Although it lies in the heart of Brussels, along the Mont des Arts, very few people know about this little oasis of peace situated on the rooftop of the Royal Library. Apart from the quietude, the other great thing about this place is the amazing panoramical view over the city center and the Palace of Justice!
The Royal Library of Belgium, also known as the 'Albertina' is a big institution full of books, manuscripts and incunables. Those books don't line up on the bookshelves by themselves, so there are people doing that for them. And those people get hungry sometimes as well. So a canteen has been opened to cater for them. And luckily for us, since i'ts a federal institution, it's freely accessible for all!
This vintage canteen is the first thing you'll see when exit the elevator on the fifth floor. It's not particularly stylish or cosy, it belongs after all to the federal public services, but the food is decent and moderately priced. Don't expect anything too ambitious; generally, they have sandwiches, a vegetable soup and a few salads. On the right side of the entrance is a huge window looking out over the city center (and its *uhum* beautiful cranes).
But don't stay there, the real gem is on the other side of the canteen! There, you'll find an open air terrace with brightly colored chairs and tables. Now try to find the table that has the best view over the Palace of Justice with its golden dome, visible in between the high library walls.
The terrace is bigger than you would think at first sight. It stretches out beyond the corner on the left where it offers a view on the activity taking place on Mont des Arts. Until 2017 they had a really cool urban garden up here, with lots of plants and vegetables. Unfortunately, this garden has been moved to 'Wonderlecht' in Anderlecht. The Royal Libary Website states they now have a herbal garden instead, but when I visited I saw mainly thirsty, dried-out plants. I hope someone will take care of them soon!
How to get there, you ask? It's easy. Enter the library through its side entrance on Mont des Arts, aka the Gutenberg entrance. Leave Grand Place behind you, walk up the first flight of stairs on Mont des Arts and just before the second flight of stairs, you'll find the entrance on your right-hand side. Inside, you'll have to go through a metal detector and show the contents of your backpack. Then turn right, walk through the hall with the lockers and then the elevators will be on your left-hand side. Go the fifth floor, and there it is!
You have to know, though, that the rooftop terrace is only open from Monday to Friday, between 9:00 and 16:00. Unfortunately, if you're working, it's hard to go and visit during those hours. In my case, it even took me five years before I was able to go! But now that my schedule has changed, I know one thing for sure: you'll often find me up there during lunch time!