With its landscaped gardens, access to the Sonian Forest and a top-class museum, there’s another world to discover just outside Brussels.
With a trip to Tervuren, just to the east of Brussels, getting there is all part of the fun. Board the 44 tram at Montgomery on the edge of the European quarter, and after a picturesque 20-minute ride you’re in a different world. As you leave behind the capital’s pretty suburbs, the tram plunges into the forest, emerging on the outskirts of Tervuren, where culture, nature and history await.
A short walk from the tram stop, the town’s park is a beautiful mix of landscaped French-style gardens, mighty trees and still waters. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife here, too. And while it’s a popular destination for walkers, joggers, families and picnickers, you’ll always find a spot of your own to enjoy the fresh air in peace and quiet.
A fresh look at the past
At the heart of the park is the handsome Africa Museum. Originating as a temporary exhibit at the Brussels International Exposition in 1897, the museum’s creation was largely financed by King Leopold II with the enormous profits he made from ivory and rubber in the then Congo Free State. A five-year renovation completed in 2018 marked the start of a new chapter, whose biggest challenge is the continuing decolonisation of the museum.
Through dialogue and collaboration with experts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, the museum aims to tell a more nuanced story of the region’s history, identity, art, culture, peoples, biodiversity, languages and contemporary economy, while attempting to cast a more critical eye on Belgium’s frequently brutal activities in its former colony.
The original palatial buildings have been complemented by a glass annex housing the ticket counter, gift shop and restaurant. Kids will enjoy the wildlife galleries and the family parcours, and many of the exhibits are interactive. Count on spending two hours here, and consider a guided tour to ensure you don’t miss a thing.
Spectacular natural heritage
Tervuren’s 120-hectare arboretum has a rich and varied collection of more than 700 species of tree, from all around the world – alongside familiar beech and fir, look out for varieties like the sequoia, Aleppo oak and Mongolian lime. A tangle of grassy valleys and wide, flat avenues, it makes for a beautiful, peaceful walk, while providing vital research material for conservationists.
Both the park and arboretum are part of the vast Sonian Forest, the huge stretch of green that wraps round the south and east of the capital. Its magnificent beech trees have been recognised by Unesco and are Belgium’s first natural World Heritage Site.
The forest’s trails offer countless possibilities for hikes both long and short, always with something new to see. You can create your own route via the app, or try out one of the tourist office’s suggested routes: the royal walk begins and ends at the entrance to the Tervuren arboretum, while the Groenendaal walk takes you through the smaller Groenendaal arboretum, home to some 400 indigenous and exotic tree species, as well as a forest reserve and the Royal Lodge on a former hippodrome.
Hungry? Benches throughout the forest and park offer plenty of picturesque spots for a picnic, but there are also options for a more gourmet lunch, dinner or pitstop. A former mill, the red-brick Spaans Huis dates back to the 13th century; today it’s a social restaurant, shop and information point, supplying snacks, drinks, regional products and tips on exploring the forest. Canape-Apero serves up attractive small plates and cocktails at weekends, with brunch on Sundays, and inside the Africa Museum, Bistro Tembo has a menu of African-inspired dishes like bobotie. Tervuren has a pleasant city centre. Many appealing cafés and restaurants await your visit.
Getting there: tram 44
Tervuren is the final stop of tram 44 from Montgomery in Brussels, which operates every 15 to 20 minutes at weekends. Trains run twice an hour from Brussels to Groenendaal for the Sonian Forest, and there is parking at Vlaktedreef for the Arboretum.
The Africa Museum is wheelchair-accessible, and most trails through the park and forest are wide and flat, making them suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs. More to discover on Visit Tervuren and Tourism Vlaams Brabant.