Did you know that greater Brussels has a whopping 27.7 square metres of green space per inhabitant?
Parks and gardens range from small islands of tranquillity just a few minutes’ walk from offices in the centre, to the ancient and sprawling Forest de Soignes in the south-east.
The centre and inner-city
If you’re an inner-city office worker or resident, then the Royal Park may be your perfect lunchtime venue or place to stretch your legs. Opposite the Royal Palace, the park extends to the Parliament building and is dotted with statues and wrought-iron lamps. On Independence Day on 21 July, the Royal Park is the place to be, transforming into a giant night fair with music, exhibits, rides, games and fireworks.
The Park du Cinquantenaire is in the European Institutions precinct. It was created in 1880 to host an exhibition celebrating Belgium’s 50 years of independence, and features a triumphal arch with statues of women symbolising the Belgian provinces. This park is also home to the War Museum, Autoworld and the Royal Museums of Art and History.
Not far from the centre is de Warande (the warren), a park that originally belonged to the Dukes of Brabant. An old maze of hills and valleys, it became famous throughout Europe for its game and wildlife population, natural beauty, many fountains and rockwork basins and grottoes. In 1830 the first battles between Belgian patriots and Dutch troops took place here.
The lovely and lively Bois de la Cambre at the end of Avenue Louise covers 124 hectares and is part of the old Fôret de Soignes. The Bois is filled with paths for joggers, bikers, strollers and equestrians, and there is an outdoor roller-skating rink in the Patinoire. Concerts are held on Sunday mornings in the summer. The Abbaye de la Cambre, near the Free University of Brussels, is an old Cisterian abbey, now occupied by an art school and a geographic institute. Its grounds form an atmospheric retreat in an otherwise busy neighborhood.
Towards the Toison D’Or/Guldenvlies side is the Egmont Park. Accessed through an old carriage entrance on the boulevard de Waterloo or by a small path on the rue du Grand Cerf, the Egmont is best known feature is the pollepel – a magnificent old well.
The Ponds of Ixelles/Elsene, the remains of an old string of ponds that dotted the Maelbeek valley, are treasured by many city dwellers as a marvellous green spot.
Beyond the city limits, the Fôret de Soignes is dense woodland that stretches in a wide belt towards Tervuren and Waterloo. Originally it extended all the way to Namur, and was a hunting area for the local nobility.
On the edge of the fôret in the La Hulpe/Terhulpen area, there is a large landscaped park, best known for its century-old Château La Hulpe. It’s accessed from the ring road (exit 8) is the National Botanic Gardens in Meise, and it’s worth spending a full day in this magnificent setting, which covers 92 hectares, and also features the medieval-style Castle of Bouchout.
The National Botanic Gardens: Tel 02 269 39 05 The Fôret de Soignes information centre: Tel 02 629 34 11 / 02 660 64 17