“Eclectic” is probably the best word to describe Brussels. It is a city where every kind of person lives alongside one another, without caring too much. Everything is possible, just take the plunge.
There’s a hidden secret behind every corner – you just need to find it. As travel opportunities begin to open up, we are sure you will enjoy the little-known gems of this city that stray from the overcrowded touristy destinations. This post presents you with the very best local spots in Brussels, selected by our Spotters. Enjoy!
Take a walk at the edge of Brussels
You wouldn’t know at first sight, but Brussels is one of the greenest capitals in Europe. One of nicest local favorite parks is the Duden park. It’s one of the oldest in town, and also one of the hilliest. This oasis of tranquillity offers a nice walk in fresh air all year long, some historical buildings, and sleighing possibilities in the wintertime.
The highest side borders the former bourgeois areas of Forest and grants a panoramic view of the city. The north side, 45 meters lower, connects to the Forest Park forming a green bridge to the more industrial neighborhoods of lower Brussels.
Have beers the Belgian way
A neighborhood of artists, poets, writers, intellectuals and musicians, St. Gilles is often seen as the Left Bank of Brussels. Every Latin Quarter needs its café – the place where people meet, ideas are exchanged and friendships are built – and this is it. If Sartre were living in Brussels in 2018, Brasserie Verschueren would be his home away from home.
The brasserie exudes a timeless elegance, with a sense of history and a feeling of place. 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 given night, the place is full of artists of some description, and the creative and relaxed atmosphere is infectious.
Exotic flavors at the Sunday market
Street markets are, in a way, the heart of a city. There are plenty in Brussels, but the most famous and busiest is the Sunday morning market near Gare du Midi. You can find everything you might want here, from clothes and flowers to household items. Brussels locals come here mainly for 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 at 13:30, when vendors want to get rid of their 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 right in front of you.
From necropolis to jungle
This 1866 graveyard has slowly grown into a unique jungle since it was closed down in 1958. Today, only the pathways of the Cemetery of Dieweg are cleared from greenery, so that people can wander this forlorn necropolis. More than 200 different plant species can be found in the tangle, growing over the dilapidated tombstones, chapels, mausoleums, and rusty Jesuses.
Of one grave’s occupant you’ll probably have heard before: the Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, a.k.a. Hergé, world-famous for creating the comic book series “The Adventures of Tintin”. Some of the wealthiest politicians, architects, bankers and important families of the time also built their final resting places on these grounds. Nowadays, branches embrace their magnificent funerary art pieces, as if to prevent the beauty of this place from falling apart.
Portuguese pubbing at Café Régua
Spotter Davy tells the story of how he discovered Café Régua:
“I was alone, taking an early morning walk in the empty streets of Saint-Gillis. 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. 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. 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.”
There are numerous good spots to listen to jazz in the Belgian capital (there’s even a Jazz Fest Marathon every year in May!), but one of our Spotters’ favorites is Jazz Station. They host interesting events, such as concerts, jam sessions, conferences about jazz and events for different audiences.
The venue of the Jazz Station is fantastic. 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 Belgian red-brick style. The surrounding neighborhood, Sint-Joost-ten-Node, is also a wonderful area that you can explore when visiting the Jazz Station. Grab a kebab or fries at Sint-Joost Square before a show for the real local experience.
Gastronomy adventure, Crusoe style
How many restaurants offer the possibility of eating on an uninhabited island? Chalet Robinson is one example that does just that. With a name evocative of the Swiss Family and Mr. Crusoe, both of castaway fame, Chalet Robinson lies on a tiny islet in the middle of Bois de la Cambre, Brussels’ biggest park.
The restaurant serves a mixture of brasserie food and more international dishes. The food, however, is only part of the experience. To reach Chalet Robinson you have to take a barge that ferries you across the 50-odd-meter stretch of water. But that short distance is enough to provide a buffer from the hectic city life just outside the park perimeter. The islet is also home to colonies of swans and ducks with a few rabbits and plenty of space to run around.
Gateway to foreign cultures
The metro stop Naamse Poort is a gateway to African shops and various ethnic restaurants such as Italian, Greek, Indian, Pakistani and Belgian cuisine. This like is rue Nord, Brussels’ commercial clothes street, being converted into a nice area to wander in.
In Matongé, a number of African barber shops, clothes, food and jewelry shops exist next to to places like H&M, Zara and the usual pack of Belgian stores. Further down the street, by the subway, you’ll find a park to sit in, facing the front of the city’s town hall. The prices for food, clothes and other items in this area are fairly cheap, and it is a nice place explore your interests at a leisurely pace.
Coffee at the counter
Good coffee can be a little thin on the ground here in Brussels. Luckily, Maison Corica comes to the rescue, providing a uniquely non-corporate coffee spot with its own coffee freshly roasted in the shop. It’s a nice place to stand at the bar, select coffee from one of the 20 or so varieties, and soak 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.
It truly feels like a working part of the city. Nobody lingers too long, just for 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 you a million miles away to all the corners of the globe; then the friendly banter of workmen coming in for their coffee break bring you right back to the center of Brussels.
If you happen to come across Tenbosch park while strolling in Ixelles, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled across paradise. As you enter the park, you can already see some of the lovely wooden benches enclosed in many nooks of the park. These benches are very romantic, and could be straight out of the movie “Notting Hill”.
You’ll come across many hidden surprises in the park: magical-looking trees, exotic foreign plants, a lovely small pond, colorful beach chairs to lounge in, a very nice playground for children, and best of all, luxuriant plants and trees that are perfectly curated. It’s quite a small park compared to others in the city, but all the passages, trees, bushes, and hills ensure a decent amount of privacy.
Swimming in style
Don’t forget to bring your bathing suit when visiting Brussels. This city has a lot of Art Deco swimming pools. One local favorite – Victor Boin – is situated in Saint Gilles. It was built around 1904 and 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 lighten up your swim. A stately spot that is definitely worth a visit.
Provocative street art
Street art is booming all over the world, and Brussels is no exception when it comes to… interesting murals spreading around the streets. Some time ago, there was a lot of fuss when a new mural appeared: on the side of a house, right next to a very busy roundabout, there was a giant penis! It has since been removed, but for those who like shocking murals, don’t worry: Brussels won’t let you down.
If you head to Avenue Louise 53 and look to your left on the other side of the roundabout, you will see, up high, an image of a woman with her legs open and masturbating! Some people think this is the work of Bonom, a very famous artist around here, but nobody knows for sure. There is also a depiction of a slaugthering scene in Boulevard Barthelmy close to Porte de Flandre.
What’s up with the street art in Brussels? If you are interested in seeing more, you might like to join a graffiti tour (only available in French), or do a DIY tour following the guidance on this website.
Want more hidden gems? Check out our Brussels blog & app!