Planning a solo trip to Brussels? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- Capital of Belgium and de facto capital of the European Union, with ~1.2 million residents.
- The center for international politics since the end of World War II, Brussels hosts the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
- Has two official languages – all street names and signs are both in Dutch and in French.
- Nicknames: Capital of Europe, Comic City
- Currency: Euro (EUR).
- Spoken languages: Dutch and French. English widely understood.
- Best time to visit: May to October.
- Getting there: the airport is 12 km from the city center. Private, public, and Airport Express buses are available at Level 0. The Airport Line is operated by STIB that transfers passengers to Luxembourg or Brussels City Center.
- There are two buses – Line 12 and Line 21. Line 12 (express) goes straight to the main station, while Line 21 has many stops. The last stop is the Royal Palace. Fare is EUR 4.00 on board.
- The taxi stand is just outside the arrival hall and will cost approximately EUR 35.00 to Brussels Centrale.
- Brussels Airport also has a railway line connecting to Brussels-Nord, Brussels-Centrale and Brussels-Midi. Train tickets can be purchased from the airport railway station (Level 1).
WHERE TO STAY
- Best hostel for solo travelers in Brussels: Latroupe Grand Place. It’s not the cheapest in town, but you get what you pay for: great location and atmosphere, with friendly staff and clean rooms and facilities. Many community events organized. Book ahead, as this one fills up fast!
- For hotels, look for places close to the Grand Palace – the Sablon area and Louise Avenue are both walking distance from the Palace.
- The city center is quite compact and can be explored on foot.
- Some sights are best reached via public transport. The Metro, trams, and buses are all operated by STIB and therefore share the same ticketing system. The most basic ticket is the “1 jump” ticket, valid only on any inner-city transport for 1 hour from the time of validation. This will cost EUR 2.00 on board. Tickets are cheaper when purchased at the metro station. There are 2 tram lines and 4 metro lines serving the Brussels city center.
- Taxis can be booked by calling Autolux at +32 (0)2 411 41 42 or +32 (0)2 512 31 23, and Unitax-Brabant on +32 (0)2 715 40 40. There are numerous taxi stands on the sides of the main streets.
- Drinking age is 16, last call is 2 AM.
- Tip: Brussels is famous for its traditional Belgian beer. A la Becasse, famous all over the city for their jeune Lambic blanche (white beer served in a stone jug), is located at the end of a narrow passage near the Grand Palace.
- Hip/local scene: the bars and cafes in Place Saint Boniface, the Saint Gery area (near downtown), and RECYCLART (located inside an underground train station). Place Saint Boniface closes down for a street party at least once a year during the summer time.
- Great places to stop for a drink: Café Belga, Café Bizon, Bonnefooi, and Le Coq ($).
- Check out the clubbing scene: C12, Fuse, Zodiak.
- College crowd: The pubs and cafés at Place Saint Boniface. Pubs to check out: Les Brasseurs ($) and Le Corbeau ($ – gastropub).
- Cozy bars that locals love (don’t tell everyone): Le Pantin and the “hidden” bar at Hôtel L’Espérance.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- The Grand Palace is the historical heart of Brussels. This 15th-century town square, delicately sculpted and immaculately decorated, is where many visitors first become acquainted with the city. The square is bordered by bars, cafes, and famous Belgian chocolatiers. The Town Hall is located within the square.
- Manneken Piss – this small bronze fountain sculpture (featuring a little boy urinating into the fountain basin) was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618.
- The Atomium is the “Eiffel Tower of Brussels,” just a short walk from the Heysel metro station. Constructed for the 1958 World’s Fair, the structure is made of stainless steel spheres and iron crystal. Enclosed escalators make the five habitable spheres accessible to the visitors. The top sphere offers a panoramic view of the city.
- Mini Europe and Comin Strip. The Mini Europe theme park is located at the foot of the Atomium. It has scale miniatures of famous monuments and sites across Europe, featuring almost all of the countries on the continent. Tickets to Mini Europe can be combined with the Atomium visit.
- The Belgian Comic Center contains a permanent exposition featuring the history and development of comics. Tickets cost EUR 7.50.
- Parc du Cinquantenaire-Jubelpark is located in the east side of the town, and easily reached by Metro (take Line 1 east, and exit at Schuman). The terrace above the arch offers a great view of the city.
- Justitiepaleis Brussels. One of the most impressive structures of the city, this is the central Law Court of Brussels.
- Stroll around the historic center of the city: start at the Grand Palace and head towards the Centrale Station while checking out the Belgian Chocolatiers. Stop by a pub and try some traditional Belgian beer!
- Walk around the stalls of the flea market at Place du jeu de Balle.
- Head to Galleries Royal St Hubert and try the spacious Libraire d’art. There are some second-hand book shops in the Bortier Gallery, off Rue Madeleine.
- Stroll around Place du Grand Sablon – this is a nice area with upscale stores, an antique market, great restaurants, and chocolate boutiques.
- Brussels is a relaxed multicultural city with warm and welcoming locals. While Dutch and French are the local languages, you can easily get by with just English.
- Belgium chocolate is famous and appreciated by chocolate lovers the world over. The most popular brands are Leonidas, Godiva, Neuhaus, Marcolini, Wittamer, Chocopolis, and Maison Renardy. Chocolates can be sampled at most of the local gourmets.
- Belgian beer is a must try for beer lovers. Beer Mania at 174-176 Chausse de Wavre-Waversesteenweg (Ixelles/Elsene) has an extensive stock of over 400 beers.
- Great restaurants in Brussels that locals love: O Liban ($$ – Lebanese with vegetarian options), CHEZWaWa (Cali-Mexican), Savage ($$), Lucifer Lives (brunch/cakes), Caspian (Persian), Mam Mam (Lao / Thai), Les Larmes du Tigre ($$$ – Thai), Toukoul ($$ – Ethiopian).
- Where to find good cheap eats: the classic mussels, fries, and Belgian waffles are a must try. The best frites with a bizarre selection of sauces can be found at any of the following frikots – Maison Antoine at Place Jourdanplein, Chez Martine at Place Saint-Josse, Friterie Tabora (Rue de Tabora).
- Some of the best budget restaurants are L’Express ($ – Lebanese with great vegetarian options), and Tapas Locas ($$) at Rue Marche au Charbons-Kolenmarktstraat. For authentic African food on a budget, check out Au Soleil d’Afrique.
- Dangerous areas: Brussels is generally a safe city. Areas best avoided at night: Rue Antoine Dansaert, Schaarbeek, Brussels North, St-Josse, Marollen, Anneessens, Molenbeek, and Anderlecht.
Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days