contributed post by Alina
Vegan food offer
According to the Happy Cow App (which is a huge life-saver for every city trip), there are 5 completely vegan cafes and/ or restaurants and about 20 vegetarian cafes/ restaurants. This doesn’t sound like much and – to be honest – it isn’t. Lots of places have vegan options but since I’ve been to cities like London or Berlin, Brussels just can’t compete in this regard. This is probably due to the Belgian cuisine in general which is heavy in different kinds of meat and uses lots of eggs and dairy products (waffles, chocolate and so on). Don’t worry though – if you know where to go, you’ll be surprised at how good the vegan food is here in Brussels.
Don’t get me started on public transport – it’s a total chaos (at least for first-time visitors). As French and Dutch are the two main languages in the Brussels-Capital region, there are nearly always two different terms for all sorts of things. To make it even more complicated, there are many different companies for different means of transport. To give you a short overview:
- STIB/ MIVB: Tram, Metro, Bus
- De Lijn: Bus
- Noctis: Night network of busses
- SNCB/ NMBS: Trains
- Collecto: Night Taxi (for young people/ students)
Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll notice that public transport in Brussels (or Belgium in general) is actually fairly cheap. If you want to travel to other destinations in Belgium (maybe starting from Brussels), it’s best if you buy yourself a Belgian Rail Pass from SNCB/ NMBS. You get 10 train rides to any destination in the country for a total of 77 euros (7.70 each) and you can also share these ten rides with someone or sell your card to someone else if you haven’t used up all ten rides. If you’re younger than 26, buy the Go Pass 10: it’s the same formula but with a discount of 25 euros. Quite cheap, isn’t it? There are also weekend fares, meaning that you get 50% off starting Friday evening.
If you’re planning to stay in Brussels for a few days, I’d recommend getting the MOBIB basic card. It’s a reloadable plastic chip-card, similar to the Oyster card in London. By using it, the fares are 10% cheaper than normal tickets. You can recharge the card at several places. Check here for more details.
When eating out, I’ve made the experience that the friendliness of the service totally depends on where you go. In some cafes/ restaurants/ bars, the waiter was really patient and kind (and my not exactly perfect French) but in others (especially in bars/ busy cafes), it seemed like they just wanted us to order already. Maybe you’ll have a completely different experience – these are just my observations. But in general, I’ve met way more friendly waiters than grumpy ones.
They definitely have a good sense of humour in Brussels because sometimes things are just so complicated (due to the division between Walloons and the Flemish) that you can only try to make fun of it. The people living in Brussels don’t take themselves very seriously and I find that to be quite refreshing. One of the weirdest things about this city might be that its main attractions are actually a statue of a boy peeing and a piece of art consisting of balls.
Exploring on foot
Brussels is definitely a great city to explore on foot. Some of my favourite districts like Sablon, Les Marolles or Ixelles are not far from the city centre and you can easily make a walking tour from one quarter to another and back to the city centre without using public transport. The only tourist attraction you can’t really reach on foot is the famous Atomium but other than that everything else is fairly close to the city centre – the centre of attention being, of course, the Grand Place and Manneken Pis.
One of the things I love most about Brussels is probably its architecture and all of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco houses. For discovering beautiful houses I especially love walking through Châtelain (a district belonging to Ixelles) and Sablon. Walking through small alleyways decorated with fairy lights and surrounded by beautiful buildings, you cannot help but fall in love with Brussels.
What to do in Brussels
You’ll probably start your day arriving at the Central Station. Make your way through the gorgeous Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert with its beautiful high ceiling and super expensive shops.
Next, go to the Grand Place. The earlier you’re there, the better because it tends to get overly crowded during the day. It’s also worth to visit the Grand Place at night because then there are fewer people and its buildings seem to be even more impressive immersed in sparkling lights. Manneken Pis is not close from here and if you want to walk the extra mile, also visit Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke Pis. From the city centre, it’s just a stone’s throw to the Mont des Arts offering you a nice view over the centre and often also some live music. The Royal Palace is only a few hundred metres away as well as the Parc de Bruxelles which are both worth seeing.
Afterwards, make your way along Rue de la Régence towards the Palace of Justice where you can take a breather and enjoy the view. Take the lift down to Rue des Minimes and visit the flea market at Place du Jeu de Balle. This serves also as the perfect starting point for going second-hand or antique shopping in the district ‘Les Marolles’. The next day (or the same day if you’ve still got some energy left), you could pay a visit to the European Parliament and have a picnic in the quiet Parc Léopold afterwards.
On a Sunday morning, it’s nice to visit the gigantic Sunday market at Gare du Midi where you can buy all sorts of things (antipasti, various nuts and seeds, clothes, electronic equipment and lots of unnecessary stuff). When walking through the city, also keep an eye out for some of the many comic strip murals all around the city with motifs from Gaston, Lucky Luke and Tintin.
Nearly every weekend, there are several festivals or events in Brussels, so look into that before you plan your trip. I’d also recommend always checking the opening hours of restaurants, cafes, museums and so on because I had to make to unpleasant experience of going somewhere when it wasn’t open. Some cafes and restaurants are closed completely during the weekend (don’t ask me why), some are closed on Mondays or Tuesday or just randomly during the week. Some restaurants only open at six while many cafes already close early around 5. So, you better save yourself some time and check the opening hours before going somewhere. You’ll thank me later!
In autumn, the weather in Brussels is pretty much unpredictable. The day might start out really nice but it could get cloudy and rainy in no time – or the other way round. You might have around 23 °C one day and then temperatures could drop to 15 °C on the next. Always have an umbrella with you and a mix of airy and warm clothes. You can’t really trust the weather forecast, so prepare yourself for all eventualities. Since many of the main sights are outside, it’s rather important to bring the right clothes with you. But even if it’s raining, there are lots of other cool things to do in Brussels, so don’t let the weather scare you off.
My favourite cafe is definitely TICH Healthy Living. It’s a completely vegan cafe close to the Royal Palace. They offer breakfast, lunch and some sweet treats for the afternoon in a really cosy setting. There are lots of comfy armchairs, some tables perfect for working on your laptop and of course window seats to do some people watching. My favourite thing to order is the vegan croissant (soooo good!) with hot chocolate – perfect for cold and rainy days. The service is super friendly and even when the cafe is full to the brim, the food never takes too long. What I also love about TICH is that they’ve got a kind of ‘concept store’ area with some T-shirts, books, candles and kitchen equipment. When you’re there, definitely order the pancakes! They come with looots of maple syrup, banana slices and berries on top. TICH is definitely my fave food spot in Brussels!
There are lots of nice things to do in Brussels and in my opinion you need at least two days to explore the city properly. Even if it rains, you can still go from one cute cafe to another and spend your time drinking coffee or hot chocolate. In Brussels, there are also always lots of different events and festivals so definitely have a look if there’s anything interesting during your visit! Other than that, enjoy your trip!