One year has passed since we launched this series on How to be a Local. The aim was to inspire you to get out and live in Brussels like a local would do. We are now bringing the series to an end with some ideas on how to get back into the rhythm of the city after the summer break. And we’ll also try to persuade you to become an ambassador for Brussels now that you are beginning to feel like a local.
STROLL THROUGH A CITY WITHOUT CARS
Rue de la Loi on a car free Sunday
Since Brussels organised its first car-free day in 2002, the city has steadily expanded its car-free zones. Some drivers are annoyed by the closed streets, but others welcome the push for sustainable transport and clean air.
The ambitious pedestrian zone in central Brussels is still far from completion, but you can already take a long walk through the city without meeting any cars along the way. The place to start is Place Fernand Cocq in Ixelles where virtually all traffic has disappeared apart from the occasional bus. Follow the newly-paved pedestrian street to Porte de Namur then take the steps into the metro to slip effortlessly under the busy inner ring road.
Follow Rue de Namur downhill and you will have to wait patiently at the lights before crossing Rue de la Régence. But from here the route into downtown Brussels is virtually free of traffic.
Take a moment to admire Grand’Place which was cleared of parked cars in 1971 following a protest picnic organised by The Bulletin. Then continue through cobbled streets where cars are banned until you reach the Bourse, which was cleared of cars in 2015 following a series of picnics inspired by the 1971 action.
Car free day is held on 16 September across Brussels Region from 9.30 to 19.00. Public transport is free on the day.
UNUSUAL CONCERTS IN QUIRKY PLACES
The United Music of Brussels festival is an inspiring way to get to know some of the hidden interiors in the heart of Brussels. The programme features a wide range of mini-concerts by local musical talent ranging from opera singers to hip DJs. They perform inside shops, cabarets, cafés, museums and cinemas. It’s a quirky way to find out about the Belgian music scene while exploring some exceptional corners of the city. Held on 8 September.
The Belgian Parliament sits in a forgotten Brussels neighbourhood that most people only visit to hear pop stars like Céline Dion perform at the Cirque Royal. Formerly known as the Our Lady of the Snows, this romantic 19th-century quarter was originally populated by washerwomen, artists, maids and prostitutes. The old houses were eventually torn down to create a neighbourhood for the city’s élite, including the fabulously rich Edouard Empain, whose bank financed the construction of the Paris metro and the Cairo district of Heliopolis.
It’s now a rather quiet area, but things are beginning to change around the secluded Place de La Liberté, where the new Café Caberdouche serves homemade food and Belgian craft beer, while nearby Bargello offers authentic homemade Italian ice cream.
Brussels maybe isn’t the perfect cycling city. It has cobbled roads, heavy traffic and some steep hills. But the people who run Bike for Brussels have worked with a team of local coding geeks to create a digital routeplanner that gets you to your destination with the minimum of fuss, letting you chose between fast and relaxed routes (which neatly avoid the cobbles, fast traffic and parked cars). It was released recently as a website and there are plans to bring out an app.
Discover the latest trends in furniture and fashion during this year’s Design September. More than 100 venues across town are taking part, ranging from the stunning new Kanal-Pompidou art centre to quirky downtown design stores. The inspiring programme includes exhibitions, talks, film screenings, showroom displays and eco interiors.
You can catch cool design at Bozar, follow a Belgian fashion trail or just sneak a look inside some of the city’s most creative commercial interiors. Look out for the installation by Brussels landscape architect Bas Smets, who recently won a competition to design a memorial to the victims of the 2011 Utøya massacre. And don’t miss the exhibition on eco design at the MAD design centre.
The depiction of a decapitation of a child has been left by authorities. It is thought to be inspired by a painting by Italian artist Caravaggio who depicted Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac from the Jewish Old testament. It shows the distinct moment when a divine messenger stops him.
Graffiti used to be a serious crime in Brussels. But some progressive communes now promote street art as part of their urban policy. The best way to find out more is to take a tour organised by the association Fais le Trottoir. The guides are passionate experts who lead you into wild and abandoned places to find the most interesting tags, stickers, collages and murals.
The walking tours take you to spots that are far from the tourist hubs, like the canal district, St Gilles and the almost unknown Neerpede quarter. They also provide insights into some of the city’s most mysterious artists, including Bonom and the intriguing pencil artist known as Créons.
The first tour in September takes you into the canal district. Book your place by email.
We launched this series a year ago with the aim of turning you from an expat into a local. If you have stuck with us over 12 months, you will have learned about the city’s hidden railway stations, local recipes to try and uncommon places to plug in your laptop.
Now we want you to become an ambassador for Brussels and tell your friends that there is more to this city than chocolate shops and traffic congestion. We think that’s what locals should do.