Brussels

WARNING: Travel to, from and within Brussels is currently heavily disrupted due to a series of terror attacks on 22 March 2016.
Government travel advisories

(Information last updated Mar 2016)

Brussels (French: Bruxelles, Dutch: Brussel) is the capital of Belgium and one of the three administrative regions within the country, together with Flanders and Wallonia. Apart from its role within its country, it is also an internationally important city, hosting numerous international institutions, and in particular the core institutions of the European Union. Due to that, it is sometimes referred to informally as the capital of the EU.

Brussels blends the heritage of a medieval Flemish town with the grandiose projects initiated after it became the capital of what was then a French-speaking country, as well as some impressive modern architecture erected in a large part to house the aforementioned institutions. Brussels is now bi-lingual, hosting and officially recognizing both the Dutch- and French-speaking communities of Belgium, and has become increasingly international with the influx of people of various origin who came there to work, many of them for the European Union. This all makes Brussels a rather unique blend, sprinkled with a number of Belgian peculiarities, and for the inquisitive tourist a large treasure chest to discover.

Skyline of Brussels

Understand

Grand Place-Grote Markt

When Brussels became the capital city of a new country in the 19th century, the old town was destroyed to make way for brand new ministries, palaces, schools, army barracks and office blocks constructed between 1880 and 1980. Only a small historic centre (one square and four adjacent streets) was preserved. The historic Flemish town centres are better preserved in other cities: Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Courtray, Leuven, Mechelen and Oostende.

Language

Brussels operates as a bilingual city where both French (85% of the population) and Dutch (Flemish) (15% of the population) are official languages. Thus all the streets have two names, which can sound totally different. For example, the Main Square is called both la Grand-Place and de Grote Markt. Although officially bilingual, French is undoubtedly Brussels' lingua franca. English is also widely understood, but not always widely spoken. Visitors should realize that language is a very divisive issue in Belgium (though this is not as noticeable in Brussels).

Historically Dutch-speaking, Brussels became more and more French-speaking during the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, most inhabitants speak French in daily life. Some numbers say that more than half of the inhabitants of Brussels do not speak French at home. The Brussels dialect, a Brabantian dialect of Dutch, can be heard, especially in the outer districts of Brussels Capital Region. French speakers shouldn't have too much trouble understanding the local French. Dutch speakers may have some difficulty with the Belgian Dutch accent.

English has become a common spoken language because of the international institutions based in Brussels, such as the European Commission, the European Parliament and NATO. It is still relatively rare to find written tourist or general information in English, although the situation is improving greatly. One can expect public announcements in train stations to at least be said in French and Dutch, while larger train stations (such as Zuidstation/Gare Du Midi) typically include English and sometimes German. English is also used on metros, trams and buses, announced last for information such as line transfers and terminal stops. Do not hesitate to ask someone if you do not understand what has been said.

Considering the city's location and that it markets itself as the capital of Europe, spoken English is less prevalent in Belgium than in its Dutch neighbor. However, even if it is not as widely spoken as one may expect, it is nonetheless widely understood. As is often the case elsewhere, success in finding someone who speaks English depends on several factors such as age (14-35 year-olds are most likely to speak English).

German is also an official language in Belgium spoken as a mother tongue by about 70,000 people in the east of the country bordering Germany, but you are very unlikely to encounter German speakers outside the German-speaking region in Belgium.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 6 8 11 14 18 20 22 23 19 14 9 6
Nightly lows (°C) 1 1 3 5 9 12 13 14 11 8 4 2
Precipitation (mm) 71 53 73 54 70 78 69 64 63 68 79 79

See the Brussels forecast at World Meteorological Organization

Brussels deservedly has a poor reputation for its weather. Weather in Brussels is very damp with a high and fairly evenly distributed annual average rainfall of 820 mm (32 in) and on average approximately 200 days of rainfall per year, both which are more than that of London and Paris. The dampness makes the weather feel much colder than it is. The daily and monthly temperature variations are quite small. Daily differences between average highs and average lows don't exceed 9°C (16°F).

In the summer, average daily maximum temperatures rarely exceed 22°C (72°F). The summer visitor should always be prepared for rain in Brussels. Warm and sunny weather is not constant during that season or even to be expected.

After October, temperatures drop off quite rapidly and winter months are damp and chilly. Snowfall is rare, and starts to melts fairly quickly, becoming slush on the ground. The winter visitor should be prepared for wet ground.

Boroughs

Brussels is split into nineteen communes or gemeenten (municipalities/boroughs):

Tourist offices

Get in

By plane

Brussels Airport is in Zaventem, a municipality immediately north of Brussels

Brussels Airport

Brussels' main airport is Brussels Airport, (also referred to as Brussels National or Zaventem after the municipality it is in) (IATA: BRU). It has connections to pretty much all European capitals and many other major cities, but the intercontinental offering is more limited than at Europe's largest aviation hubs. Belgium's flag carrier Brussels Airlines, which operates an extensive network of flights within Europe, also offers long-haul flights to North America and, quite uniquely for a European airline, many African destinations. Major North American carriers also offer flights to Brussels, as do a few Asian ones.

The airport is the hub for the aptly-named Brussels Airlines, the flag carrier of Belgium

Direct connections to Asia are especially scarce in Brussels - you may have to change in an intermediate airport, and may want to consider using one of the Middle Eastern carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar all serve Brussels) or change in one of Europe's major hubs like London Heathrow Airport, Frankfurt Airport, Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport or Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. The latter two can also be reached by a direct train from Brussels. Turkish Airways (via Istanbul-Ataturk) and Finnair (via Helsinki) also have particularly developed networks of connections to the Far East.

Travel between Brussels Airport and Brussels City
There is a train station incorporated in the airport's terminal, with direct connections not only to Brussels but also many other cities in Belgium, France and the Netherlands

Alternatively, Brussels can be reached by train much more cheaply via Zaventem village (dorp) station, which is within easy walking distance from the airport. At €2,90, the fare is three times cheaper than the ticket from Brussels Airport Station to the city. This is because the expensive Diabolo Surcharge on airport trains does not apply here; therefore, you can also travel this way using Go Pass or Rail Pass without need to pay Diabolo Surcharge. Zaventem dorp station is served by frequent local trains to all Brussels stations, taking roughly the same amount of time as the airport trains (15-20 minutes to Central Station). In order to reach Zaventem dorp station from the airport, go to the bus parking on level 0 and walk towards the end of it, where the airport bicycle lane starts. Follow the airport bicycle lane (marked in red) through the small car park and along the highway for about 700 metres until the first crosswalk at the roundabout. Cross the road to the left and walk into the street leading into the village (Vilvoordelaan). Keep going straight ahead for another 800 metres until you reach the railway station's back entrance.

Coming from Brussels, exit Zaventem station through the back entrance on the northern side (the left in the direction of driving from Brussels). Walk straight north on Vilvoordelaan for about 800 metres until you reach the airport highway overpass, where you cross under and turn right onto the airport bicycle lane indicated with 'Terminal'. Follow the 'Terminal' bicycle lane for about 700 metres along the highway until you arrive at the airport bus parking on level 0, where you can enter the Terminal.

Luggage left facilities

Brussels Airport has a luggage locker service (Level 0) where you can leave luggage for a fixed duration. The lockers say that you will have to retrieve your bags within 72 hours or else they will be removed, but they are actually moved to the room next door and stored until you retrieve them. This is a useful facility for people wanting to stow away big suitcases somewhere safe. The rate is €7.50 per 24 hours. You need to pay in coins, a change machine is nearby.

Although the airport in Charleroi has been officially renamed as "Brussels South", it is a significant distance away from the city, especially compared to Brussels National Airport

Brussels South Charleroi Airport

CRL is only served by low-fare carriers, such as Ryanair. The opposite is not true, however - since 2014, Ryanair also operates from BRU

Brussels South Charleroi Airport (IATA: CRL) is located 42km south of Brussels. Several budget airlines, including Ryanair and Wizzair operate service from this airport to cities such as Barcelona, Belgrade, Budapest, Dublin, Edinburgh, Manchester, Rome, Sofia, and Warsaw.

To travel between the airport and the city:

Other airports

By train

Brussels Central handles mostly domestic traffic

Brussels has three main railway stations:

Apart from the above, there are also stations of Brussels-Congress, Brussels-Chapel and Brussels-West, as well as stations in municipalities of the Brussels region that do not have "Brussels" in their name (e.g. Schaerbeek, Evere) which only see limited local service by RER trains.

High-speed trains like the Thalys stop at Midi / Zuid

International train services to Belgium include:

Brussels North has an impressive art deco terminal building with a modern expansion
Arriving by train from within Belgium

Belgium has one of the most dense and best developed railway networks in Europe. Domestic trains are operated by the national railway operator NMBS/SNCB (hotline: +32 2 528-2828). Besides simple one-way tickets there is a bewildering variety of tickets available depending on the exact route (returns are obviously cheaper, there are also "all Belgium" tickets), frequency, your age and occupation (students get discounts) and departure time (travel after 9AM and on weekends is usually cheaper).

Frequencies and approximate travel times from Brussels Central station to selected cities in Belgium:

Note that all three major stations in Brussels are very busy and there are trains departing in many directions almost every minute. If you are on the platform, do check if the train you are boarding is the one you intend to, as it may be the one that departs just those few minutes are earlier. Do also keep vigiliant for last-minute platform changes. As the announcements for many trains (except for major international services and trains to Brussels Airport) are made in French and Dutch only, it is worthwhile to pay attention to departure displays. Always memorize the name of your destination in both French and Dutch to easily recognize it - the name as you may know it in English might not be used at all.

By bus

Several bus operators offer long-distance connections to Brussels.

By bicycle

Brussels is the third capital on Eurovelo Route 5, which starts in London, through Brussels and Switzerland and ends in southern Italy. A number of other international and national cycle routes converge on Brussels.

Get around

On foot

Most sights in Brussels are fairly close together, within reasonable walking distance of each other. The oldest part of town can have uneven cobblestone roads, but the rest of the city is fairly easy to walk. Since June 2015, a zone of 50 hectares in the city center is reserved for pedestrians, the second largest in Europe after Venice. Brussels has many wet days, and in winter small amounts of snow can make the ground slushy, so water-resistant footwear is a must if you will be out walking all day.

By metro

The metro in Brussels is quite clean and safe compared to most metro systems. Metro entrances are marked by big "M" signs in blue and white, with the station name underneath. All announcements are made in Dutch, French and English. There are 6 metro lines. Tickets are sold through reusable plastic cards: an empty MOBIB Basic card costs €5, they are available at major metro and underground tram stations, including those at the three major railway stations (Brussels South, Central and North). Tickets can be put onto a MOBIB card at the GO vending machines in all metro stations and at many tram and bus stops. Paper tickets are being phased out, but single journey (€2.10), 24 hour (€7.50), and Airport Line (€4.50) tickets are still available as paper tickets. A MOBIB card is required for the return trip (€4.20), 5 journey (€8), 10 journey (€14), 48 hour (€14) and 72 hour (€18) tickets. Single journey paper tickets can be bought from the driver on buses and trams (not on the metro) for €2.50, the Airport Line ticket can be bought from the driver on bus lines 12 and 21 for €6.

To validate a ticket on a MOBIB card, you hold the card in front of the white circle on the red card reader until it beeps. On buses and trams, the card readers are on the vehicle. At metro and underground tram stations, the card readers are at the entrance. Most stations have the card readers on automatic gates. A green status light indicates a ticket was validated. If it's red, there's no valid ticket on your card. A single journey ticket remains valid for one hour, but you must still validate the MOBIB card again when changing to another metro, tram or bus.

To validate a paper ticket, you use the orange validators. You insert the ticket with the arrow pointing down. A time stamp is printed on the back of the ticket and is also written on the magnetic strip. A single journey ticket remains valid for one hour, but you must still validate the ticket again when changing to another metro, tram or bus. The orange validators are being removed, so even long buses and trams may have only one orange validator; at metro stations there's always one gate which still has an orange validator.

A group of people can share a single MOBIB card if it has multiple single journey tickets, or a 5 or 10 journey ticket. For example, if you are 3 people with a single MOBIB Basic card with a 10 journey ticket: you hold the card in front of the red card reader until it beeps to validate it for the first person, then you simply do this again 2 more times for the other 2 people. The card can still be used for 7 journeys after that. The first 3 validations remain valid for one hour. When changing to another metro, tram or bus, you have to validate the card again and you have to again validate it 3 times.

By bike

Bicycle rental

See

A Brussels Card is available for discounts at many attractions. Available in 24 hr (€24), 48 hr (€36) and 72 hr (€43) versions, it offers a free guidebook, free entry to many museums, free use of public transit, and discounts at various shops, restaurants and attractions. May not be worth it to those who already receive discounts (children, students, etc.). The card can be purchased on-line in advance for a discount, or at the tourist offices at: Grand-Place, Midi/Zui station, BIP. Some museums also sell the card.

Landmarks

Grand Place-Grote Markt, Brussels
Manneken Pis
Atomium
Palais de Justice/Justitiepaleis grand staircase
Bourse-Beurs, Brussels

Museums and galleries

Horta Museum

European Union

EU parliament debating chamber

Brussels is considered to be the de facto capital of the European Union, having a long history of hosting the institutions of the European Union within its European Quarter. The EU has no official capital, and no plans to declare one, but Brussels hosts the official seats of the European Commission, Council of the European Union, European Council, as well as a second seat of the European Parliament.

Breweries

Woluwé-Saint-Pierre

Stoclet palace

Woluwé-Saint-Pierre is a commune in Brussels. It is mostly a well-to-do residential area, which includes the wide, park-lined, Tervuren Avenue (French: Avenue de Tervueren, Dutch: Tervurenlaan) and the numerous embassies located near the Montgomery Square (Square Montgomery, Montgomeryplein).

Forest

Forest (pronounced with a silent "st") is the French name of one of the municipalities surrounding Brussels (the Flemish name is Vorst), known for its historically important abbey, a collection of art deco buildings and a major concert hall. Green and tranquil as the name might suggest, Forest is nevertheless also home to a large portion of Brussels' industrial facilities, including a car factory and the depot used by Eurostar trains.

Do

You can see what's going on in Brussels by picking up a copy of local free city newspaper Zone 02. Another good free listings paper is Agenda, which is distributed together with the Dutch-language weekly Brussel Deze Week and has the notable advantage of being published in three languages (English, Dutch, French). Both of these are distributed in cafés and bars around the city. If you're looking for a good party, online listing Net Events (French and Dutch) and Ready2Move, are a good place to start.

Brussels Agenda is the official cultural and entertainment agenda of the City of Brussels and the francophone Médiatheque has a website featuring the upcoming concerts in Brussels and the rest of Belgium. However, their listings page only features concerts Médiatheque staff are interested in.

The most widely read English magazine is The Bulletin which, apart from covering Belgian and EU news, also offers arts and lifestyle stories, as well as in-depth events listings and a TV guide.

Tours

Cinema

Brussels has a fair number of cinemas, if limited compared to most European capitals. French films are subtitled in Dutch, and vice versa, all other films are shown in the original version subtitled in French and Dutch (on cinema listings look for 'OV').

Events

Brussels has a good selection of year round events, many suitable for English speaking visitors. The following sites are useful to check out what's on.

The Bozar Center for Fine Arts

The BOZAR at the Rue Ravensteinstraat

The Paleis voor Schone Kunsten (Dutch) or Palais des Beaux-Arts (French) , Rue Ravensteinstraat 23, tel: +32 2 507-82-0, is often referred to as "Bozar" or "PSK". Construction was completed in 1928 and includes exhibition and conference rooms, movie theater and concert hall which serves as home to the National Orchestra of Belgium. The complex contains a large concert hall, a recital room, a chamber music room, lecture rooms and a vast gallery for temporary exhibitions. Since 2002, the Belgian federal institution has chosen the brand name BOZAR. It has seven artistic departments: Bozar Expo, Bozar Music, Bozar Cinema, Bozar Dance, Bozar Theatre, Bozar Literature, Bozar Studios and Bozar Architecture.

Buy

Galeries Saint Hubert
Chocolate!

Very few shops in Brussels open before 10AM, and most open about 10:30-11AM. Many shops are closed on Sunday and Monday.

Belgian specialities

Beer

Chocolate

Lace

Shopping

Shopping centers

Markets

Books

Eat

Chocolate until you drop

Brussels is chock full of chocolates, but the ultimate indulgence for the chocoholic is Place du Grand Sablon-Grote Zavel Plein, where you will find three shops selling some of the best chocolate in the world: Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini and Wittamer. Each store has its own specialties: Pierre Marcolini's take-away cakes and ice cream are reasons to be tempted, while Wittamer is the only one with a cafe on premises and also sells the ultimate hot chocolate. Passion Chocolat (20 Rue Vanderlindenstraat) is a bit out of the way but its artisan chocolate is worth a visit, and you can taste lots of it for free at the entrance.

There is plenty of good eating to be had in Brussels. Most people concentrate on the three classics: mussels (moules in French and mosselen in Dutch), fries (frites in French and frieten in Dutch) and chocolate. A few more adventurous Bruxellois/Brusselse dishes include anguilles au vert/paling in 't groen (river eels in green sauce), meat balls in tomato sauce, stoemp (mashed vegetables and potatoes) and turbot waterzooi (turbot fish in cream and egg sauce). For dessert, try a Belgian waffle (wafel in Dutch and gauffre in French), also available in a square Brussels version dusted with powdered sugar, and choices of bananas, whipped cream and many other toppings. Although many prefer the round, caramelized version from Liège.

One shall however always bear in mind that it is important to check the prices of food items before ordering, just like what people should do when visiting pubs in France and Soho, London. Beware especially when servers make choices for you. It has been reported that tourists have to pay up to €7 for a litre of sparkling water, costing less than €0.70 in local stores.

Visitors should also beware of the 'Italian Restaurant Streets' in the tourist and shopping districts. These streets are lined with small Italian restaurants, some offering "3 course meals" for just €12 or 13. They are all run by just a few shop owners and serve unappetizing store purchased food. They will not 'include service' as most all restaurants in Brussels do, and many tourists have reported getting scammed here, especially when not paying with exact change. A common practice is to present you a menu where prices aren't anything near the ones advertised in the windows. Be sure you ask why there is such a price difference BEFORE ordering and do not hesitate to leave if you do not agree with the price. If you were offered a drink and already sipped from your glass before receiving the menu (as is often the case) then just pay for the drink and leave.

Budget

The matter over which establishment serves up the best frites (locally known as fritkots in Dutch and "friterie" in French) remains a matter of heated debate. Some argue that the best frites in Brussels are served at the fritkot near the Barriere de Saint-Gilles, while others defend St-Josse's Martin (Place Saint-Josse/Sint-Joostplein) as the prime purveyor of the authentic Brussels frite just as others claim Antoine (Place Jourdan/Jourdanplein) remains the king of the local french fry. No matter which fritkot you're at, try to be adventurous and have something other than ketchup or mayonnaise on your fries. Of the selection of bizarre sauces you've never seen before, "andalouse" is probably the most popular with the locals.

Fritkots

Cheap dining

Mid-range

Rue des Bouchers-Beenhouwerstraat, bustling on a Saturday night

Brussels' tourist restaurant gauntlet can be found in Rue des Bouchers-Beenhouwerstraat, just to the north of Grand Place. The place has a bad reputation for waiters imposing themselves on passers-by, trying to lure customers into their restaurant. The authorities are aware of this, and are trying to take measures. Some restaurants may also tempt you with cheap prices for the menus, but when seated, the item on the menu happens to be unavailable, and you're forced to accept another, noticeably more expensive dish. Often, the exaggerated price of the wines will also compensate for the attractive menu. Knowing this however, you may be able to negotiate a better deal before entering.

A few restaurants stand out from the crowd though:

Close to the Bourse Jules Van Praetstraat (rue Jules Van Praet) is another rapidly developing street of restaurants and bars. Those of note include:

Place Saint Catherine-Catherinplaats is also a popular area, and once the fishmongering centre of Brussels. While many of the fish shops have moved elsewhere, it is still home to many good seafood restaurants featuring lobster as a specialty.

It is outside the touristic centre that the best deals can be found. Here are a few addresses in the Upper Town and Louise Area:

In Ixelles-Elsene:

Splurge

Vegetarian

Forget about eating out if you're strictly vegan. There are some vegetarian restaurants that might cater without animal products though:

Kosher dining

Brussels currently has only one kosher restaurant, Balthazar Kosher Restaurant, a meat restaurant located near the European Parliament.

Drink

Gueuze tasting at Cantillon brewery

Belgium is to beer what France is to wine, it is home to one of the greatest beer traditions in the world, and Brussels is a great place to sample some of the vast variety on offer. Typical beers of Brussels are gueuze (rather sour) and kriek (rather sweet, cherry based).

Smoking is prohibited in all bars.

A special drink only found in Brussels is the "half-en-half" ("half and half"). It's a mixture of white wine and champagne.

Pubs

Bars and clubs

Sleep

Hotel rates in Brussels can vary widely (especially at the upper end) depending on how many EU bigwigs happen to be in town. Good deals are often available on weekends and during the summer when the bureaucrats flee on vacation.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Brussels is generally a safe city. Some suburban neighbourhoods have a poor reputation, but most travellers are unlikely to visit them. The neighbourhoods of Schaarbeek, Brussels North, St-Josse, Marollen, Anneessens, Molenbeek and Anderlecht should be avoided at night if possible.

However, pickpockets, sometimes in teams, operate in crowded tourist areas, and the train and metro stations (particularly at night) as well as parks (even in daytime) attract drug addicts and other shady types. Travellers should be particularly alert for distractions such as being asked for the time or directions and having attention diverted from their hand or shopping bag. Particularly popular at the moment seems to be the "soccer move distraction", when they suddenly stick their foot between your legs as if they are playing an imaginary soccer game. Avoid travelling with laptops at any time.

In the Parc de Bruxelles/Warandepark, between the Royal Palace and the Belgian Parliament, criminals have been noted threatening their victims with violence. Do not leave your bags unwatched but keep them close to your body. If you are robbed, there is a police office right next to the gate in front of the Belgian Parliament (on the right side when leaving the park, hidden in the bushes) where experienced policemen will help you. Most of them speak French, Dutch and English well.

In addition to the above advice be aware of Brussels Midi-Zuid train station, one of the poorest areas in the city: it is not advised to wander there alone at night.

In train stations, especially the Nord-Noord train station, scam artists show up in groups trying to distract you with some questions and steal your belongings. They are really professional, and business travelers are often targeted. When being approached by strangers in Brussels at any time, be very vigilant and keep your belongings in close sight.

Cope

Work out

Embassies

At present, the capital city of Brussels hosts 185 embassies. Foreign affairs keeps an updated list of foreign representations.

Go next

Visit the following Belgian cities, all within a two-hour drive of Brussels:

You can also get to any of the following 'foreign' cities from Brussels within 3 hours without the use of a plane:

Amsterdam/Rotterdam/The Hague/Utrecht (train or car), Luxembourg (car or train), Paris (train - longer by car), London (by train), Aachen (train or car), Maastricht (one hour by train) Lille (less than an hour by train or car), Cologne/Bonn (train or car)

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, March 30, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.