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Not Just for Science Geeks

The Atomium, informally known as the Eiffel Tower of Brussels, reopens on February 18 after an 18-month, $32 million renovation. The eye-catching structure is shaped like a crystal molecule of iron, magnified 165 billion times. Its nine large "atoms"--each about 60 feet in diameter--are connected by tubes that enclose stairs and escalators.

Designed for the 1958 World's Fair by André Waterkeyn, the Atomium was meant to be temporary, but it became so popular with Belgians that they successfully fought off its demolition. Six of the nine spheres contain displays and event spaces: One has temporary exhibits of contemporary artists; another showcases memorabilia from the time of the World's Fair, as well as documents describing the history of the Atomium itself; and two other spheres serve as rentable party space and a children's playroom for school sleepovers. The top sphere, connected by an elevator, will have a casual restaurant called Atomiam, opening in April.

Still, the landmark is less a museum than a monument, and the true excitement comes from wandering around. "It's like being in a body," says director Diane Hennebert. "Funny and strange and kind of sweet." The Atomium is about 10 minutes from the city center by metro. 011-32/2-475-47-77, atomium.be, $8, $11 after May 1, kids under 12 get in free.

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