Belgium is the home to 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites, three of which are in Brussels. The Belgian capital has a rich architectural legacy – so it’s no wonder all three sites were added to the list for their design heritage!
If you’re planning a trip to Brussels, definitely squeeze in some time to see these cultural masterpieces. While you’re at it, you can enjoy a fourth UNESCO experience by grabbing a beer! Belgian Beer Culture was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and Good Safeguarding Practices Register in 2016.
Whether you’re big on Belgian culture or just a UNESCO junkie, Brussels has got you covered!
No visit to Brussels is complete without seeing – and then taking countless photos of – the Grand Place. Dating back to the 12th century, this old market square is emblematic of Brussels’ past as a mercantile and trading center. The Grand Place made it onto the list because of the efforts the city’s authorities have taken over time to carefully preserve its distinct mix of Baroque and Renaissance architectural styles.
The Grand Place is the beating heart of the Brussels city center, where you’ll find tourists in droves. The areas surrounding it are filled with shops, restaurants, and cafés where you’ll find classic Belgian beer, waffles, and street fries.
How to get to Grand Place
The easiest way to get to there is by taking a bus/tram/metro to Brussels Central Station (Gare Central or Centraal Station), then walking from there to the Grand Place. Alternatively, the closest bus stop is Grand Place/Grote Markt via lines 95, 33, and 48.
Major Town Houses of the Architect Victor Horta
Brussels was the home of the famous Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta. Four of the houses he designed are on the UNESCO list. Brussels is a beacon for Art Nouveau architecture, and Belgian architect Horta was one of the movement’s progenitors. Three of the buildings, Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, and the Maison & Atelier Horta – home of the Horta Museum – are all within a few city blocks of each other, just off Avenue Louise. The fourth house, Hôtel van Eetvelde, is further east in Brussels’ European district.
Typically, you can only see the interiors of Hôtels Tassel, Solvay, and van Eetvelde during the annual BANAD (Brussels Art Nouveau & Art Deco) festival in March. The Horta Museum is open for visitors year-round, however, and is a great place to learn about both the architect and the movements.
How to get to the Horta buildings
Hôtel Tassel: 6 Rue Paul Emile Janson 1000 Ixelles. Closest tram stops are Bailli (lines 8, 93, and 81) and Defacqz (lines 8 and 93). Closest bus stop is Bailli (line 54).
Hôtel Solvay: 224 Avenue Louise, 1050 Bruxelles. Closest tram stop is Bailli (lines 8, 93, 81).
Hôtel van Eetvelde: 4 Avenue Palmerston, 1000 Bruxelles. Closest bus stops are Waterloo Wilson (lines 29 and 63) and Ambiorix (lines 60, 63, and 64).
Horta Museum: 25 Rue Americaine, 1060 Bruxelles. Closest tram and bus stop is Trinité (tram line 81 and bus line 54).
Another testament to prolific Belgian architecture, the Stoclet House was designed by Austrian Josef Hoffman. It is heralded as an example of both Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. The house is also associated with the Vienna Secession movement that was popular at the time of its construction, 1905-1911.
It made it onto the UNESCO list in 2009 as an extremely well-conserved paragon of artistic expression in the West in the early 20th century. The entire house is also a work of art! Hoffman collaborated with other famous artists like Gustav Klimt, Richard Luksch, Michael Powolny, Koloman Moser and Franz Metzner to create pieces and furnishings for the interior.
The Stoclet House is unfortunately not open to visitors since it’s classed as private property. It’s on Avenue de Tervuren in the Woluwe St Pierre neighborhood, viewable from the outside.
How to get to Stoclet House
Stoclet House: 28 Avenue de Tervueren, 1150 Woluwe-Saint-Pierre. The closest tram stop is Leopold II (lines 39 and 44). The closest metro stop is Montgomery (metro line 1, tram lines 7, 25, 39, and 44).
Other UNESCO sites around Belgium
And if you can’t get enough of Belgian UNESCO heritage, venture outside Brussels to see the other 10 sites!
UNESCO sites in Flanders
- Flemish Béguinages Thirteen béguinages total across the region of Flanders are official UNESCO sites. Some notable ones are in Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges.
- The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement There are 17 sites around the world comprising the UNESCO-recognized architectural work of Le Corbusier. The Belgian site is a house in Antwerp, the Maison Guiette.
- Plantin-Moretus House-Workshops-Museum Complex The Plantin-Moretus Complex is a printing press and publishing house dating from the Renaissance period. It’s in Antwerp, complete with a museum and preserved workshop.
- Historic Centre of Brugge Bruges is an ultra-charming city in Flanders, the northern region of Belgium. Every street in the Bruges city center is picturesque – it didn’t make it onto the UNESCO list for nothing! Bruges makes a perfect day trip from Brussels.
UNESCO sites in Wallonia
- Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai The city of Tournai is in Belgium’s French-speaking region Wallonia, not far from the French border. The Cathedral is in Tournai’s old city.
- Major Mining Sites of Wallonia There are 4 mining sites total. The Grand-Hornu (near Mons), Bois-du-Luc (near La Louvière), Bois du Cazier (in Charleroi) and Blegny-Mine (between Liége and Maastricht). They span 170 kilometers and make up the Walloon Coal Basin. All 4 mines are open for visitors.
- Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes The earliest and largest concentration of flint mines in northwest Europe, the Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes are in the city of Mons.
- The Four Lifts on the Canal du Centre and their Environs, La Louvière and Le Roeulx Along the Canal du Centre, these 4 lifts are the only remaining hydraulic boat lifts of the total 8 built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They are in the eastern Walloon province of Hainaut.
- Belfries of Belgium and France There are 56 total belfries – 33 of which are in Belgium. Seeing all of them would, admittedly, not be so doable. But most of Belgium’s big cities – Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent – have at least one belfry that’s on the list. Surprisingly, there are none in Brussels.
Belgium’s Natural UNESCO site
- Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe The last UNESCO listing for Belgium is a natural site, part of a historic ecosystem for beech forests. It actually spans 12 countries in Europe! The Sonian Forest, just on the outskirts of Brussels, is the Belgian site for the Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests. The forest is full of walking and hiking trails; you can easily access it by Brussels’ public transport or by car.