The best city parks in Brussels with a Belgian touch
With the sun come the Belgians. The Belgians are masters in the art of making the most of the beautiful days – a necessity in the often rainy plains – and this can be seen in the countless parks of their capital.
When the weather is nice, there is no better way to discover Brussels than to do like the locals and seek out a sunny patch of greenery. The experience is more cultural than you might think, from hidden palace gardens to abbeys in urban forests, the best parks in Brussels have all kinds of surprises in store in their alleys. Here are the 9 best.
Hiking in the woods may seem far-fetched in a small, densely populated country like Belgium, but the Forêt de Soignes is a stone’s throw from Brussels. Once a favorite hunting ground for the Imperial Habsburg family, the ancient UNESCO-listed beech forest is now more welcoming to creatures of all classes and species.
Juggling greetings from Hello and dag by covering kilometers of cycle, pedestrian and equestrian paths crisscrossing the forest covering both Wallonia and Flanders. No excursion to the Sonian Forest is complete without a stop at Rouge Cloitre, a 14th-century Augustinian abbey that now houses a contemporary art gallery.
Brussels botanical garden
Nothing says “Belgian” like a mish-mash of cultures, which means that the Brussels Botanical Garden Terrace is the epitome of Belgian design. Ideally located in the city center, its glittering central orangery (conservatory) was built in the French Baroque style, its central gardens are of Italian design – despite yellow irises, the official flower of Brussels – and classic bronze sculptures from Belgian artists take care of the floors. Paid exhibitions are regularly held inside the orangery, but most people prefer to wander the maze of hedges and walkways on its lower terraces as they are free and open to the public all day.
Look east for the most majestic municipal park in Brussels, the Parc du Cinquantenaire. It is impossible to miss it thanks to the monumental Arc de Triomphe which dominates at one end. Three large museums start from the triple arch to encircle the carefully landscaped gardens: the Museum of Art and History, the Royal Military Museum and a vintage car museum, Autoworld.
No pressure to visit museums – locals head to the park to jog or enjoy its picnic tables and lawns when the weather permits. For a change of perspective, climb under the arcades for a panoramic view of the park and part of the Royal Quarter of Brussels, which now houses the Belgian Parliament.
Jean-Félix Hap Garden
Get off the beaten track in search of the “secret” parks of Brussels. Somewhere between a large garden and a small park, local favorite Jean-Felix Hap Garden is a leafy space hidden inside a block of brick houses in the Etterbeek district of Brussels. Formerly the park of the Hap family’s mansion – when Etterbeek was still a rural suburb of Brussels – today the park is a biodiversity experience in the east of the city.
Wood of the Cambre
New York has Central Park, Brussels has Bois de la Cambre. Its manicured lawns and sloping paths are the perfect place for hipsters and families on sunny days. Weekends are both calm and chaotic: cars are off-limits, and its roads fill up with bikes, scooters, skateboards, and even the occasional unicycles.
To make an afternoon in the Bois de la Cambre, start with a walk around the park’s namesake, the Cistercian Abbey of La Cambre. Head south to central lake, then cross the water by ferry to Chalet Robinson, a cozy restaurant on Robinson Island of the same name. There, indulge in Belgian beer and waffles – for “culture” – or more substantial bites if you feel hungry after a long walk.
Hidden behind an unassuming gate on the majestic Rue aux Laines, Parc d’Egmont is another secret park in Brussels. The intimate gardens were previously part of Egmont Park bordering their eastern end, but are now open to anyone who can find them. The small park is popular with dog walkers, but everyone is welcome to enjoy brunch on the large, shaded terrace at La Fabrique en Ville, a small cafe in the center of the park.
Mont des Arts Garden
The vibrant Jardin du Mont des Arts offers one of the best views of Brussels, especially on spring or summer evenings when the garden is in full bloom. Geometric hedges and floral arrangements rest on a single concrete slab, its edges bordered by fountains drawing the eye to a spectacular panoramic view of the Grand Place in Brussels. The Mont des Arts is no secret and the garden can get busy during the day. Best to visit in the evening at sunset for one of the best views of Brussels. Don’t leave after the sun goes down, the garden turns into one of the most romantic parks in Brussels once illuminated by the lights of the Grand Place.
If you’re in the mood for a sweat, look no further than the Promenade Verte de Bruxelles, a 60 km route around the city connecting all kinds of natural spaces, historic buildings and more. Divided into seven connected areas with separate routes for pedestrians and cyclists, the well-marked trails are some of the best places for jogging or cycling in Brussels. Walk a footbridge along an abandoned railway line, run past an 18th-century wooden windmill in Woluwe-Sint-Lambert, or take a break under the castle spiers in the Royal Park of Laeken.
For those with little ones, Parc Josaphat is one of the best parks in Brussels for families. While the kids frolic on the playgrounds or lawns, parents can relax in the comfort of a café terrace with tea (or something stronger) in hand. To keep temperamental kids engaged, play a few holes at the Josaphat Minigolf on the north side of the park. Designed in 1954 by Belgian landscape architect René Pechère, it is one of the oldest in Belgium and gives off an impression of refinement, even though it has aged.