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Sonian Secrets

Venture like a veteran — our Staff Picks are here to help you uncover Belgium’s best-kept secrets

  • greenhouses at laeken

    A Royal Invitation

    For three weeks of the year, overlapping the first 10 days of May, the Belgian Royal family opens their extravagant Greenhouses at Laeken to the public. And it's not a spectacle you can afford to miss. 

    Built in 1873, the complex of greenhouses complementing the castle of Laeken looks like a glass city tucked into lush rolling hills. A series of grand pavilions with their glass cupolas and wide arcades criss-cross the site like covered streets and are rather palace-like, offering so much more than the iron and glass of stereotypical conservatories.

    Some of the plants you'll see belong to King Leopold II's original collection, including the Winter Garden, which contains an ironically tropical array of plants and ceilings that are high enough to embrace the delicate fronds of the exotic palms. Take a look at the royal website to plan your visit. Each day reflects unique availability to guests.

  • film camera

    Zombies, Ghouls, and Vampires, Oh My!

    Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival horrifies audiences every year with some of the scariest new films made to date. Certainly not for the faint of heart, the 37th annual festival offers 150 screenings inside comfortable cinema theaters city-wide. And more than 50,000 fans of science fiction, thrillers, fantasy, and surrealism flock to see them. 

    Adding to the experience, films are complemented by off-screen competitions and theatrical events. Zombies, ghouls, vampires, and monsters never-seen-before (or again?!) roam the arenas. If they don't scare you away, stretch your legs at the Augmented Reality exhibition, a full-fledged Virtual Reality section, a monstrous Gaming Madness Zone, or the crowd favorite Vampire Ball. And don't worry if costume-making isn't your things—leave your fate in the hands of the talented festival make-up artists and hairdressers. This year's festival is scheduled for April 9-21st, but don't wait to buy your tickets! Find them on the festival website.

  • brussels aerial

    An Insider's Look at Brussels' Architecture

    Explore Brussels' unique architecture in a way few cities permit. Friday's through Monday's in March, from the 16th through the 31st, the Brussels Art Nouveau & Art Deco (BANAD) Festival invites you to celebrate its exceptional sense of style. Particularly unique to this festival, are guided tours in interiors that are usually closed to the public! These include private homes, schools, and industrial and office buildings. There are also guided walking, bike and coach tours, concerts, conferences, various cultural events, activities geared toward families and school groups, antique shows and more.

    Visit here to secure your all-access pass in advance, or purchase a card for your desired number of visits. If you'd rather not book ahead, expect to wait in line and pay a bit more to enter. No matter your approach, expect to see a mix of beautiful asymmetrical ornamentation in stained glass and bold colors within strong geometry in metal and mirror.

  • neon lights

    Interact With Brussels' Bright Lights

    Brussels is shedding bright lights on winter yet again. In a colorful and creative exhibition free to the public, the city invites locals and foreigners alike to bundle up and see the city at night through the eyes of talented visual artists. Organized by visit.brussels, a local tourist agency, Bright Brussels, as the event is called, presents circuits of light installations in the Dixmude and Dansaert neighborhoods of historic Béguinage, Lepage and Marchés aux Grains. There are a dozen interactive exhibits on which to feast your eyes. All are the works of Belgian and international artists. Walk by some, lounge next to others, or wave or walk through the rest. This year, an installation by popular Belgian visual artist Romain Tardy will be on display in the iconic Citroën garage at Yser. Bright Brussels is free and open to the public from 6:30 pm to 11 pm every night from February 14th - 17th, 2019.

  • belgian beer and cheese

    Cozy up with a Belgian Brew

    If asked to pick a favorite between food or beer, Belgians choose both. This January why not warm your spirit with some of Brussels'! The city overflows with great pubs and bars where you can sample the wide variety of Belgian beer on offer. If a flight of flavors is what you seek, try Delirium. It may not sparkle, but the bar is popular for its offering of more than 2000 beers, live music, and plenty of seating. It makes for a great escape from the winter winds.

    You won't be alone. Brussels sets a tone to enjoy being, rather than running around to see the sights. If you've spent the afternoon visiting its famed Winter Wonders, you might find cozying up with the locals is just the ticket. Too many choices on tap? Try a cherry beer. But be careful, at 8% you can’t have too many!

  • 'Tis the Season at Brussels' Plaisirs d'Hiver

    For five magical weeks, Brussels’ Grand Place practically melts with the sights and sounds of the holidays. Its world famous ‘Winter Wonders’ Christmas Market, Plaisirs d'Hiver, boasts 200 cozy chalets along a two-kilometer corridor, drawing visitors from all over Europe and abroad. Bundle up and enjoy the view from the giant Ferris wheel, find all your must-have gifts, relax under the spell of aromatic mulled wine, and gaze at the giant fir delighting the imaginations of young and old alike. There’s a choir in Saint Catherine Square and a parade of lights every Saturday. In recent years, the ice-skating rink was moved to the Place de la Monnaie to make more room for vendors and for you! When you tire of the crowds, wander toward the 48 statues of the Petit Sablon, have a walk in the Parc du Cinquantenaire and remember your day by taking a photo from atop the Mont des Arts.

  • Sample Belgium's Finest Chocolate

    No visit to Belgium is complete without chocolate. So spend an afternoon (or two!) on a chocolatey tour and sample some of the country's finest. Follow your nose on Brussels Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop. In four hours a guide will lead you through the city's charming cobblestone streets, treating you along the way to chocolates and world-famous truffles from some of the best shops in the city. Then you can try your hand at making your own. 

    If you'd like to exercise your taste buds more than your feet, try the Chocolate Tasting Tour, during which a well-informed guide will take you from chocolate shop to chocolate shop for scrumptious samples and a chance to buy your favorites for later. For those craving local insights, reserve your place in the Ultimate Chocolate Experience walking tour, where you'll learn how to make chocolate from the oldest chocolatier in the city.

  • Climb Aboard The Sphere

    It took 4.6 billion years for the Earth to reach its current state. Can you prevent it from coming undone in less than two hours? Board The Sphere and find out. The brainchild of Annapurna Consult, this unique escape room whisks you through time without so much as leaving La Hulpe. Set aboard a futuristic spaceship, you and your team must solve a series of puzzles in order to correct fatal irregularities in the planet’s timeline.

    Succeed, and you’ll be immortalized. Fail, and the Earth ceases to exist. Triumph, however, is no easy feat. Guided by Gideon, The Sphere’s artificial intelligence, you’ll face five challenges set throughout history — past and future. Sail the Nile in Ancient Egypt, séance alongside Sherlock Holmes, and more; just don’t forget the task at hand. Excellent for groups of 10 or more, The Sphere is among Belgium’s most distinct attractions. It offers a team-building opportunity that’s singular in its effectiveness. After all, the fate of the world depends on it.