Enter the Musical Instrument Museum; located in a fascinating art nouveau building in the heart of Brussels, it’s a feast for the eyes and ears. On the Saturday afternoon we arrived, a sign declared it sold out, but after a short wait in the lobby we were able to purchase tickets. (They can also be bought online, which I’d recommend.)
The lobby itself is notable, with tiled floor, tasteful woodworking, and elegant wrought iron railings. We were able to take our stroller in, as it contained an emphatically sleeping toddler. After picking up audio sets, our first stop was the Traditional Instruments floor.
What we found within its dim rooms was a smorgasbord of all the wonderful and weird ways humans have come up with to make folk music. From Hainaut Province to Appalachia, from the outback to the veld, from ancient Rome to modern Japan, there were representations of dozens of civilizations and classes of instruments. There on display were gadgets from the ages: guitars, fiddles, flutes, drums, horns big and small and made of glass.
In true European style, there were plenty of accordions and what felt like a hundred variations on the bagpipe from different cultures (a convergent evolution of the musical appendage, if you will). The only thing for an English speaker to read was the name of the instrument and its place of origin—I enjoyed this simplicity.
But just looking would have gotten old quickly; what made the experience was the audio set. Standing in front of an instrument, we’d hear it in our headphones; this is true in all three of the exhibits we visited. We wandered the halls, mesmerized, floating on the waves of the peculiar emotion each instrument brought to the surface for us.
We caught a midafternoon meal in the 10th story restaurant, with the sun gloriously bright on our faces and a panorama of the city skyline all around (the building is on a hill). The view is unmissable.
We then proceeded to the Mechanical exhibit, which was somewhat mystifying without being able to read the French and Dutch captions, but worth a look nonetheless. It included music boxes, gramophones, player pianos, and synthesizers.
Our final stop was Western Art Music, where we waltzed through classic and exotic examples of everything you might ever bow, pluck, blow, or plunk in an orchestra: violins, harps, horns and reeds, clavinovas, and everything in between. We made it halfway through before being reminded that the museum was closing for the day.
As a fan of and dabbler in music, this attraction had obvious appeal to me. But my favorite aspect was the musical bug my daughter caught. A whole world of melody was opened to her in a unique way, and she excitedly dragged me to listen to her favorite tunes. My two-year-old, as well, was never antsy as he held his own speaker to his ear (you could hear with or without headphones), listening earnestly, babbling to us about what he heard. I’ve never seen a museum that was so easy to enjoy as a whole family.
Location: Montagne de la Cour 2, B-1000 Brussels; a 10 minute walk from the Brussels Central station
Cost: 8 euro for ages 26-64; 2 euro for ages 4-25. Restaurant is accessible without purchasing tickets.
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; see website for exceptions.