Best thing about Brussels #2: The Atomium


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Surely Brussels’ Atomium is on a list somewhere of the world’s top 10 most astonishing buildings. Hand-riveted bolt by bolt in the 1950s into the shape of a 102-metre-high iron molecule, this is a building that only a photo can do it justice. So here’s a couple more…

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Pretty awesome, no? And it’s even better in reality – because although you get a tiny preview of the Utopian Atomium from several viewpoints across Brussels, nothing quite prepares you for the scale of the baubled giant until you turn a corner to find it looming over you like a scene from War of the Worlds.

But this alien spaceship in the northern suburbs of Brussels is not just a pretty sight. The Atomium was built to be the main pavilion and icon of the World Fair of Brussels (1958), the world’s first expo after the Second World War.

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And so, inside you’ll find a fully functioning art and event space. To reiterate, you can go INSIDE the molecule and move around it via disco-light escalator tunnels which lead into viewing platforms, exhibition spaces, a restaurant and even a conference pod.

This is the kind of building that needs some stats – and here they are, with some illustrations along the way:

The Atomium is 102m high.

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The speed of the lift, the fastest in Europe at the time of opening, is 5m/sec – good for artistic motion blur.

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The diameter of the spheres is 18m across.

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The diameter of each tube is 3m.

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The escalators in the tubes were among Europe’s longest when it opened in 1958; the longest is 35m.

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Six of the nine spheres have two floors each. Five are open to the public.

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The children’s sphere is open for school kids between 6-12 years to sleep.

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Three have never been open to the public – they are called technical spheres and they are empty.

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The ninth sphere can be rented for events, parties, meetings, conferences, etc.

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The Atomium is a little way out of the centre – we took Tram 94 all the way from Louise station to Stade, which took about an hour and doubled as a sight-seeing tour, and then Tram line 3 from Esplanade back into the centre.

It is well worth the trip and one of Brussels’ best sights. But we were also there to see its other attractions.

A major draw for us, being from concrete-y Birmingham (see Walk the Queensway), was the current exhibition – Architectonic: Concrete Walls (1958-1980), which finishes on the 15 April.

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This kept us lingering in the exhibition pods and we spent nearly three hours at the Atomium in total.

There is also some lovely parkland adjacent to The Atomium, where you can have lunch or just chill out after all the ‘tourism’.

For families and fans of amusing photo opportunities, Mini Europe is next door.

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And just next to it is the Oceade – a water slide park that looks pretty awesome from the outside.

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The cost of a ticket is 11 euros and The Atomium is open from 10am-6pm every day, so it’s good for Sunday activities, although expect to queue for the lift up and down.

Pete also took some rather nice shots – it really is a photographer’s dream. I’ll post them here when they’re ready.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to do the tourist thing…

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2 responses to “Best thing about Brussels #2: The Atomium

  1. Chris Seymour-Smith

    Walking round inside a molecule sounds like every scientist’s dream.. Did you see the Higgs Boson particle while you were there?

  2. Maybe in the disco tunnel?