. Five of the nine spheres are open to the public (so they say, but not really true). One of them is housing a permanent exhibition dedicated to Expo 58 (just some small models of some countries pavilions). Another sphere is dedicated to temporary exhibitions with scientific themes (often closed when there is no exhibition). The upper sphere offers spectacular views of the city of Brussels. When the sky is clear, the view reaches till Antwerp. There is a "kids zone" sphere which staff will happily direct you to even though you can never go in, it is only open to touring schoolchildren, and there is nothing inside except places for kids to sleep. In truth there are only three spheres: the top (restaurant), middle (snack bar) and bottom; the only thing to see really is the view; rather expensive at €11. The restaurant, also at the top, is open every day till 23:00 At night, the nine spheres are lit up with 2,970 lights that offer a very special show. To enrich your visit: audioguides in English (but also in French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian and Russian) are available at the cash desk for €2. Visio-guides are also available (€2) for the deaf and hard of hearing people. A zip-line is available from the top of the tallest sphere (102 m); the "Death Ride" (run by former members of the Belgian Special Services) is a separate €25, and offers a rather unique view of the insides of the Atomium and the surrounding city. Children of less than 6 years, coach drivers, disabled persons: free, children as from 6 years till 11 years: €2, adults: €12, teachers showing their teacher card: €9, children as from 12 till 18 years, students showing their student card and seniors (as from 65 years): €8.
- 2 Centenary Palace (Eeuwfeestpaleis), Belgiëplein 1 ( ), firstname.lastname@example.org. The construction of the halls started in 1935, when 5 halls were built for the 1935 World Fair. Hall 5, informally known as the Centenary Palace, was the most ornamental of the first 5 halls and is still in use. After the World Fair, expositions, trade fairs, congresses and other events took place in the halls. At the end of the 1940s Palace 4 was added, by 1957 also Palaces 7, 8, 9 and a Patio, in preparation of the 1958 World Fair. In 1977 Palace 11 was added, in 1989 Palace 12, and in 1993 the Auditorium. The 32th edition of the Eurovision Song Festival took place in the Centenary Palace in 1987. Nowadays it is also used for several concerts, usually for bigger acts and artists.
- 3 Mini-Europe (Mini-Europa), Brupark ( ), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. 10 March - 30 June: 09:30-18:00, 1 July - 31 August: 09:30-20:00, 1 September - 30 September: 9:30-18:00, 1 October - 6 Janary: 10:00-18:00, 24 and 31 Dec: 10:00-17:00. A miniature park at the foot of the Atomium, Mini-Europe has reproductions of monuments of the European Union on show, at a scale of 1:25. Over 80 cities and 350 buildings are represented. The park also features live action models of trains, mills, cable cars etc, and an erupting Vesuvius. The monuments were chosen for the quality of their architecture or European symbolism. Most of the monuments were made using moulds and cast in epoxy resin, but newer models are made in polyester. Three models are made out of stone, including the Tower of Pisa in marble, and computer assisted 3D milling was used to create them. Some of the models require massive undertakings, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela required over 24,000 hours of work, and the scale model of the Brussels Grand Place cost €350,000 to build. The landscape is completed by plants, dwarf trees, bonsais, bushes and flowers, creating the impression of a garden. €12.90 Adults; €9.70 under 12.
- 4 Brussels Design Museum (ADAM), Belgiëplein 1 ( ), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 10:00-18:00. Museum centered on product design. The permanent collection is the Plasticarium, featuring 2,000 pieces, from everyday objects to pieces of art, from the post-modernism to pop-art, the utopia of everything in plastic. Featured works are from Joe Colombo, Maurice Calka, Verner Panton, Aero Aarnio, Pierre Paulin and Philippe Starck. This unique collection was put together since the beginning of the 1980s by the Brussels collector Philippe Decelle. Temporary exhitibtions are changing every 4 to 6 months. It is in the Trade Mart and was opened on 11 December 2015. The eye catch staircase at the entrance was designed by Jean Nouvel. €10.
- 5 Planetarium, Avenue de Bouchout ( ), ☏ , email@example.com. M–F 09:00-17:00, Sa–Su 10:00–17:00, plus regular evening events. Wide range of 360° films suitable for all ages, presented in French, Dutch and English. Adults: €7, concessions: €5. There are combo tickets available with Mini-Europe, with Atomium, and with the Mira Observatory in Grimbergen.
Museums of the Far East
The Museums of the Far East consist of 3 Asian buildings on the premises of the Royal domain of Laken: the Japanese Tower, the Chinese Pavilion, and the Museum of Japanese Art. They host art treasures from China and Japan, and are run under the direction of the Royal Museums of Art and History. The idea for an outdoor display of oriental buildings originated with King Leopold II, who had been impressed by the Tour du Monde panorama at the Paris World Exhibition of 1900. The buildings were designed by French architect Alexander Marcel, who was commissioned by King Leopold II with responsability for the project. All 3 musea have been closed because of structural health issues and their collections have been transferred to Jubelpark, but the buildings are also from the outside worth a visit.
- 6 Japanese Tower (Japanse Toren), Van Praetlaan 44 ( ), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. The bright red tower in oriental style stands nearly 50 m tall and hosts Japanese art from before export to the West became common. It features Imari porcelain from the 17th and 18th century, as well as 19th century lacquery, bronze vases, ivory objects and other assorted ornamental items. The exceptional blue-white vase at the entrance was donated in 1910 to the Belgian government by the Japanese emperor. The tower is the center of a replicated Japanese garden. It was known as a Tō, a Japanese pagoda, of which construction started in 1901 until its inauguration in 1905.
- 7 Chinese Pavilion (Chinees Paviljoen), Van Praetlaan 44 ( ), ☏ , email@example.com. Work on the pavilion started in 1905, shorty after completion of the Japanese pagoda. The interior of the pavilion was designed as a restaurant, but never used for this purpose. After King Leopold II's death in 1909, the plan for a museum was abandoned, and the building was donated to the Belgian State where it served as part of the Trade Museum of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The decoration centers around European elements mixed with Chinese oriental architecture. On display are an extensive overview of Chinese ceramics, historically exported to Europe in the 17th and 18th century to decorate the living rooms of kings and nobelty. The pavilion is in the Chinese Garden.
- 8 Museum of Japanese Art (Museum voor Japanse Kunst), Van Praetlaan 44 ( ), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. The museum building was designed as covered garage and parking for carriages and the first cars, but later converted into the present day museum. It hosts a rich collection of traditional Japanese art, primarily dating from the Edo period (1600-1868). The collection features room screens, kimono, samurai armor and weapons, sword ornaments and hilts, lacquery and inro (storage boxes for jewelry), and netsuke (belt buttons). Some of the Japanese prints are world class, and only on display in alternating series for conservational reasons.
- 9 Neptune Fountain (Neptunusfontain) ( ). 24/7. Monumental fountain depicting Neptune, commissioned by King Leopold II and installed in 1905 near the Royal Domain of Laken. It had been out of service since 1965, until it was restored in 2017 after 60 years of being neglected. The marble and bronze statues have been restored to their former glory. Interestingly, the fountain is an exact copy of the 400 years old Neptune fountain at the Piazza del Nettuno in Bologna, which was restored at the same time. Free.
- 10 Royal Greenhouses (Koningklijke serres), Koninklijke Parklaan ( ), ☏ . The Roal Greenhouses are a vast complex of monumental heated greenhouses in the park of the Royal Castle, containting a variety of tropical, sub tropical and temperate plants and trees. The history of the greenhouses dates back to the 18th century, when king Leopold II changed the layout of the surrounding garden and commissioned architect Alphonse Balat to design a series of greenhouses. Starting in 1874, the construction of the greenhouses took over 20 years and was finalized in 1895 with the erection of the Iron Church, a domed greenhouse which would serve as the royal chapel. The largest greenhouse, the dome-shaped Winter Garden, has a diameter of 60 m and a height of 30 m, designed in an art nouveau style with iron and glass as construction materials. With a floor surface of 25 000 m², the numerous greenhouses are connected with glass covered galleries and locks to retain temperature differences appropriate for the vegetation. Over 800 m³ of oil is burned each year to maintain the temperature. The botanical collection includes numerous species from Africa, although many cultivars have been lost since the death of king Leopold II. The camellias collection in particular, with over 1000 plants, is the world's oldest and largest collection in a greenhouse. The complex can only be visited by the public during a two-week period in April-May when most flowers are in full bloom, as dictated by Leopold II and followed as a tradition by all kings thereafter. Free.
- 11 Church of Our Lady of Laeken (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk te Laken) ( or ), ☏ , email@example.com. The church is best known for its connection with the royal family, many of which are buried in the crypt below it. Construction started in 1854 in a neogothic style after a design of Joseph Poelaert, and a plaque commemorating construction can be seen in the floor of the choir. The west wing and tower are a design from German architect Friedrich von Schmidt. With a height of 74 m, the tower can be seen from many places in Brussels. The church hosts numerous pieces of religious fine art, including a sculpture of the Lady Mary from the 13th century, a sculpture of St. Rochus from the 18th century, and a bust of rector Van Waeyenberg of Leuven University. One of the windows depicts a tribute to soldiers who gave their life defending the country during the First World War. Guided tours are available on request.
- 12 Royal Crypt (Koninklijke Crypte), ☏ . Open 1st Sunday of January, March, April, May, June and October from 14:00 to 17:00, also open on 17/02, 31/07, 29/08, 25/09, 01/11, 15/11, and 05/12 from 14:00 to 17:00. Crypt under the church, with tombs of royal family members and their spouses. Constructed under a cupola behind the choir, it is accessible with 2 staircases from the church. The monumental oak doors are engraved with mosaics of coat of arms of the 9 Belgian provinces. The central white marble tomb is occupied by the first king of Belgium, Leopold I, and his second wise Queen Louise of Orleans. The crown symbolizes the tomb of a king. Around the central tomb are the tombs of his successors and their spouses. The niches in the walls host other members of the royal family, including the regent of Belgium, Prince Charles, and other princes and princesses. The crypt was constructed as an initiative of Queen Louise because she preferred to be buried in Laken instead of in the Cathedral of St. Gudula and St. Michael closer to the city center. A contest for a design was organized and won by Joseph Poelaert (known as the architect of the monumental Palace of Justice). Construction started in 1854 and the crypt was commissioned in 1872 although the rest of the church was only finished by 1907. Because King Leopold I was not a catholic, it was decided to construct another entrance in the back wall of the crypt so that the deceased king body didn't have to pass through the Catholic church above. The crypt is open to the public 13 days per year, and occasionally members of the royal family can be spotted in the crypt to honor the deceased with flowers. According to the legend, faint whining can be heard in the crypt, attributed to the ghost of Queen Fabiola still refusing to die. Free.
- 13 Laken Park (Park van Laken), Wildejasmijnenlaan ( ). 24/7. One of the most beautiful parks of Brussels, dating from the 19th century as an initiative of king Leopold II. It was the kings vision to realize a large public park close to his residence in Laken. He privately purchased the land in 1876 and officially transferred ownership to the Belgian State for the construction of the park. The park was designed by German architect Edouard Keilig, who also designed the better known Ter Kameren Park. Construction took place from 1876 to 1880, in time for festivities for the 50th anniversary of the Belgian nation. It remained a park throughout its history, with the exception of the World's Fair of 1958 when parts of it were claimed for the Fair: several pavilions were built, and the avenues traversing the park were widened. The 14 American theater is the best known remnant of the World Fair in the park. Next to the park is the 15 Belvedere Castle which belongs to the royal family, and is rumored to be inhabited by ghosts.
- 16 Dynasty Monument, Vorstenhuisplein. 24/7. A monument central in the Laken Park, dedicated to king Leopold I. It stands 50 m tall, symbolizing the 50 year independence of Belgium in 1880. The monument was designed by architect Louis De Curte in a neogothic style, and built between 1878 and 1881. Due to delays in construction, it was not finished in time for the jubilee celebrations for 50 years independence. The monument consists of a gallery with 9 bays, one for each of the 9 former Belgian provinces, with a sculpture of king Leopold I by artist Willem Geefs in its centre. The 50 m tall structure is topped with a gilded crown. Above each of the statues representing the Belgian provinces, a lion (one of the icons of Belgium) holds an escutcheon of the corresponding province. The statues are made by various sculptors, including Thomas Vincotte, Charles Vander Stappen, Adolphe Fassin, Antoine-Joseph Van Rasbourgh, and Charles Brunin. Its isolated location has made the monument a target of vandalism, and it is now surrounded by a fence.
Festivals and fairs
- 1 Couleur Café: , Atomiumsquare (), firstname.lastname@example.org. A yearly urban contemporary music festival in June, organised since 1990, and the largest music festival in Brussels. The scope of the 3 day festival is world music with an emphasis on funk, hiphop, reggae, dance, dub, soul, Latin, blues, and rock over multiple stages. It features a mix of international and local artists and acts, including musicians and artists, the latter featured in an art exposition along with young designers, dance workshops, cocktail bars, food stands, an world kitchen from 50 countries. Camping accommodation is provided, but visitors sleeping over should bring their own camping equipment (tent, sleeping bags, etc.) €90 for 3 days. (date needs fixing)
- 2 Memorial Van Damme: , Marathonlaan 135 (), ☏ , email@example.com. Annual athletics event in late Aug/early Sep at the King Baudouin Stadium in the IAAF Diamond League. It was first organized in 1977 by a group of journalists in honour of Ivo Van Damme who was killed a year earlier in a car accident at the age of 22. A former footballer, he turned to athletics and in particular the 1500 m and 3000 m disciplines. Later on, he discovered the 800 m. In 1976, he took part in the Montreal Olympic Games, where he won silver medals in the 800 m and 1500 m. (date needs fixing)
- 1 Kinepolis, Atletenlaan ( ), ☏ . This was the first megaplex in the world when it opened in 1988, with 25 screens showing a wide selection of mainstream films. It remains the most important cinema complex in Brussels, and all the blockbusters can be viewed here. English movies are screened in original version (OV) with subtitles in Dutch and French. There are also dubbed versions in French (VF). Backpacks are being checked at the entrance and need to be stored in lockers.
There is a 1 souvenir shop under the Atomium if you feel the compulsive need to buy something here, but they sell mostly overpriced low quality junk. If you want Atomium souvenirs, look for them around the city centre instead.
- 1 Le Divin Caprice, Hooba De Strooperlaan 96 ( ), ☏ . Tu-Sa 12:00-14:30, 19:00-21:00; Su 12:00-14:30. Fancy restaurant with several unusual items on the menu (including deer and kangaroo) and an extensive offering of wines. Great ambience, and one of the few noteworthy eateries close to the Heysel attractions, but a visit will hurt your wallet.
- 2 Le Cuneo, Houba De Strooperlaan 270 ( ), ☏ . Tu-Sa 12:00-14:30, 18:30-22:30; Su 12:00-14:30. A nice Italian restaurant with outdoor dining opportunities in a beautiful garden. A variety of pizzas and pastas accompanied by a selection of great wines, Le Cuneo is worth its price.
- 1 Salon 58, Atomiumlaan 6 ( ), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Bar and restaurant right next to the Atomium, on the north side of the Ossegem park. Their opening hours tend to be irregular at best and when they're open they are usually fully booked, but if you manage to get in, you'll enjoy a drink or meal in a very unique setting.
- 1 Apparthotel Brussels Expo Atomium, Emile Wautersstraat 65 ( ), ☏ . Small 3 star hotel with only 17 rooms but in close proximity of the Atomium. Completely renovated, it is aimed at tourists rather than business travelers and offers a quiet atmosphere.
- 2 B&B Marianne, Stuivenbergstraat 46 ( ), ☏ . A bed & breakfast on a walking distance from the Atomium. €60-€80.
- 3 Hostel Heysel Laken, Stefaniastraat 143 ( ), ☏ . A budget hostel around the corner of the Bockstael metro and train station. Basic rooms with outdated decoration and bedding, but probably one of the cheapest options if you want to find a bed on a walking distance from the Atomium.
As a popular leisure destination for locals and tourists, much of the Heysel plateau is well policed and safe during the day. After closure of attractions however, most of the area becomes deserted (which the exception of the immediate surroundings of Kinepolis which stays open until late at night), and is patrolled by shady individuals. Stay on the main roads and close to the locals whenever possible, and travel in groups after dark. The parks, although very safe during day time, should be avoided at night when they become a refuge for drug dealers and junkies.
- The west of Brussels has more interesting sights, including the 1 Koekelberg Basilica, the 5th largest church in the world.
- Just over the Flemish border to the north is the picturesque town 1 Grimbergen, home to the abbey brewing the internationally acclaimed Grimbergen beer.