Imagine, you arrive in a new city and you get picked up by the ultimate local. Somebody who knows all the hidden gems, the little tucked-away cafés, and every public bathroom in town. Somebody who can take you anywhere and still finds ways to surprise you everywhere you go. If this sounds amazing to you (and we are sure that it does) you might want to consider taking the bus. Yes, the ultimate local we are talking about is a bus driver!
We’ve got the honors to follow around Dirk, a bus driver and photographer in Brussels and the dad of our current intern, Insen. He moved to Brussels to become a bus driver and has never looked back since. Even though he was already familiar with the city he still finds hidden gems every day. You can follow his Instagram account here to see more hidden gems in Brussel every day.
We join him on his break at Porte de Namur where he luckily has some time to spare to give away his best Brussels tips:
What is your favorite part about being a bus driver?
First of all, it’s a useful job. You actually matter to people, even when they don’t realize it themselves. But I also find enjoyment in being the outside observer. Just like with photography you get an insight into people’s lives. You get to know the vibe of different neighborhoods and what makes those unique.
What’s the coolest place your job has taken you?
Sometimes when a tramline is interrupted, we’ll replace the line with a bus. That’s how I ended up in Stokkel on Halloween. There was a festival going on there. It was so unexpected that I’ve never forgotten about it. Sometimes it’s not only the place that is cool but the event or the people that we come across.
What bus line would you recommend for tourists? Where can you find the best-hidden gems?
The best lines to get through the city are line 71 and line 95. They are great if you need to get from A to B quickly. They both have some great stops along the way too. Line 71 passes by Flagey, a really cool square where locals play chess and you can chill by the water. The 95 brings you to Wiener, a unique spot that almost feels like a small village in the city.
But the hidden gem of bus lines would be line 48. The line will take you from the city center to some lesser-known places that are just as cool. It starts at La bourse, a place that many tourists like to see so it’s the ideal opportunity to hop on. You’ll see places like The Marollen known for its alternative atmosphere and vintage stores, Parvis de Saint Gilles where you’ll only find locals in the bars and restaurants, and to Altitude 100, one of the highest places in town.
Do you have a favorite bus stop?
It’s hard to choose one. I’ll give you a top 5 of places I think you can’t miss:
- The cemetery in Laken is a must-see. While a cemetery might not seem exciting it’s a truly beautiful place that won’t disappoint you.
- Engeland: If you want to experience some time in nature this stop is the perfect point to begin a hike on the Engeland-plateau
- Cimetiere d’Ixelles: This time it’s not about the cemetery but about the area surrounding it. This stop is located right smack in the middle of Brussels’ student life. It’s located between the French and Dutch universities. It’s always buzzing with life. I’ve brought home many drunk students on my evening shifts.
- Parvis de Saint Gilles: This is one of my favorite places to sit down with a nice coffee at one of the cafés. It has a great atmosphere but it’s also quieter than downtown Brussels.
- Merode or Schuman: Parc Cinquantenaire is buzzing with local life all summer long. Both stops are very close to the park. I would recommend going with Schuman if you want to see the European quarters as well.
You are also an amazing photographer have you found many photo opportunities through your job?
Yes and no. I would say I’ve experienced more missed opportunities than anything else. I get to see amazing things every day, but you can’t just park your bus at the side of the road to take a picture. However, this job has taken me to many beautiful places that I don’t think I would have visited otherwise so in that sense, yes it has given me more opportunities.
And lastly, what is your favorite spot in Brussels?
The Dieweg cemetery. This place is an amazing fusion between a cemetery and a park. It’s beautiful calming and has amazing photo opportunities.
After the interview, we join him for his ride on bus 34. Only 5 minutes into the drive we already pass by place Luxembourg, a lively square where expats love to meet. Just a few stops later we drive past place Jourdan, another lively square where you can find some of the best fries in town! We’ll drive past the natural history museum and the lively La Chasse neighborhood but the cherry on top is that we get to visit one of his favorite stops, Saint Anne at the end of this line. Located right outside the city center it feels like you traveled back in time when you arrive. The cobblestone streets, the little house on the corner. You really step outside city life.
Before we say goodbye Dirk has one more thing to say:
“Next time when you arrive in a city skip over the taxis and head to the bus. Don’t be afraid to ask us for help or advice on where to go. You’ll make our day!”