Though Brussels, Belgium, is often overlooked on European itineraries, it is a buzzing hive of activity. The city offers a lot, including stunning architecture, a rich history and culture, sumptuous cuisine, historical sights, and world-class museums. Here are some interesting Brussels facts you should know before visiting Brussels for the first time.
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Brussels 101: Brussels Facts To Know Before Visiting
Brussels, also Bruxelles in Dutch, is the capital of Belgium. It is the most historical and largest center of the Brussels-Capital Region. Brussels is also the European Union’s administrative center and hosts several EU institutions. Despite this, it’s not as commonly visited as other European cities, which is why we wanted to share these Brussels facts.
The second walls of Brussels, or the Fortifications of Brussels, define the modern city. They were medieval city walls built for administrative reasons and to protect the city. The walls were built in two stages, the first being as early as the 13th century.
Brussels has a multi-layered atmosphere. It sometimes seems very bureaucratic and business-focused, as it is the headquarters of several world-class institutions. It sometimes seems laid back and comical, especially considering the Comic Strip Center and the scout-out unique sculptures, like the Manneken Pis.
The city has 19 municipalities and a population of about 2.1 million. Brussels weather consists of mild winters and warm summers. Spring, which begins in March and ends in May, is the best time to visit the city. The weather is warm, and it is not peak season; hence it is less crowded.
Where Is Brussels Located?
The city of Brussels is located in the central part of Belgium. Belgium has three regions: Wallonia, Flanders, and Brussels. Wallonia and Flanders are each subdivided into five provinces, while Brussels is not subdivided and doesn’t belong to any province. The city combines both provincial and regional functions.
Brussels is close to other key cities in Belgium. It is only 28.5 miles from Antwerp and 34.7 miles from Ghent. It is also 63.3 miles from Bruges, the largest and capital city of West Flanders Province.
How To Get To Brussels
Brussels Airport receives direct flights from 164 airports worldwide. It is also the largest airport in Belgium, and 58 airlines fly to the airport.
Three airlines have direct flights from the United States to Brussels. Brussels Airlines has direct flights from New York year-round, which takes about seven hours. The airline has seasonal flights from Washington, which take about seven hours and a half hours.
United Airlines have year-round flights from Chicago, New York, and Washington. All these flights are direct and take approximately seven hours and 45 minutes. Delta Airlines has direct year-round flights to Brussels from New York. The flights take approximately seven hours and 15 minutes.
Air Canada and Air Transat are the only airlines with direct flights from Canada to Brussels. Air Canada flies from Montreal year-round, which takes seven hours and five minutes. It also offers seasonal flights from Toronto. Air Transat offers seasonal flights from Montreal.
Brussels has great inter-Europe connectivity with several airlines having direct flights to and from the Belgian capital. Alternatively, Brussels South Charleroi Airport is home to many of Europe’s low-cost airlines including RyanAir and WizzAir.
- We took the SNCB train from Brussels Airport to the center of Brussels which was quick and easy, minus the lack of escalators in the train station.
- If you want to avoid trying to understand train schedules and stations, you can book an airport transfer from your hotel or Airbnb.
What Is The Currency In Brussels
Euro is the currency used in Brussels, and other currencies are not accepted. However, there are numerous currency exchange bureaus located around the city. Furthermore, most restaurants and stores accept credit cards. It is also advisable to carry smaller denominations because some businesses don’t accept 200 and 500 Euro notes.
Is Brussels expensive? In general, Brussels is an expensive city for both local residents and tourists. Being the capital of the EU, staying in Brussels isn’t cheap. However, it is considered average compared to other European cities such as London or Paris.
Learn more about packing for Europe and other travel tips about accessing money when traveling to Brussels.
What Are The Languages In Brussels
One of the most interesting Brussels facts is that so many people speak English. This makes it an easy place to travel in Europe.
Dutch and French are the official languages in Brussels. The city is bilingual; thus, most documents and road signs are written in Dutch and French.
About 80 percent of Brussels’ locals speak French. You will hear it on the streets, restaurants, shopping centers, bars, and tourist attractions. A large number of people also speak German and English.
Flemish is also widely spoken. It is a local version or dialect of Dutch, but with different pronunciations. However, Dutch speakers from Belgium and those from the Netherlands may not communicate fluently. This is because of the different pronunciations and nouns used in Flemish.
Types Of Brussels Accommodations
Finding accommodation in Brussels is easy with the numerous hotels and apartment rentals. Airbnb enables visitors to find the right accommodation in terms of space, amenities, and cost. It offers different options that will meet the needs of any traveler.
Rental homes, apartments, and villas are perfect options for large families or people traveling in large groups. Such accommodation will provide more space and facilities.
There are numerous hotels in Brussels. These hotels have different luxury levels and ratings, ranging from one to five stars. International hotels include Marriott, Hilton, Berlaymont, and Le Louise.
How To Find Accommodations In Brussels
- We often use Booking.com to book all sorts of hotels and apartments when traveling. Go to this link to get all the hotel options in Brussels. On the left-hand side, you can search for hotels, apartments, and other accommodations.
- We stayed in The Dominican during our visit to Brussels. It is modern, clean, and best of all centrally located to tons of bars, restaurants, and attractions. It’s also a Marriott Design Hotel, allowing you to earn or use points.
Is Brussels Safe To Visit
The level of safety in Brussels is a key concern for any person planning to visit the city. The city is considered to have a medium safety level. Though using taxis is safe, there is a possibility of being driven around and being overcharged. Public transport is safe though you should be vigilant of bag snatchers and pickpockets.
Unfortunately, the risk of pickpockets is high. Subways and train stations are generally regarded as unsafe. Though the risk of mugging is lower, you should avoid certain zones. Having been to over 70 countries and countless cities around the world, we didn’t exactly feel safe in parts of Brussels. Just being honest. From large piles of trash on the street and a fair amount of homeless, the city doesn’t exactly give off a “warm and fuzzy” feeling, in parts.
With this in mind, we recommend paying attention to your surroundings at all times. Panhandles can be aggressive. If you want an extra level of security, consider traveling with an anti-theft bag. These provide an extra sense of security for cameras, phones, and cash. Some anti theft travel bags include RFID-blocking technology for thieves trying to steal credit card information.
Things To Do In Brussels
Visiting museums should be on every visitor’s Brussels to-do list. There is a wide list of Brussels museums to check out, from art museums and history museums to musical instruments museums. Moreover, the city has been hosting Museum Night Fever for over a decade.
Besides museums, there are numerous places to visit in Brussels. For instance, you can decide to enjoy unique views from Atomium. The Atomium lets you climb into a giant atom, representing an iron crystal. The crystal was built in 1958 and is magnified 165 times.
The atom’s spheres hold exhibitions that you can explore. You can also dine at a restaurant in one of the spheres at the top. A tour inside the atom is not your everyday experience, but the 360-degree panorama views inside the spheres are the most fascinating and mind-blowing.
Visiting Brussels allows you to visit Train World and let off some steam. Train World is located at the old Schaerbeek station and lets you explore the vintage railway locomotives. Pays de Waes, a 19th-century locomotive and the oldest preserved steam train in Europe is the tour’s highlight.
Grand Palace Brussels
The ornate Grand Palace is one of the finest medieval squares in Belgium and the whole of Europe. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has many historic buildings, some dating back to the 15th century. At the center is the stunning 15th-century City Hall, surrounded by the striking architecture of six guild halls.
The square hosts a flower market on certain days, and tourists are advised to visit at night. Tourists visit the Grand Palace to admire the architecture, dine at the numerous restaurants and cafes, and enjoy people-watching.
- Learn more about the Grand Palace and other sites around the city on this three-hour walking and tasting tour of Brussels
The Manneken Pis is among Brussels’ most well-known landmarks. It is located in the city center and is a statue of a small boy peeing. The Manneken Pis brings a comical atmosphere to the city and is easy to find.
It is worth checking out and is often dressed in different costumes. Locals even have an annual festival to celebrate the little boy. You can also check out Jeanneke Pis, a young girl called Little Julian peeing over a rock, and Zinneke Pis, a dog urinating. However, they are the only three allowed to pee on the streets.
- Visit Manneken Pis and other sites around Brussels in this Small Group Brussel Bike Tour.
Royal Palace of Brussels
The official residence of the Belgian Royal Family is known as The Royal Palace of Brussels. It sits in the city center, and visitors can access it from April to September. Though entering the palace is free, you will pay a minimal fee for a royal tour of the apartments.
The Royal Palace is perfect for a sightseeing tour and an ideal spot for photo shoot memories that will last a lifetime. Belgium flags fly high as a mark of sovereign presence. The guard changes daily, and there are also ceremonial alterations every evening.
The Parlamentarium is a sight worth checking out. It is a museum that houses educational and interactive displays of the European Parliament. It sits just opposite the European Parliament Complex on Rue de Trèves.
The building was home to the Palace of Justice and is loaded with history. It is free and provides the best opportunity for residents and tourists to learn more about the EU headquarters.
It has three floors, each with a different exhibition. The first floor provides the history of the European Union. The second floor highlights how democracy works and how decisions are made within the EU countries. The final floor shows how Brussels gets things done.
- We took a self-guided tour of the main European Parliament Building, which has tons of interactive displays along with audio and video presentations. The museum includes Brussels facts and information about all EU members.
- If you want to learn more about Brussels, including the European Parliament Building check out this more extensive tour of Brussels.
Eat Mussels And Drink Belgium Beer
One must-do when visiting Brussels is to eat mussels and drink beer. Eating in Brussels is unlike anywhere else in the world. Mussels are the best choice when it comes to classic Belgian cuisine. As part of its ingredients, this meal has a pinch of geography and a handful of history.
You will find large pots steaming with mussels, drizzled with fresh vegetables and verbs, and smothered with white wine slosh. Brussels is also known for its fruity beer. A dish of mussels and Belgium beer is a must-try for any foodie visiting the city.
One of our favorite places in Brussels for mussels is the famous Aux Armes de Bruxelles. A hallmark of classic Belgian dining since the 1920s, the restaurant serves up a wide range of classic Belgian and French dishes. While the mussels and frites are a must, don’t miss out on the frog legs in garlic or steak frites.
- During our trip, we went out of character and choose not to book a food tour but rather explore the city on our own. If you are short on time and want to hit the highlights of Brussels food (chocolate, beer, mussels, waffles) this Brussels food tour is for you.
- If Belgian beer is what you are after, this Brussels beer tour came highly recommended.
Beer is everywhere not only in Brussels, but all of Belgium. But where can you enjoy one of the most famous Belgian beers? Delirium Cafe Brussels is your stop. Delirium Cafe holds the Guinness World Record for the most beers served. It earned recognition in 2004 for serving 2004 beers.
A tour of Brussels will give you the opportunity to peel back the many masks of the city. Discover its hidden culture, Brussels facts, Belgian history, architecture, cuisine, and craft beer. This article will help you plan for the trip.