Sunday 12 February 2017

Atomium Running Route, Brussels

Click here for route map
Length 4.4 km (2.7 miles), terrain: small hills

Brussels Running Routes:
Avenue Louise/Bois de la Cambre  
Center Loop 

Old-Town Sights
EU Quarter/Woluwe Park
For more running routes, see Route List

NOTE: see the Destinations Tips page for tips about spending your free time in this great town!
A lot of the Brussels tourist sights are clustered together at the north edge of town, in Laeken (Laken in Dutch, in this bilingual town). This is where you'll find lots of the stuff from the tourist brochures: the Atomium, Brupark, Mini-Europe, the Kinepolis, the Exhibition Center, royal palaces (3 of them!), oriental towers, the Art and Design Museum and Heysel -- the main soccer stadium.

But what you might not have heard is that there is also a big park there, Laken Park (Parc de Laeken), a great running spot that links the various attractions together. During one fairly short run you can enjoy some nature and see (from the outside, anyway) a lot of what the Brussels tourism industry has set up for you.
The Atomium
The dominant attraction is the Atomium, a glittering relic from the heady days of the Atomic Age. It was built for the 1958 World's Fair, back when everyone expected to be soon flying through town in atomic-powered rockets. Viewed from below, it's really impressive, with its metalic facade glinting in the sunlight. You can even go inside and take escalators from globe to globe, but I like it best just to view it from various angles from outside.

So, if you feel like doing this scenic little run, take either Metro line 6 or tram line 7 to Heysel and get out there. You'll find yourself standing between the stadium to the west, the Expo to the north and the Kinepolis (IMAX cinema and 29 screens) to the south.
The Grand Palais at Expo
Directly across the street, Avenue Impériatrice Charlotte, you'll see the art-deco-era Expo halls. They are impressive in their own right: built for the 1935 World's Fair, they were re-used for the Expo 58, the 1958 World's Fair, and continue to be used for all kinds of expositions and trade shows.

In fact, this whole area, including Laken Park, was part of both of the World's Fair-grounds, now open as a public park.
Heysel Stadium
From the pond out front of the imposing Grand Palais Expo hall, turn south on Boulevard du Centenaire, running slightly downhill towards the Atomium. The sidwalk pavement is pretty bad, so watch your footing.

You'll pass the IMAX theater on the right, and -- right next to it -- the Brupark amusement park with its big water slide.

And just past that on the right is Mini Europe, a little exhibition that has many of the most famous spots in Europe recreated for visitors.

To the left, you'll pass the ADA design museum.
Atomium runner
The Atomium, though is the star of the scenery here, and it gets more impressive with every step. It's actually supposed to represent an iron molecule, not a single atom, but not many people care exactly. It's fascinating just to see the giant, glittering globes hovering in the sky above.

You can run directly under the Atomium, then exit to the left, where the green woods and meadows of Laken Park await.
Along the lake: looks like a river
Head eastwards into the woods along the dirt trail, keeping the narrow lake to your right. It's a nice bit of Belgian nature: the beech woods on rolling hills are typical of the area.

You'll see an outdoor amphitheater across the water to the right. When you come to the bridge over the lake, cross it, heading southeast towards a lookout over the lawn-filled valley to the south.
The local beechwoods
A little road, Avenue du Gros Tilleul, follows the valley floor, and you'll see a little roundabout there. We'll now head down that way: first turn right and take the first trail to the left to run downhill towards the roundabout.

From now on, all the trails are paved.

RAF memorial and American Theater
On Avenue du Gros Tilleul, pass the roundabout with its memorial to downed British RAF planes, heading eastwards towards a strange, rounded structure ahead. This fairly abandoned-looking place was the American pavilion in 1958, now used as broadcasting studios and as a concert venue, the American Theater.

Just before the pavilion, you'll see a divided trail to the right, heading uphill to the south. Take that trail.

NOTE: The Chinese and Japanese pagodas would be straight ahead, past the pavilion, if you want to see them. But they straddle a loud street, so I left them out of this route.

You'll pass a bit of woods behind a wooden fence, and then see another trail to the left, continuing up the hill towards a gothic spire. Take that trail.

Heading towards the spire
This trail will wander upwards along the hill, with the fence to the left, passing the spire, which is on the hilltop behind the woods.

Keep running until the trail comes to a paved street, Avenue des Narcisses (there is no traffic here, though). Turn left here and continue running uphill straight towards the gothic spire. The spire is a monument to the royal dynasty and King Leopold I.
Last stretch to the tower, guarded by trained watchdogs
You're now at the hilltop, with a good view over the city to the south. Behind the monument, a stone fence blocks off a big part of the park, with the Château du Belvédère behind it. There are three royal palaces here, which are private and are walled off to the public. Most of the park is inside the private Royal Domain.

But the biggest palace is south of here, so let's run downhill along Avenue de la Dynastie towards the iron fences guarding the main royal palace, the Château de Laeken.
Château de Laeken
A busy road, Avenue du Parc Royal, runs past the palace right in front of the fence.

So now, turn right to run parallel to the fence, then turn back into the public park to the right on paved Avenue des Seringas, a wide footpath.

Start of Seringas
You're now back in the quiet expanses of lawn, heading north through the park towards the Atomium again. Just to the left, downhill, there is a little chapel and springs of St. Anne.
Chapel of St. Anne
Now just follow Seringas as it twists its way northward. On the left is the west edge of the public park, with Château du Stuyvenberg behind the brick walls, the third of the three royal palaces in Laken.
Follow the trail as it heads downhill, with a fenced-off area to the left where a tram line tunnels under the park.
Along Seringas, with Atomium in distance
The trail ends at a little basketball court. Turn left to run the few steps back to Boulevard du Centenaire. This is at a roundabout called Place Louis Steens, with a little monument on the side.

Now just follow the dirt trail just inside the park to run northwards towards the Atomium, and from there continuing straight towards the Expo and the start of the run.

That was a lot to see in one little area!

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