Brussels is renowned for sprouts, bureaucracy and a tiny statue called the Mannekin Pis. However there is good stuff there as well. The capital of a country which has hundreds of breweries and which has produced Tin Tin, The Smurfs and Asterix can’t be all that bad.
Brussels has its fair share of museums, although its most famous landmark is the Atomium which is located away from the centre in the Bruparck Entertainment Complex. It is also worth wandering around the Grand Place which Victor Hugo described as “the most beautiful square in the world”.
Belgium is split between French and Dutch speaking regions with Brussels officially classified as a bilingual community. Although most of the surrounding suburbs are Dutch speaking the centre feels more French than Flemish. Most travellers have a better grasp of French than Dutch, although South Africans generally find it an easy language because of its similarity to Afrikaans. Because of Brussels position as a centre for various European and international organisations, many of the locals speak English very well, so language shouldn’t be a problem.
Brussels’ bilingual situation makes things a little confusing for travellers since there are often two (and sometimes three) different names for institutions, streets and places. Generally we list the name in the language in which it is most commonly known. However in other cases we may list the French name followed by the Dutch name, if there is a commonly recognised English name we may quote that as well.
Value Added Tax and service charges are included in most prices. With the exception of cinema ushers (who expect €0.50), tipping is not really necessary in Belgium. If service is exceptional, you may want to add up to an extra 5% in restaurants.
If you can read French, the monthly Kiosk has listings of whats happening around town including info on cafés, bars and cultural events.
The Brussels’ public transport network, operated by STIB, is made up of buses, trains, four metro lines and 15 tram lines that are known as the premétro when they run through tunnels in the city centre. This network is supplemented by buses operated by TEC and De Lijn, respectively serving both the surrounding French and Dutch speaking regions.
Metro, premetro and trams
The four métro lines include lines 1 and 5 that run a circular route around the city centre and lines 2 and 6 that run east-west through the city centre.
The premétro offers a similar service to the métro but this system is made up of trams running through tunnels in the city centre which surface and run along the streets in the suburbs. The most useful pre-metro lines run north-south through the city centre from Gare du Nord to Albert with stations at Rogier, De Brouckere, Gare du Midi/Zuid Station and Porte de Hal/Hallepoort.
Stations for both the métro and premétro are indicated by a blue sign with a white M. The métro is not as busy as other European systems like those of London or Paris and trains and stations can get quite deserted as early as 10pm.
Trams are a good way to visit places in the suburbs, including the Atomium, the Museum voor Midden-Afrika as well as the good hitch-hiking spots. Trams are generally clean and comfortable.
A single ticket costs €2.10 (€2.50 if it is bought on board a bus or tram), although it is better value to pay for five or ten journeys at a time. A ten-ride ticket costs €14. A five-ride ticket is €8.
If you’re planning to see a lot of Brussels in one day, you may like to invest in a 24-hour JUMP ticket which costs €7.50. A three-day pass is €18.
STIB is in the process of transferring its ticketing system to MOBIB tickets, which is a contactless smart card similar to London’s Oyster card. Fares a slightly cheaper with the MOBIB system (a single ticket costs €2.10), but the MOBIB card incurs a refundable €5 fee in addition to the cost of travel.