Brussels is a green city with a great extent of parks and gardens. Once a hunting preserve of the dukes of Brabant, the Parc de Bruxelles (Brussels Park), rue Royale (Métro: Parc), between Parliament and the Royal Palace, was laid out in the 18th century as a landscaped garden. In 1830, Belgian patriots fought Dutch regular troops here during the War of Independence. Later it was a fashionable place to stroll and to meet friends. Although not very big, the park manages to contain everything from carefully trimmed borders to rough patches of trees and bushes, and has fine views along its main paths, which together with the fountain form the outline of Masonic symbols. Diseased chestnut trees have been cut down and lime trees replaced with sturdier specimens, statues have been restored and cleaned, and the 1840s bandstand by Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer has been refurbished so it now hosts regular summer concerts. The cleanup diminished the various unwholesome nighttime activities in the park.
The big public park called the Bois de la Cambre begins at the top of avenue Louise (tram: 94) in the southern section of Brussels. Its centerpiece is a small lake with an island in its center that can be reached by a neat little electrically operated pontoon. The park gets crowded on sunny weekends. A few busy roads with fast-moving traffic run through it, so be careful with children. The Forêt de Soignes, south of the Bois, is no longer a park with playing areas and regularly mown grass, but a forest that stretches almost to Waterloo. This is a great place to escape the maddening crowds and fuming traffic, particularly in the fall, when the colors are dazzling.
Parc du Cinquantenaire
Designed to celebrate the half-centenary of Belgium’s 1830 independence, the Cinquantenaire (Golden Jubilee) Park was a work in progress from the 1870s until well into the 20th century. Extensive gardens surround the triumphal Arc du Cinquantenaire, topped by a bronze chariot representing “Brabant Raising the National Flag” and flanked by colonnaded pavilions housing three fine museums; plan to spend the day here to really do all three justice. Autoworld and the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History face each other across the gardens; the Musée du Cinqantenaire is tucked away around the back of Autoworld.
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