Brussels’ fabulous Atomium
It was immense fun to visit the Atomium in Brussels, Belgium, one of Europe’s top landmarks and icon of mid-century design.
Gleaming under beautiful Belgian skies, the Atomium is both symbol of Brussels and the space age. Constructed as centerpiece of the 1958 World Exhibition, the Atomium’s mid-century architecture expresses the optimism and confidence of the Atomic Age.
Belgian engineer-architect Andre Waterkeyn (1917-2005) designed the Atomium as an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Why iron? In nature, atoms of iron organize themselves as a cube, a shape that Waterkeyn knew could be easily reproduced as a building. The Atomium stands 335 feet tall, with nine stainless-steel clad ‘atoms’ or spheres (each 59 feet in diameter) connected by giant tubes. An elevator whisks visitors to the top sphere, which offers panoramic views of the city and an excellent restaurant.
Visitors travel between spheres via stairs and escalators inside the Atomium’s tubes. The spheres are surprisingly roomy and contain retro-cool displays on World Expo 1958 as well as exhibitions on architecture and design.
The Atomium was never meant to outlast Expo 58 but became an instant and beloved icon. Restored to gleaming perfection in 2006, the Atomium is a must-see for all visitors to Brussels, especially mid-century design buffs and cool hunters of all kinds.
For visitor information, dining options and more, see the Atomium website.
Directions: Using the Brussels Metro (subway), get to Beekkant station. Take Train 6, direction Roi Baudouin and get off in Heysel. From Heysel metro station to the Atomium is a few minutes by foot.
Transit tips: Brussels’ immaculate Metro system is a pleasure to use but travelers should be aware that stations are signposted in two languages, French and Flemish. For example, Roi Baudouin station is also called Koning Boudewijn and Heysel is also called Heizel. It’s not as confusing as it sounds. I made multiple transfers around the Brussels’ metro without any help other than my guidebook map.
Brussels Card: I highly recommend the purchase of a Brussels Card. Available for periods of 24, 48 and 72 hours, Brussels Card includes free admission to most museums, reduced admission to many attractions (including the Atomium), shopping and restaurant discounts, a map plus unlimited use of all buses, trams and Metro of the Brussels Public Transport Company (STIB). I had never been to Brussels before but Brussels Card made using public transit easy because I could quickly correct any directional or gate mistakes as soon as I’d realized I’d made them, even at unstaffed stations.
For more on the pleasures of Brussels and Belgium, see Visit Belgium.