Sure, hotels are great. But a resident’s perspective is the best place from which to view any city as its inhabitants do. It places you right where the action is, and affords you instant access to amenities and transport links.
If you’re lucky, you might even get a stunning view of the city.
Those who have had the good fortune to stay in a shared property in Brussels know that there’s no better way to engage with the sights, sounds, smells, taste and feel of Belgium’s capital.
For those considering moving to Brussels on a long-term or full-time basis or relocating to work, there’s a great deal to get excited about. Living as a Brussels resident puts a wealth of sights and activities on your doorstep. Let’s take a look at just some of the things that await you outside of your front door that make this a city unlike any other…
Dive into a cultural melting pot
Belgium has multiculturalism baked into its crust. No matter where you’re visiting from, you’re sure to find something or someone familiar even as you explore cultural influences from around the world. Take yourself down to the bustling Chatelain quarter; a lively hub to which many expats are drawn to get a snapshot of the multicultural feel.
Brussels has been a multicultural hub throughout its history. It is situated as a cultural and geographical meeting point between Latin and Germanic peoples including the Spanish, Polish, German, British, Italian, Austrian, Dutch, Turkish and, of course, French. Yet, despite its multicultural nature it has always maintained its own unique sense of identity.
Belgium’s cultural eclecticism can be seen everywhere from its politics to its architecture, its wealth of diverse spoken languages… and of course the food (more on that shortly).
Ever wanted to visit Paris but been put off by the hefty price tag? Take yourself down to the Brugmann Quarter, often referred to as “Little Paris”. Here you’ll find a slightly more idyllic echo of Paris that offers the sense of romance that many find lacking in the “real” French capital.
Get lost in a world of sensational architecture
Brussels’ famous Art Nouveau architecture makes it one of the most picturesque cities in Europe and a mecca for those who appreciate the design wonders of the man-made world. From the infamous Guild houses lining the magnificent UNESCO-listed Grand Place, to the more ostentatious Palais Royale and the Palace of Justice or the more idiosyncratic gems like the Maison Saint Cyr.
The Victor Horta Museum near Louise is an intact home designed by the architect himself, considered the master of early 20th century Belgian architecture. Lovers of fine architecture will find Brussels a treat for the eyes.
Explore a wealth of culinary delights
One cannot get the true measure of a city without sampling its tastes as well as its sights. As you might expect, no matter where your culinary tastes lie, there’s something for you in Brussels. The city is home to some 3,000 restaurants. Five of which have not just one but two Michelin stars.
For a truly authentic Belgian eating and dining experience check out Monk; a bustling bierkeller where people from around the world cram in together to enjoy world class beers and the establishments only dish, spaghetti. Or, for a more illustrious dining experience visit the stunning Comme Chez Soi on the Place Rouppe.
While much of the fare in Brussels has a decidedly French influence delighting in seafood and dairy, vegans can still have a great time in Brussels. Check out Humus and Hortense in the Flagey neighborhood, which has recently won the award for Best Vegan Restaurant in the World.
However, for perhaps the most intimate and unique dining experience in Brussels, be sure to visit the charming L’Epicerie- a one woman restaurant in the Chatelain neighborhood that feels like a freshly prepared dinner at your best friend’s house (if only your best friend could cook that well).
Finally, no conversation about Belgian food is complete without chocolate. The really good stuff can be found at Mary, which celebrate its 100 years this year, or for more powerful contemporary flavors try Wittamer on the place du Grand Sablon.
Enjoy art… Everywhere!
Ever felt like there was a certain sense of snobbery that pervaded the art scenes in London, Paris, New York and the like? There’s nothing snobby about the art scene in Brussels. Great art is everywhere. It’s even on the walls or the city street! Check out the stunning comic strip murals on the walls of the Comic Book Museum on Rue des Sables. Keep your eyes peeled for the work of BONOM (Brussels’ provocative street artist sometimes referred to as the “Belgian Banksy”.
Needless to say, for those who favour a more traditional cultural experience there are plenty of stunning galleries to rival anything you’d see in Paris or Amsterdam. Check out Bozar for a neat microcosm of the Brussels art scene where you’ll see an eclectic mix of pieces all wrapped up in a stunning Victor Horta designed exterior.
Or if your tastes veer more towards the contemporary, be sure to visit MIMA; a gallery that redefines galleries and pays homage to all kinds of alternative and popular cultures from tattoos to comic books.
Shop like a local
While the area surrounding Grand Place has no shortage of fine shopping, locals know that the best spots lie a little off the beaten track. Get your high end fashion fix at Stephanie Quare in Louise where you’ll find notable brands from Mango to Jimmy Choo. Thrift shoppers, on the other hand, won’t want to miss the sprawling Jeu de Balle flea market in the Marolles where you can find all kinds of unique one of a kind items whether you’re looking for antique books, a new jacket or a chez lounge. Or perhaps you’d rather walk around the stalls that occupy the pretty cobbled streets of the Parvis de Saint-Gilles for the Saint Gillois market.
If it’s fresh produce you’re after you need look no further than the Market of Châtelain where you can find all sorts of fresh organic produce, or have your fill of local wines and cheeses at the Chasseurs Ardennais Market.
Take a sun drenched walk in the park
Every major conurbation has its share of beautiful parks. No matter how much one loves urban chic it’s nice to be able to get away from it all and relax in nature’s bounty. Brussels has no shortage of stunning green spaces in which one can escape the hustle and bustle. Weekends sees the traffic stopped and the roads given way to cyclists, runners and skateboarders over at the Bois de la Cambre, which also has several small restaurants for a break. For a lunch break in the city centre, try the Leopold Park near the Solvay Library- an oasis of natural calm in the heart of the city.
Those looking for ornate gardens should visit the Van Buuren Museum and Gardens while plant lovers will want to spend hours at the national botanical gardens Jardin Botanique Meise.
If you really want to get lost, find your way to the Foret de Soigne the old hunting grounds of Belgian royalty where you can walk for miles in the forest without seeing a single car.
This article represents the briefest snapshot of what residents of Brussels enjoy within easy reach of their homes on a daily basis. There’s so much more to be discovered, but part of the fun is finding your own hidden gems for yourself. One thing’s for sure, you’ll be glad you came to settle in Brussels.