Do you want to discover Brussels like the locals do, without the hordes of tourists? The Brussels’ Comic Book Route might be the perfect opportunity to discover the capital of Europe through fresh eyes.
The Comic Book Route in Brussels is a path through the inner city, as well as the neighborhoods of Laeken and Auderghem, if you don’t mind leaving the city center. It consists of several murals painted on the walls of random buildings. The murals show panels of Belgian’s (should it be Belgium’s?) most famous and popular comics, such as Tintin, Lucky Luke and The Smurfs.
The project started as an initiative by the local authorities to embellish empty walls and gables of buildings, in collaboration with the Comic Strip Center. “It was originally a way to pay homage to famous Belgian comic artists. Fast forward a few years, the trail now has over 50 colorful murals and is one of Brussels’ landmarks and an interesting fun fact about the EU capital,” the Strip Museum informs. “The project keeps growing over time as new creations are added to the list and comic characters come alive in unexpected corners all around town.”
Anyone who wants to see the whole route better wait for a sunny day and prepare oneself for a long walk. “I’ve been living in Brussels for about three years now, and I’ve seen a lot of the murals, but I didn’t know they were part of a special route until a few months ago,” says Sarah Janssen (29). “One day I decided to check out all of the murals, and it took me a whole afternoon. It’s so worth it, though. I discovered some parts of the city I’d never been to before.” For anyone who would rather not walk, the Brussels tourist association Pro Velo also offers a two hour biking tour of all the murals, starting at the Bicycle Riders House.
Belgium is considered the capital of the bande dessinée, or “comic strip”.
Even though it’s one of the more niche segments of Belgian cultural history, it attracts tourists, and some years ago, the comic book tourism in Belgium peaked. “After the Tintin movies, directed by Steven Spielberg, we noticed an increase in tourists asking for maps or guided tours,” says Vincent Dubois, a local who earns some money on the side as tour guide. “Especially American tourists were really interested. They come for Tintin, but they stay because of the quaint neighborhoods that are not crowded by tourists.”
Some of these American Tintin-tourists are Robert Hartman (63) and his wife Gina (59). “We have some family living in Germany, so we were going to be in Europe anyway, but when we saw the Tintin movie, we decided to check out the place where he originated, as we were so close already,” says Robert. His wife continues, “That was seven years ago. Every time we come back to Europe, we say we should come back to see if they added more murals, but this is the first time we did it. I’m really curious to see the new additions.”
The Brussels Tourism Office offers comic maps for 1 euro, or alternatively you can take the route provided on this map here.