Brussels Travel Guide

Understand

When Brussels became the capital city of a new country in the 19th century, the old town was destroyed to make way for brand new ministries, palaces, schools, army barracks and office blocks constructed between 1880 and 1980. Only a small historic centre (one square and four adjacent streets) was preserved. The historic Flemish town centres are better preserved in other cities: Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Courtray, Leuven, Mechelen and Oostende.

Language

Brussels operates as a bilingual city where both French (80%) and Dutch (Flemish) (20%) are official languages. Thus all the streets have two names, which can sound totally different. For example, the Main Square is called both la Grand Place and de Grote Markt. Although officially bilingual, French is undoubtedly Brussels' lingua franca. English is also widely understood, but not always widely spoken. Visitors should realize that language is a very divisive issue in Belgium (though this is not as noticeable in Brussels).

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. French speakers shouldn't have too much trouble understanding the local French. Dutch speakers may have some difficulty with the Belgian Dutch accent.

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 improving greatly. 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 sometimes 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 neighbor. 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).

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 you are very unlikely to encounter German speakers outside the German-speaking region in Belgium.

Climate

Brussels deservedly has a poor reputation for its weather. Weather in Brussels is very damp with a high and fairly evenly distributed annual average rainfall of 820 mm (32 in) and on average approximately 200 days of rainfall per year, both which are more than that of London and Paris. The dampness makes the weather feel much colder than it is. The daily and monthly temperature variations are quite small. Daily differences between average highs and average lows don't exceed 9°C (16°F).

In the summer, average daily maximum temperatures rarely exceed 22°C (72°F). The summer visitor should always be prepared for rain in Brussels. Warm and sunny weather is not constant during that season or even to be expected.

After October, temperatures drop off quite rapidly and winter months are damp and chilly. Snowfall is rare, and starts to melts fairly quickly, becoming slush on the ground. The winter visitor should be prepared for wet ground.

Boroughs

Brussels is split into nineteen communes or gemeenten (municipalities/boroughs):

Bruxelles/Brussel - Brussels encompasses 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 as well as 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 technically part of the Bruxelles/Brussel district of the city.
Molenbeek/Molenbeek - Commonly known as Molenbeek-St-Jean or Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. A commune with a very large Moroccan and, lately, Romani (Gypsy) population.
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.
Tourist offices
Use-itSteenkoolkaai 9B Quai la HouilleHours: Mon-Sat: 10h-13h, 14h-18hExcellent information provided by young locals, and this central office has nice facilities, coffee and free wifi. The best source for solo travelers.
Brussels InternationalTown Hall Grand-PlacePhone: + 32 (0)2 513 89 40Fax: + 32 (0)2 513 83 20Hours: 9AM-6PM; Sundays: winter 10AM-2PM, Jan 1-Easter closedLocated 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 InternationalHours: Winter: Mon-Thu 8AM-5PM, Fri 8AM-8PM, Sat 9AM-6PM, Sun & holidays 9AM-2PM; Summer: Mon-Thu 8AM-8PM, Fri 8AM-9PM, Sat-Sun 8AM-8PM
Brussels InternationalArrival hallHours: 8AM-9PM

source: Wikivoyage

Things To Do in Brussels See All Things To Do in Brussels

  • Grand Place

    Grand Place

    In the City Center

    The Grand Place (French, ; also used in English) or Grote Markt (Dutch,) is the central square of Br...

    Attractions,Landmarks and Points Of Interest, Historical Sites
  • Town Hall

    Town Hall

    Parvis St Pierre 14

    The Town Hall (Dutch:) of the City of Brussels is a Gothic building from the Middle Ages. It is loca...

    Attractions,Historical Sites, Landmarks and Points Of Interest
  • Museum David And Alice Van Buuren

    Museum David And Alice Van Buuren

    Avenue Leo Errera 41

    Attractions,Arts and Culture
  • Serres Royales De Laeken

    Serres Royales De Laeken

    Koninklijke Parklaan

    Attractions,Historical Sites

Hotels in Brussels (129 Hotels) See All Brussels Hotels

  • Hilton Brussels Grand Place

    Hilton Brussels Grand Place is one of the ideal, finest places to remain in Brussels. Nicely placed around City Sightseeing Brussels, Les Galeries Saint Hubert and Moof M...

  • The Dominican

    The Dominican is among the best, finest places to stay in Brussels. Nicely situated near Le Monnaie du Munt, Laeken and Corne Port-Royal, The Dominican is sincerely a fou...

  • Aparthotel Adagio Brussels Centre Monnaie

    Having Las unas nails farm, La Monnaie and La Grande Recre ideally found close to the three star hotel, Aparthotel Adagio Brussels Centre Monnaie; this hotel is impeccabl...

  • Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo

    Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo is among the top, finest places to lodge in Brussels. Nicely found near Museum of Costume and Lace, Everard 't Serclaes and Mike Eyns Private Tour...

Top Destinations in Belgium