Visiting the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels

The Musical Instruments Museum (MIM) was one of the highlights of my short visit to Brussels. It is musical adventure right in the city centre and an opportunity to see and hear some rare instruments.

The Musical Instruments Museum (Musée des Instruments de Musique or Muziekinstrumentenmuseum in the local languages) has over a thousand instruments on display, from different centuries and different continents.  You can listen to audio samples of many of them. The collection includes some very unique instruments, some of which I got to hear for the first time.

As far as museum experiences go, this one had more music than text. You receive an audio guide when you enter. Whenever you see a number on the floor next to an instrument, dial it and you’ll hear what it sounds like.

I think it would be quite dull otherwise, because no matter how beautiful some of the instruments are, just reading about them would not have been enough.

a tour of the mim

The basement floor (-1)  has some old and not so old instruments, including some that I have never seen before, like a barrel organ, various music boxes, old phonographs and others.

Old phonographs at the MIM
Old phonographs at the MIM

Listening to all of these for the first time felt pretty playful. People all around me were listening as well and it was nice to see their reactions to the weird sounds.

On the first floor there is a magnificent exhibition of traditional instruments from all over the world. I’m a big fan of world music and felt right at home on this floor.

When you enter, the first instruments you’ll see and hear are from Belgium and its region, starring the hommel and the hurdy gurdy.

Then as you walk around this floor, you find yourself moving between countries and continents.

It’s a very impressive display. There are instruments from Mexico, China, India, various places in Africa and more.

Chinese instruments at the MIM
Chinese musical instruments

Some of the displays are not by region, but by instrument, such as accordions, bagpipes or flutes. You get to see many different variations of the same instrument and how it changed over the years.

Though the space was not too big, I soon got lost. It’s quite dark, you have headphones on the entire time as you listen to the various instruments, around you people with headphones moving to the music… it felt a little like being in a musical maze.

Tibetan ritual orchestra MIM
Tibetan ritual orchestra at the MIM

The second floor is dedicated to Western art music. I saw some familiar instruments, like a harpsichord, violins, brass instruments and so on. Nothing new there, except the variety – this collection too has several versions of each instrument from different time periods and different regions in the Western world. Again there were some things I’ve never seen or heard before, like this beautiful geigenwerk.

Geigenwerk Museum of Musical Instruments Belgium

The last floor of the exhibition has many, many types of keyboards, new and old. By the time I reached that floor, my mind was saturated.

MIM keyboards

the mim building

The MIM building is in Art Nouveau style, one of many Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels. It was designed by Belgian architect Paul Saintenoy.

Take a moment to view the building from across the street, as it is really quite impressive. You will probably notice the sign saying “Old England” which seems out of place there. This building used to house a luxury department store by that name.

MIM Building Art Nouveau
The MIM Building in Art Nouveau style

There is an Art Nouveau exhibition on the 5th floor, which you can visit if you need a little break from the audio tour. The building is also well known for its rooftop restaurant, with a panorama view of Brussels. You can ride the decorated elevator to get there and step outside onto the balcony.

visiting the mim – practical info

Where: Located right in the city centre and around the corner from some other famous museums, it’s very easy to find. The address is Montagne de la Cour 2 B-1000 Brussels.

When: The MIM is open Tuesday – Friday: 9.30 am – 5.00 pm and Saturday, Sunday and on holidays: 10.00 am – 5.00 pm.

How much: The normal admission fee is  €8, but the museum is free on the first Wednesday after 1pm, which is when I visited. Luckily, it wasn’t too crowded.

Find full info on the MIM website.

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