It’s coming up to the time of year when you might want to find an unusual gift to take back home. Here are some places to go for inspiring ideas along with a few hints on what locals like to do as the year comes to an end.
The December List: Ten things to do this month
PIMP MY STREET
Most Brussels locals warn you to avoid the Petite Rue des Bouchers and on no account to eat in any of its restaurants. But maybe you can ignore the advice for the coming month as the street has been reinvented as a temporary hub of Belgian creativity. Some twelve Belgian creators have taken over four empty shops in the street to show off art, photography, design, fashion and even chocolate.
The four shops have been lit with blue neon signs to guide you down the cobbled lane. The participants include chocolate maker Laurent Gerbaud, interior designer Dominique Gringoire and talented Brussels street photographer Jehanne Hupin.
You can also discover Isabelle Azais’ quirky Service de thé d’Alice au pays des poubelles (Alice in Rubbishland’s Tea Set) made from smashed cups, Studio Arbor’s tree art and Margaux Baert’s beautiful paper dress installation Paper Nymph.
“Our aim is to persuade Brussels residents to rediscover this attractive street, while showing investors and shopkeepers that this neighbourhood has potential,” said Marion Lemesre, councillor for economic affairs in Brussels commune.
Petite Rue des Bouchers, shops open from 12.00 to 19.00, until 7 January.
PICK UP A QUIRKY ANTIQUE IN THE MAROLLES
Head down to the Marolles to explore the antique and vintage stores in this old Brussels neighbourhood. You might find something unusual or quirky to take back home at the flea market held every morning on the Place du Jeu de Balle. Or you can trawl through Stefantiek’s two cluttered shops filled with bizarre rarities. You might leave with a pair of carved stone angels that once decorated a Belgian castle, a stuffed giraffe from a vanished museum or even a complete vintage barbers’ shop interior.
CHECK OUT COOL SHOPS
Set aside a Saturday morning to stroll around neighbourhoods where the small independent shops are located. Begin in the postcard shop Plaizier where you can pick up a guide to Ugly Belgian Houses to give a difficult brother or a poster of the Atomium in 1958 for a nostalgic uncle. No luck here? Then head to the magical Heyday in the Marolles where the owner sells quirky cards, retro robots and unique posters. Still struggling? You might find exactly what you need in the new Hopono concept store near Place du Châtelain.
CATCH THE SHOPPING BUS
Not many people hop on the cute little electric shopping buses that link the uptown and downtown shopping districts. But the free orange buses, sponsored by ING bank, are a fun way to get around some of the city’s most vibrant districts, including the Sablon, Saint Jacques district and Rue Dansaert. The buses run every 15 minutes on Fridays and Saturdays, up until 6pm.
DISCOVER DESIGNS AND PRODUCTS MADE AND BOUGHT BY LOCALS
Belgomarkt is an interesting alternative to the big chained supermarkets. Situated between Saint Boniface and Place de Londres, the shop is completely focused on local food products. Everything is farmed and cultivated in Belgium, bio of course, from fresh fish and meat cuts, to cheese, fruits and vegetables. In the neighbourhood, you’ll also find Belgikïe, a designer shop selling clothes and handicraft from Belgian creators. If you are looking for a Belgian souvenir and want to support Belgian talents, check out Manneke in the city centre. The shop owners wanted to offer authentic alternatives for visitors and locals looking for gifts and souvenirs.
TAKE HOME A BRUSSELS BEER
Brasserie de la Senne
Not so easy if you are flying home over Christmas, but you might work out a way to carry home a few Brussels beers from the city’s micro breweries. You could introduce friends back home to the sublime wheat beer Grosse Bertha brewed by the Brussels Beer Project, or the lovely Zinnebir from the Brasserie de la Senne right in the heart of Molenbeek. The micro brewery En Stoemelings offers a range of interesting brews, while the tiny l’Ermitage brewery creates small batches of American-style craft beers.
WATCH A FILM IN AN ARTHOUSE CINEMA
Things have been stirring recently in the cinemas of Brussels. The Ixelles neighbourhood cinema Styx has reopened one of its two intimate screening rooms where 35 people can squeeze in to watch a film classic. Meanwhile, some of the best recent Belgian films are being screened at the Be Film festival held in late December in the Cinematek and Flagey cinemas.
BOOK A ROOM FOR YOUR FRIENDS IN A LOCAL HOTEL
It’s sometimes difficult to squeeze friends into a little apartment. But Brussels has dozens of cool hotels where you can book an inexpensive room over Christmas. For a relaxed Nordic feel, check out the rooms at the new Hygge Hotel in Ixelles. Or show off the city’s quirky side by booking your friends a inexpensive double room at the nostalgic Le Berger, where rooms were once rented by the hour.
FIND A FUN ACTIVITY FOR KIDS
First step for many local parents is to pick up a copy of the Kids’ Gazette, a free magazine and website in three languages that lists events in Brussels for children. Here you find information about plays, dance, concerts and other events. Sometimes language will be a problem, although kids can often cope with performances even when they don’t understand a word. Among the events scheduled, the most intriguing is Gare Centrale’s 25-minute “Baby Macbeth” aimed at children as young as 12 months.
VISIT GRAND’PLACE AFTER DARK
It has been described as the most beautiful square in the world, but Grand’Place just got more beautiful. The city recently completed an ambitious project to light up the buildings at night using 1,600 low-energy LED lights linked by 26 kilometres of cabling. The lights can be individually controlled to vary the colour or brightness, creating an infinite variety of effects in the square. It’s not just a tourist site, but also a place where locals head to celebrate the end the year.
By Derek Blyth