As part of my Brussels series, I am going to be sharing with you all the places and spaces that we visited on our trip to Brussels in August. If you missed it, you can check out the Belgium Chocolate Village post here. For this post, I’m taking you to the icon and symbol of the European Capital, the Atomium.
Impressive as it is to look at, you’ll be even more surprised to learn that it was built in 1957. Designed and built to be the main feature in the Brussels World Fair in 1958. Nowadays the Atomium is an icon of the city and the emblem of the European Capital. And too right, it is an incredible building standing at 102 metres high.
To think that when you are inside the structure, you travel through the tubes between the balls really helps you to see the scale of the building.
Although as a rule we like to veer away from the more touristy areas, sometimes there are things on your ‘must see’ list and this was one of them. My parents visited many years ago and we have had a magnet of the building on our board since then. So it became one of the places you have to see.
We wanted to walk there, but it is a bit of a distance and to be honest, we were only there for a short visit and wanted to make the most of our time. Besides, we’ve been enjoying trying different trains and transport on our travels.
The Atomium has paid entry, but you can get a discount with your NUS card (yes, we have them!) or with the discount code that accompanies your Brussels Card. We got an increased discount by using our NUS and buying combined tickets with the Brussels Design Museum for the Plasticarium. The staff are genuinely helpful to get you the best deal, so that’s always good.
After a swift ride in the crazy looking lift, you arrive at the viewing platform. Although behind glass, you still get a good view over the city and into the remaining parts of the park and World Fair buildings. The visit is worth it for the view alone!
The past and future
As you com into the exhibition space and start to learn more about the Brussels World Fair and the Atomium, you can’t help but start imagining how insanely futuristic it must have been for the people around there in the 1950s! Giant atom shaped buildings made from aluminium. Being able to see the world in one large park and people visiting form all over the planet. It is pretty mind-blowing to imagine what it would have been like. Kind of something from The Jetsons I would think!
The exhibits do a great job of helping you to see how it would have been though, with videos, artifacts and stories. A favourite item, for me, was the plan of the area.
The exhibition spaces are in the ball areas of the structure and you are transported via stairs or escalators to the next area. Even just moving around inside such an unusual building is exciting.
Architecture and Design
Through the exhibition we learned that there were many submissions for the design and lots of revisions that followed. It is incredible to see the designs that went into creating such an incredible building. But then I think about the actual construction and that must have been even more complex. And it was! According to the information, specific companies had to be charged with pressing and cutting the aluminium while others completed their specialised tasks too.
It was interesting reading about the decisions that went into deciding on the final designs and seeing where it fitted into the overall scheme of the World Fair.
Planes, planes and air hostesses
Interesting as it was to learn about the development of the chartered flights and airline bringing people to the Brussels World Fair and how it had grown during that time, there was a bit too much. It was useful for understanding the story, but I was personally more interested in the fair and the building itself. We took our time to read and take in the information, which was fascinating, but didn’t linger longer than that. On that note though, some of the seats they used on planes in the past were slightly questionable!
Maybe a bit on the themey side but the lit escalator on the way out was really quite fun! We thought it was a bit like The Running Man! It was fun feeling what it must have been like to see and experience such a futuristic place back in the 1950s and the excitement and optimism that I imagine it brought with it.
Of course, as with any iconic building there are the traditional holiday snaps that everyone wants to take home with them. Us? Well, we like to take really bad versions or ‘anti-shots’ as we affectionately call them. If you are really looking to get a nicer picture, you can head towards the Plasticarium where you can grab a shot of the Atomium in the distance without hoards of tourists or just to the other side with the park in the background.
As I mentioned earlier in my post, we got a great deal on joint tickets for the Atomium and the Plasticarium and I would recommend that you go for it too. As you have taken a train to get to this part of the city, you might as well make the most of it. It is also a good opportunity to grab some less touristy photographs of the Atomium.
And have your picnic beneath the Atomium – there aren’t many iconic buildings that you can eat directly beneath, so make the most of it!
Plus, if you’re anywhere around my age I bet you’ll recognise a piece or five too! It’s fun for the memories as well as the history and manufacture.
When you head back into town, go to the Grande Place and use your Brussels Card to have a blimp around the Belgian Beer Museum and grab yourself a beer while planning your next part of your adventure.
Have you visited the Atomium? What do reckon: impressive or ugly?
Let me know in the comments below 🙂