A beginner’s guide to Brussels
Brussels is one of those cities that takes a little while to let you under its skin. It’s not the most beautiful city. As the hub of much of the activity of the European Union, it’s a place of government and administration. On the surface, it can feel as if the city revolves around chocolate and waffles. But there’s more to it than that.
You get the sense that Brussels is a place where worlds come together – sometimes they collide, but mostly there’s an easy co-existence of cultures and communities.
This isn’t a new thing. Established as a fortress town in the 10th century, across the centuries, Brussels and its surrounding regions were caught up in various power struggles between Austria, France, and The Netherlands - becoming the capital of the newly-independent Belgium in 1830.
Today, with a population of just over one million people, the city is officially bilingual – historically Dutch speaking, these days French seems to be the dominant language. English is also widely spoken.
With the gravitational pull of the European Union, there’s a fluidity about the population of Brussels. People come, people go – there’s always new faces, a fresh perspective. There seems to be a very international perspective on life, it’s easy to meet people, to start a conversation, to share experiences.
The gay village
The LGBTQ community of Brussels is vibrant and visible. Most of the action is centred around Rue du Marché au Charbon in the Downtown precinct.
There’s a laid-back and friendly vibe to this neighbourhood. The bars are small, everyone drinks outside. It’s good fun.
The bathhouse or sauna is called Macho – it’s busy, especially on weekends.
La Demence is a party that takes place in Brussels once a month. It attracts a diverse European crowd – people will often travel to Brussels specifically to be at La Demence, and it’s worth the trip. There’s no specific dress code, but it’s a shirts-off kind of night with a sexual edge.
The annual LGBTQ Pride celebrations are a lot of fun. Held in May of each year, the city embraces Pride and puts a lot of effort into making sure that it all runs smoothly. There’s a great, relaxed energy about Pride in Brussels - everyone out in the street, drinking and dancing.
Yes, you can find a lot of chocolate, pomme frites, beer, moules frites, and waffles in Brussels. These are all delicious and worth enjoying, but there’s a lot more to the food scene in this city.
Eating out is part of daily life in Brussels, whether that’s stopping for a substantial lunch during the day, or getting together with friends for dinner in one of the cities numerous top-quality restaurants – there’s a huge range of choice and cuisines on offer.
Some of my recent favourites include:
View this post on Instagram
What is your fav Belgian sauce to dip your fries in? Make the most of the fried week with this selection of the best fries spots in Brussels! 📸 by @ninise05 ! • • • #frites #sunlight #nature_brilliance #brussels #belgium #travel #travelblog #travelling #travelblogger #travellovers #traveler #travelfood #travelfoodie #trip #traveladdict #instatravel #travelholic #food #foodie #foodlover #foodgasm #foodpics #foodlover #foodblogger #foodphotography #photography #exploretheworld #trip #holiday #beautifuldestinations
- On Wednesday evenings the main square in the Châtelain district is taken over by a food market. The area becomes packed with a young, after-work crowd, all out on the street, drinking. There’s a great range of bars and restaurants. This is the kind of neighbourhood where you’d want to live.
- If you’re looking for vintage treasures, the flea market on Place du Jeu de Balle is a popular destination. There’s been a market on this square since 1873. Surrounding the market are a number of vintage stores that are also worth exploring.
- The old indoor market of Les Halles Saint-Géry has been transformed into a going-out destination. Once a month, they hold a market for vintage clothes.
View this post on Instagram
Fancy an old book? Go to the Bortier gallery. It exists since the 19th century and it's amazing. The librarians there are super nice and it's such a typical Brussels place 📷 by @fanny_p_rops . . #brussels #bruxelles #visitbrussels #books #library #bookporn #welovebrussels #ilovebelgium #ilovebrussels #brusselsworld #brusselslife #igersbelgium #igersbrussels #archilovers #architecture #architecturelovers #streetphotography #gallery #books #old #vintage #neverstopexploring #nikon @citybestpics @brussels.art @visitbrussels @visitbelgium @brussels.art @welovebrussels @brusselsworld @brusselslife
If you’re looking for a few Instagram-worthy moments, Brussels won’t let you down.
- The Grand Place – with its imposing Gothic town hall , this is the postcard-worthy tourist hub of the city.
- The Mannekin Pis – the famous fountain of a small bronze boy happily urinating into the water below. A surprising but popular choice as a symbol of the city.
- Place Royale and the Coudenberg Palace – The palace of the dukes of Brabant is an impressive reminder of the history of this part of the world, and how to build with an eye for grandeur.
- Place du Grand Sablon – this is chocolate central , you’ll find shops by Pierre Marcolini, Leonidas, Godiva, Neuhaus, Maison Dandoy, Frederic Blondeel, and Wittamer. While you’re here, the Eglise Notre-Dame au Sablon has an enormous carved wooden pulpit that’s worth a look.
- Parc de Bruxelles Warandepark is the ideal spot to watch the energetic joggers pounding out the miles.
- The Atomium – this futuristic construction was built in 1958 . It was designed as the Belgian pavilion when the World Expo came to Brussels that year. Today the Atomium is the most visited attraction in Brussels and, thanks to a recent renovation, it still feels as otherworldly and cutting edge as ever .
Where to stay
- NH Stéphanie – the NH group has a number of properties across Brussels, and they’re always a reliable option. The NH Stéphanie has a good Uptown location – it’s comfortable and modern.
- Penta Hotel – with an ideal Uptown location, this is an easy base from which to explore the city.
- Sandton Pillows – close to the Grand Place, this Downtown hotel puts you close to the action.
- The Hotel – a sleek and stylish Uptown option, with spectacular views out across the city.
- Thon Residence Parnasse – ideal if you’re in town on business, these are simple but modern apartments in a good Uptown location.