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As the artistic heart of the EU, Brussels is necessarily multicultural, a vibe that’s only accentuated a feeling that the city’s always been divided – half French, half Flemish - though both halves seem to enjoy their mussels and take their ‘pomme frites’ with an unusual and hefty side of mayonnaise.
The Belgian capital even has an African quarter where you can snack on dried caterpillars, though the more obvious features are in the winding medieval alleyways of the lower city and the stately buildings and boulevards of the upper half. The famous Manneken Pis (a statue of a little boy engaged in endless urination) is the lower half’s primary attraction, while you’ll also find the ornate columns of the Grand Palace highly picture-worthy, and the multiple artistic museums (incorporating anything from cartoons to renaissance portraits) are world class. The new Magritte-museum is worth visiting. Don't miss the unique statue a few kilometres out of town centre: The Atomium. A futuristic monument what was built for the World Exposition in 1958.
The upper half, on the other hand, hides numerous parks, the glorious Royal district (which hides the Palace of Justice) and eventually leads to the bustling ambience of the ‘European District’, home to all things EU and a businesslike ambience to suit. The whole thing was polished to a glimmering shine as part of Brussels successful bid to become the European capital of culture in 2000, and to date the city’s aging buildings manage to look as shiny and new as they have in years.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Belgium without a huge array of succulent smelling chocolate shops, each home to its own long-practiced specialties and selling what invariable amounts to the richest and most addictive chocolate you’re ever likely to try. The chocolates play their role in Brussels addictive café culture, too, appearing next to your coffee on the riverside, while Brussels beer customs – another of Belgium’s alluring exports – are strong and vibrant, too.
Belgium’s Europe-wide reputation is that the country’s boring, and somehow less worthy of visiting than nearby Holland or romantic France. While Brussels certainly has a slower pace to it, there’s no denying that it’s now at the heart of European progress, and the city center and its highly personalized products are as alluring as anywhere.
Brussels is the capital of Belgium with a population of about 1 million while the population of Brussels cosmopolitan district is about 2 million. The official languages of the city are French and Dutch but those who speak French are in the majority. As a result of this, there are two names for every street and they may not sound the same.
English is also commonly spoken due to the presence of some international institutions like the European Parliament, NATO and European Commission. However, it is important for you to note that tourist or general information is not written in English. Majority of train stations make use of French and Dutch for public announcements but larger stations like Zuidstation/Gare Du Midi will include English and at times German. On trams, buses and metros, English is used at the last resort for passing across information like terminal stops and line transfers. If you think you don't understand what is being said, you should ask from those close you.
You can get to Brussels by plane, train and bus. Your choice will be determined by your purse as well as preference.
Brussels Airport (BRU)
Brussels' major airport is known as Brussels Airport but the locals referred to it as Brussels National or Zaventem, with an IATA code of BRU. The big airline operators utilize this airport while the local Brussels Airline (operated by Lufthansa) is inclusive. There is a luggage locker service at the airport and the usual fee is €7.5 for 24 hours.
Moving From The Airport By Train
Moving from the airport to the city is very easy with train. The Belgian Rail runs shuttle service between the airport and three major rail stations in Brussels every 15 minutes while majority of the trains will reach other regions of Belgium. A 2nd class single ticket will cost you €8.60 while 1st class goes for €10.30 and the weekend return is €14.60. The trip to the Central Station will last for about 20 minutes and you can get tickets at vending machines or at the ticket office in the airport. You will love the trains because they are very neat and properly maintained. In order to enter or get off the train, you should press the green button on the door because the doors are not opened at stations automatically as we have it in some places.
You can also get to the main city Brussels from the airport through train at a cheaper rate if you board it at Zaventem village station which can be trekked from the airport. The fare at Zaventem is €2.90 which is far lower than what you will get at the airport. Many local trains serving all Brussels stations frequent Zaventem station and the time taken for the trip is usually the same with that of the airport trains. Zaventem station is about 20 minutes walking from the airport and in order to get there, you should use the bus parking on level 0 where the bicycle lane of the airport begins.
Moving From The Airport By Bus
There are buses that can convey you to the city from the airport. The STIB buses #12 and #21 run regular shuttles to and from the airport. The #12 operates before 8pm from Monday to Friday serving major bus stops. The #21 begins operation after 8pm as well as weekends. The fare costs €4.50 if you buy your ticket at the vending machine and €6 if you buy on board. There is also a Discover Brussels Card which can be purchased for €7.50 at the bus stop and it covers your trip from the airport to the city as well as limitless metro usage for as long as 24 hours after purchase.
Furthermore, the De Lijn Buses #272 and #471 operate shuttle services to Brussels North Station, Noordstation/Gare du Nord, every 30 to 60 minutes and the station is 2km away from Grand Place. The Night bus #620 runs a shuttle to and from the airport having a stop at Ijzer metro station which is about 1km away from Grand Place. Tickets on De Lijn Buses cost €3.00 on board but the tickets cannot be used on other public transportation in Brussels, unlike STIB tickets.
Moving From The Airport By Taxi
You can also take taxis to the center of the city from the airport and the usual cost is about €35. If you pre-order a cab, you may have to pay parking fees if your flight is delayed and this can be around €25 per hour. It is very important for you to confirm your charges from the driver before you enter. You can also go for car sharing which is a cheaper alternative. DriveNow is the major operator of car sharing service in Brussels with their cars stationed at P3 Holiday Parking. You only need to find a car of your choice and start driving to any part of Brussels.
Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL)
The Brussels South Charleroi Airport is situated about 60km south of Brussels' principal train station. A lot of budget airlines such as Wizzair and Ryanair offer flights from the airport to major cities like Rome, Barcelona, Budapest, Dublin, Manchester, Edinburgh, just to mention a few. From the airport, you can get to the main city by bus through Brussels City Shuttle which operates a shuttle every 30 minutes to Midi/Zuid station and the journey can take about one hour or less if it is on weekends. The ticket costs between €5 to €14 one way buy cheaper and faster when purchased online.
The TEC-bus A also runs a shuttle from the airport to Charleroi South train station and this whole journey costs you €5. From there, you can board a local city train to Brussels which will cost you €9.20. There are taxi services in the airport to the city center and you should be ready to cough out €90.
Getting to Brussels by train is as easy as ABC. There are three major stations in the city - Midi-Zuid located at southern part of the city, Central-Centraal at the center and Nord-Noord to the north. Fast moving trains will only stop at Midi-Zuid with the exception of ICE which will stop at Nord-Noord. From Luxembourg, there is an hourly within city train connecting Midi/Zuid, Central, Nord/Noord, Schuman as well as Luxemburg train stations with no reservation required. You can get a weekend return ticket for €41.60.
Moreover, the Eurostar train line connects Lille, Ashford as well as London with Midi-Zuid and ticket cost ranges between €22 and €40. Some tickets bought from Eurostar will give you free train ride in the city within 24 hours of purchase. Due to its central location in Belgium, Brussels enjoys heavy traffic which may lead to track changes, delays and congestions. Hence, you should monitor other travelers to be sure that you are on the right track.
There are many bus services to Brussels. The Eurolines provides bus trips from a lot of countries to Brussels including one from Victoria station in London to Brussels stopping at Nord-Noord and Midi-Zuid stations. The trip will cost you €39. Fixbus provides affordable trip from London, Amsterdam and Paris to Brussels stopping at Nord-Noord station.
Being the hub of European culture as well as institutions, Brussels is well positioned to offer more than you can imagine. With so many museums, parks, bars, monuments and so on, it is definitely the best place to be.
Nightlife in Brussels is fun and if you are visiting for the first time, it is advisable to tread with caution. Here are some nice places to enjoy nightlife here.
Mappa Mundo is located at Place Saint Géry-Sint Goriksplein 2 and it is one of the most popular bars in the city. Drinking here can be fun and you will get to meet younger Eurocrats, interns, foreigners and so many other fun lovers.
You can get Le Tavernier at 445 Chaussée de Boondael-Boondaalsesteenweg. It is situated close to the student campus which makes it a lively place due to the presence of students. Artistes perform live on some nights and it can be a wonderful place to unwind, especially during summer.
The Fuse on Rue Blaesstraat 208 is a captivating nightclub to be in the city. It is notorious for electrifying parties like Cartel, Rockme on Electro, just to mention a few. Young people love to visit this club because it is always dishing out fun-filled programs.
How To Find Accommodation In Brussels?
Getting the right accommodation in Brussels is not rocket science. You can easily carry out a search online for various options that are available for tourists. Options available include hostels, budget hotels, five star hotels, just to mention a few. You can also arrange to stay with a family in Brussels. There are many websites that can help you to get a family to stay with and they include Coachsurfing, Hospitality Club, Global Freeloaders and so on.
Hotels or Places To Stay
There are different hotel rates available in Brussels depending on your choice and pocket size. Rates can be high when EU bigwigs are in town but you can get a good deal on weekends and summer.
This hostel is very close to the city center with modern facilities including free WiFi. It is an elegant place to be with lodging starting at €20.
Youth Hostel Sleep Well
This hostel is in the center of the city and there are double rooms available having personal facilities. There is no ATM facility available and lodging starts at €20.
FunKey Hotel Brussels
Funkey is a dynamic, flashy boutique hotel situated very close to the EU quarter. It boasts of modern facilities and rates are prepaid. Facilities to enjoy include parking, WiFi, telephone, beverages, snacks, just to mention a few. Lodging rates begins at €59.
Hotel Bloom is one of the hottest in Brussels. It is well-equipped and you will be offered free breakfast as well as internet. Lodging here starts at €100 and there are many facilities for you to enjoy.
Hotel Cafe Pacific
Hotel Cafe Pacific is situated in a cozy area in Brussels. It is very clean with modern facilities for visitors. The minimum lodging rate is €120 and you will enjoy this romantic environment.
Hotel NH Atlanta
Hotel NH Atlanta is a four star hotel located in the buzzing business and shopping district of Brussels. It is next to Place de Brouckereplaats and about 500 meters from the airport as well as central station. Lodging rates starts from €82.
Sofitel Brussels Le Louise
An elegant hotel with all the modern facilities you may need. It has a full parking lot and the Eurostar station is about 5-minute walk away. Lodging per night will cost you a minimum of €129.
Le Chatelain All Suite Hotel
If you are looking for luxury and style, this is the right hotel to be. With very spacious suites, rooftop health and fitness center, alluring garden, etc., you may need to relax here after touring the city. You only need to be prepared to spend a minimum of €85 per night.
Best Places For Shopping
Galeries Saint Hubert-Sint Hubertusgalerijen
Located in the center of the city and opened in 1847, it is the first shopping mall in the world. It features bookshops, boutiques, cafés, restaurants, cinema and so on.
Situated at 111-123 Rue Neuve-Nieuwstraat, Galeria Inno is a department store featuring fashion, cosmetics and so on.
You can do general shopping along Rue Neuve-Nieuwstraat. You will find GB supermarket at City 2 which can be reached through Rue Neuve-Nieuwstraat as well as Metro Rogier.
Marché aux Puces - (Flea Market)
Situated at Place (du Jeu de Balle-Vossenplein), you can shop here daily between 07:00 to 14:00. You will probably find everything here at competitive prices.
Marché du Midi - Zuidmarkt
Located in Midi/Zuid station, this market is only open on Sundays from 6am to 2pm. It is one of the biggest markets you will find in Europe and a wonderful point to get fresh vegetables and fruits, clothes and so on. The secret to shopping here is that prices of some items drop at around 1.30pm.
The Christmas market is at Grand Place, Boulevard Anspach/Anspachlaan and on Vissenmarkt-Marché aux Poissons. The market usually opens by late November and closes by early January. As expected, various Christmas items, gifts, decorations and foods are sold here including the mulled wine locally known as vin chaud/gluhwein.
There are lots of nice foods to eat in Brussels but many people pay attention to three classics - mussels, fries and chocolate. Other popular dishes are meat balls in tomato sauce, Belgian waffle, river eels in green sauce, just to mention a few. Here are some recommended places for having a nice meal in this city.
Located at Place Jourdanplein, on a square near the European Parliament, this is where you can get tasty fries with assorted sauces. You can enjoy your fries at bars or cafes where you see the sign 'frites acceptees'. This may not be an ideal place for vegetarians because the fries are prepared in beef fat.
Arcadi is situated at Rue d'Aremberg-Aremberglaan 1B, by the exit of "Galleries de la Reine" which faces the Grand-Place. You will find old and new menus here but many people come here because of the varieties of over 30 delicious pies. With just €7, you can get a big pie accompanied with salad.
You will find Food Box located at the place Rue Gretry/straat 47. This is a fresh eatery with an array of delicious dishes prepared with local ingredients. You will enjoy this eatery to the fullest if you visit after the lunch-hour rush.
Restaurant Vincent can be found at Rue des Dominicains 8-10, 1000 Brussels. It is a captivating, classical restaurant that Belgians love to visit. What makes this place more enthralling is that your food will be cooked in your presence.
Aux Armes de Bruxelles
This restaurant, which is situated at Rue des Bouchers-Beenhouwerstraat 13, opens everyday except on Mondays. Enjoyable foods are served here and the place may be crowdy at times.
Belga Queen can be found on Rue du Fossé aux Loups-Wolvengracht 32. It is operated in an old bank building and boasts of an oyster bar, cigar bar, magnificent bathrooms and so on.
De Gulden Boot (la Chaloupe d'Or)
It is a restaurant located at 24 Grote Markt (Grand Place) and it is one the most prominent in the city. It is a nice place to eat but you need to be well loaded because you have to pay for everything - even to pee.
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The Statue of Europe, also known as Unity in Peace, is a statue which indicates the harmony of Europe. It is located at the backyard of Convent Van Maerlant Van Maerlant Street, in the European Quarter of Brussels and it validates the slogan of the European Union (EU), Unity in Assortment.
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