How to be a Brussels local: How to love this city where you live
Friday, 13 October 2017
You are settled in Brussels but now you want to know the city a bit better, so you can show off your favourite spots to your friends when they come to visit. With that in mind, we are launching a series of inspiring ideas over the next 12 months that will turn you into a Brussels local. By the end of the year, you should be eating like a local, exploring the city like a local and maybe even dreaming like a local.
The October List: Six things to do this month
GET ON A BIKE
Brussels residents take over the streets on the annual “Car-Free Sunday”. This year it took place on 17 September. Locals call for even more car-free days during the year.
It’s not that easy to get around Brussels, no matter how you do it. But there is a growing awareness that cities like Copenhagen have got it right and bikes are the answer to traffic chaos. The organisation Pro Velo has been around for more than 20 years to provide advice on cycling, used bike sales, and even coaching sessions for the nervous.
Can you learn to love this city in just 24 hours? With a Brussels card in your pocket, you might just manage. The card allows you to visit almost 40 museums in the city for free, ranging from the huge Museum of Fine Art to the tiny Belgian Brewery Museum (where you get a free beer at the end). As part of the deal, you are given a city map and discount vouchers for shops and bars. The card also cuts the cost of a 24-hour pass for the Brussels transport network, so you can nip out to some spectacular sights such as the Atomium and the Horta Museum. The one-day card costs €24, or €31.50 if you add public transport. Check out the experience.brussels exhibition on Place Royal to get a good overview and understanding of Brussels.
Plan a visit to the Coudenberg Museum to discover four centuries of Brussels history and (if you are fast) you can catch the Brussels Electronic Marathon festival, or BEM. For the first time in 500 years, the mediaeval underground cellars of Coudenberg Palace will reverberate to the beat of electronic music as the ancient ruins under Place Royale provide a setting for live performances, workshops and sound installations.
But that’s just for starters. The Coudenberg Museum is one of 35 urban venues taking part in BEM. Now in its second year, this unique event sprawls across downtown Brussels and Ixelles communes for three whole days and nights, bringing together 229 Brussels artists and 66 local collectives.
The festival opens with a concert at Flagey’s Studio 4 performed by Austrian composer Christian Fennesz accompanied by an audiovisual show put together by Lillevan. Over the following two days, there will be parties at urban venues such as Fuse and Recyclart, as well as more intimate spaces like De Haus, l’Epicerie Moderne, Brewdog bar and Bonnefooi. But the organisers insist that it’s not just about dancing deep into the night. The programme also features art installations, films, workshops, brunches and kids’ activities.
Confused about the complicated history of this little country? The BELvue museum next to the royal palace tries to make sense of it all. Located in a former grand hotel, it lies in the heart of a neighbourhood rich in Belgian history. Formerly dedicated to the Belgian royal family, the museum now focuses on big social themes like migration, languages and Europe. But it has a quirky approach that is designed to appeal to kids.
Valérie Leplat opened her first sandwich shop in a former pharmacy just off the Sablon back in 2014. Her aim was to revive the traditional Brussels pistolet – the round white buns that Belgians would pick up at the baker’s on a Sunday morning. After testing out some recipes on her friends, she developed a range of pistolets with unusual fillings like roast beef and horseradish sauce or bloempanch (blood sausage) and sliced apple. She went on to open a second shop in the European Quarter, and recently launched a third address in a lane next to the Galeries Saint Hubert. It’s a bright, colourful place with the look of an American deli where you can drop in for a quick lunch.
You don’t need to live long in Brussels to realise it has a lot of green space. Sometimes it is hidden away in little urban parks that take time to discover. But you can’t miss the huge Bois de la Cambre. Landscaped in 19th-century romantic style, it has artificial crags, a lake and a skating rink. There’s also a rustic wooden restaurant on an island reached creaky mechanical ferry and a new hipster coffee chalet called Woodpecker open on sunny weekends. Cars are banned from the wood at the weekend making this the perfect place for kids to wobble off on a bike.