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Travel guide to Brussels, Belgium







Brussels

Flights and trains to Brussels - Hotels in Brussels
Events in Brussels - Brussels Basics

Pouring Beer in Brussels © OPT  Brussels Grand-Place © M.Van Hulst  A cartoon wall in Brussels © Daniel Fousss - CBBD

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The biggest surprise about the capital of the European Union bureaucracy is its relaxed,  good-humoured joie de vivre and style. Cartoons decorate walls, there’s a wealth of gloriously exuberant Art Nouveau architecture, first-class beer (hundreds of varieties) is available everywhere, there are top-quality hand-made chocolates, strong coffee, and copious fine food.
  Recession or no recession, and whatever its other problems, this city is full of life, energy and good times, with elegant top-of-the-range shopping and 'til-dawn nightlife.
 
Think art and design. The great palaces and avenues of the majestic Royal Quarter recall an imperial past, but look in the museums close to the palaces to discover a treasure trove of fine art. Among them are quirky collections of that strange Belgian speciality – Surrealism. From Brueghel to Magritte to present-day comic strips and innovative fashion designers too, Brussels is a joy.


 Get the feel

Brussels is at the leading edge in modern art, modern dance and young fashion designers.
  There's live music in cafes and bars, and the city has more than 100 late-night or all-night addresses for clubbing. At the same time, it has a renowned high-culture scene with theatre, opera, ballet and classical music.
  There are major museums of comic strip art, Fine Art, and Surrealist Art (check out the
Belgian Art website).
  Cliches can be true: Belgians really do love beer - there are 400 varieties - and it's true that the favourite Brussels snack is mayonnaise and chips (not French fries, please - call 'em
frites or fritten while you're here). Less well known is that this is also a city where you can eat as well as in Paris.

 What, why, where

Brussels' quirkiest, most problematic trait for the last 300 years has been that it's a mainly French-speaking capital of a mainly Flemish-speaking country. (The city's Flemish name is Brussel, while in French it's Bruxelles.) However, in recent years the mix of French and Flemish cultures and attitudes has created something unique and dynamic.

 Getting started

Brussels main tourist office is in the city's huge main square, Grand Place. They can provide maps, information and hotel bookings. There are plenty of places nearby to sit down and get your bearings.
There are other tourist information points in rue Royale and at the central (Midi) train station.

 Compass points

The centre of Brussels is around Grand Place, in the busy Lower Town. Here you'll find the main squares plus teeming, touristy but atmospheric narrow streets lined with little shops and restaurants.
  The harder-edged Marolles area, the young, up-and-coming Ste Cathérine quarter, and swish shopping streets around Avenue Louise, are also all in the Lower Town.
  Rising above this is the sedate Upper Town, a former Royal quarter.
  Brussels' suburbs include St Gilles, Elsene and Ixelles, famed for Art Nouveau houses, and Heysel, home of the Atomium and other attractions.

 Getting around

Brussels has a useful Metro, bus and tram network, including the unusual "pre-metro" or underground trams (trams in tunnels).
  There are lots of ticket options. An ordinary single ticket costs €2.10 from a machine (€2.50 if bought on board); a 10-journey carnet €12.50, and a 24-hour pass just €7.50. A ticket for bus, tram or Metro must be stamped on boarding, allows changes, and is valid for one hour.
The Brussels metro displays some 60 artworks along platforms and corridors, some by Delvaux, Folon, Hergé and Victor Horta.
Brussels transport website: http://www.stib.be

Brussels' Bike Hire scheme is called Villo. Pick up or drop off a bike at any of numerous bike stations. Registration costs €1.60 for 1 day, or €7.90 for a week, after which the first 30 minutes is free every time you use a bike.

Guided walking tours set out from the tourist office, followed by a 3-hour bus tour.

 Eat and drink in Brussels

Resto.be details around 700 restaurants in central Brussels (and some 18,000 in the whole of Belgium).

For bars and cafes, head  to Ste-Catherine district; for all-night clubs, go into Marolles.
In addition to the large number of city restaurants, most hotels also have a good restaurant.
The most typical of Brussels eating places is a brasserie that is, a bar with a huge range of Belgian beers (each served in its own distinctive style of glass), together with an unpretentious menu of well-prepared popular dishes, as well as café-style light refreshment. Like a British pub, you can either eat or just have a drink.
Favourite local meals include Moules-Frîtes (freshly boiled mussels and a plate of fries), Waterzooi (fish and wine stew - there’s a chicken version too), and Karbonnade (a stew of beef braised in beer).

Restaurants and bars to try:

Belga Queen 32 rue Fosse aux Loups. Very attractive, stylish brasserie catering to a chic crowd, but with modestly priced set menus. Food is proudly Belgian, as are most of the ingredients.

Comme Chez Soi 23 Pl Rouppe. Enjoy a gourmet meal in elegant surroundings at Brussels' most famous restaurant, by Grand-Place.

L’Ecailler du Palais Royal 18 rue Bodenbroek. Stylish gastronomic restaurant in the smart Sablon area, imaginative seafood dishes.

A La Mort Subite 7 Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potagères. This famous old brasserie is traditional, unpretentious Brussels.

Le Roy d'Espagne 1 Grand Place. grandest of Grand Place guild houses, but not expensive, a perfect spot for a drink or light meal.

Metropole 31 Pl. de Brouckère. This luxurious hotel has a leading restaurant - see below.

 Hotels in Brussels

The tourist office can make hotel bookings, either online or in their office. Brussels' busy mix of tourism, business and politics has provided the city with a great many hotels of a high standard.
  The grandest and most convenient location is close to Grand'Place, but the Sablon area is another good, quieter choice, and there are many much cheaper places a short distance away.

A personal selection of hotels:

Amigo 1-3 rue de l'Amigo. Right behind Grand Place, luxurious, elegant hotel with great style and charm, antiques, tapestries, yet good value.

Le Dixseptième 25 rue de la Madeleine. Wonderful little hotel of character in 17th-century ambassador's mansion, not expensive.

Metropole 31 pl de Brouckère. Top classic hotel, pricey, opulent 19th-century marble-and crystal luxury, and with one of the city's best restaurants.

 Getting to Brussels

Rail travel - High-speed Eurostar trains travel from London to Brussels direct, up to 10 times daily each way, journey time slightly over 2 hrs.
For rail travel from other European cities, visit the website SNCB (Belgian Railways).


Air - Flights from over 200 cities worldwide arrive at Brussels airport and Brussels South (Charleroi) airport.

 Must-see

 Grand Place (Grote Markt) 
Brussels is centred on Grand Place, the dramatically beautiful square at the heart of the city (note it is not Grande Place). Surrounded by gorgeous gilded 17th-century Guild Halls, it's one of Europe's grandest city squares. Have a coffee and pastry, or a beer. There's a daily flower market in the middle of the square.

 Royal Art Museums 
This vast complex in the Upper Town gives a complete overview of medieval Flemish painting, and at the same time looks at the vital role played by Belgian painters in Surrealism.
  The complex consists of several museums, each with its own speciality, holding altogether some 20,000 artworks. Opened in 2013 was the Fin-de-Siècle Museum, focusing on Belgian art in the period 1868 – 1914. One of the most intriguing of the museums is devoted entirely to René Magritte, with more than 200 of his works.

Rue du Musée
www.fine-arts-museum.be

www.musee-magritte-museum.be

 Manneken Pis 
Indescribably silly, but give the naughty little boy (often incorrectly spelt Mannekin Pis) a few minutes of your time. He's just a short walk from Grand' Place. The two most surprising things about the little man are just how small he is and the fact that he owns hundreds of suits of clothes donated by kings and presidents around the world (the first to send him a costume was Louis XV of France). Push through the crowds of gawpers and check out what he's wearing today - if anything.
Corner of rue de l'Etuve/rue du Chene

 Atomium 
Built for the 1958 Word Fair, this gigantic but perfectly formed model of an iron molecule stands 102 metres high and once symbolised the modern Brussels. After a brilliant refurbishment, it sets out to recapture the feel of the 1950s and early 60s, with numerous exhibitions about that period. There's also a restaurant with a view. It's located away from the city centre at Heysel in northern Brussels.
Atomium Square
www.atomium.be/

 Musée de la Bande Dessinée 
 (Cartoonstrip Centre)
In one of the finest Art Nouveau buildings, a museum dedicated to cartoon strips, with a big section on the most famous Belgian - Tintin. There are also adult cartoons, including an erotic section. On your way here, notice the eye-catching cartoon murals on city centre streets.
Zandstraat 20 / Rue des Sables
www.comicscenter.net

 Parlamentarium 
Come and see where all the unwanted rules and regulations are coming from. The swish glass-and-steel European District centred on Place du Luxembourg is where the EU's 35,000 officials do their work. Parlamentarium is the European Parliament Visitors Centre, with dynamic, interactive displays on the theme of the EU's paradoxical motto, United in Diversity.
Rue Wiertz 60/ Wiertzstraat 60
Parlamentarium website

 Art Nouveau
Many public buildings, cafés, hotels and private homes are magnificent examples of this flowing turn-of-the-century style. The best example of an Art Nouveau domestic interior is the home of its genius, Victor Horta, which is now the Victor Horta Art Nouveau Museum (out of the city centre at Amerikaansestraat 25). Another wonderful example of the style is the home of the interesting Musical Instruments Museum.
2 Rue Montagne de la Cour/Hofberg 2

 Buy it

Among the most popular buys are souvenir packs of beer and models of the Mannekin Pis, Tintin memorabilia (La Boutique de Tintin, 13 rue de la Colline), fine lace and handmade chocolates (around Grand-Place, or in shopping areas like the Sablon and Avenue Louise; chocolatiers also sell speculoos - traditional sweet Belgian biscuits).
Cartoon books are aimed at adults as much as children (Brüsel, 100 Bd Anspach, or the bookshop at the Cartoonstrip Museum).
In Marolles' daily flea market find quality among the bric-à-brac.
Brussels' fashion designers have won worldwide acclaim. Top names include Kaat Tilley, Michel Demulder, Gerald Watelet, and Nissim and Olivier Israel, creators of Olivier Strelli.

 In the Know

Don't tip taxis - it's included in the fare.
Frieten or frîtes (fries) with mayonnaise are Brussels' top street snack.
Beware of the beer – many Belgian brews pack quite a punch, some as high as 8° or 9°.
Try a Kwak – Brussels' weirdest beer is served in a round-bottomed glass in a wooden frame so that it can stand up.
What's On and Brussels Unlimited list concerts, discos, events, shows, exhibitions.

 Events and festivals

Click here to find out what's on in Brussels now and for the next 15 days.
Find current exhibitions, concerts, shows and other events at BOZAR, the Centre for Fine Arts.

Ommegang
4-6 July 2017
For over 450 years this has been the city's annual display of royal pageantry. Tournaments, night processions. The Ommegang fills Grand Place, with the Royal Family in attendance.
www.ommegang.be


Brussels Film Festival
16-23 June 2017
Dedicated to the richness and diversity of European cinema, but including premieres of some worldwide film too. Showings at Bozar and in the Flagey building on Place Flagey.
www.brff.be


Brussels Summer Festival
6-15 August 2017
Every year Brussels celebrates high summer with ten days of open-air rock, pop, jazz, world music and more, turning some of the big city squares into outdoor concert venues. This year is the 15th anniversary of the festival.

www.bsf.be

Flower Carpet
16-19 August 2018
Every two years, the Bloementapijt (French: Tapis de Fleurs) or Flower Carpet fills Grand Place with a dazzling design made entirely of begonia flowers.
Hundreds of thousands of
blooms are used for this short-lived spectacle.
www.flowercarpet.be

 Brussels Basics

Where is it?
  100km inland from the Belgian coast.
International phone dialling code:
  00 32 (+ drop initial 0 of phone number).
Time zone:
  GMT + 1h (+2h during daylight savings time

 
= 27 Mar-30 Oct in 2016).
Money:
  Euro (€).




 

 

 

 

 

 



 

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Brussels
Text © Focus Guides and Andrew Sanger.
Updated January 2017
.
Pictures © OPT/Potigny, M.Van Hulst, Daniel Fousss/CBBD (mouse over picture for details).
All rights reserved worldwide.
Permission to use: This guide may be freely PRINTED ONLY for personal non-commercial use. Unless a LICENCE has been obtained it may not, in whole or in part, be COPIED nor used for any COMMERCIAL purpose.
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