The Atomium is truly one of the quirkiest-looking structures in the world. Originally built for the 1958 World Expo in Brussels, Belgium, it resembles a cluster of shiny space orbs.
If it also looks like a silver replica of a complicated chemical element, that’s no coincidence. The structure was designed to mimic the shape of an iron crystal.
Take a normal iron crystal, magnify it by 165 billion times, and it would look exactly like the Atomium!
These days, it serves as a science center and museum. Inside the Atomium, you’ll find educational exhibits, crazy light displays, a viewpoint with panoramic views of Brussels, a restaurant, a gift shop, and more.
Visitors can go inside five of the eight orbs. Read on to learn all about how Atomium came to exist, and how tourists can visit the site today, with some tips from my own recent visit.
History of Atomium in Brussels
Atomium was created and designed by Belgian engineer Andre Waterkeyn (1917-2005), with architects Andre and Jean Polak. Construction began in 1956, and it was completed a month before the Expo. Just in time!
It was supposed to be a temporary structure just for the fair, which was heavily science-focused and used the slogan “A world for a better life for mankind.”
The plan was to remove Atomium within six months. But once everyone saw how freaking cool it looked, it had to stay!
It consists of eight stainless steel spheres, each of which is 60 feet in diameter. They are connected by tubes 10 feet in diameter.
Some of the tubes have staircases and escalators, which tourists use to move from orb to orb as they tour the place. Overall, the Atomium stands 335 feet (102 meters) above ground.
Initially, there was some opposition to keeping Atomium, as some people in those old-fashioned times saw it as an eyesore. But today it has become an iconic symbol of the city.
Here’s an Atomium map showing the current layout of the structure:
The central tube features an elevator that was once one of the fastest in the world. It could travel around 20 feet per second, carrying two dozen people to the top in about 23 seconds.
The escalators were also some of the biggest in Europe, with one measuring 100 feet long. In 1958, Atomium was the sixth-largest metal structure in the world.
Atomium remained a destination for years, but by the late ‘90s, it had started to deteriorate inside and out.
The site struggled financially due to a lack of visitors, and it was almost demolished. The site was closed to the public for 23 months starting 2004 while repairs and renovations were made.
The changes included removing old aluminum sheets on the spheres and replacing them with stainless steel; adding new outdoor LED lighting for night displays; and installing a glass ceiling on the elevator to allow guests to better see the interior architecture.
It re-opened in February 2006 after a renovation that cost 26 million Euros. Some of the money was raised by selling off 1000 pieces of the old aluminum.
Today, about 600,000 people visit Atomium annually, which makes it the most popular attraction in Brussels. Currently, the whole contraption weighs about 2500 metric tonnes (2755 tons.)
What’s Inside Atomium?
Some people think the inside of the Atomium isn’t as impressive as the outside, and there’s some validity in that belief. There’s definitely not as much inside as you might think from looking. But it’s still cool to go up in there and see it all.
When you enter, you’ll take an elevator straight to the viewing platform inside the top sphere (Sphere 7.) This spot isn’t actually the very top – the restaurant is one level higher – but it provides remarkable views of the surrounding area.
In good weather, you can supposedly see all the way to Antwerp. The facility claims that they see at least one wedding proposal every week on the panorama level.
As you continue your tour, you’ll walk down staircases and into rooms of permanent and temporary exhibits showing pictures, documents, videos, and models going back to the 1958 World Expo and up through recent years.
It seems like a pretty standard museum, until you take an escalator up to reach a room with loud dance music and a seizure-inducing red light show.
Here, it feels like a rave suddenly broke out. A disembodied voice speaks sentences about planets and astral collisions over a bed of electronic bleeps and bloops.
This room is the coolest part of the Atomium experience. I enjoyed just sitting in the room, taking pictures, and people watching as other tourists wandered into the room and were hit with the jarring-but-awesome sensory overload experience.
There are lots of cool staircases and escalator shafts. You’ll want to have your camera ready to get pics of them as you go.
On your way out, check out the gift shop for novelty Atomium souvenirs, like mini-Atonium models and Atomium-branded Smurfs merch (both celebrated their 60th anniversary recently, hence the tie-in.)
Plan Your Visit: Atomium Museum Price, Tickets, Parking
The Atomium museum is generally open 10 am to 6 pm. Currently, Atomium tickets cost 16 Euros if you buy directly from the museum, for one adult ticket.
Seniors over age 65 pay 14 Euros. Teenagers and students pay 8.50 Euros, those with a disability pay 8.50 Euros, and kids shorter than 115 cm (45 inches) get in free.
Groups of 20 or more get a further discount, so you can bring the Atomium price down even further if you travel in a pack. You can also get a guided tour for an extra charge. Or just download the free Atomium smartphone app.
Other ticket options: Purchase your admission in advance via Get Your Guide and you’ll have to your ticket in hand so you can avoid waiting in the ticket line.
Alternately, take a walking tour of Brussels’ historic city center, which includes a visit to Atomium. Or buy the Brussels Discount Card, which provides admission to Atomium and 49 other attractions!
Your basic Atomium ticket also gets you admission into ADAM – Brussels Design Museum, which is located a five-minute walk from Atomium.
I visited both spots and found the Design Museum to have some cool art pieces. It’s worth strolling over there if you have the time.
You can also purchase a combo ticket for 28 Euros that includes admission to the nearby Mini-Europe park, a cool mini-park that includes replicas of famous monuments from various European countries.
Atomium parking is plentiful in lots located around the structure. However, this area can be susceptible to break-ins and occasional crime.
The Atomium advises visitors to use other methods of transport, or if you do drive, be sure to not leave any valuables inside your vehicle.
Atomium does have free luggage lockers at the ticket office where you can store large bags. Mobility alert: Even with the elevator, visitors will have to climb 80 steps and descend 167 steps between orbs.
Visiting Atomium at Night
It’s difficult to visit Atomium at night because, as noted earlier, regular admission hours are 10 am to 6 pm.
Exceptions are made for those who have dinner reservations – you can stay as late as 9:30 pm at the restaurant to see the nighttime views of Brussels.
There’s one other way to visit Atomium at night, and that’s by coming on a summer Friday evening.
Each year, the museum stays open until 10 pm on five consecutive Friday nights, coinciding with the Laeken Fireworks Spectacular. Imagine being able to watch fireworks from inside the Atomium!
Last year, the available dates for night visits were July 26 and August 2, 9, 16, and 23. However, it appears that the Laeken Fireworks may not longer be happening. Check here to see the previous event listing.
How to Get to Atomium from Central Brussels
If you’re staying in central Brussels, you have a few options for getting to Atomium. One is to drive, though as mentioned above, parking isn’t necessarily secure.
You can do as I did and take the subway. I took the #6 subway line from the Gare du Midi train station and got off at the Heysel / Heizel station.
You’ll see the Atomium as you leave the Heysel station and can easily make the short 5-minute walk over there. If you’re coming from Centraal Station, take the #5 line west and then transfer to #6.
Note that Brussels subways have a bit of a reputation for thieves and pickpockets, so if you are not a seasoned traveler, perhaps consider taking an Uber instead (traditional taxis are quite expensive.) You could also take local buses if you’re adventurous.
Hotels Near Atomium
If you’re looking for a place to stay, we have a few recommendations from our partners at booking.com. These are some of the best hotels near the Atomium in Brussels.
Upscale hotel: Pegasus Apparthotel Brussels Expo Atomium
Condomium-style lodging a 10-minute walk from Atomium. It’s also near a Metro station for easy access to the rest of Brussels.
Mid-range hotel: Value Stay Brussels Expo Hotel
Free internet and a breakfast buffet with reasonably-priced rooms at the Value Stay Brussels.
Budget hotel: Hotel Frederiksborg
To find rooms available for less than $100, head more toward central Brussels and Hotel Frederiksborg, which has comfortable rooms and an on-site tavern that serves waffles and ice cream.
Atomium Restaurant: Menu, Hours, Reservations
The Atomium restaurant is on the 8th and highest level of the structure. You’ll be sitting 311 feet above ground as you dine and take in the awesome views of Brussels. There’s also a bar with seating right on the window that gives you those same views.
As of this writing, the Atomium restaurant in Brussels is open for lunch (12-3 pm) and again for dinner (7-9:30 pm). Reservations are required. When you arrive, you’ll be given priority access to the elevator.
Lunch guests will receive free admission to the rest of the Atomium museum / facility. Dinner guests will not receive such admission, since the main part of the Atomium closes for guests at 6pm.
As you might expect, dishes are on the expensive side, ranging from 30 to 48 Euros. What’s on the Atomium menu? Options include risotto, beef sirloin, lobster casserole, and Scottish salmon. A large dessert menu features fruits, ice cream, and chocolate.
There’s a separate snack bar located on the ground floor of the Atomium called the Terrace. Here you can find salads, sandwiches, sodas, and Belgian beers. The Terrace is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.
If the Atomium restaurant is a little too rich for your blood, you can count on finding some food trucks just outside the Atomium entrance. I decided to go for the full Belgium experience and get a chocolate waffle.
You can sit in the grass and enjoy your snack. Just be careful with all that chocolate! (I may or may not have dripped chocolate all over my white jeans…)
Atomium Webcam Stream & Photography Permission Issue
Want to get a glimpse of the view from the top of this wacky attraction? I have some bad news: It appears there is no longer an Atomium webcam.
There used to be a webcam that streamed a live display of the Heysel Plateau in Brussels. The camera was located atop the mast of the Atomium, 335 feet above the ground. It provided glimpses of the city and even the Royal Palace from a distance.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, the webcam appears to have been permanently removed. At the moment, we can only locate three webcams in Brussels, all available via the city’s homepage.
One shows the view at Grand Palace. It’s not Atomium, but it’s still a pretty sweet view. If the Atomium webcam returns in the future, we’ll be sure to link to it here.
Fun fact: Here’s one last piece of Atomium trivia. For a few years in the mid-2000s, this place claimed a copyright for all images of itself, and threatened to sue anyone who posted photos of it.
Of course, visitors weren’t having that nonsense, and renegade photographers published hundreds of pics online. Eventually, Belgian law was changed to make it clear that posting photos was legal.
The Atomium website still has a page insisting that permission is required before posting any photos. However, further down the page, it acknowledges the law change due to the Code of Economic Law, and notes that websites and social media users can post photos with no issues.
Brussels is just a short train ride from Amsterdam. If you’re doing a train tour of Europe and traveling between Paris and Amsterdam, make sure to stop in Brussels on the way!
If You’re Going: Atomium in Brussels, Belgium
Address: Square de l’Atomium, 1020 Brussels, Belgium V8VR+XJ (Google Map)
Cost: $15 for adults, $8 for students
When to Visit: Open 10 am to 6 pm
Time Needed: 45-60 minutes
Further Reading: Rick Steves Belgium Travel Guide (Amazon)
VIDEO: Inside the Atomium
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