The Grand Place of Brussels is the most important tourist destination in Brussels. But is it worth the visit? Globazine reviews this UNESCO World Heritage Site, exploring its history, beauty, uniqueness, and experience. Continue reading to learn more!
The market place dates to the end of the 11th century. At the beginning of the 13th century, indoor markets were built to showcase wares in bad weather. This way the storage and sales of goods could also be tracked to collect taxes.
The Town Hall was constructed between 1401 and 1455. This building is the only remaining medieval building on the square. It made the Grand Place the seat of municipal power. The Duke of Brabant countered this symbol of municipal power with a large building across the square. This King’s House (Maison du Roi or Broodhuis) served as a symbol of ducal power . The name is somewhat of a misnomer as no kings ever lived there. Over time many wealthy merchants and guilds of Brussels built houses around the edge of the square.
The square was also used for beheading and burning of trialed people. Among others, the counts of Egmont and Horn, who had spoken out against the policies of King Philip II in the Spanish Netherlands. They were beheaded in 1568. This event marked the beginning of the armed revolt against Spanish rule.
On 13 August 1695, the French bombarded Brussels with cannons and mortars. They flattened the majority of Grand Place and the surrounding city. Only the stone shell of the town hall and some fragments of other buildings remained. The square was rebuilt in the years thereafter. This was done with more coordination, delivering the remarkably harmonious layout you see today.
Read more about how we rated the Grand Place and other sites at our UNESCO World Heritage Site Review.
The Grand Place is an outstanding example of Gothic and Baroque architecture, oozing former wealth and glory. The different buildings fit together very well, with the Town Hall and King’s House stealing the show. But the different guildhalls are also worth a closer look, with unashamed exhibitions, gable, statues and guild symbols. As the square has just been restored, the buildings are in great shape. In the evening, the scene is illuminated and there are lightshows organised. The only minus is that many houses have been transformed into (tourist) shops and cafés, this detracts a bit from the overall beauty. This all results in a rating of 4 out of 5.
The Grand place is a unique square. But you can find similar style houses and buildings in other Flemish cities. For somewhat similar squares go to Antwerp (Grote Markt) and Arras (La Grand Place and La Place des Héros). But those lack the combination of grandeur, originality and cohesive design of this square. This all results in a rating of 4 out of 5.
Admiring the different building won’t keep you occupied the whole day. You might also want to visit the King’s house. Nowadays it houses the Brussels City Museum, which has various historical relics. Furthermore, many festive and cultural events are organized on the grand-place. You can also have a drink and bite in one of the many cafes. But expect to pay tourist prices for nothing extraordinary.
The large uneven boulders which form the pavement can be difficult to navigate with a wheelchair. There is no signage and explanation available to support the experience of the visually impaired.
Value for money:
It’s a public square and therefor free to experience. The Brussels City Museum provides more context to the place and is cheaper than most of Brussels museums.
This all results in a rating of 3 out of 5.
The square is right in the middle of Brussels’ city center. A five minutes’ walk from the Central train station of Brussels. Other highlights of Brussels are also close by. Museums, Manneken Pis, the Brussels Stock Exchange and shopping streets are just around the corner. So are the many waffle and chocolate shops and beer cafés. This all results in a rating of 5 out of 5.
Overall rating 4/5
Overall Grand Place gets a 4 out of 5 rating. It is a beautiful square, but it won’t keep you occupied for long. Luckily, many other sights are close by.
For more gothic beauty take a look at our review of Bourges cathedral.