Last week I visited the Royal Greenhouses of the Belgian royal family in Brussels. They can only be visited for 3 weeks each year, so if you want to go and see for yourself, they are now open until 10 May. And that visit really pays off: the greenhouses are truly unprecedented. Royal green grandeur with a wonderful touch of old-fashioned kitsch.
Impressive greenhouses and colourful flowers
At the gates for the gardens of the Castle of Laeken, every day there is an insistence of day visitors. The Royal Greenhouses are only open to the general public for just three weeks. And everyone wants to see it: the imposing greenhouses, the beautiful flowers and the beautifully kept gardens. When we arrive, there is indeed a very long waiting line.
The first special feature is the view of the greenhouses. The large, award-winning dome that shines like a bubble in the sun, with its pink-green gleaming glass sections encased in copper-green painted steel.
What impressive buildings have been erected here from 1873! The architect of this glass city is court architect Alphonse Balat. And he in turn is the teacher of Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta, the famous Brussels architect, who took the fine art of cast iron and glass architecture at Balat. It seems that architect Balat and his client, King Leopold II, have had many conversations and exchanged countless sketches, letters and preliminary studies. It was a mega project with a long-term vision and construction work stretched on for more than thirty years before it reached its completion.
Selfie or family portrait
People wait patiently and nicely until those in front of them have taken their photo, family portrait or selfie. Then we all walk along the vast landscape garden with a view of a Japanese pagoda. We also pass the thatched cottage in which Queen Elisabeth had her arts studio. Slowly the audience spreads out a bit more over the vast terrain.
Uninterrupted splendor of colours
Then we end up in long galleries full of colours that look almost unreal and fairytale-like. But also seem like a beautiful green legacy from a bygone era, making it sometimes a bit kitschy. That is what makes the Royal Greenhouses so delicious: variegated geraniums in every possible ice and candy cane shade are tied up against the glass walls, above which fairy-like fuchsias dangling in pink, purple, red and lilac. Sometimes you have a glimpse into a classical statue, or you pass a stunner of a flower arrangement in a beautiful vase, or a staircase full of merry hydrangeas and fur-coloured asters. Colours pop continuously. What delight!
Valuable plant collection
The plant collection of the Royal Greenhouses is exceptionally valuable. There are still plants from the period of Leopold II and the rest of the plants correspond to the spirit of the time. An extremely rare and valuable, exotic collection has also emerged over time. What also inspires awe is the great care that is devoted to all that green grandeur by the huge team of attendants and gardeners.
The Jewel on the crown
And then there is the absolute icing on the cake: looking at the huge round dome inside. What a wonderfully beautiful building is this, filled with palms and exotic plants and flowers. The “Winter Garden”, as the dome is called, was the first conservatory to be built on the domain in 30 years. The structure is so high that it was possible to place large palm trees in it, most of which date back to the early days.
Conclusion: the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken really are an unprecedented and comparable-to-nothing place, and a special source of inspiration for plant and architecture lovers. Truly an exceptional attraction that I would stand in line for myself tomorrow again.
This is how you visit the Royal Greenhouses
The entrance fee is only € 2.50 and the proceeds go to the restoration and charity fund. The opening times can vary enormously per day, so check this website in advance.
Choose your smart visit time because of the overwhelming interest and:
- be there more than one hour before the opening time,
- or just show up somewhere halfway the opening hours, once the largest crowd is already inside,
- or show up just one and a half hours before closing time.
Entrance and exit: along the honor gates of the Castle in Laeken, Royal Parklaan in Brussels. Parking: opposite the Kasteel in Laeken, Vorstenhuislaan.
Also worth a visit in the area is the Meise Botanical Garden, that is just 5 km away.