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With a 1-day card (cost in April 2010 €4.50/4.20 depending on whether paper or plastic support) or a 3-day card from any STIB machine (NB these only take coins and local debit/pre-loaded chip cards!), "bootik" or kiosk, you can invent your own "hop-on, hop-off" trip around Brussels, for example from MIDI TO MERODE AND BACK covering the Marolles, Sablon, Pl. Royale and Mont des Arts museums, European Parliament, Cinquantenaire museums, EU buildings, Square Ambiorix, Cathedral, Galeries St. Hubert, Grand' Place, Mannekin Pis, Bourse; with possible extensions to St. Jacques, St. Géry, St. Catherine, Atomium, Chinese Pavilion, Japanese Tower. If you just want to see everything from the outside, you could do all of this in a day, but obviously if you want to visit all the museums along the way, you would need to cut it into several sections.
Starting from GARE DU MIDI, follow signs to "rue couverte" ("covered street"), exit under the railway bridge and turn left for the starting point of the 27 bus. If you don't already have a ticket/card, then before turning left, look straight ahead and you will see a ticket machine on the furthest tram platform. Board 27 bus (direction: Andromeda), either stamping paper card in the orange machine or placing Mobib plastic version against the white circle on the red machine - you must do this every time you get on a different bus or tram or upon entering the metro (not when transiting inside the metro system). Stops are as follows:
1. Midi, 2. Fontainas
4. Hôpital St. Pierre
5. JEU DE BALLE : get off here, in rue Haute, if you want to visit the flea market in Place du Jeu de Balles, which is on rue Blaes, running parallel to the rue Haute: from the bus-stop, cross to the other side of the street and continue down any sidestreet (e.g. the one below this comic strip mural) on that side to rue Blaes. While there, you might like to stop for a drink/bite to eat at De Skieven Architek.
6. Chapelle, (7. Grand Sablon: it's mentioned in the timetable but I don't believe this stop exists!)
8. PETIT SABLON : get off here for the Place du Petit Sablon (on the other side of rue de la Régence - with the Palais de Justice on your right), the (royal wedding) church Notre Dame du Sablon, and in the Place du Grand Sablon, the antiques market; lots of chocolate shops in this area: Pierre Marcolini, Wittamer - also a pâtisserie and café, does the best hot chocolate in Brussels - Godiva, Neuhaus, Côte d'Or...). Also in nearby rue des Minimes is the Jewish Museum (the Brussels synagogue is in rue de la Régence between the Petit Sablon and the Palais de Justice).
9. ROYALE : Get off here for Musée d'Art Ancien (opposite the 27 bus stop)and Musée d'Art Moderne (and to the right and behind these, the Museum of the 18th Century); then, moving clockwise; Magritte Museum; (down the Mont des Arts) Musical Instrument Museum, which has a rooftop café for a great view of the city; (back on Pl. Royale) BelVue Museum (Musée de la Dynastie) and underground, accessed via BelVue, the excavated "souterrains du Palais Royal (Coudenberg)", which is what remains of the former palace of Charles V ; and finally the church of St. Jacques sur Coudenberg. Around the corner from the BelVue you will also find the Royal Palace (open to the public only from mid-July to mid-September) and the Parc de Bruxelles, on the other side of which is the Belgian Federal Parliament.
10. Trône, 11. Science (Square de Meeus)
12. LUXEMBOURG : Get off here (stop is outside Fat Boys Sports Café) for the European Parliament (behind the Gare du Luxembourg, the oldest railway station in continental Europe). The terraces of the cafés, bars and restaurants around the Place du Luxembourg have become a favourite haunt for people - many of them staff from the nearby Parliament and other EU institutions - on sunny summer evenings.
13. Trèves, 14. Parc Léopold, 15. Nerviens
16. GAULOIS: Get off here for the Maison Cauchie (house with art nouveau façade) in rue des Francs and/or for Cinquantenaire Museums - Royal Art & History Museum, Autoworld, Royal Army Museum (free), Cinquantenaire archway - the top of which can be accessed from inside the Army Museum, follow signs to the "panorama" - and Cinquantenaire Park
17. MERODE: Shops in rue des Tongres and nearby galleries (Galerie du Cinquantenaire, Passage Linthout)
Take metro line 1/5 from Mérode to :
1. SCHUMAN: get off here if you want to see the Berlaymont and Charlemagne buildings, main premises of the European Commission, facing those of the Council of the European Union, the Justus-Lipsius and LEX buildings; walk down rue Archimède to Square Ambiorix, on the other side is the art nouveau "maison St. Cyr"; walk downhill to Square Marie-Louise and return to Schuman.
2. Maalbeek, 3. Arts-Loi (you can change here for metro line 2/6 back to Midi), 4. Parc
5. GARE CENTRALE: Get off here for the Cathedral, Grand' Place, Galeries St. Hubert, Mannekin Pis, Ilôt Sacré etc. A possible itinerary would be:
Upon arriving by metro at Gare centrale, don't go up the escalator (most people will be going to the station) but walk in the same direction as the metro was travelling in and take the steps at the end of the platform. These bring you out just before rue du Marquis, a street on the right which brings you to the cathedral of St. Michel and Ste. Gudule; where you can hear carillon concerts on Saturday afternoons. From the cathedral, take the street directly in front of it and going downhill, after a couple of minutes you will find the Galeries St. Hubert on the left (café Arcadi to the left of the entrance); in the street on the right just before you reach the entrance to the Galeries, is the beer café A la Mort Subite. Inside the Galeries you will find a number of cafés such as Mokafe and Vaudeville, luxury shops such as Delvaux for leather goods, and chocolate shops, in particular the original Neuhaus.
Halfway along the Galeries, on the right, the rue des Bouchers opens into the Ilôt Sacré, bounded by restaurants (don't eat here except at Chez Léon or Aux Armes de Bruxelles). If you continue to the end of rue des Bouchers, just before it opens out into rue Grétry you will find on the right the Impasse de la Fidélité and the Delirium Café (and opposite it, the "Mannekin Pis's little sister", Jeanneke Pis). If on the other hand you turn left, before Aux Armes de Bruxelles, into the Petite rue des Bouchers, a little way down on the left, the Toone Puppet Theatre also has an atmospheric bar. Either Petite rue des Bouchers or the Galeries St. Hubert will bring you to rue du Marché aux Herbes and on the other side, all the sidestreets lead to the Grand' Place, which you would enter with the gilded Maison des Ducs de Brabant on your left, and on the side of the Maison du Roi, which houses the Brussels city museum and wardrobe of costumes offered to the Mannekin Pis. Also in the Grand' Place is a brewing museum and in nearby rue de la Tête d'Or, the street to the right of the Town Hall, there's a chocolate museum. Not far away in rue de la Violette is the costume and lace museum (and the hard-to-describe drinking den Goupil Le Fol where you can savour a fruit wine to the sound of classic French pop music). There are sound-and-light shows in the Grand' Place every night during the summer and in December.
To visit the Manneken Pis, continue straight across the Grand' Place to the rue de l'Etuve (bronze relief of T'Serclaes under the archway), to the left of the Town Hall and keep going along this street (maybe stopping for a waffle at Dandoy opposite the Amigo Hotel) and across rue du Lombard, where you will pass a Tintin mural. Once you reach the MP, if you walk a little way up the hill to the left and turn around, you will see another of Brussels' comic strip murals on the wall of a fireworks shop (if you were to continue up this street you would eventually come to the Bd. de l'Empereur and crossing that and taking the pedestrianized rue de Rollebeek, to the Sablon). Coming back down, on the left across from the MP is a good beer café called Poechenellekelder - the only place in Brussels that issues the bill in Bruxellois. Continue back to the GP by turning right, or continue straight ahead down rue des Grands' Carmes (Le Cercle des Voyageurs on the right is another nice café/restaurant) to rue du Midi. You are now in the St. Jacques area, where there are a number of cafés and restaurants (and gay bars), the heart of which is the café Au Soleil, in the part of rue des Grands Carmes on the other side of rue du Midi, next to a church (Notre Dame au Bon Secours) from which pilgrims used to start their journey to Santiago de Compostela (which accounts for the shell decorations on the church door; if you notice the brass shell-shaped markers incorporated into the pavement, these mark part of the pilgrims' route). Turning right into rue du Midi, on the other hand, you can return to Bourse, after crossing rue du Lombard; or follow the rue du Marché au Charbon, and just before the rue du Lombard there's another comic strip mural.
Alternatively, from the Grand' Place, rue au Beurre (also home to chocolate shops e.g. Galler and the biscuit shop Dandoy) at the end of the GP where the Roy d'Espagne (which is also a café) is, brings you to the back of the Bourse or stock exchange. To the right, from the GP side, are archaeological excavations of a convent, called Bruxella 1238, which you can view through glass from the outside, and also the Cirio café; on the left, you have the belle époque Falstaff café/restaurant and a number of bus stops e.g. for the 95 which would take you to Gare centrale); and at the front you will find Bourse pre-metro station from which underground trams will bring you to Gare du Nord or Gare du Midi. For all transport possibilities and map of the area see here.
Before doing so, you could explore the trendy bars and cafés - Mappa Mondo, Zebra Bar, le Roi des Belges.. - around the former market hall Halles St. Géry in the square of that name (take the street to the right of O'Reilly's, opposite the Bourse) : also in Place St. Géry you can find another comic strip mural and just off the square, behind the "Lion d'Or", part of Brussels' largely covered up river, the Senne; and/or the fashion area, in rue Dansaert which is the continuation of rue Orts, the street directly in front of the Bourse; and/or walk to St. Catherine, via the street to the right of McDonalds - this leads into rue St. Catherine, which is a mini-Asia Town, and after Place St. Catherine (St. Catherine's church to the right), into rue de Flandre which is also full of restaurants (and where you will find another comic strip mural). From Pl. St. Catherine, walk to the church - which famously has a pissoir against one wall - and then turn left into the former fish-market area, where you will find the metro station St. Catherine (map).
To continue sightseeing, from BOURSE, walk up Bd. Anspach to:
6. DE BROUCKERE: If you like the belle époque style, look in the lobby of the Métropole Hotel, and inside the café. Continue by metro to:
7. ST. CATHERINE: Get off here for the former fish market and a number of fish restaurants etc.
Continue to (10) Beekkant and change onto metro line 6, direction Roi Baudouin (some of the stops on this line have interesting works of art, in particular Stuyvenbergh):
8. HEYSEL: get off here to visit the Atomium, Bruparck, Mini-Europe (which has sound-and-light shows on summer weekends) and/or the Brussels Exhibition Centre; return to Gare du Midi by metro line 6.
Or, if you still have time, from Heysel take tram 23 direction Churchill/Vanderkindere and get off at the 3rd stop, Pavillon Chinois, for the Chinese Pavilion, Japanese Tower and Oriental Art Museum. From here, one day (it is shown on the STIB network map!) tram 4 direction Stalle will take you back (past the royal palace of Laeken and the canal) to Gare du Nord, Bourse and Gare du Midi; for now, however, it would be better to return to Heysel and take the metro from there. If you have more time, another possibility is to continue on the 23 tram to Montgomery and change there onto the metro for Gare centrale etc..