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 international institutions. Brussels is now bilingual, hosting and officially recognizing 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.
When Brussels became the capital city of a new country in the 19th century, large parts of the old town were destroyed to make way for brand new ministries, palaces, schools, army barracks and office blocks constructed between 1880 and 1980. The medieval city walls that once defended and surrounded the city were demolished. Only a small historic centre (one square and four adjacent streets) was preserved. The historic Flemish town centres are better preserved in cities like Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Leuven, and Mechelen. This thoughtless treatment of historic buildings has earned past city planners near-universal scorn and even given rise to the term "Brusselization" for cities that similarly tear down old buildings, replacing them with faceless concrete monstrosities.
Language in Brussels can be a confusing matter to visitors. The common language is French, with around 90% of the population in Brussels speaking it passably to fluently. You can easily get by with English, especially in the tourist areas. Dutch is also an official language: within Brussels, the population that speaks Dutch passably to fluently is limited to around 20%, though Dutch-speakers make up the majority of Belgium as a whole. Because Brussels is the country's capital, when it comes to official matters, French and Dutch have equal status in Brussels, with sometimes complicated rules to ensure a balance between the two. Streets, railway stations, bus stops and other places have names in the two languages. The two names don’t always sound or look similar. For example, the Brussels-South railway station is Bruxelles-Midi in French and Brussel-Zuid in Dutch. Watch out when making assumptions based on English: a common mistake is to think Bruxelles-Midi refers to the Brussels-Central railway station, due to midi seeming similar to middle. Areas outside of Brussels have only one official language, but may still have distinct names in the other language. For example, you may get a train ticket that lists Anvers (in French) as the destination, but the signs in the station there will only say Antwerpen (in Dutch). In Brussels, large segments of the population have neither French nor Dutch as their mother tongue, and many other languages can be heard on the street, with Arabic being particularly common.
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. The French spoken is standard French. Dutch speakers speak standard Dutch but many also speak a dialect when talking to people from their region.
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 changing. 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 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 neighbour. 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), education and previous experience abroad.
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 the only German you're likely to hear in Brussels would be overheard on the streets around the European institutions or by German tourists, even if there is a large German population residing there.
Other languages that are increasingly heard in Brussels include Arabic (at least 25% of Brussels' population is of Arab descent, chiefly from Morocco), Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, and Russian.
Brussels' weather deservedly has a poor reputation. Rainfall is frequent and fairly evenly distributed over the seasons, although spring (March - May) and autumn (September - November) tend to see the most rain. With an annual rainfall of 820 mm spread over approximately 200 rainy days per year, the city gets to endure more rain than neighboring capitals Paris or London, and that regular rainfall makes the climate damp. Under high humidity, the rare warm days tend to feel uncomfortably hot, and the many cold days feel colder than elsewhere.
The best season to visit Brussels would be from late spring to early autumn, generally half May to half September would yield the highest chance of sunny weather. However, even the summer months are not immune from rain and can be very unpredictable: you can be lucky and enjoy a few dry days, but there is an equal chance you'll be confronted with rain for days on end. Bring ample waterproof clothes, preferably with long sleeves. Wet clothes don't dry easily in Brussels' humid climate and infrequent sunshine, so if you get wet, you'll probably have to sustain damp clothes for the rest of the day. An umbrella is an essential accessory in every season! Daily temperature variations are always below 10°C, so you typically don't have to worry about changing into something warmer/cooler over the course of the day. In summer, the average temperature is about 22°C, but don't take it as clothing advice: one week you might experience autumn weather and 15°C, and the next you might (briefly) enjoy 30°C or more! After October, temperatures drop off quite quickly, and sunny days become rare (In December 2017, Brussels shattered the European record for least amount of sunshine in a month).
However, snowfall is uncommon in winter, with 3 - 5 snowy days per year at best, although there have been years with no snowfall at all. Snow usually falls overnight, and not more than a few cm at a time. It tends to melt within a few hours, gradually turning from a idyllic landscape into a brown watery slush that is unpleasant to walk through. When visiting Brussels in winter, bring suitable footwear. Gloves are also recommended, particularly on a bike or while holding a map.
Preparing your visitBrussels has as many indoor as outdoor activities to offer, so even if it turns out to rain every day of your visit, you'll find more than enough to do to make the visit worthwhile. The Buienradar (literally Shower Radar) shows the real time location of rain clouds and calculates predictions of their movements. The radar can tell when it will start to rain at your position with a 10 minute accuracy, and is a great tool for planning out your day.
Although Brussels is best explored by foot or by bike, the public transport network is the best option when it's raining. Museums and other attractions are rarely more than 10 minutes walking away from a metro station, so a map of the metro network in combination with the Buienradar can keep you dry through adequate planning. If you're caught by surprise, metro stations are excellent places to seek shelter from the rain, and the larger stations have facilities where you can purchase a hot beverage while waiting (, , , and so on). Chains like Starbucks, Panos, McDonalds and the likes don't care if you occupy a table without making a purchase, so these are good options to sit out longer showers.
Brussels is split into 19 communes or gemeenten (municipalities/boroughs):
- Bruxelles/Brussel - Brussels offers many charming and beautiful attractions, with deeply ornate buildings on the Grand Place/Grote Markt, and a fish-and-crustacean overdose of St. Catherine's Square (Place St-Catherine/Sint-Katelijneplein). Stroll along, (and stop in for a drink) at one of the many bars on Place St-Géry/Sint-Goriksplein, or max out your credit card on the trendy Rue Antoine Dansaert/Antoine Dansaertstraat.
- Marolles/Marollen - A neighbourhood of Brussels close to the city's heart, one of the few places where the Brussels dialect of Dutch (Flemish) could still be heard. The area is best known for the flea market held daily on the Place du Jeu de Balle/Vossenplein and for a plethora of shops selling everything from old radios and bent wipers to fine china and expensive Art Nouveau trinkets. Visit on Saturdays or Sundays.
- Brussels/Ixelles-Elsene - A vibrant part of town with a high concentration of restaurants, bars and other services to satisfy the good-looking or the heavy-spending. Some wandering around will reveal small bookshops, affordable ethnic restaurants or independent record shops tucked away in side streets. The Matongé district just off Chaussée d'Ixelles/Elsenesteenweg is the city's main African neighbourhood. It is a large district in the South of Brussels spreading from newly gentrified immigrant neighbourhoods off the Chaussée d'Ixelles/Elsenesteenweg near the town centre to leafy suburbs close to the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos. The district is split in two by Avenue Louise/Louizalaan, which is part of the Bruxelles/Brussel district of the city.
- Molenbeek/Molenbeek - Commonly known as Molenbeek-St-Jean or Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. The population has been described as "mainly Muslim" in the media; however, actual figures range between 25% and 40%, depending on the catchment area. As of 2016, there is one main minority group in Molenbeek, Belgian Moroccans.
- Saint-Gilles/Sint-Gillis - The city's bohemian epicentre with thriving French, Portuguese, Spanish, Maghrebi and Polish communities. The area around the Parvis de St-Gilles/St-Gillisvoorplein is the arty part, with the area around the Chatelain/Kastelein and the Church of the Holy Trinity being decidedly more yuppified. Like Schaerbeek, Saint-Gilles boasts several Art Nouveau and Haussmann-style buildings.
- St-Josse/Sint-Joost - The smallest and poorest commune not only of Brussels, but of all Belgium, this commune might not always be too pleasing on the eye but does have a few small, welcoming streets. The mid-part of the Chaussée de Louvain/Leuvensesteenweg is also home to a relatively small Indo-Pakistani community, so this is the place to head to for a tikka masala. The Turkish community which was the largest community only a few years ago has declined rapidly, as they moved to relatively wealthier communes by St-Josse/Sint-Joost standards.
- Uccle/Ukkel - Brussels' poshest commune. Green, bourgeois and starched like all posh communes should be. Uccle has retained many of its charming medieval cul-de-sacs, tiny squares and small townhouses as has nearby Watermael-Boitsfort/Watermaal-Bosvoorde.
- Woluwé-Saint-Pierre/Sint-Pieters-Woluwe and Woluwé-Saint-Lambert/Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe are two communes at the eastern end of the city. Mainly residential, with a mixture of housing blocks, quaint neighbourhoods and green areas this place is well-loved by Eurocrats and other professional types. The enormous Wolubilis cultural complex is well worth a visit.
address: Galerie Ravenstein 25, 1000 Brussels (next to the Central Station)Excellent information provided by young locals, and this central office has nice facilities, free coffee and free wifi. The best source for solo travelers. Maps and information about the European Use-it network. Free walking tour every Monday at 14:00.
phone: +32 2 513-89-40address: Rue Royale/Koningsstraat 2
phone: +32 2 513-89-40address: Town Hall Grand-PlaceIt's inside the town hall and usually crammed. Sells a couple of discount booklets or cards, such as the Brussels Card and public transport one-day passes
Brussels Internationaladdress: Arrival hall
Brussels AirportThis is Brussels' main airport. It has connections to many Europe capitals and other major cities, but the intercontinental offering, while growing dramatically since the early 2010s, is very limited compared to Europe's other 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 - especially in the former Belgian colony DR Congo. Major North American carriers also offer flights to Brussels, as do a few Asian ones. Direct connections to Asia are decent, while those from and to Latin America are almost non-existent, so you most likely have to change at 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, Frankfurt, Paris Charles de Gaulle or Schiphol. The latter two can also be reached by a direct train from Brussels. Turkish Airways (via Istanbul-Atatürk) and Finnair (via Helsinki) also have particularly developed networks of connections to the Far East, while Madrid is the best option to fly to Latin America.
Travel between Brussels Airport and Brussels City
- Belgian Rail operates trains (2nd class: Single: ; Weekend return: ; 1st class: ) every 15 min from the airport (Level -1) to Brussels' three main stations, with most trains continuing to other parts of Belgium. The journey to the and Central Station takes 15-20 minutes. Tickets can be bought from vending machines (coins or PIN cards only) or the train ticket office (notes accepted) in the airport train station at Level -1. The trains are clean and well-maintained. To enter or exit the train, push the green button on the door, as the doors are not automatically opened at the stations as they are in other systems.
Left luggage facilitiesBrussels 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 per 24 hours. You must pay in coins, a change machine is nearby.
Brussels South Charleroi Airport
Brussels South Charleroi AirportSeveral budget airlines, including Ryanair and Wizzair operate service from this airport to cities such as Barcelona, Budapest, Dublin, Edinburgh, Manchester, Rome, Sofia, and Warsaw.
To travel between the airport and the city:
- Brussels City Shuttle operates buses ( one-way, return if bought online; one-way if purchased from the machines at the airport or from the driver) every 30 minutes to Brussels Midi/Zuid station, with a journey time of 1 hour (less during weekends). Buying online is cheaper and faster. The bus stops at Midi/Zuid station (Midi/Zuid station PDF map), on the Rue de France/Frankrijkstraat in the west. The metro and international trains (Eurostar, Thalys) are on the west side of the station, so upon entering the station from the bus stop, head left rather than straight. When traveling to the airport, it would be better to arrive at the Brussels Midi/Zuid stop far in advance of the bus departure time as the queue to board the bus could be very long (there are no ticket machines and people buy tickets on board). Therefore you might miss the bus and wait another 30 minutes. The traffic on the way out of Brussels can be heavy in peak hours, so the journey may take longer than planned.
- TEC-bus A ( one way) operates service from the airport to the Charleroi South (Charleroi-Sud) train station, from where you can connect to an intercity train ( one way) to Brussels. A combined train+bus ticket to or from Brussels can be obtained for from the TEC vending machine at the airport. The bus journey takes 20 minutes and the train takes an additional hour. Trains depart every 30-60 minutes.
- Taxis from the airport to the city center cost a fixed price of . For the return trip to Charleroi you can book in advance a Charleroi-based taxi (). Taxis operating from Brussels use a higher fare and will take you to the airport for a fixed price of or based on the meter up to .
Other airportsHigh speed rail and the central location of Brussels amid many major European cities make it entirely feasible to fly into several other airports and take the train from there. Depending on your itinerary, this may be both faster and cheaper, as connections may align better.
- Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) has a direct high-speed train (TGV) connection to Brussels. TGV trains departing every three hours from CDG arrive at Brussels-Midi within ~1.5 hours. Book tickets early for the best prices. Alternatively, it is possible to access Brussels from Paris-CDG with TGV trains from French cities like Nice and Lyon. Most of these trains call at the airport.
- Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) also has a high-speed train connection to Brussels-Midi, provided by Thalys. Ride time is also around 1.5 hr, but the frequency is hourly and the costs can be lower (even down to ) depending on the time of travel and booking.
- Cologne-Bonn Airport (CGN) is a little less than 2 hours by a direct train, departing 3 times a day and costing around
- Antwerp Airport (ANR) is quite close to Brussels, getting from there requires one to take a bus to Antwerpen-Berchem station (takes 10 minutes, buses depart approximately ever 12 minutes), from where a train to Brussels departs every 20 minutes and takes less than 40. A single ride bus ticket in Antwerp is and the train ticket to Brussels can be had for just , making the journey almost as cheap as getting to Brussels from Zaventem.
- Liège Airport (LGG) can be reached by trains between Brussels and Liege (running every 30 minutes and taking about 1 hour), but you need to take a bus or a taxi between one of Liege's train stations and LGG, which extends the journey to over 1.5 hours.
Brussels has five main railway stations:
Bruxelles-Midi / Brussel-Zuid / Brussels-SouthThis station is where the high-speed trains stop. There is a shower room at Midi/Zuid in the toilet near platforms 19-20 (between Origin'O and Quick).
Bruxelles-Central / Brussel-Centraal / Brussels Central
Bruxelles-Nord / Brussel-Noord / Brussels-North
Bruxelles-Schuman / Brussel-Schuman
Bruxelles-Luxembourg / Brussel-LuxemburgOn the opposite end of the European quarter, at the Esplanade of the European Parliament, it is the next station on the same line as Schuman and has the same services stopping there. The name stems from the fact that all trains to Luxembourg, as mentioned above, go through there.
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.
ThalysThe high speed Thalys train connects Brussels with Cologne (1hr 52min), Paris (1hr 20min) and Amsterdam (2hr). It is much cheaper to book further in advance. With your Thalys ticket you can also take a local train to or from Central-Centraal, Nord-Noord, Schuman and Luxembourg/Luxemburg stations.
Intercity from LuxembourgAn hourly Intercity train from Luxembourg (3hr 07min, via Arlon, Libramont, Namur) connects to Midi/Zuid, Central, Nord/Noord, Schuman and Luxembourg/Luxemburg stations. You don't need a reservation. A weekend return ticket costs .
phone: +32 2 528-28-28The Eurostar train line links Lille Europe (0hr 39min, +), Ashford (1hr 38min, £32+) and London St. Pancras (1hr 51min, £32+) with Midi/Zuid. Eurostar also offers two trains that originate from Amsterdam Centraal (1hr 50min) and also call at Rotterdam Centraal (1hr 8min) along the way. Some Eurostar tickets are also valid for domestic train travel within Belgium for 24 hr from the time of the Eurostar ticket. Check in the bottom left-hand corner of your ticket to confirm this. A service fee will be added for telephone and in-person bookings (but doesn't apply when booking over the Internet).
IzyIzy is a subsidiary of Thalys marketed as low cost. Trains are only available on the Paris-Brussels route and there are less departures than for other operators, but prices can be the cheapest of all train options.
Arriving by train from within BelgiumBelgium 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 cheaper, there are also "all Belgium" tickets), frequency, your age and occupation (students get discounts) and departure time (travel after 09:00 and on weekends is usually cheaper).
Frequencies and approximate travel times from Brussels Central station to selected cities in Belgium:
- Antwerp - 6x/hour, 40min-1hr 15min
- Arlon - 1xhour, 2hr 50min
- Bruges - 2x/hour, below 1hr 10min (the service to Kortrijk also continues to Bruges, but it takes twice as much time)
- Charleroi - 2x/hour, 1 hour
- Dinant - 1x/hour from Brussels-Schuman (not Central), 1.5 hours (you can also go from Central to Namur and change to Dinant there, travel time is longer by 15 minutes that way)
- Gent - 6x/hour, 40min-1hr 10min
- Kortrijk - 3x/hour 1hr 20min-1h45min (plus one extra connection per hour with a change Gent, 1hr 20min)
- Leuven - 5x/hour, 25 min
- Liege - 2x/hour, 1hr -1hr 30min
- Mechelen - 7x/hour, 25-30 min
- Namur - 2x/hour, 1hr 10min (+1/hour from Brussels-Schuman, same travel time)
- Ostend - 2x/hour, 1hr 20min (or with a change in Gent - 2x/hour, 1hr 40min)
- Waterloo - 2x/hour direct local train, 30min (or via Braine-L'Alleud, with a change from Intercity to local train - 2x/hour, total travel time below 40min)
There is also a fairly new suburban rail system (Brussels Regional Express Network, in French Réseau express régional (RER) and in Dutch Gewestelijk ExpresNet (GEN), or simply S train) that is like an S-Bahn, which serves nearby communities. Depending on the station, it can be faster or slower than an Intercity (IC) train, but as it is run by the national rail operator the price will be the same (fares are charged on the basis of distance for the most part). It will show up with the other trains when looking for tickets on the website, so you can see is it s a good fit for your journey or not.
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. Be vigilant 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. Also note some trains are short, so at stations with long curved platforms such as at Brussel-Centraal you may not be able to see the train if you’re standing on the opposite end of the platform.
By busSeveral bus operators offer long-distance connections to Brussels. The station for long distance coach services is in a narrow street to the north-west of the railway station bearing the same name. While waiting for a connecting coach, the inside the station can offer warmth and power sockets without the obligation to buy their overpriced drinks.
phone: +32 2 274-1350Offers bus travel from many countries to Brussels, for example 8 hours from London Victoria station at . In Brussels, they stop outside the Gare du Nord-Noordstation and Gare du Midi-Zuidstation train stations. They have an office with toilets, heating, and a spare power socket under the staircase of the railway station left entrance.
phone: +32 70 300-042Runs a couch service between Paris, Lille and Brussels. Busses arrive at the Gare du Midi/Zuid Station.
phone: +32 70 220-200The Flemish region (Dutch speaking) public bus service.
phone: +32 10 23-5353The Walloon region (French speaking) public bus company.
FlixbusA German company with a network throughout most of Europe. Offers services to numerous German destinations, Paris, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Bratislava and London. Unlike Eurolines they do not have an office in the station, but they routinely set up a mobile info desk manned by staff in easily recognizable bright green outfits, somewhere along the boarding area.
RegioJetA Czech company offering coach services from Czechia and Slovakia to a number of destinations around Europe. Their service from Prague to London stops each morning at Gare du Midi and each evening on the way back. The company also offers combined bus + train tickets to/from destinations not served by buses directly, which may be cheaper than getting a split ticket.
By tramBrussels is connected to Tervuren by tram , following the trajectory of the Tervuren Avenue (Tervurenlaan) between and . The scenic 10 km long journey through the Sonian Forest takes about 20 minutes, with a frequency of 5 trams per hour. A single ticket is , and allows you to get off at any station along the way and back on the next tram within the ticket validity of an hour. Tickets can be purchased in Tervuren station or from the tram driver at an additional fee.
Brussels can also be reached from Kraainem by tram , which connects metro station to the and traverses Kraainem halfway. Get on at stop , on a walking distance of Kraainem's tourist attractions, and take tram direction . Travel time is approx. 15 minutes. As with tram , a ticket costs , can be purchased in advance or from the tram driver at an additional fee, and remains valid for an hour.
By metroBrussels metro line extends until , and to . Travel time to the Brussels Grand Place from Kraainem station is about 25 minutes. A single ticket Jump costs . Tickets must be purchased from a GO vending machine in either Kraainem or Stokkel metro station, and can only be paid with euro coins or Maestro compatible cards. Bills are not accepted.
By bicycleBrussels 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.
On footMost 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. 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 bicycleBicycles are an excellent way to get from the city center to attractions outside the 'pentagone'. Although the Brussels weather isn't always equally favorable for cyling, bikes are often faster than public transport, particuarly for short distances. The cycling infrastructure is fairly poorly developed in comparison to cities of similar size like Amsterdam or Bristol, and the elevation of Brussels might be challenging to inexperienced cyclists. Brussels' most valuable transport asset is, arguably, the Villo bicycle sharing system.
Villo bicycles are well equipped to deal with the poor Belgian roads: they have punction-resistant tires and a covered chain drive, and are in addition also equipped with a basket for cargo transport and automatic lights. Each bike has 7 gears and dual disc brakes to tackle hills around the city and reach destinations with higher elevation. The frame is rather heavy, though, accounting to a total weight of 22 kg. A decent physical condition is recommended!
To rent a Villo, a ticket must be purchased at a station. Not all stations issue tickets, which leads to confusion. Tickets are available for 1 or 3 days, and permit an unlimited number of rides. With a cost of per day, this makes Villo the cheapest method of transportation after walking. Week passes are also available at . As Villo is intended for short trips, you will be billed per half hour after the first half hour (the first half hour being free). This is of course easily avoided by returning your bike to a station before the first half hour expires, and immediately renting another bike from the same station, resetting the counter.
- Find a station that issues tickets, press the 5 button to change the language to English.
- Initiate the procedure to buy a ticket, and press 0 to get to the end of the EULA text. The response time of the controllers is very low, so give it a few seconds between every button push.
- Choose a 4-digit PIN code and repeat it. This will be your 'password'.
- A deposit fee must be paid by card. You can only buy one ticket per card, and only if you have at least available on the account.
- The ticket will be issued, after which you can rent a bike directly.
After purchasing a ticket, bikes can be rented out from any station by typing the 6-digit subscriber number on the ticket into the station's kiosk, followed by the 4-digit 'password'.
OBikeIn September 2017, the Singaporean free floating bike rental service OBike started offering an alternative service to Villo. However since 2018 there have been few bikes left in the streets, and it doesn't seem possible to rent them anymore, even though the app is still working.
Uber JUMPSince 2019 Uber has deployed a fleet of free floating electric bikes in Brussels. The operating area is mostly limited to the eastern part of the city. The rates are €1 to unlock and €0.15/minute.
By metro, tram, or busPublic transport in Brussels can be confusing because different transport companies are active in the city. The dominant operator is the Brussels regional public transport operator STIB-MIVB (+32 70 232-000; /min). Some buses from Flemish regional transport operator De Lijn connect Brussels to surrounding Flemish cities, but their tickets are not compatible with MIVB tickets. Occasionally even buses from the Walloon regional operator TEC venture into the city, and again, their tickets are incompatible.
As long as you stay on the MIVB network — which roughly spans the entire Brussels capital region — a single ticket gives you access to all metro, tram and bus lines for the duration of 1 hour with as many transfers as needed to reach your destination. Since Brussels is a fairly small city, in practice, you can get anywhere in under an hour so the time limit will rarely be an issue.
Tickets are sold through reusable plastic cards (gray MoBIB cards) or disposable paper RFID cards. Should you stay longer than a few days in Belgium, it may be worth investing in a MoBIB card for , which are available for purchase at major metro stations and the 3 axis NMBS railway stations (Brussels North, Central, and South) and can also be used in other Belgian cities. The MoBIB card can then be loaded with fares at GO vending machines in all metro stations and at many tram and bus stops. A MoBIB is required to purchase 5 journey tickets (), 10 journey tickets (), 2 day passes () or 3 day passes (). Alternatively, paper RFID tickets can also be purchased from GO vending machines and are available for a single journey () or day pass with unlimited journeys (). They can also be purchased directly from tram or bus drivers (not on the metro) but for per journey, which is considerably more expensive than buying your ticket in advance at a GO machine. GO machines only accept debit and credit cards, and coins, but no paper currency. The interface is available in English, Dutch, French and German.
To validate a ticket, either MoBIB or paper RFID ticket, push it against the red card readers within the white circle until it beeps, and the screen lights up green. You must validate your ticket on the first vehicle you enter and at each transfer afterwards. On buses and trams, the card readers are in the vehicles, whereas metro and underground tram stations have card readers with electronic gates at their entrances. If the card reader lights up red, it means there is no valid ticket on your card, possibly because the 1-hour time window has expired. At some stations, you need to validate again to leave the station. Groups of travelers can share a single MoBIB card if it has multiple tickets available, like 5- or 10-journey tickets. If you're with a group of 3, for example, simply tick the MoBIB card against the card reader 3 times to validate 3 journeys at once. At each transfer, you must again validate it 3 times. Groups must stay together during travel, since ticket checks are carried out routinely, and you must be able to present a validated ticket at any time. Failure to do so will result in a fine of .
Since buses and trams tend to get stuck in traffic, metro and underground tram lines are the fastest form of public transport. Most attractions can be reached by metro and a short walk. The metro in Brussels is quite clean and safe compared to most metro systems. Metro entrances are marked by big signs with the station name underneath. All announcements are made in Dutch, French and English. There are 4 metro lines, and running roughly east-west, and connecting the inner city with the European Quarter, Woluwe, and at the end of line , Kraainem. Metro line connects the inner city to the Heizel, and is the most convenient way to reach the Atomium. Ring line shares its trajectory with line until the station, and can be taken in both directions with a possible transfer at being necessary to complete your journey.
In addition to the 4 metro lines there are also 2 underground tram lines and roughly running north-south, and connecting the North and South railway stations with the Grand Place and most of the city center attractions.
Metro and underground tram stations are often a warm and dry refuge from the wet and cold weather in Brussels, and typically offer small convenience shops or coffee shops like Starbucks and the likes to sit out heavy showers.
Official dynamic STIB/MIVB network plan includes construction sites and replacement service (also more network plans are available).
By trainThe S-train can also be used for travel in the city. It is best for taking journeys from the center or a major train station to the outer edges, or the other way around. Some areas, especially in the north east, are easier to get to this way.
By scooterIf you have a driver's license, then scooters may be a less physically exhausting alternative to bicycles to get around the city. is a network of electric scooters available for rental throughout the city. Following a free roaming model, scooters can be found on public places in the city, and unlocked remotely by subscribers. After use, the scooter may be left at any public place. Although convenient considering Brussels' elevation, scooter rental is more expensive than Villo at /minute. Registration is €2.99.
Its rich history left Brussels dotted with countless landmarks, some of architectural beauty, others of monumental proportions. In the medieval centre, nearly every building has its own story worth exploring! The surrounding Pentagon, roughly corresponding to the outline of Brussels in the Renaissance, adds many more attractions to the list of must-see attractions. When the weather gets unpredictable, over 80 museums in the Brussels Capital Region offer indoor excitement when rain prevents outdoor activities.
To keep balance with political powers, Brussels also hosts the NATO headquarters, the most powerful military alliance in the world, in the north-east district of the city. The nearby cemetery is home to many silent witnesses of the so called military victories. The railway museum Train World and nearby Tram Museum in the Woluwe district are top attractions for rail enthusiasts. Woluwe also has a lot to offer to architecture lovers, with the and Solvay Residence recognized as s.
When strolling along architectural sights and museum display cases feels overwhelming, the Sonian Forest to the south of the city will offer a welcomed change of scenery. This vast section of nature, with lakes and century old beech trees, is protected as and a true heaven for fans of outdoor activities.
If you're planning on visiting many attractions and museums, consider the advance purchase of a Brussels Card, which offers discounts at many attractions and free entrance to 40 of the most popular museums. It is available in 24 hr (), 48 hr () and 72 hr () versions, includes a free guidebook, free use of public transit (metro, bus, tram), and discounts at various shops, restaurants. It 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, at the major tourist offices, and in some museums. Keep in mind however that many attractions have severely limited opening hours (usually from 09:00 until 17:00) when planning your visit, although sights like the Grand Place or Atomium can be enjoyed around the clock.
A confrontation with rain in Brussels humid climate is no reason for despair. If none of the 80 museums would be of interest then a visit to the or watching an action movie in 4D in the mega cinema complex can be indoor alternatives. For more adventurous water fans, Nemo 33 offers a diving challenge in the second deepest heated indoor swimming pool in the world at 34.5 metres (113 ft) and 30°C (86°F)
If you prefer to get submerged into local culture, try one of the Brussels themed room escape games of near the city centre, and puzzle your way out within the hour. For fans of Brussels many culinary delicacies, following a beer brewing or waffle baking workshop are tasty activities for an afternoon, alone or in a group. To keep up to date with what's going on, pick 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). You can find them in many cafés and restaurants around the city.
Very few shops in Brussels open before 10:00, and most open about 10:30-11:00. Many shops are closed on Sunday and Monday.
address: 174-176 Chausse de Wavre-Waversesteenweg, Ixelles/ElseneClaims to have a stock of over 400 beers, but has been overrun by beer tourists. The stock is extensive, but quite pricey in comparison to GB, Delhaize, or Carrefour. Beer Mania is a great place to find out of the ordinary beers.
GB/CarrefourBranches around the city carry a wide variety of beers, including almost all Trappist beer. Selection varies by store. The GB in Grand Place has a large selection and offers prices that are approximately a third of the prices in tourist shops.
DelhaizeSimilar to GB/Carrefour, but a tad more expensive.
MatchAnother store similar to GB/Carrefour, but has more of the unusual Belgian beers including Delirium.
CoraTwo very large supermarkets on the outer limits of Brussels. They have a much larger choice of beers than Carrefour/ Delhaize/ Match and some very nice gift boxes but still with reasonable supermarket prices.
Leonidasvery popular with the locals.
NeuhausA bit more expensive than Leonidas and a bit higher quality. Very popular with the locals as well. It is also possible to get good discounts by buying directly at the shop outlet outside of the factory (Postweg 2, 1602 Vlezenbeek, tel: +32 2 568-23-10) which is just on the outer limits of Brussels, just a short walk away from the Erasme/ Erasmus metro station. Prices can go as low as per kilo, however only the products that are specifically marked as having reduced prices are worth the trip, other products have the exact same price as in local shops.
MaryExcellent handmade chocolates, with this store originating from 1919.
address: 2/4 Rue Bodenbroek, also 20 Avenue Louis GribaumontDelicious chocolates, and they often offer free samples of 1-2 chocolates from their collection.
address: 39 Place du Grand Sablon-Grote Zavel PleinArguably the best Belgian chocolates and priced accordingly. The country-specific products are difficult to find and quite worth the price.
Wittameraddress: 6-12-13 Place du Grand Sablon-Grote Zavel PleinAnother excellent chocolate maker, with also a selection of macarons and cakes. They may however insist on a minimum 100g purchase for the chocolates.
Chocopolisaddress: 81 Rue du Marché aux Herbes-GrasmarktPick and choose your favorite type of chocolates, all at reasonable prices.
Maison Renardyphone: +32 2 514-30-17address: 17 Rue de DublinstraatA great boutique shop with delicious chocolate and friendly service. Stop by for a cup of tea or coffee, and get one of their chocolates free with your tea. Still peckish? You're able to bring a whole box home.
GodivaNot very popular and quite pricey.
Chocolate barsFor the frugal, you can buy 100-200 gram gourmet bars of chocolate in grocery stores for about each. Good brands to buy are Côte-d'Or and Jacques, both are Belgian.
Belgian LaceAmong the best in the world. Several shops are at the Grand' Place-Grote Markt. Beware of some shops that sell Belgian lace even though production was outsourced abroad. Ask for a country of origin if purchasing around Grand Place.
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.
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.
Vegetarians can find at least one menu item at many, though not all, regular restaurants. Vegans will have a harder time, while the Veganizer BXL initiative is looking to widen their options, it’s best to head for the vegetarian-vegan restaurants.
Check the prices of food items before ordering, especially when servers make choices for you. It has been reported that tourists have to pay up to for a litre of sparkling water, costing less than in local stores.
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 or . 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.
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.
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. It is allowed to smoke on the outdoor parts that many bars install on the street during the warmer months.
A special drink only found in Brussels is the "half-en-half" ("half and half"). It's a mixture of white wine and champagne.
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.
Areas to watch out for
Generally speaking, tourists are unlikely to suffer too many safety issues in the city center, on major streets, and in much of East and South Brussels (So long as the basic precautions are taken). On the other hand, many neighborhoods have a reputation of crime and decay, though most travelers are unlikely to visit them. The (subjective) safety of an area can change incredibly fast in Brussels, so know where you're going when doing so at night and outside the city center. Ask a local for advice if possible. This is especially relevant for areas with nightlife such as Saint-Gilles, Matongé, Anneessens (around Place Fontainas), Molenbeek (next to the canal) and the Marolles.
This map gives an indication of the less attractive and inviting areas (in red), although the attractiveness and subjective safety of an area can change quickly street by street. A seemingly safe neighborhood might sit right next to a rough area, and vice versa.
Pickpocketing is by far the most likely issue you will come across in Brussels, with the city frequently ranking high by European standards. Pickpocketing has been reported in nearly every neighborhood in Brussels. This activity is mostly carried out by teams in crowded tourist areas, in train and metro stations, and in parks (even during the daytime). Those who commit these petty crimes are really professional. Therefore, as usual, it's better to not unnecessarily show valuables in public, especially when looking as a tourist.
In the Parc de Bruxelles/Warandepark, between the Royal Palace and the Belgian Parliament, criminals have been known to threaten their victims with violence. If you are robbed, there is a police station 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.
Most big parks don't have any (sufficient) lighting. Examples are those around the Atomium: the Laeken and Osseghem park. Although they are mostly just deserted at night, it's always better to be careful, especially since there are some rougher neighborhoods nearby.
The Parc Maximilien/Maximiliaanpark (just west of North Station) is located near the Immigration Office, and is often used by migrants to spend the night while waiting to apply for asylum, moving to another country or for various reasons. It's unlikely a tourist would wander there, but it's still better avoided.
- The areas immediately surrounding the Brussels Midi-Zuid train station are among the poorest in the city: it is not advised to wander there alone at night. The station is among the biggest pickpocketing hotspots in Europe.
- The same applies to the Nord-Noord train station; do not venture too far away from the Northern Quarter (the business district that surrounds the Nord-Noord station), as several rough areas are nearby, including the city's red light district.
- The Brussels-Central station is also a pickpocketing hotspot. There are many homeless people begging around the station as well, but rarely in an aggressive way.
- As in Paris or Berlin, people of the Jewish faith should think twice before wearing identifiable symbols.
- Once virtually unheard of, strikes and political riots (especially left-wing ones) have become commonplace in Brussels. As with any such events in other countries, stay clear if things start heating up.
- Though not as frequent as pick-pocketing, muggings have been known to occur in the really rough parts of Brussels.
- Belgians tend to drive poorly, and this goes double for Brussels. Always look before crossing and do refrain from jaywalking.
- With Belgium being the land of beers, drunken behaviors are to be expected in Brussels, especially when football games are on, during weekends, and on certain holidays (St. Patrick’s Day, National Holiday, etc.). Just keep an eye out and you should be fine.
phone: +32 2 5132616address: Rogier van der Weydenstraat 3
EmbassiesAt present, the capital city of Brussels hosts 185 embassies. Foreign affairs keeps an updated list of foreign representations.
- phone: +32 2 513-28-06address: Rue de la Montagne/Bergstraat 10
- phone: +32 2 348 44 00address: Rue Montoyer//Montoyerstraat 28
- phone: +32 2 2890-700address: Place du Champ de Mars 5
- phone: +32 2 287-6248address: Avenue de Tervuren/Tervurenlaan 2
- phone: +32 2 7611190address: Rue Père Eudore Devroye 245, 1150 Woluwe Saint Pierre
Greecephone: +32 2 545-5500, +32 2 545-5501 (Emergencies)address: Rue des Petits Carmes/Karmelietenstraat 10
- phone: +32 2 513-2340address: Avenue des Arts/Kunstlaan 58
Macedoniaphone: +32 2 734-5687address: Rue Vilain XIII straat 20
- phone: +32 2 238-7300address: Rue Archimède 17
- phone: +32 2 340-3377, +32 2 340 3378address: Avenue Moliere/Molierelaan 297
- phone: +32 2 5134095, +32 2 5061120address: Rue Montoyer/Montoyerstraat 4
- phone: +32 2 287-6248address: Avenue d'Auderghem/Oudergemlaan 10
- phone: +32 2 508-2111address: Boulevard du Régent/Regentlaan 27
Visit the following Belgian towns and cities, all within a two-hour drive of Brussels:
- Kraainem - Bordering Brussels to the east. Architecture from the 16th to 18th century, primarily interesting for history and architecture enthusiasts.
- Tervuren - South-east of Brussels, on the outskirts of the Sonian Forest, a .
- Waterloo - About 15 km south of Brussels. Visit where Wellington and Bluecher faced Napoleon for an ultimate battle that changed Europe's face forever. Further south, don't miss the Abbey of Villers-la-Ville.
- Sint-Pieters-Leeuw - About 10 km south of Brussels. Visit the nature reserve with Galloway cattle (not in winter) so near to Brussels
- Mechelen - About 35 km NE of Brussels.
- Leuven - About 30 km east of Brussels.
- Antwerp - About 55 km north of Brussels.
- Bruges - About 100 km NW of Brussels.
- Charleroi - About 60 km south of Brussels
- Ghent - About 60 km NW of Brussels.
- Namur - About 60 km SE of Brussels.
- Tournai - About 90 km west of Brussels.
- Mons - About 70 km south of Brussels.
You can also get to any of the following 'foreign' cities from Brussels within a few 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), Frankfurt (train - longer by car)