12 Hidden Brussels Gems Spotted by Locals

Fries. Graffiti. Art Deco. Decay. Chocolate. Beers. Traffic jams. Coziness. Rawness. Brussels.

‘Eclectic’ is probably the best way to describe Brussels. Everyone lives alongside each other without caring too much. Everything is possible, you just need to take the plunge. There’s a hidden secret behind every corner, you just need to find it.

This post presents you with the very best and most local spots in Brussels, selected by our team of Spotters. Enjoy!

Take a walk at the edge of Brussels

Park Brussels

Dudenpark (by Bart Azare)

You wouldn’t know at first sight, but Brussels is one of the greenest capitals in Europe and one of its parks I enjoy the most is the Duden park, one of the oldest in town, and one of the hilliest. These remains of an old forest once belonged to a rich lace merchant, Guillaume Duden who donated it to King Leopold II on the condition it would be turned into a public park carrying his name, and so it happened a century ago. This oasis of tranquillity offers a nice walk in fresh air all year long, some historical buildings and interesting sleighing possibilities in the wintertime

The highest side borders the former bourgeois areas of Forest and grants us a panorama view of the city. The north side, a 45 meters drop further, connects to the Forest Park forming a green bridge to the more industrial neighborhoods of lower Brussels.

Being a football fan I need to mention the Joseph Marien football stadium, home of Union Saint-Gilloise, a team legendary in Belgium for their mythical run of 60 consecutive unbeaten matches, still a record in our national football history. Now they play in the third division and the Anderlecht neighbors have taken over the crown of record champion, but you still can attend their home games in the Duden Park. —Wouter Spitters

How to have beers the Belgian way

Café Brussels

Brasserie Verschueren (by Nettah Yoeli-Rimmer)

A neighborhood of artists, poets, writers, intellectuals and musicians, St. Gilles is often seen as the Left Bank of Brussels. The influx of young French people living in and around the area certainly strengthens the image. Well, every Latin Quarter needs its café; the place where people meet, ideas are exchanged and friendships are built and here it is. If Sartre were living in Brussels in 2018, Brasserie Verschueren would be his home from home.

It exudes a timeless elegance, with a sense of history and a feeling of place. It is cool because it doesn’t try to be anything trendy. It’s just a fun place to come for an evening drink or a morning coffee and paper. On any night, the place is full of artists of some description and the creative and relaxed atmosphere is infectious.

I like this place so much, I almost don’t want to share it. But, it’s a perfect example of a local Brussels bar and should be enjoyed. — Nettah Yoeli

From necropolis to jungle

Cemetery of Dieweg

“On the seventh day, God finished his work of creation, rested and said: ‘There will no longer be any maintenance of the houses and gardens of the dead in the municipality of Uccle!’”

God’s wrath is one possible explanation for the wilderness of this graveyard. Other, more profane theories make mention of negligent maintenance services or of Monuments and Landscapes wanting to protect the site’s rich biodiversity. Whatever it may be, certain is that this 1866 graveyard has slowly grown into a unique jungle since it was closed down in 1958.

Today, only the pathways are cleared from greenery, so that you and I can wander this forlorn necropolis. More than 200 different plant species can be found. They overgrow the dilapidated tombstones, chapels, mausoleums and rusty Jesuses. Some of the wealthiest politicians, architects, bankers, members of the nobility and Jewish families built their final mansions on these grounds – while fashionably keeping to the architectural styles that were in vogue at the time. Nowadays, branches embrace their magnificent funerary art pieces, as if wanting to prevent the beauty of this place from falling apart. Of one grave’s occupant you’ll probably have heard before: Georges Remi a.k.a. Hergé, the Belgian cartoonist. World famous for his comic albums ‘The Adventures of Tintin‘.

My final recommendations for one of my favorite hangouts in Brussels? Enter one of the tombs accessible for public. Do make sure you have a good light with you. And secondly: don’t forget to enjoy the ride that gets you to the cemetery! — Davy Verbeke

Portuguese pubbing at Café Régua

Café Régua (by Davy Verbeke)

Let me tell you the story of how I one day discovered Café Régua.

I was alone, taking an early morning walk in the empty streets of Saint-Gillis. I was on my way to Bethlehem, looking for nothing in particular. I had been walking for quite some time. Weariness was around the corner. Suddenly, dark clouds congregated above my head. In the blink of an eye, an Old Testamental rain fell down on me. I had to find shelter quickly, but I foresaw trouble in finding a place already open at that unholy hour: 07:34.

Then, I saw light coming from Café Régua.

I stepped in, soaked. Warmth came my way. Gorete and Chris looked at me from behind their counter. My watch told me it was still 07:34. The ceiling and walls were wooden. Some clients were having breakfast. One was reading a newspaper. Four men were playing cards. They were before-working. I sat down at a table in the back and ordered a coffee, dripping. Some clients stared at me. Carefully, I said ‘Hello’. Behind them, a climbing plant was slowly growing towards the wall clock. It indicated 07:40. Next to the counter, a bird chirped three times.

Although that particular morning might have taken on Biblical dimensions in my mind, I often come back to this small Portuguese café since that day. For a coffee or a beer, to read or chat. I adore the simplicity and calm. Things plain and simple stir the imagination. Especially when it rains. — Davy Verbeke

Exotic flavors at the Sunday market

Gare du Midi market (by Peter de Vink)

I believe street markets are the heart of a city. There are plenty in Brussels, but the most famous and busy is the one on Sunday morning around Gare du Midi. You can find everything you want here, from clothes and flowers to household stuff. But Brussels locals mainly come here to get their weekly fruit and vegetable shopping, as it is one of the cheapest places in town.

There is plenty of choice and the prices will start dropping to almost nothing starting 13:30, when sellers want to get rid of the leftovers: a real chance to buy good quality products for the cheapest price. And when your hands are full and you can’t take any more, you can enjoy some tasty Arabic food prepared in front of you. — Renata Riva

Jazzy trains

Jazz Station (by Sarah Filion)

There numerous good spots to listen to jazz in the Belgian capital (there’s even a Jazz Fest Marathon every year in May – stay tuned for the article about it on Spotted by Locals!), but what I wish to draw attention to is Jazz Station. They have interesting events, such as concerts (obviously!), jam sessions, conferences about jazz, events for different audiences, etc.

Another good reason to go to the Jazz Station is the venue. First, it’s located in an old neo-Renaissance Flemish train station dating from 1885, which is charming, historical, and quirky. You can still see the train tracks at the back, and the facade itself is beautiful, in the typical Belgium red-brick style.

Second, the Jazz Station is Sint-Joost-ten-Node. Sint-Joost isn’t necessarily the first neighborhood that comes to mind when you think about a night out on the town. But it’s actually very close to the center and worth discovering. Before your show at the Jazz Station, go eat a kebab or fries on the Sint-Joost Square. Not eating a kebab in Sint-Joost would be missing out on the real local experience. — Sarah Filion

Coffee at the counter

Café Corica (by Camille Van Puymbroeck)

I love good coffee, which is a little thin on the ground here in Brussels. Luckily, Corica has come to my rescue repeatedly since I first ventured in. I love standing at the bar, selecting my coffee from one of the 20 or so varieties available, and soaking in the atmosphere of its refreshingly diverse clientele. The strong aroma of coffee creates an oasis of contemplation amid the hustle and bustle of the city’s medieval center.

Corica is about as different from a brand corporate chain café as you can get. In fact, it is actually a shop, the only one in Brussels that still roasts its own coffee, using an impressively sturdy machine that sits by the door. People pop in all day to buy beans to take home or to have a quick coffee at the bar.

I love the feeling that this is a working part of the city. Nobody lingers too long, just enough time to exchange some gossip and try one of the latest blends from places like Costa Rica, Brazil or Yemen. The exotic origins and flavors of the coffee transport me a million miles away to all corners of the globe, then the friendly banter and flow of workmen in for their coffee breaks, bring me right back to the center of Brussels. — Nettah Yoeli

Matongé

Matonge

Mural by Chéri Samba ‘Porte de Namur, Porte de l’Amour?’ (by Finne Boonen)

Metro stop Naamse Poort is the gateway to African shops, various ethnic restaurants, Italian, Greek, Indian, Pakistan, and Belgian cuisine. This is rue Nord, Brussels commercial clothes street converted into a nice area to wander in.

There are also a lot of African barber shops, clothes, food and jewelry shops next to HM, Zara and the usual pack of Belgian stores. Further down the shop street right in front of the subway you’ll find a park to sit in front of the cities town hall, in Ixelles. Various bars and restaurants add to Matongés cultural offerings.

The Chaussée de Wavre offers mainly restaurants, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and Japanese bars and several African shops. There are also various second-hand clothes shops and other specialized shops. The prices for food, clothes, or other items in this area are fairly cheap. Be sure to see this area at your own interests and pace. — Ianthe Lancsweert

An unusual, rectangular art space

Rectangle (by Nettah Yoeli-Rimmer)

In its own words, Rectangle is “an artist-run public space project”. What does this mean, exactly? Well, it means that we are faced with something quite unusual here. Rectangle is, in essence, a giant billboard on an unassuming residential street in a quiet corner of Saint-Gilles. It’s much more than that, of course. Rectangle is an art gallery, an art project and a clever use of public space that mimics the strategies of advertising to promote artistic engagement with the city.

The gallery workspace is an old printing factory that is used as an innovative meeting place for artists. You cannot usually visit inside but sometimes they host shows and are open for a few hours each evening – check their website for the latest info.

Even when it’s not open, however, it’s worth going by to see the unusual sight of their artistic billboard, which sits on top of the building and is open, of course, 24/7. A different artist is invited every two months to develop an installation specifically designed for the billboard, the building, the street and the unique neighborhood setting. I highly recommend swinging by on your way to WIELS. — Nettah Yoeli

Swimming in style

Victor Boin © BUP

Don’t forget to bring your bathing suit when visiting. This city has a lot of Art Deco swimming pools. One of them – Victor Boin – is situated in Saint Gilles. It was built around 1904 and definitely radiates a luxurious charm.

You enter through large wooden swinging doors and arrive in a grand opening hall with a cafeteria. Above the pool, there is a roof entirely made of glass to enlighten your swimming time. Definitely worth a visit and enjoy. — Ianthe Lancsweert

Provocative street art

Street Art (by Renata Riva)

Street art is booming all over the world. I don’t know much about it to be honest, but I have always appreciated the comic murals spread all over the center of Brussels.

Not long ago, there was a lot of fuss going on in the street art world as a new mural had appeared in Brussels. On the side of a house, right next to a very busy roundabout, there was now a giant penis! Nobody knows who the artist is. The one everybody suspected, Bonom, has denied it. He is the creator of another interesting mural: a woman with her legs open and masturbating!

To see the penis, go to Avenue du Parc 3 in St Gilles, and look up towards the other side of the street, above Las Vegas. And for the woman, head to Avenue Louise 53 and look up to your left on the other side of the roundabout along Avenue Louise. If you are interested in more, there’s the possibility to go on a graffiti tour (unfortunately only in French, I haven’t tried it yet though) or a DIY tour following this website.

PS: there’s also an anus in Steenkoolkaai and a slaughtering scene in Boulevard Barthelmy close to Porte de Flandre. What’s happening with the street art in Brussels? — Renata Riva

Therese et Dominique

Thérèse et Dominique (by Wouter Spitters)

Therese et Dominique is one of those places where ordering the regular would be a true crime.

Although this is ‘just’ a sandwich bar, it would be a pity to go for the baguette with tuna fish you always eat. Apart from the usual stuff they have a bunch of specialties worth to be discovered. Try for instance a ciccio bello: breaded chicken, mozzarella-tomato with sweet peppers, fried aubergine slices and homemade tartar sauce – divine!

When the weather is nice, I like to take-away my treasure and eat it sitting in the sun of the Poelaert square while doing some tourist watching, but it’s also possible to eat at the place itself, inside or in the cute garden. Measured by the queues that might appear at the entrance it seems I’m not the only fan of the place. Thank god they work fast, you never have to wait too long. — Wouter Spitters


For more hidden gems, check out the Spotted by Locals Brussels city blog.

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Last Changed Date: 2016-05-19 11:45:13 +0200 (Thu, 19 May 2016)