Ten museums in Belgium to visit

A guest post by Sofie Couwenbergh, a writer and travel blogger from Belgium.

Belgium is mostly known for its food and drinks. Visitors to the country want to try our chocolate, waffles, fries and beer. What most of them don’t know is that we also have a very diverse museum landscape. There are museums dedicated to art, architecture, science, history and much more. I’ve tried to capture a bit of that diversity in the following list with ten museums in Belgium to visit.

1. Musée Magritte Museum

The Magritte Museum is located in the center of Brussels. With over 200 pieces it has the largest collections of works by the Brussels surrealist René Magritte. In the museum you’ll find drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs, films and more. The exhibition consists of three parts that are each dedicated to specific periods in Magritte’s artistic career.

Musee Magritte Museum

Musee Magritte Museum (image courtesy of J. Glarner).

2. The Museum by the Stream (MAS)

The Museum by the Stream (Museum Aan de StroomMAS) is Antwerp’s newest and largest museum. It got its name from its location by the river in the north of the city.

The concept of the MAS is quite unique. Firstly, there’s the building with the panoramic rooftop. Although you have to pay to get in the museum part of the MAS, the rooftop is freely accessible for everyone. You can just enter the building and take the staircases (or elevator) up. One floor below the rooftop there’s the top restaurant ‘t Zilte and at the ground floor you’ll find the museum cafe. Most important, of course, is the museum itself.

MAS (image courtesy of Danijela Baron).

MAS (image courtesy of Danijela Baron).

The museum consists of a permanent exhibition covering four floors, a temporary exhibition on another floor and a Visible Storage on yet another floor. Both the temporary exhibition and the permanent collection focus on the connection between Antwerp and the world. You’ll learn about the history of the city, the importance of the harbor, powerful figures and cultural differences within the city of Antwerp.
The Visible Storage is exactly what it says: a part of the museum’s collection that is in storage behind a transparent wall, thus giving visitors a look behind the scenes.

3. S.M.A.K.

The Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art (Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst – S.M.A.K.) was founded in 1975. It’s located at the edge of the city of Ghent in what used to be a casino and has a collection of over 2,000 contemporary pieces by international artists. Some important names are Panamarenko and Andy Warhol. If you’re into Pop Art, Minimal Art and the Cobra movement this is the museum to visit.

SMAK (image courtesy of amsfrank).

S.M.A.K. (image courtesy of amsfrank).

4. Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Koninklijk Belgisch Instituut voor Natuurwetenschappen) in Brussels is known among Belgian kids mostly as “The Dinosaur Museum”. Why? Because what everyone remembers most from their visit is the Dinosaur Gallery, the largest dinosaur exhibition in Europe. Yes, that means you’ll see entire dinosaur skeletons. The museum also has exhibitions on evolution, biodiversity, minerals, mosasaurs (giant swimming lizards!) and much more.

Museum of Natural Sciences (image courtesy of Bene).

Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (image courtesy of Bene).

5. Euro Space Center

The Euro Space Center in Libin is an interactive museum where adults and children alike can learn about space and the discovery of it. There’s a replica of the Space Shuttle, a planetarium and a moonwalk simulator, among other things. You can visit for just one day or spend a thematic weekend there as a family. Besides that, the Euro Space Center also organizes summer camps for children.

Euro Space Center (image courtesy of F.d.W.)

Euro Space Center (image courtesy of F.d.W.)

6. Gallo-Roman Museum

Every kid that goes to school in Belgium will visit the Gallo-Roman Museum (Gallo-Romeins Museum) in Tongeren at least once. It’s a typical destination for a school trip, and with reason. The Gallo-Roman Museum focuses on the history of men from the Neanderthalers until the early Middle Ages. The permanent exhibition is built around the life of men in the Belgian province of Limburg from the Prehistory until the end of the Roman era, while temporary exhibitions highlight shorter periods in time or certain themes, like the power of warriors versus the power of religion throughout the ages.

Gallo-Roman Museum (image courtesy of Willy Vermaelen).

Gallo-Roman Museum (image courtesy of Willy Vermaelen).

7. Dossin Casern

The Dossin Casern (Kazerne Dossin) in Mechelen used to be an army base. It was taken by the Germans during World War II and turned into a detention and deportation camp. Between August 4, 1942 and July 31, 1944 over 25,000 Jews and Roma were taken from the Dossin Casern to Auschwitz-Birkenau. That means that over half of the Belgian Jews killed during the Holocaust passed through Mechelen.

Dossin Casern (image courtesy of erf.goed.be)

Dossin Casern (image courtesy of erf.goed.be)

Today, the Dossin Casern tells this gruesome story in chronological order, with photos, official documents, interviews and multimedia. It also looks beyond the Belgian horror to look at the bigger themes of Mass, Fear and Death not only then and there, but also now and in other places around the world.

8. Museum of Music Instruments

With more than 7,000 instruments in its collection and about 1,500 of those on display, the Museum of Music Instruments (Muziekinstrumentenmuseum MIM) is internationally renowned. It is housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau building on the Place Royale in Brussels and displays instruments from around the world. Thanks to the audio guide you don’t only see, but also hear these different instruments.

Extra tip: have lunch at the museum’s restaurant on the top floor. It has an amazing view over Brussels.

MIM (image courtesy of Roberto Cacho).

MIM (image courtesy of Roberto Cacho).

9. Horta Museum

Fans of Art Nouveau should not only visit the aforementioned MIM, but also the Horta Museum. This museum is located in the house that the architect Victor Horta built for himself, to work and live in. It is one of three houses by Horta that is on the Unesco World Heritage list. Be sure to check the opening times if you want to visit, because at the Horta Museum only opens in the afternoon and only allows 45 people in at once. The place is pretty small, but a must for fans of the Art Nouveau building style.

Horta Museum (image courtesy of den Flater).

Horta Museum (image courtesy of den Flater).

10. In Flanders Fields

The In Flanders Fields museum in Ypres is dedicated to telling the story of World War I in the Belgian region of West-Flanders, as well as its impact on the present. The historical and military narration of the facts is complemented by authentic documents and objects as well as the personal stories of soldiers, artists and “ordinary people”. Lastly, the In Flanders Fields museum also provides information to visit the city of Ypres and the surrounding battlefields of the Westhoek.

In Flanders Fields (image courtesy of Bernt Rostad).

In Flanders Fields (image courtesy of Bernt Rostad).

So, that was quite the list, wasn’t it? These museums in Belgium are my favourites! There were two other museums that I would have loved to put on it, but didn’t since they are closed for a couple of years for renovation. If you would happen to read this post in 2017 though, I would highly recommend you to visit the completely renewed Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Antwerp and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren. Both will reopen that year.

About the author

Sofie Couwenberg

Sofie Couwenbergh

Sofie Couwenbergh is a freelance writer and founder of the travel blog Wonderful Wanderings. From researching and writing for the Belgian Press Agency Belga she switched to reporting on the many places her wanderlust takes her. She’s also an avid dancer who functions best on tea and chocolate. You can connect with Sofie on Twitter or Facebook.

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13 Responses to “Ten museums in Belgium to visit”

  1. Sofie 02/12/2014 8:29 am
    #

    @Suki F: You could come back several times?

    @François: Indeed! It’s very easy to get to other European cities from Brussels

  2. Common Home 20/10/2014 3:20 pm
    #

    being a lover of history and art i guess a few of them are a must go for me

  3. Keith Jenkins 16/10/2014 11:07 am
    #

    Hi Sofie,
    That’s odd. I tweeted it a few times and added your twitter handle. Anyway, thank you once again for contributing this lovely post! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Keith

  4. Sofie 16/10/2014 8:28 am
    #

    It’s true that the Comic Center and the other museums at Cinquantenaire are definitely worth a mention as well.
    Belgium just has so many great museums that I wanted to include different types of museums so that everyone could pick one that interests him/her most.

    PS Ann, I live in Leuven and have visited M several times already:)

  5. Sofie 16/10/2014 8:26 am
    #

    Hey Keith,

    I somehow missed the publication until now. Strange:)
    Thanks so much for having me!

  6. Hannah at Citybase Apartments 23/09/2014 4:54 pm
    #

    Great post! The Diamond Museum in Antwerp is also worth a look. As is the Beligan Comic Strip Centre, which can be a big hit with the kids!

  7. Keith Jenkins 23/09/2014 4:52 pm
    #

    Thanks Kate & Mike for your wonderful comment and tips. I would definitely go for the comic museum and the museum of ancient art!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  8. Kate and Mike 23/09/2014 4:44 pm
    #

    Nice list! Kids love museums 1, 4, and 8. But there are three museums as well in Brussels that should be on the list: the comic book museum, the military museum in the Cinquantenaire park, and the Museum of Ancient Art.

    This last one sounds a bit funny, but we discovered that small kids are fascinated by the bright colors and gory detail in much medieval religious art. In addition, Breugel’s paintings of every day scenes present things kids can relate to (like finding people eating waffles hundreds of years ago) and things they can laugh at (like the Fall of Icarus, where all you see of Icarus is his feet plus a splash).

  9. Adam 15/09/2014 4:37 am
    #

    What an eclectic assortment of museums … nice to know there’s more to do than eat excellent food and look at pretty buildings!

  10. Bhavya 08/09/2014 1:41 pm
    #

    Dossim Casern seems to be a cut above the rest. I mean if I was asked to visit one, Casern would be the one.

    Kudos for the post, though.

    Regards,

    Bhavya.

  11. Francois 07/09/2014 9:23 am
    #

    Belgium and especially Brussels have so many things to discover! It’s so easy to plan an European trip Brussels-Paris-London as well

  12. Suki F 06/09/2014 12:12 am
    #

    I don’t have enough time to do all of these. how am I going to choose?

  13. Ann 05/09/2014 5:29 pm
    #

    Don’t forget beautiful Leuven and the super museum M! An extraordinary mix of ancient and contemporary art and architecture.
    http://www.mleuven.be/en/

    Kind regards,
    Ann

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