An exotic visit to the Royal Greenhouses in Brussels

Many people have no idea that Belgium is a major cradle of art. Yet many renowned artists were born or trained in this small European country. From Pierre-Paul Rubens to James Ensor, René Magritte, Jan Van Eyck and the famous architect Victor Horta, the flat country seems to stand out when it comes to art. In fact, in addition to the many museums to be found in Belgium, Brussels is an open-air museum. The city boasts a rich and diverse architectural heritage. The Grand-Place and its Baroque style, the Royal Quarter with its remarkable neo-classical ensemble, not forgetting the Art Nouveau that made Brussels its capital, thanks in particular to Victor Horta and Paul Hankar. But one of the most remarkable Art Nouveau monuments in Brussels is none other than the Royal Greenhouses in Laeken. A veritable Garden of Eden in the heart of the city, open to the public for a few days a year. Come and visit!

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Considered one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in Europe, the Royal Greenhouses in Laeken (a commune of Brussels) are home to an exotic collection of absolutely incredible tropical plants. What's more, its architecture, with its splendid Art Nouveau-style glass roofs, is bound to transport you for the duration of your visit. And it's in spring that the public rediscovers this Art Nouveau jewel in wonder. For three weeks, the Royal Greenhouses are open to the delight of young and old alike. If you're planning a visit to Brussels during the opening period, this is a must-see! A kilometre of greenhouses awaits you. Discover an astonishing collection of palm forests, tree ferns, lianas and rare plants, giving you the impression of being immersed in a lush tropical forest.

Royal Greenhouse, Brussels, Belgium

- © CapturePB / Shutterstock

Where to stay?

⭐ Novotel Brussels City Centre

The Royal Greenhouses are located in the commune of Laeken, quite far from the centre of Brussels. So prefer accommodation in the heart of the city, and reach the greenhouses by public transport. The greenhouses are next to the Atomium, so it's a great opportunity to combine the two visits!

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Novotel Brussels City Centre - Brussels

The Novotel Brussels City Centre is located in the lively Sainte-Catherine district, 200 metres from De Brouckère metro station. It offers modern accommodation, a spa with gym and 24-hour room service.
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You will plunge into the heart of the Royal estate, the Château de Laeken, which is none other than the principal residence of the country's sovereigns, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde. Built in the 18th century as a secondary residence for the Archdukes of Austria, Marie-Christine and Albert of Saxe-Teschen. All part of the royal estate, which covers more than 200 hectares. The park surrounding the castle and glasshouses is also absolutely magnificent. In spring, it is decked out in lights, with a lake, rock gardens, rose gardens, flowerbeds, cherry blossom trees, groves and ponds, all designed and laid out in the English garden style. All carefully maintained, it is undoubtedly considered one of the most beautiful gardens in the kingdom.

Royal Park Gardens

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History of the place

The royal greenhouses came into being at the end of the 19th century under the impetus of King Leopold II, who had a certain taste for the colonies... The 19th century saw the birth of technical progress in architecture, and it was at this time that the use of glass and metal were incorporated into building materials. All of which made it possible to build greenhouses! And so it was that in 1873, the architect Alphonse Balat and his pupil Victor Horta presented the reigning king with the complex Royal Greenhouses project, revealing the appearance of a glass city in a hilly landscape. They are now classed as one of the largest glasshouses in the world, comprising 2.5 hectares of glass.

Royal greenhouses Laeken

- © Jean-Marc Pierard / Shutterstock

The king was a great botanical enthusiast and wanted to create a garden housing a collection of rare exotic plants from all over the world. The greenhouses were designed around monumental pavilions, large glass domes and wide galleries. It was a kind of ideal glass palace, a spectacular innovation for its time, like London's Crystal Palace, built a few years earlier. It's probably fair to say that the Royal Greenhouses largely inspired the new era of architecture in Belgium. Art Nouveau was in its infancy, its architectural style combining iron, cast iron, steel and glass, mixed with numerous floral motifs, responding to organic curves, and the Royal Greenhouses made a major contribution to its influence throughout the kingdom at first and then around the world.

Royal greenhouses, art nouveau

- © CapturePB / Shutterstock

The tropical greenhouse is undoubtedly the most impressive of all. It houses a collection of tree ferns, lianas and magnificent plants. The floor is covered in moss and ferns, giving the impression of being immersed in a lush tropical forest. Some of the plants still date back to the colonial era. Indeed, Leopold II brought back exotic flowers from the Congo. There are also some extremely rare plants that are priceless. The landing stage is devoted to welcoming guests when the King receives his guests in the Winter Garden or in the Dining Room greenhouse. The Winter Garden was the first greenhouse to be built. Pharaonic in size, it was used to plant tall palm trees, which have been there since 1876! This plant collection includes thousands of species, each as beautiful as the next.

Winter garden

- © MisterStock / Shutterstock

The Royal Greenhouses at Laeken were closed to the public for many years, but were restored in the 1980s and reopened to the public. Today, they attract thousands of visitors every year and are considered one of Brussels' most popular tourist attractions.

Brussels, Belgium, May 4, 2022. Royal greenhouses at Laeken, Château royal de Laeken Classical greenhouses designed by Alphonse Balat in 1873, with pavilions, domes and galleries.

- © Jean-Marc Pierard / Shutterstock

Practical information

When to go: to visit the greenhouses, go to Belgium in spring. They are open to the public for three weeks a year, usually between mid-April and mid-May when most of the plants are in flower.

👛 Prices: admission is very reasonable. Generally no more than €5. For this price, you can spend the whole day wandering around the royal gardens and the various greenhouses on the estate. A must if you visit Brussels in spring.

👉 Tickets cannot be bought on the spot! They are very popular and must be booked in advance. Information and reservations on the Belgian monarchy website

by Val HANCOCK
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