Originally written for Associated Content and published 09/02/10.

Coudenberg, the former Palace of Brussels is an archaeological site and museum, which lies, preserved, beneath the current palace and other buildings that make up the royal buildings of the city.

Best known as one of the main residences of Charles V, the palace was built in the 1100s as a castle and gradually transformed at the hands of various rulers from a military stronghold into a royal palace by the end of the 1400s, only to burn down in 1731. Unlike many other similar sites around Europe – such as Copenhagen – the buried palace is not solely made up of painstakingly recovered foundations and misshapen remains of rooms and out buildings.

Although much of the original palace is lost, large swathes of the palace cellars and vaults remain almost entirely intact, giving the visitor the illusion of walking through an underground city. This effect is enhanced, by the remains of the older parts of the palace which were originally built on this level; notably the floor of the banqueting hall which collapsed down through its own cellars and the Rue Isabelle which has returned to its original level from before the 17th century.

Royal Palace, Brussels

The Current Royal Palace, Brussels

Archaeological Excavations

The area that currently houses the Royal Palace and the related complex of buildings around the Place Royale was levelled during the 18th century. Prior to this the buildings that made up the royal complex were on different levels in line with the contours of the hill on which they stand.

The first archaeological investigations took place in 1894 and continued off and on throughout the 20th century. The most recent work began at the Rue Isabelle in 1986, with the main body of work taking place from 1995 to 2000, with the Hoogstraeten House being restored between 2004 and 2008. Although the site was open to the public in a limited capacity as early as 1997, it wasn’t until 2009 that a full and permanent exhibition was put into place.

Hoogstraeten House Museum

On the other side of the Rue Isabelle, up on contemporary ground level, stands the Hoogstraeten House. Home to the influential Counts of Hoogstraeten, this is a recent addition to the parts of the palace complex open to visitors. The house is primarily a museum, displaying the ceramics, weapons and glass artefacts that were recovered during the archaeological restoration of the palace.  It also contains a fully renovated gothic gallery dating from the sixteenth century.

Getting There and Opening Hours

Coudenberg is located on a hill just above the centre of Brussels, and is a short walk from the central station. If travelling by Metro Gare Centrale and Parc are the nearest stations, if coming from Parc walking straight along Rue Royale/Konnigsstraat is the most direct route to the palace. Additionally, there are nearby tram stops (lines 92 & 94 stop Royale, Palais) as the hill itself is quite steep.

Open Tuesday – Friday: 10am – 6pm

Closed Mondays (groups of 15+ and school parties may visit by arrangement), 25/12 and 1/1. The palace and museum close early at 2pm on 24/12 and 31/12.

Adults – €5

Groups/Seniors – €4

18-25 years/job-seekers/disabled persons – €3

Under 18s/teachers/guides – Free

Combined tickets for the palace and the museum above are available for reduced rates.

Saint Jacques sur Coudenberg Church

Saint Jacques sur Coudenberg Church - Part of the Royal Complex above the ruins