Royal Greenhouses of Laeken
I guess it's very clear by now I have a thing for tropical plants and architecture. So what if I told you there is a place where these two loves come together in the most splendid way? The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken form a magnificent complex of glass and steel and house some true botanical gems. This Belgian landmark is only open for 3 weeks a year for people who aren't royals so take out those agendas and write this down.
It was Leopold II, the second king of the Belgians, who ordered the architect Alphonse Balat in 1873 to build him this 'city of glass' to complete the Castle of Laeken. The result in pure Art Nouveau style was a technical prowess at that time and quickly became a sensation. Beyond their architectural splendor, the royal greenhouses form a testimony of an era that was marked by colonialism and a fascination for exotic places far away. Hence the thousands of tropical plants and trees, some of which are close to 200 years old.
It's been a tradition for over a century that every year the greenhouses open their doors to the public for a short period of 3 weeks, between mid-April and beginning of May. The visit is a journey inside and outside the greenhouses, going from one floral room to another, until reaching the climax formed by the Winter Garden and its 25-meter high glass dome. With its Roman-style pillars and palms that reach incredible heights, it is the most exquisite of tropical gardens (and a place that never fails at taking my breath away).
Be aware though that this attraction draws up to 100.000 visitors every year so avoid going there if you suffer from agoraphobia or lack of patience, because you'll be sharing the trail with many other people. Still I would say it cannot be missed and if you plan your visit during the week you should make it out alive.
Entrance fee is only €2,50. If you come by car, there is free parking around the domain. If you come by public transport, get off the train at Brussels-North and take a bus from there. Before your visit, check the opening hours here.