Though, to no fault of its own. Find out why!
Usually, Americans are only familiar with one Belgian city and it’s the capital; Brussels. At least, that was the case for me before I visited Belgium.
During a month-long stay in the neighboring city of Ghent, I made the 30-minute train journey to Brussels on more than one occasion.
If you’re visiting Belgium, however, go to Brussels before you visit Ghent. And before your day trip to Brugge. Because after seeing the charm of Brugge and Ghent, Brussels might disappoint you.
Nevertheless, I made sure I spent enough time in the capital city to get a feel for it.
A little more about Brussels…
Brussels is located in central Belgium. It’s a part of what I see as the triangle of tourism in Belgium — including Ghent and Antwerp.
Brussels has a population of roughly 1.2 million and is seeing a bit of a population boom in recent years.
You will be a little taken back by the fact that, unlike the rest of the country, the people of Brussels speak French. Despite being only twenty minutes away from Dutch-speaking territory. English is far less spoken here than in the Flemish areas of Belgium.
If you’ve read my guides to other Belgian cities, you will already know that the national currency is Euros, so there should be no problem there.
By accidentally getting off the train too early, I was able to explore the outskirts of the city center. It’s a part of Brussels many tourists never see.
It is not as glamorous as Grand Place, but it is much less crowded, cleaner, and less expensive than where I was headed.
I was fooled into thinking I could navigate without a map after visiting much smaller Belgian cities before it.
Towards the city center, prices rose significantly. Never fear, if you’re on a budget, you can still find a Bicky Burger (a Belgian favorite) and French fries for under $5.
Being a city with a sophisticated taste, the number of second-hand shops surprised me. If you are moving to Brussels, furnishing an apartment for cheap would be a piece of cake at these thrift shops.
My biggest issue as I was trying to find my way was the lack of Wi-Fi in Brussels. In Brugge, Ghent, and Antwerp, I had no problem finding an affordable restaurant or shop with open Wi-Fi. In Brussels, besides the public Wi-Fi in Grand Place, I wasn’t able to track down any Wi-Fi.
To navigate, I used the technique that I had been using for the duration of my stay in Belgium: When in doubt, look to the sky. It is easy to locate yourself according to a towering Medieval cathedral.
The train from almost all neighboring cities to Brussels will cost between $6-$11 for a one-way ticket. The bus or tram ticket will cost you about $3.50 for a one-hour duration.
A hamburger entrée around Grand Place will ring you about $17-$19. A 700ml bottle of Smirnoff Vodka will cost $16-$17. A couple of Stella Artois brews inside Place du Luxembourg at happy hour will cost you about $5.
A hostel around the city center will cost you about $20 a night, but Couchsurfing is always 100% free!
Other recommended attractions, restaurants, and bars in Brussels:
- Royal Palace of Brussels
- Mini-Europe — a small-scale park of famous places around Europe.
- Shopping arcade — stroll the 200-year-old architecture while you shop around.
- La Monnaie — 19th Century operating opera house.
- L’Archiduc — an art deco-style cocktail bar with constant live music.
- Marolles Flea Market — for an off-the-beaten-path afternoon.
While Brussels left a favorable impression, I prefer its neighboring cities. Especially if you’re limited by time. However, if you’re traveling through Belgium, you’ll probably find yourself in Brussels anyway.
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