Now the lazy days of summer are approaching, it’s time to get to know the city’s outdoor spaces, along with food truck festivals, safe routes for cycling and peaceful picnic spots. Here are seven tips to get the most out of June in Brussels. THE BEST OF THE SUMMER BARS
Several summer bars have been launched in recent years in the city’s parks. Modelled on old Brussels buvettes, they are places to go on a sunny day for a local beer, a snack and maybe a concert. One of the best is the Guinguette du Parc de Forest which opened last summer in the Forest park. It’s run by two young women who have created a relaxed outdoor spot with furniture made from recycled pallets, vegetarian food and local beers from the Brasserie de la Senne.
On the other side of town, you can play mini golf, meet the guild of archers and drink a Brussels beer at the Buvette St Sebastiaan in Parc Josaphat. It occupies an outdoor bar recently restored by the people behind the Brasserie de la Senne. They put together a lively programme of summer events including concerts, dancing, beer tastings and a Friday Fish Party.
You can also sit on a bench under the trees at the Woodpecker kiosk in the Parc de Bruxelles. The young people behind the counter serve good coffee, along with beers from the Brasserie de la Senne and simple summer food. On Thursday evenings, they host an afterwork party while sunny Sunday afternoons feature local DJs.
TIME FOR AN APÉRO
Maybe you are not on holiday yet, but you can still relax at the end of the week at the Frunch lunchtime meetup. Held in a cobbled courtyard off Place Royale, the weekly event aims to create a relaxed mood to start the weekend. You find local food trucks serving homemade burgers and Moroccan cooking, deckchairs to sit in the sun and umbrellas in case it rains. Add to that ping pong tables, good music and some of the friendliest people in town and you have the perfect lunchtime break.
Now in its fifth year, Frunch is marking its anniversary by offering member cards which offer discounts on drinks, free entry to the Coundenberg Museum and a shot of Laurent Gerbaud’s hot chocolate. Sign up online and collect your ticket at the Frunch bar.
BRUSSELS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Several outdoor evening screenings are scheduled to take place at Mont des Art.
The first edition of Brussels International Film Festival kicks off from 20 June to 30 June. It will be opened by Terry Gilliam’s long-awaited film, The man who killed Don Quixote. The director and cast will also participate to talk about the movie.
Organised around a selection of movies discovered at Cannes, Berlin and Venice, the international competition will allow the spectators to discover 12 feature films in their Belgian premières. Several of the screenings will take place outdoor along Boulevard Anspach as well as at the Mont des Arts, giving spectators a beautiful view overlooking the city centre.
BIKE IS SOMETIMES BEST
Agreed, Brussels isn’t the world’s best city for cycling. You have to deal with steep hills, potholed roads and some pretty hostile car drivers. But the city is at least slowly making the streets more safe and pleasant for cycling. The tourist office Visit Brussels recently published the useful map Brussels by Bike, showing eight different routes through the city. It’s mainly aimed at weekenders who want to hop on a bike to see the sites, but it can also be used by locals to plot a route to their workplace or favourite bar. Sold at the Visit Brussels offices, it costs just €2,50.
FIND THE PERFECT PICNIC SPOT
The city is dotted with parks where you can spread out a rug and unpack a picnic. But how do you find one in your neighbourhood? Your best bet might be the free map Brussels: A Green and Natural City which pinpoints all 71 green spaces managed by the regional environment authority Bruxelles Environnement.
The vast Bois de la Cambre is by far the biggest green spot on the map. You can always find a shady picnic spot under a tree and a space where kids can kick a ball. If you forget to bring along any food, head to the hip wooden cabin near the lake where the food comes from organic restaurant Peck and chocolate maker Laurent Gerbaud, while the beers are brewed by Brasserie de la Senne.
The Parc Duden is another big open space where you can sit in the sun and munch a sandwich. Or head to the grassy slopes of the Parc de Woluwé if you live on the east side of town.
You can track down dozens of other small green spaces with the help of the map, available free at Visit Brussels offices.
WHERE TO FIND HEALTHY FOOD
You are living in a city with a good supply of food shops so you will not have to hunt far to put together a picnic. First you need to pick up a baguette, but not just any baguette. It has to come from an authentic baker. You know you are in the right place if you see a sticker in the shop window that reads Tartine et boterham. Some 60 bakeries in Brussels display these stickers to show they do things correctly.
Now you need to think about the rest of the picnic. Of course, you can go to a supermarket, but it’s also possible to find an organic store in your neighbourhood. The Färm cooperative shops are springing up all over town, with five branches now offering a huge range of sustainable biological food in locations close to metro stations and tram stops. The stores put a lot of effort into finding local products like organic beers brewed in Brussels, locally-made ketchup and cheeses supplied by farms just outside the city.
MEANDER THROUGH OLD MOLENBEEK
Now that summer is here, you might want to explore the city like a local. The free Mixity maps get you off the beaten track with urban trails through 16 different Brussels neighbourhoods. The aim is to take you away from the city centre into living neighbourhoods with diverse populations. As you explore these hidden quarters, you learn about local communities, food specialities, architectural curiosities and concert venues.
The Old Molenbeek map takes you into an area that for many people has a negative image. But this was one of the richest communes in Belgium up until the 1970s. The walk tells the story of decline and renewal by taking you across the canal to look at an area of urban redevelopment with a new hotel and street art museum. Not far away you learn the history of a tower block with such thin walls that it was known locally as the cardboard box.
Keep walking and you discover a hidden vegetable garden, a museum located in an abandoned bronze foundry and the country’s first shared space. By the end of the walk you might begin to see it’s not all bad news in Molenbeek.
By Derek Blyth