Royal Army and Military History Museum, Brussels, Belgium

The statue atop the entrance to the museum.

The statue atop the entrance to the museum.

Situated in Parc du Cinquantenaire, one of Brussels’ most picturesque and expansive parks, and next to an enormous 85-meter-high arch resembling Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, is the large stone building containing the Royal Army and Military History Museum. Visitors can access a staircase near the ancient armor display in the museum to go up to a roof terrace atop the arch for a spectacular view of downtown Brussels.

Founded in 1923, the museum covers Belgium’s military history from the Middle Ages to the present, with an extensive WWII section. Its comprehensive, detailed galleries and exhibits make it one of the finest military museums in the world.

There may be no better museum in Belgium to get an understanding of the history of this small country that was overshadowed, invaded and occupied by neighboring Netherlands, France and even Spain. The galleries begin in the Middle Ages and continue through the Austrian Netherlands and Napoleonic eras, to the events that created today’s Belgium, in 1830.

Extensive WWI and WWII galleries bring visitors into the 20th century with photographs, films, flags, paintings, medals, swords, a cannon, a Napoleonic Wars room, armor and glass cases packed with weapons and personal equipment.

The middle courtyard is crammed with 30 tanks and military vehicles, many quite rare, including British Churchill and Centurion tanks, a formidable Russian T-34 and an American Sherman.

Proceeding next into the large hall is a sight that rivals the main hall at IWM London. Aircraft hang from the roof and stand around the floor in this enormous 170-meter-long, 40-meter-high cavern, including several aircraft ranging from WWI biplanes to WWII air transport. A long narrow corridor completes the Belgian military history with displays on its Navy.

Brussels makes a good starting point for the Battle of the Bulge museums in the Ardennes and Bastogne, only 1½ hours away by car. There are plenty of other amazing sights to see in this small country that are easily of the same quality you’ll find in neighboring France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Royal Army and Military History Museum (Jubelpark 3, 1000 Brussels, Belgium; phone 00-32-(0)2 737 78 33 or visit
www.klm-mra.be) can be reached by public transportation (bus, train, tram or metro) or on your own.
Admission is free and the museum is open daily (closed Mondays, Jan. 1, May 1, Nov. 1, Dec. 25 and on election days) 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Allow at least three hours.