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Belgium See And Do

Bois de la Cambre
Brussels
Belgium

At 272 acres, Bois de la Cambre is Brussels's biggest park. This central spot is a delightful place to spend an afternoon strolling around its woodland paths. Highlights include a large lake with a small island at its center (reached by a cable-drawn ferry) which is popular for picnics. The ferry is currently closed for renovation until 2008, but the park is still well worth a visit.

Bruparck
Laeken
Brussels
Belgium
www.bruparck.com

In the shadow of the instantly recognizable '50s-futuristic Atomium, built for the World's Fair of 1958, sits this haven for kids: the Océade swimming park and Mini Europe—which, as you'd expect, contains the landmark buildings of Europe in miniature.

Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal)
Handschoenmarkt
Antwerp
Belgium 2000
Tel: 32 3213 9951
www.dekathedraal.be

Antwerp's Cathedral of Our Lady is one of the most impressive Gothic churches in all of the Low Countries—and it is the largest. With construction spanning the years 1352 to 1521, a 403-and-a-half-foot spire liberally iced with Gothic frills, and a forestlike interior of seven aisles, the cathedral is a sight to behold. Sadly, religious turmoil over the years has stripped the interior of its original elements, and today it is larded with late (and uninteresting) baroque embellishments. However, there are four altarpieces by—wait for it—Rubens.

Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée
20 Rue des Sables
Brussels
Belgium 1000
Tel: 32 2 219 1980
www.cbbd.be

The Comic Strip Museum is another attraction that's housed in a building at least as great as the museum itself (in fact, unless you're a huge Tintin fan, the building is the real star). The structure, called the Waucquez Warehouses, is by Victor Horta (the progenitor of Art Nouveau), built in 1906 and restored in 1989. Comics are huge in Belgium, as you'll see, and nobody is better known than Hergé, the creator of Tintin. You'll also meet many very famous illustrators you've never heard of, like Willy Vandersteen, the creator of Suske en Wiske. The shop is a fabulous source of gifts for the folks back home.

Closed Mondays.

Het Rockoxhuis
10–12 Keizerstraat
Antwerp
Belgium 2000
Tel: 32 3201 9250
www.rockoxhuis.be

Nicolaas Rockox was Antwerp's mayor during the Golden Age, when commerce and creativity boomed, and was a personal friend of Rubens (though it sometimes seems every citizen during the 17th century claimed that status). Rockox's restored former home contains his own private collection, fleshed out with works acquired by the bank that now owns and operates the house as a museum. The collection includes works by Rubens (naturally), Van Dyck, Brueghel, Jordaens, Teniers, Massys, and more. Entry is free the last Wednesday of the month.

Closed Monday.

Historic Walks
Tourism Antwerp
15 Grote Markt
Antwerp
Belgium 2000
Tel: 32 3232 0103
www.antwerpen.be

For a real insider's view, Tourism Antwerp offers terrific two-hour walking excursions of historic Antwerp on Saturday and Sunday (starting at 11 a.m.). If you prefer to do it at your own pace, buy one of their maps for self-guided neighborhood walks geared to specific interests such as architecture, antiques, fashion, diamond district, or maritime history.

Horta Museum
25 Rue Américaine
Brussels
Belgium 1060
Tel: 32 543 0490
www.hortamuseum.be

As Gaudí is to Barcelona, Victor Horta is to Brussels, and this, his former house, is now his museum. If you think you're not interested in Art Nouveau, a visit here will convert you. The neighborhood, too, is fun to stroll, with several more Art Nouveau gems to spot.

Closed Mondays.

Ixelles
Brussels
Belgium

An extremely pleasant neighborhood of boulevards, squares, and a string of lakes known as the Étangs d'Ixelles. It's worth the trip for real-estate junkies (due to its many enviable houses), but the charms of Ixelles don't end there. The locale also offers picnic spots, cute restaurants and cafés, a great market, and good shopping in lots of interesting boutiques.

Koninklijk Museum Voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen
Leopold de Waelplaats
Antwerp
Belgium 2000
Tel: 32 3238 7809
museum.antwerpen.be/kmska/

Discover exactly what art historians mean by "Flemish Old Masters" at the Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts. This is the native city of Rubens, and the collection not only contains the largest number of works under one roof by that master of voluptuous goddesses, but the museum's very entrance halls were frescoed by the man himself (or at least by his army of assistants). Other famed Low Country names abound too: Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Frans Hals, and Brueghel. The works on display span five centuries, all the way up to the 20th, but the Renaissance masters are why you visit.

Closed Monday.

La Maison Autrique
266 Chaussée de Haecht
Brussels
Belgium 1030
Tel: 32 2 215 6600
www.autrique.be

The first building designed by Belgium's greatest architect, Victor Horta. It was restored by Brussels' own François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, better known as comic-strip artists.

Closed Sunday through Tuesday.

ModeNatie
28 Nationalestraat
Antwerp
Belgium 2000
Tel: 32 3226 1447
www.modenatie.com

The ModeNatie complex is not only a fascinating foray into Antwerp's fashion history—dominated by Antwerp Six alums like Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester—it's also the most relevant museum in town. The complex is equal parts commerce and art: It houses the Mode Museum; Flanders Fashion Institute; the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts; a design library and bookshop; and the spanking-new, 10,000-square-foot Yohji Yamamoto flagship store, stocked with his women's and menswear, a new jewelry line he designed with Mikimoto, and his daughter Limi's feminine line of women's clothes. Recent exhibits at the Mode Museum have included Soviet-era head scarves, and retrospectives of contemporary designers like Veronique Branquinho and Bernhard Willhelm.

Muhka (Museum of Contemporary Art)
32 Leuvenstraat
Antwerp
Belgium 2000
Tel: 32 3260 9999
www.muhka.be

A grain silo and warehouse in the Zuid district of town have been converted into a 13,000-square-foot exhibition space devoted to art—both international and homegrown Belgian—from the 1970s onward. As with most contemporary art museums, the quality of your visit will depend largely on the caliber of the temporary shows on display. There's no permanent collection per se (the museum has no permanent venue to display works from its own archives). Instead, the museum's collection is constantly rearranged, often mixed with pieces commissioned for exhibition, to suit changing curatorial needs.

Closed Monday.

Musée des Instruments de Musique
2 Rue de la Montagne de la Cour
Brussels
Belgium 1000
Tel: 32 2 545 0130
www.mim.fgov.be

Known as MIM, the Musical Instrument Museum would be worth seeing even if it were empty, since it's housed in the beautiful Art Nouveau former Old England department store—and its top-floor restaurant is pretty nice, too. But the four floors of 1,500-odd instruments, complete with infrared headphones that allow you to listen as you gaze, happen to be irresistible. Don't miss the prototypes of an invention by that indispensable Belgian Adolphe Sax: the saxophone.

Closed Mondays.

The Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts
9 Rue du Régence
Brussels
Belgium
Tel: 508 3211
www.fine-arts-museum.be

These enormous art museums—one filled with "ancient" works; the other, modern—will keep you busy for a day, or two. They chart the history of Flemish art from Brueghel and Rubens to Magritte.

Closed Mondays.

Museum Mayer Van Den Bergh
19 Lange Gasthuisstraat
Antwerp
Belgium 2000
Tel: 32 3232 4237
museum.antwerpen.be/mayervandenbergh

This glorious hodgepodge of paintings, decorative arts, and fine crafts (heavy on Dutch and Flemish pieces from the 14th to 16th centuries) was amassed by art collector Fritz Mayer van den Bergh over an amazingly brief period (he died in 1901 at the age of 43) and was opened to the public in 1904. Van den Bergh was one of the first to rediscover and popularize the works of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, whose Bosch-like "Mad Meg" hangs here.

Museum Plantin Moretus
22 Vrijdagmarkt
Antwerp
Belgium 2000
Tel: 32 3221 1450
museum.antwerpen.be/plantin_moretus

You don't have to be a bibliophile to be intrigued by Europe's oldest industrial printing house—UNESCO wouldn't have granted it World Heritage status for nothing. Above all, this museum is a gorgeously preserved window on the late 16th century. The displays trace the history of printing—both the technology of the presses and binding, and the glory of the antique books themselves—through the 300 amazing years that came after Gutenberg started producing Bibles. Rubens became a friend to this family of printers in its third generation and was responsible for several of the portraits on display, as well as the illuminations in some of the manuscripts.

Closed Monday.

Rubenshuis
9–11 Wapper
Antwerp
Belgium 2000
Tel: 32 3201 1555
museum.antwerpen.be/rubenshuis

Peter Paul Rubens liked his women fleshy and his home palatial, so when he bought this building in 1610, he set out to turn it into a Renaissance palazzo that befitted a painter who would one day occupy the top echelons of Old Masters. Out of the Rubens family hands for nearly 300 years following the painter's death, the house was finally acquired by the city in 1937, and it set about restoring the place with as much bona fide Rubens memorabilia as possible, filling in the gaps with period pieces. The ten Rubens paintings on display include a self-portrait, as well as a portrait of another young lad who showed some skill with a paintbrush: Anthony van Dyck.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.