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Feel Summer: 10 fun and unmissable outdoor activities in Brussels
As the days heat up, the streets of Brussels come alive with a riot of sounds and colours – from open-air music festivals to an urban beach and al fresco pop-up bars. Here are some of our favourite outdoor activities over the coming months.
Bruges may be the Venice of the North, but Brussels has a waterway of its own and authorities are keen to attract more people to the city’s waterside (pictured, above). The canal has become one of the ‘places to be’ in the capital – and the enthusiasts behind Brussels by Water have teamed up with a river tour operator to offer affordable boat trips where you can discover more.
Hop on board the Waterbus at Quai Beco and discover Brussels with a one or two-hour trip (€4 and €6 respectively). Until 30 June and from 16 August to 31 October, the service runs Monday to Friday. From 1 July to 15 August, the service is daily.
You will discover a fast-developing canal scenery, with new waterside residential and commercial buildings and green sites besides historical buildings and monuments. From the deck of the boat you will see the new city skyline, the port of Brussels and its activities, the Brussels yacht club and the impressive Buda bridge.
Other day or half day trips are organised weekly and on fixed dates. The day trips are guided in French, English, Dutch and are sometimes combined with onshore activities, including bike and walking excursions. No booking is necessary on the Waterbus cruises, but you should reserve for the longer trips.
Oceade aquatic park near the Atomium is a fun place to beat the heat. If you haven’t been there yet, this summer is your last chance, because Océade is due to close for good in September. With its slides, indoor and open-air pools, the park has something to entertain your family for the entire afternoon.
Launched in 2014 by four friends, in association with visit.brussels, this is an opportunity for locals and tourists alike to relax in deckchairs and enjoy a cool drink at seven pop-up bars dotted around the city housed in recycled Belgian army shipping containers, which double up as tourist information centres. The key Brussels locations this year are Place Poelaert, the Atomium, Flagey, Cinquantenaire, Sainte-Gudule cathedral, Central Station and the Mont des Arts. The pop-up bar at the Atomium will organise special dance, music and circus arts events around 21 July and 15 August, both public holidays.
You don’t need to go all the way to the Belgian coast now that Brussels offers a beach of its own (pictured above). Inspired by the beach on the River Seine in Paris, Brussels transforms the banks of the canal into a real urban beach called Bruxelles les Bains (6 July-12 August). Thousands of tonnes of sand from the North Sea are poured on the site alongside straw huts, palm trees, lounge chairs and water fountains. It’s a great place to sunbathe, play a game of beach volleyball, or simply sip a fruit juice cocktail. There are concerts, outdoor cinema and free children’s activities on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, including traditional games, face painting, music, theatre, storytelling and art workshops.
Once just a military parade and fireworks, the 21 July celebrations have expanded over the years to include concerts, demonstrations, kids’ activities, food tastings and folkloric giants. The party begins in style on the previous evening with the National Ball, when 15,000 people gather to drink beer, eat a wide variety of street food and enjoy some very Belgian live entertainment. After the 21 July parade and activities in Royal Park, don’t miss the Resto National from 17.00, which sees the Place du Jeu de Balle filled with long communal tables for everyone to come and share an iconic Belgian mussels and fries dinner. Then head up the hill to catch the fireworks on Place des Palais at 23.00.
One of Brussels' biggest and oldest summer events, the Foire du Midi (13 July-19 August) is a massive funfair that has set up along the streets near Brussels Midi station since 1880. With 130 diverse attractions, from traditional fairground games to the very latest rides, this is a great day or evening out for the family.
What started as a small event in the lobby of a hotel six years ago has grown into the massive Brussels Games Festival which takes over the Cinquantenaire park in the EU district for two days of board-game fun (25-26 August). Hundreds of games are available to share, for children and adults alike.
Some 15,000 people will gather at the Tour & Taxis complex in Brussels on 2 September for what is billed as the happiest race on the planet: the 5km Color Run, which transforms the jogging crowds into a moving, kaleidoscopic splatter-art piece. The Color Run, one of a growing field of non-traditional races, finds both fitness types and just lovers of fun dressed in white t-shirts, to be sprayed with coloured powder (100% natural food-grade corn starch) as they pass through the run’s different stages. Celebrations then culminate in a mass throwing of colour packets to create a rainbow cloud during a festival-type atmosphere, all for good cause: the Think-Pink breast cancer charity.
A summer tradition in Brussels is the Roller Bike Parade (weekly until 14 September). It kicks off every Friday evening at 19.00 on the Place Poelaert (departure at 20.00) for a three-hour, police-protected circuit (a different route every week) through the streets of Brussels. Join hundreds of people on bicycles, boards and roller blades and, of course, a rolling DJ truck to keep the spirits up.
Every year late in the summer, Brussels hosts the AG Memorial Van Damme, part of the IAAF Diamond League, when the best athletics competitors in the world descend on the capital for an action-packed day (31 August) at the King Baudouin stadium.