travel guide

What to See and Where to Go in Brussels

Brussels is not only the capital but the heart and centre of the country. It is one of the largest and most beautiful cities in Europe and is no surprise that it was chosen to be the political centre for the headquarters of much of the European Union’s institutions, as well as the political seat of NATO, the Western European Union (WEU) and other European organisations. Today, it is considered the de facto capital of Europe. Brussels architectural jewel is the Grand’ Place with its lovely 17th century buildings and 15th century Town Hall. Nearby is the well known little statue of Manneken Pis, the most popular citizen of Brussels. 

The collegiate church of Saint Michel and Gudule (Gothic) with its 16th century stained glass windows, the church of Our Lady of the Sablon (late Gothic) are magnificent monuments to be visited. Other points of interest are the House of Erasmus in Anderlecht, the 17th century Cambre Abbey, the Royal Palace and Park, Parliament Buildings, the Archway of the Cinquantenaire and the 19th century Palais de Justice. The Battle of Waterloo, with its painted panorama of the famous battle and the Napoleonic relics, is a short distance from the capital, as is the castle of Gasbeek, which belonged to the Count d’Egmont.

One of the most famous attractions in Brussels is the Atomium which is a large sculptural building that is a reproduction of an atom magnified 165 billion times. In the nine spheres of the atom are housed nine different museums. Close to the Atomium is the model miniature city, Small Europe. This miniature model city incorporates all the famous European landmarks. 

An interesting daytrip to make if you have the time exists about 12 miles south of Brussels. Here is the historically interesting town of Waterloo where the famous Battle of Waterloo took place between France and England led by the Emperor Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington. In the town of Waterloo itself there is the small museum Wellington which has maps that show the old battlefield that was located 2 miles outside the town. 

Many locals complain about public transport in Brussels, but having lived in many countries and travelled to a lot of capital cities, public transport in Brussels is perfect for a city of it’s size. The only disadvantage is that public transport stops around 12:00pm. So if you are planning on having a late night then you have to rely on a taxi or on the first bus, tram or metro around 5:00 in the morning. However, at the weekends (Friday and Saturday) the night but (the Noctis) runs from 12.15 am to 3am, leaving every 30 minutes from La Bourse.  Trams, buses and two metro lines (underground) interconnect most parts of the city. For a journey on the public transport you have to buy a ticket that costs between 2.10 and 2.50 euros (May 2021). You can get off a bus for example and then take a tram without having to buy a new ticket. However you have to put the ticket it in the machine to validate it again! Your ticket is valid for an hour. If you are going to travel within Brussels during the day I suggest you buy a one day travel card that costs 7.50 euros (May 2021). Prices are very reasonable compared to other capital cities. You can buy transport tickets in advance in the Eurostar, in most hotels, newsagents, in trams, buses and metro stations and automatic machines.

Brussels has many multiplex cinemas. They are all air conditioned and all play the latest films. Most films are subtitled in Dutch and French if the film is English speaking. Therefore if you only speak English you are quite well served. Most cinemas give you a student reduction only if you show a valid university card or student card. Here are a few cinemas:

UGC De Brouckere: This cinema is in the city centre and 5 minutes away from the Grand Place. This cinema is quite big and has many films running throughout the day.
Where? 5 min from Grand Place. Metro De Brouckere , tram 23, 52, 55 or bus 29, 60, 63, 65, 66, 71.

UGC De Toisoin d’or: This cinema is part of the UGC groupe and is owned by the same company as the one in De Brouckere. It was not very comfortable and nice a few years ago. However they recently re-modernised and refurbished the cinema. It is located in the Louise are just opposite the Hilton. It is a bit smaller than the one above but still has many films.
Where? In the Louise Area. Metro porte de Namur , Tram 91, 92, 93, 94 or bus 54, 71, 80

Kinepolis: One of the largest cinema complex in Europe. Huge rooms, comfortable and a good selection of films. The only downfall is that it is quite far away from the city centre. But if you combine this with a drink afterwards (Karaoke Bar) or have a meal at Pizza Hut for ex. of visit one of the attractions it’s worth it.

Oceade Tropical Swimming Complex:
In the Heysel area, next to the Kinepolis cinema, you will find an enormous swimming pool complex. Oceade has water slides, several pools, jacuzzis, artificial waves, restaurants, etc. This is an excellent place to go to if you want a bit of tropical heat and atmosphere. It can get really busy on the weekends. During the week it’s not too bad depending on how many school kids go there. You should try the yellow water slide which is very fast and scary. Apart from water slides there are a number of events you can take part in to win prizes.

Getting around by car:

Even though Brussels is a small city getting around is not very easy during the day. Many streets are small and narrow and do not have many parking spaces. However there are plenty of underground car parks around the city! In the evenings driving is quite easy and traffic free, but there are not many parking spaces left in the main areas of town except in narrow dark streets or underground car parks. Underground car parks are quite expensive if you are planning on leaving your car for several hours! I suggest you leave your car somewhere safe and take advantage of public transport.

Taxi at night

Taxis in Brussels all charge the same price. In the day finding a taxi away from a taxi rank can be a bit of a problem. However around train stations, hotels and tourist areas there are plenty of them waiting for customers. You can also wave to stop a taxi if you see one in the streets providing there are no customers inside. Taxis only have a license to carry four people so don’t try and annoy them to try and get a fifth person inside. The starting price in a taxi might sound expensive especially at night, but Brussels is a small city and distances are quite short, therefore the final cost should not be too expensive.

Trains are quite good as long as you are going to the main cities within Belgium. Tickets are quite cheap. Brussels has three main stations: Brussels Nord (North), Brussels Central (next to Grand Place) and Brussels Midi (South). Trains to and from London and Lille (Eurostar) depart and arrive in Brussels Midi. Trains from Paris (Thalys) also arrive in Brussels Midi. Trains from Amsterdam arrive in both central and midi, depending on the train. Each station has excellent connections with the metro, trams and buses.

Brussels Airport has many flights to hundreds of destinations worldwide. If you arrive in Brussels you can get to central Brussels by taxi or train. The train is much cheaper and most of the times quicker than the taxi. Once you arrive at the airport, if you have to wait for luggage there is a screen displaying departure times of trains to central Brussels. Pick up you luggage go through customs and follow the signs to the train (on your right). You will have to take an escalator to a lower floor. Tickets cost from11.10 Euros (Jan 2021).There is a train every 20 minutes and the journey itself is 20 minutes long. The train will stop in Brussels Nord before stopping in central Brussels. If you are doing the opposite trip, you can take a train in Brussels Midi or Central to the airport, same price, same journey time. The train to and from the airport is called Airport City Express and is very reliable.