I recently visited Brussels along with my wife and four month old son, as a winner of the European Commission’s “Europe in my Region” photography competition. We had a wonderful time and I was able to explore the city’s wonderful photo opportunities. Whatever your photographic style, Brussels has something for you.
Here are my top ten photo spots in Brussels, and my tips on how to capture the best photographs.
Grand-Place is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and ideal for both architectural photography and street scenes. You will need a wide angle lens to capture the buildings entirely. I recommend a long exposure at night time - this will turn all the passing people into ghostly shadows. This gives a sense of movement which is an accurate representation of the city’s touristic centre.
2. Parc du Cinquantenaire
Parc du Cinquantenaire is a large public park east of the European Quarter. The centrepiece Triumphal Arch was built in 1905. Nowadays, train and vehicle traffic pass underneath the park. In this spot, the road is uncovered and creates amazing leading lines towards the arch. Perfect for a long exposure and some cool light trails during rush hour.
35mm / F8 / 0.5s / ISO 100
3. Mont des Arts
Mont des Arts offers one of the finest views of Brussels. From the top of the staircase, René Péchère’s garden below creates perfect leading lines towards the Albert I statue and Brussels Town Hall beyond that. The early evening is an ideal time to photograph this spot as the city lights turn on. The garden is beautifully illuminated at night.
35mm / F8 / 30s / ISO 100
4. European Quarter
Architecture from many eras compete for your attention at the European Quarter, east of the city centre. Emerge from Schuman metro station to see my highlight - the Berlaymont building, where the neat line of European Union flags against the modern glass backdrop makes an iconic image. Try using a zoom lens to capture abstract architectural details, textures and patterns.
62mm / F4.8 / 1/200s / ISO 400
The 102-metre tall Atomium is unlike any other building so offers incredible and unique architectural photo opportunities. Even though the weather wasn’t so appealing, I was able to capture some interesting black and white photographs. As well as framing the structure as a whole, consider using a zoom lens to capture fascinating fine detail and angles.
35mm / F5 / 1/60s / ISO 100
6. Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
Incredible interior architecture photos are possible at this centuries-old cathedral in the heart of Brussels. Since lighting is low, I recommend using a tripod here. I visited the cathedral early in the morning so very few fellow tourists were around. My tip is to crouch low at the rear of the cathedral and use a wide angle lens to capture the detail of the ceiling plus the leading lines.
12mm / F8 / 20s / ISO 100
7. The quirky statues of Brussels
Belgium is renowned for its brand of humour, and Mannekin Pis is the iconic image of Brussels. However, Brussels boasts many other statues and monuments that are worth capturing, such as La Cycliste and Agent 15. In fact, Mannekin Pis has a female counterpart called Jeanneke Pis. My personal favourite is Het Zinneke, a dog relieving himself on a bollard. I recommend capturing statues with a low f-stop. This creates an attractive background blur to the photo which keeps the viewer’s attention on the statue, which will be sharply in focus.
12mm / F2.8 / 30s / ISO 100
8. Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
The spectacular Galeries Royales opened in 1847 and remain a symbol of elegance in Belgium’s capital. Close to the tourist centre and itself an attraction, it can be a challenge to capture a photo here during daytime or evening. I recommend an early morning visit, when you can take your time to compose your photograph and appreciate the intricate design. A wide angle lens allows you to capture the whole scene in a single, sweeping frame.
12mm / F8 / 3s / ISO 64
9. Museums of Brussels
The Brussels Card entitles the holder to free entry to 39 museums in Brussels. Why not take advantage of this great deal to take some incredible shots with a variety of fascinating subjects? In just one day I captured dinosaurs at the Natural Sciences Museum, vintage cars at Autoworld, colourful fish at the Aquarium of Brussels, and the art of chocolate making at Belgian Chocolate Village.
This photo is of the aviation hall at the Royal Museum of Army and Military History. I used a wide angle lens here to capture the detail of the foreground jet plus the impressive, cavernous hall with aircraft sweeping in from all angles.
16mm / F8 / 1/15s / ISO 400
10. Street art
The Comic Book route provides the most obvious photo opportunities, but there are fine examples of street art dotted around the city. Lighting is the most important factor in photographing street art. A low F stop creates an attractive shallow depth of field for your photos.
12mm / F3.2 / 1/30s / ISO 640
Author: Mathew Browne is an award-winning photographer from south Wales specialising in all aspects of travel photography especially cityscape, landscape and night photography. His work has been featured online and in print by numerous media outlets, newspapers and magazines.