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Explore Molenbeek: A lively district full of history

The cradle of the industrial revolution in Brussels, canalside Molenbeek is much maligned for its disaffected immigrant communities. Following Brussels’ security concerns, the district has suffered in particular from negative publicity. But Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, to give the commune its full title, is a multi-faceted neighbourhood that is certainly not a no-go zone for tourists.

From the vast meadow Scheutbos, to the Karreveld, a beautifully maintained 13th-century château-farm that stages outdoor theatre, to art centres such as the Institut Saint-Luc, La Raffinerie (an ex-sugar refinery that is now a performing arts mecca), La Vallée (an old laundry turned artist space) and the brand-new Mima museum, Molenbeek is open to visitors.

La Fonderie

A museum of industry and labour, La Fonderie occupies the romantically rundown site of a disaffected bronze foundry where many of the city's best known statues were made. The museum illustrates the working history of Brussels and collects objects, documents and oral history on the city’s industrial past. It publishes a magazine, organises guided visits and fun children's activities.

27 Rue Ransfort

Brasserie de la Senne

Once home to more than 100 breweries, Brussels was down to just one in 2010 when the Brasserie de la Senne opened in Molenbeek and led the way for the gradual re-brewerisation of Brussels. Its beers such as Zinnebir, Taras Boulba and Jambe de Bois have caught on and four years later, the brewery is producing 8,000 hectolitres of beer annually (60% reserved for the Brussels market). The brewery, shop and café are open weekdays from 9.00-15.00.

565 Chaussée de Gand

MCCS

If you really want to experience the proliferation of art in Molenbeek, head for the MCCS (Maison des Cultures et de la Cohésion Sociale de Molenbeek), which, housed in a superb late 19th-century industrial building, is a 6,000m2 space for courtyard movies projections, dance recitals, concerts, poetry, exhibitions, workshops and children's activities.

4 Rue Mommaerts

Scheutbos

With 110 acres of forest, meadows and wetlands, this park offers an exceptional bio-diversity for an urban location. As well as the cows that still graze here, there are hedgehogs, hares, hawks, songbirds and a wide variety of flowers. From its hilltop location there's a sweeping view of the city and history buffs can imagine the scene in 1695 when the French army lined up its cannons along this ridge to devastate Brussels with Europe's first military attack on purely civilian targets, resulting in the almost complete destruction of the city centre.

Thursday market

The weekly market offers a riotous display of fruits and vegetables, but also spice stands with a huge variety of prepared olives and preserved fruit, as well as clothing, linens, cleaning products, kitchenware and other miscellanea. Winding its way from in front of the town hall through the streets to the square in front of Saint John the Baptist church, the market gives you the opportunity to visit this church, one of three concrete churches in Brussels. It was designed by Joseph Diongre, an architect who is best known for the Flagey building.

Thursday 8.00-13:00

Walking Tours

Molenbeek à la carte, a beautifully illustrated free publication available at most Brussels tourist information centres proposes two architectural tours of the neighbourhood. Brukselbinnenstebuiten is offering comprehensive tours of ‘Old Molenbeek’ aimed at visitors intrigued by the commune’s new-found notoriety. Contemporary architecture in the canalside district is the subject of audio walking tours organised by Archi-Audio. The tour presents the evolution of urban renovation in the city and presents 12 architectural projects. There’s a free download of the tour and map.

Zebrano

Housed in the old Whitbread Brewery buildings, Zebrano is prized for its exceptional setting and its menu of the month: four courses of reimagined classics made with fresh seasonal local products for €36 such as squid stuffed with goat cheese and pepper coulis, or cod filet with caramelised cucumbers and cherry and polenta sauce.

47 Rue de Rotterdam

Le Palais de Balkis

The first and only organic halal charcuterie, this restaurant/shop in an ultra-modern minimalist setting, sells sausages, salamis, and hams made from free range goat, mutton and beef, as well as quiches and other fine delicatessen products.

163 Chaussée de Gand

Les Apéros LaVallée

The former laundry turned art space hosts free evening aperitifs with music by the house DJ soundsystem. There’s a bar, barbecue and you can catch the gallery’s latest art exhibition.

39 Rue Adolphe Lavallée

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