There’s no better place than Brussels, the capital of Belgium, to take a literary tour. While it is a city with a rich literary history, it also has a vibrant contemporary scene.
Why is Brussels famous for its literary culture?
Brussels has been shaped by its history, language, and diverse communities. There are several reasons why Brussels is famous for its literary culture:
- Multilingualism: Brussels is a bilingual city, with French and Dutch being the official languages. Hence, this linguistic diversity has fostered a literary culture that encompasses a range of languages, including English, German, and Spanish. As a result, there is a flourishing literary scene in multiple languages.
- Historical significance: Brussels has been home to many famous writers and poets, including Victor Hugo, Emile Verhaeren, and Maurice Maeterlinck. The city has also played a significant role in European literary history, with several important literary movements, such as surrealism and symbolism, having their roots in Brussels.
- Bookshops and libraries: Brussels has a long tradition of independent bookshops, which are often run by passionate and knowledgeable booksellers. The city also has several libraries, including the Royal Library of Belgium, which houses an extensive collection of books and manuscripts.
- Literary events: Brussels is home to several literary events throughout the year, including the Brussels Book Fair and the Passa Porta Literary Festival. These events provide a platform for writers to showcase their work and engage with readers.
As a result, we’ve compiled just a few of the many literary spots in Brussels that are worth checking out for literature lovers.
Here are some of the best literary spots in Brussels:
- 📚 The Smurfs fresco. This was unveiled in 2018 and has since become a popular tourist attraction. The colourful mural features a number of famous Smurf characters, including Papa Smurf, Smurfette, and Brainy Smurf. Created by Peyo (1928-1992) in the newspaper Spirou in 1958, the Smurfs appeared for the first time in the medieval setting of the adventures of Johan and Pirlouit, by the same author.
- 📚 The Royal Library of Belgium. This impressive library houses over eight million books and manuscripts, including rare and historic works. It also hosts exhibitions and literary events throughout the year.
- 📚 Bozar. While this Centre for Fine Arts, does occasionally host literary events such as book readings and author talks, its main focus is on the visual and performing arts. It has a particular emphasis on contemporary art, but also showcases classical art and hosts a variety of events across many art forms.
- 📚 The Brontë’s Brussels. The Brontë sisters lived in Brussels for a short time in 1842, and their experiences there are reflected in their work. The Brontë House Museum is a great place to learn more about their time in Brussels and their literary legacy. The plaque can be found on the side of Bozar.
- 📚 The Attraction of the Ilot-Sacré. The Ilot-Sacré is a small square in the centre of Brussels, and it is surrounded by beautiful arcades. The Galeries de Saint Hubert are a series of shops and galleries that are located in the arcades, and they are a great place to find unique souvenirs. Check out Tropismes, which is an independent French bookstore. Founded in 1989, the store offers a wide selection of French and European literature, as well as books in English and other languages.
- 📚 Boutique Tintin. This specialty store that caters to fans of the iconic comic book character, Tintin. The store offers a wide range of Tintin merchandise, including books, figurines, clothing, and accessories. It is a must-visit destination for Tintin enthusiasts from around the world.
- 📚 Karl Marx. The iconic figure often held meetings of the Communist League with Engels and where it is believed he completed The Communist Manifesto at Maison du Cygne, 9 Grand Place.
- 📚 Crime Scene by the Grand Place. In 1873, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine had a violent argument, breaking up their relationship in the Grand Place, and Rimbaud left Brussels for good. The spot where the argument took place is marked with a plaque, and it is a popular tourist destination. This can be found on 1 Rue de Brasseurs.
- 📚 Passa Porta. This literary house is dedicated to promoting literature and literary translation in Brussels and beyond. It hosts events, workshops, and residencies for writers and translators. Not to mention, it is known for its focus on multilingualism and its efforts to promote literature from diverse cultures and languages. It also offers a unique program of writer’s residencies.
- 📚 Comics Art Museum. The museum showcases the history and artistry of comics, including original comic book pages, exhibits on the creative process, and a vast collection of comic book art. On the other hand, the building itself is a stunning Art Nouveau masterpiece.
Other places of note you may want to know about:
The Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits has now closed unfortunately. This museum featured manuscripts, letters, and personal effects of famous writers such as Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, and James Joyce.
The Maison de la Francité. This cultural centre celebrates French-language literature and hosts readings, workshops, and other literary events.
Cook & Book. This popular bookstore and cafe is located in the Woluwe-Saint-Lambert district and features a wide selection of books in several languages, as well as a cozy atmosphere for reading and relaxing.
The Brussels Poetry Collective. This collective of poets organises regular poetry readings and events in various venues throughout Brussels.
The Flagey Cultural Center. This multi-purpose cultural centre hosts a wide range of events, including literary readings, book launches, and literary festivals.
Walk in Victor Hugo’s Footsteps. Victor Hugo lived in Brussels for many years, and he was a regular visitor to the city’s parks and gardens. There are many places in Brussels where you can walk in Hugo’s footsteps, and you can even visit the house where he lived. A plaque on a four-floor house at 4 Place des Barricades in Brussels reveals that the French writer lived there with his family from 1866 to 1871.
Visiting further afield in outer Brussels:
The Herge Museum. The museum is located in Louvain-la-Neuve is a museum dedicated to the life and work of the renowned Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known as Herge, the creator of the Tintin comics. The museum houses a vast collection of original drawings, sketches, and artifacts related to Herge and Tintin.
As can be seen, these are just a few of the many literary spots in Brussels. Overall, Brussels’ literary culture is a reflection of its rich history, linguistic diversity, and vibrant community of writers, publishers, and booksellers.
Don’t forget to check out…
We travelled to Paris for an amazing literary tour, from Pere La Chaise to Cemetery to the American Library.
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