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    The rise of guided tours in Brussels this year and beyond

    © Jean-Paul Remy
    Royal Greenhouses of Laeken
    © Jean-Paul Remy

    Tourism in Brussels is positively thriving thanks to a feast of guided tours of every description coupled with a wealth of cultural festivals taking place in the city throughout the year courtesy of visit.brussels. Sightseers and residents can familiarise themselves with Belgium’s capital city by car, bus, horse-drawn carriage, Segway, bike, tram or simply by foot and they can choose from a wide range of subjects to discuss with their guide before embarking on their cultural journey.

    March 2018 sees the curtain-raiser of the BANAD Festival which opens with a season of guided tours celebrating Brussels’ strong identity as one of the world’s leading cities in Art Nouveau and Art Deco design. “BANAD promotes the richness and diversity of the two architectural styles and we are celebrating this with not only guided tours but lots of exhibitions, concerts, conferences and parties,” said Charlotte Raymond, Guided Tours Sector Developer with visit.brussels.

    Next year, the theme of BANAD will focus on Victor Horta designs and organisers are already researching grand houses in Jette, Molenbeek, Laeken and Anderlecht in order to gently persuade owners to open their doors to the public. BANAD Festival Director, Julien Staszewski, told The Brussels Times that his team are also working to add more family friendly events during the tours, events and exhibitions.

    Throughout the festival, professional guides will be on hand to take tourists to exceptional interiors on foot, by bike or by bus and fear not if you miss the celebrations, you can still visit Art Nouveau and Deco interiors throughout the year. For more details on the festival, contact: info@explore.brussels.

    imon315 06 Hotel Solvay 1321 Sophie Voituron
    Hotel Solvay                                                              © Sophie Voituron

    BANAD will be followed by Art Brussels the following month, a contemporary art fair which joins forces with cities worldwide to show the best of contemporary art. Arkadia, the professional art tours company will be providing professional guides during the fair. For more info, contact info@arkadia.be.

    For those who are keen on the environment, The Royal Greenhouses at Laeken are open to the public for three weeks from April to May when guided tours are on offer for those who wish to take a peek at the magnificent flora while at the same time learn about Belgium’s royal history and discover the work of world-renowned architect Balat. Contact: laeken.decouverte@gmail.com.

    The month of May sees the start of the Iris Festival which will take place in the communes of Etterbeek, Auderghem, Uccle, Ixelles and Watermael Boitsfort in 2018. The festival celebrates the hidden delights of Brussels by bike or foot free of charge. Guides will take tourists and residents who simply want to find out more about their city, to areas of charm off the beaten track or to spots normally closed to the public. More info can be found on the visit.brussels webpage.

    May is also synonymous with celebrations of all things European and EU institution buildings, including the newly opened magnificent European Council building and the European Parliament, which will be open to the public. Guides will be on hand to talk about the vital work carried out in the buildings and the intriguing history which is a popular annual event with the public.

    The recently opened House of European History is worth visiting and from Berlaymont building you can have a fantastic view of Brussels from the top. You can visit these highlights of the European Quarter all year long. For more info: visit.brussels/europe.

    The month of May also sees the annual Gay Pride parade in the heart of the city but many are still unaware that in addition to this, guided tours are offered in areas where the gay community is thriving in a diverse and largely tolerant city. Contact: info@itineraires.be.

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    Summer in the city is a perfect time for a guided tour and you can take a mystery tour with Pro Velo! Guided tours can be taken again down ‘the roads less travelled by’ in green spaces courtesy of nature guides in the Forest of Soignes. “We are, after all, one of the greenest cities in Europe,” said Emilie Herssens, manager of Discover the City who added the theme very much centres on biodiversity. Tourists can also discover the charm of Forest, Saint Gilles, Auderghem, Etterbeek and Schaerbeek by bike or by foot. More information at: info@provelo.org.

    Brussels’ iconic Grand Place will be awash with colour during the month of August in 2018 when the bi-annual Flower Carpet will be displayed in all its magnificence.

    Art is definitely the theme during the month of September next year which will see the start of the Comic Strip Festival when comic strip tours will be available during the first weekend and these will be absolutely free. There will be a plethora of street art throughout the city celebrating all things Tintin and lots more.

    Mid September focuses on Heritage Days where urban heritage and living is celebrated by giving residents and tourists a look inside private houses, businesses and public offices which are otherwise off limits to the rest of the public. Guides armed with useful knowledge will be on hand to make the experience memorable. Contact: https://visit.brussels/en/sites/heritage

    Arkadia guides again will be ever eager to impart their knowledge of the contemporary art world during Brussels Gallery weekend during September which will mark the beginning of the contempory art season in the autumn. Get in touch with: info@arkadia.be.

    Next year marks the centenary of the end to the First World War and during the months of October and November there will be a series of guided tours throughout the city courtesy of Brussels Chatterguides. Brussels was, of course, occupied during the Great War and the occupation and subsequent liberation of the city will be discussed in detail during the tours when experienced guides will be delighted to take walking tourists to the places which were the sites of important and historical events. Chatterguides can be contacted at: info@brusselschatterguides.be.

    The year will be rounded off with December is Bright. Walking tours take place accompanied by guides bearing gifts of a small drop of gluhwein in the glass should tourists so wish as they experience the delights of the Christmas lights, markets and other festive treats throughout the city.

    These are just some of the specially organised events for 2018 but regular tours are available now and throughout the year.

    Brussels Greeters offer walks for small groups of no more than six people throughout the year. You can book a Greeter any time of the year to show you any part of Brussels you choose and they will explain in detail with a local and friendly touch about their bit of the city. They speak in a variety of languages and can focus on a subject of your choosing be it art, fashion, history or general culture. More information on the Greeters can be obtained by going to the greeters.brussels website.

    If walking is not your thing, you can opt for driven guided tours in a Citroen 2CV around the streets of the capital where your driver can comment with authority about Brussels life in a variety of languages. For more info go to www.brussels-on-wheels.be. You can go ‘green and clean’ by riding in an electric ecological car courtesy of Tuk Tuk Tourism (www.tuktuktourism.be). Alternatively you can contact brusselsbeerbus.com which offers vintage bus tours where you can sample the famous Brussels’ beers at the Beer Museum.

    Tuk Tuk imon2
    Tuk Tuk tours in Brussels

    For the more active explorer, there is a jogging tour where yourself and your guide, a fellow fitness enthusiast, will run albeit at a steady pace while pausing to peruse and comment on a particular landmark or building. You can book on demand to join a jogging guide on their website: https://brusselssightjogging.com

    A picturesque ride on a vintage tram can be taken from Woluwe St Pierre up through the stunning tree-lined Avenue De Tervueren to the Flemish town itself of Tervueren which is often described as one of the prettiest tram rides in the world. The rides can be taken every weekend during the spring and summer months and those interested can also book a guided tour via Brussels Tourist Tramway website. Information can also be obtained via the trammuseum.brussels website.

    For an equally stylish way to travel, you can discover the historical centre of Brussels by going on a guided horse-drawn carriage tour from the Grand Place. The carriage takes up to four adults and pre-booking is not required for this tour.

    These are just a few examples amidst the vast range of guided tours possibilities that Brussels will be offering. For a complete list and overview, you can find more info at: www.visit.brussels/en/guided-tour

    By Kim Clayton