It’s not easy, traveling a lot whilst still being able to manage your budget. When looking at travel guides, it sometimes seems like there is no way out. But there is. We put together a guide for Brussels that combines the best of both worlds. You don’t have to sell your soul to be able to afford it and you get to see the city from a local’s perspective.
If you’re planning a city trip to Brussels, this guide is all you need. It’s very budget-friendly – which means you’ll have the funds to travel again really soon. What are you waiting for?
As always, a hostel is probably your best guess when it comes to cheap accommodation. Brussels doesn’t have tons of options here, but there are some that are definitely worth a visit.
Hostel Jacques Brel is located right next to the Botanique – perfect if you want to go see a concert. Another plus: it’s named after one of Belgian’s most beloved Belgian artists, the singer Jacques Brel. Just listen to Bruxelles by Jacques Brel and you’re right back in the Brussels of yore. Breakfast is included, they have a nice terrace and a bar. All of that for about 25 euros a night. What else do you expect from a hostel?
You’ll be able to find Hostel Galia on the Place Jeu de Balle, known for its daily flea market. Ideal if you want to have a stroll around when you wake up and it definitely guarantees a nice atmosphere. Again, breakfast comes for free, you’ve got a terrace and a bar. Even though Le Marseillais and La Brocante are just around the corner and perfect to have some good Belgian beers.
We live in a world where coffee is just really one of those hipster things. Yes, it’s possible to find cheap coffee in Brussels, but you get what you pay for. Or I just haven’t found the right coffee spot yet. Anyway, as most of us need their daily dose of caffeine – or two or three – I’ll still recommend some delicious coffee spots to you.
One of the cheaper options is Maison Corica. You can choose what blend and what type of coffee you want, which makes it quite the experience. You’ll have to drink your cup of coffee standing or as a takeaway, but that kinda only adds to the charm. At about 2.8 euros for a cappuccino, this is one of the cheapest and best ones in Brussels.
Fancy a real, seated coffee break? At Maison du Peuple I especially like the latte: it comes in an enormous glass with a little piece of Belgian chocolate. Whether you’re inside or on the terrace, this is always a good option. If you’re not really into coffee, their teas and virgin mojitos (called ‘Gazon‘) are equally delicious.
Another option would be Belga & Co. This place is quite new but has already established itself in the Brussels coffee scene. This is a café where you can come with friends, as a couple or on your own – they do have an extensive bookshelf, so you won’t get bored. If you’ve got a little sweet craving, definitely give their chocolate-peanut cookies a go.
There’s always a ton of stuff happening in Brussels and a lot of it is free. Most of them are temporary events, so if you want to have an up-to-date overview, it’s best to have a look at Gratis in Brussel. Other than that, there are some free museums and some museums that are free on the first Wednesday or Sunday of the month. Again, you can find an entire overview on the Brussels Museums site, but let’s go deeper into some of my favorites.
You can’t miss the Musée Magritte when you’re visiting Brussels. The Belgian painter was one of the leaders of the Surrealism and influenced – among others – Andy Warhol and Paul Simon. When looking at his works, you feel some kind of alienation and certainly fascination. His works belong to the general culture and it’s worth spending some time at the museum to learn more about the man who made them. The museum is free on every first Wednesday afternoon of the month.
The WIELS is something totally different. It’s a museum for contemporary art located a bit out of the city center in a modernist industrial building. They want to offer an interactive platform for artists and spectators – which turned out great. It’s the ideal place to get in touch with art and not only look at it from the outside. The ongoing exhibition is called ‘Unexchangeable‘ and mainly consists of work from the 80’s and 90’s. The artwork is provided by private Belgian collectors and focuses on the value of a piece of art. WIELS is accessible for free every first Wednesday of the month.
My third museum of choice would be Villa Empain. It’s a splendid example of Brussels Art Déco and they describe themselves as ‘a dialogue between the cultures of the East and the West’. The building in itself is already worth a visit. If you’re into Instagram, don’t forget to take a look at the pool at the backside of the building. The current exhibition ‘Melancholia’ offers alienating views inside the human mind – which you’ll understand once you’ve seen it for yourself. Again, the museum is free every first Wednesday of the month.
Let’s keep lunch very cheap, right? Which is not that difficult as Brussels has a lot of good lunch places to offer. Whether you take it outside or comfortably seated inside, these are the best options.
Knees to Chin has three different locations throughout Brussels and they’re all as good. They take spring rolls to the next level by making them giant and filling them with all kinds of delicious stuff. What about a spring roll consisting of Peking duck and radish? Or crispy bacon and apple? My favorite is the one with chicken and pear, but they’re all mouthwatering, to be honest. At just 3.5 euros a (big) roll, it’s a total bargain.
Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday there is a covered market being held in Anderlecht. Abattoir used to be a *surprise* abattoir. Nowadays, it’s a historic market hall with a modern touch filled with delicacies from all over the world. If the weather allows for it, why not buy some picnic necessities and eat them outside? They also organize a flea market on Sundays and the occasional cooking class, if that’s your cup of tea.
Charli is mainly known for their delicious sourdough bread, but they offer so much more than that. Both their sweet pastries as their sandwiches (on the other side of the street, called Charli Salé) are absolutely to-die-for. Although not necessarily cheap for a pastry/sandwich, it’s still a very affordable lunch option and worth the sometimes long queue. Think 1.5 euro for a croissant and 5 euros for a sandwich. Warning: you could get very hungry whilst waiting and smelling all that good stuff.
Of course, there are guided tours through Brussels, but why not go and explore on your own? The city offers some excellent walking routes that are totally doable without a guide. The biggest advantage? You get to sit and relax whenever you feel like it!
Brussels is quite known for its stunning Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture. The city is actually known as the “World capital of Art Nouveau“. I could go on and on about it, but I won’t as not everyone is such a geek. However, if you’re really interested in the topic, I would suggest visiting during the BANAD festival. They also offer visits during the year, but they’re not for free. A glimpse at the buildings already makes for a splendid walk though. There are loads of different itineraries to be found online, but this is quite a nice overview of the Art Nouveau ones and this one for the Art Deco buildings.
Not really into architecture? Well, you’re in luck, because Brussels is also the perfect place to take a comic murals gwalk. Belgium has a lot to offer when it comes to this subject, so make sure to put on your best walking shoes. Of course, you don’t have to see them all – just focus on one area if you’re more about taking it easy. If you want to get an overview of everything that’s on display, this site may help you out just fine. Don’t hesitate to book a guided tour if you want to learn more about the history – if you’re really into comics, it may be worth the splurge.
Seen enough? Time for some relaxation? We get it, sightseeing can be very tiring. Luckily for you, Brussels has a whole bunch of perfect places to zone out for a bit and just enjoy the moment.
Nothing better on a hot day than a refreshing dip in the water. Brussels has quite a lot of historical swimming pools on offer, but for this time I chose for Les Bains du Centre. Located right next to Place Jeu de Balle it offers a nice view of the city. Because of the enormous windows, you don’t even feel like you’re inside. The ideal place to get some sports done while you’re away from home if you ask me. Entrance costs 4 euros, which is quite affordable given the location and the historic setting.
From the swimming pool, it’s just a short walk towards Place Poelaert. Don’t be afraid, you don’t have to walk all the way up. There’s an elevator! Once you’re up there, in front of the Palace of Justice (which is definitely worth a look and if you’re lucky you can even enter the building after a quick security check), you feel like you’re on top of the world. Have a look from afar at the Atomium – don’t bother actually going all the way over there. Apart from that, you’ll see that Brussels is a total chaos. Which is totally part of the charm.
Parcs are everywhere in Brussels and they all have something in particular. The Bois de la Cambre is definitely the most extensive one and you could wander around in there for hours. Fancy a boat ride? No problem. Prefer to do some sunbathing? Go ahead! Another nice one is Parc Josaphat in Schaerbeek. It had its own zoo and was designed on behalf of the Belgian King Leopold II. My personal spot is Parc de Forest. It’s not particularly spectacular, but I like the neighborhood atmosphere and the small café during summer. They even organize yoga classes and other activities (check out Facebook for more info).
Brussels is a bit of a restaurant paradise. Whatever cuisine you’re fancying, you’ll find what you’re looking for and more than that. Finding cheap spots, however, can be a bit of a struggle. So let’s help you out with that.
If you really want to taste some quality Belgian fries, go to Frit Flagey. The location is spot on and the fries are the best you’ll find in the city – in my opinion. They’re not a trendy place so you won’t find the popular snacks like a Bicky Burger or chicken fingers, but that only adds to the charm. Be prepared to queue and don’t order the big portion of fries. Except if you’re really really really hungry of course.
Dinner at Woningen 123 Logements is an experience on itself. The building is a legal squat and the community organizes dinners every Sunday. They make their food with leftovers from shops nearby, which makes it one of the most aware choices when it comes to eating in Brussels. You also pay what you want – they advise a two euro gift but don’t hesitate to pay a bit more if you want.
A bit more expensive, although still really affordable, is Da-Kao II in the city center. This Vietnamese restaurant is top notch when it comes to offering value for money. Having traveled to Vietnam last year, I can safely say that the food approaches the local cuisine quite well. Even the service is as friendly as in Vietnam. Top off your dinner with a Vietnamese beer and you’re all set.
Let’s be honest: everyone who comes to Brussels (or Belgium in general) has to taste some Belgian beer goodness. The cheapest option is to buy them at the supermarket and take them to a park of course. But if you want to enjoy them in a nice environment, here are some of the more affordable options with an extensive beer menu.
Bar Au Soleil literally means ‘Bar in the Sun’ and it’s totally relevant. On their terrace, you’ve got sun practically all day long which is not always easy to find in a city. On top of that, they’re pretty cheap, the service is great, and they serve one of my favorite local beers. If you’ve never tried Zinnebir before: do it. The taste is quite bitter so if you don’t like that, choose something else, but otherways this is what you should go for. It’s not that common so enjoy it at Bar au Soleil now that you’ve got the chance.
If you’re having fries at Place Flagey anyway, walk a couple of meters to Le Pantin. This café is a local favorite and their beer menu is so extensive that it’s almost impossible to make a decision. Want some tips? Guldenberg is quite a bit like the abovementioned Zinnebir, whilst Chimay Triple is a little more subtle. Don’t get me wrong: it’s very strong so don’t be surprised to feel a little light-headed afterward. Orval is also a Trappist beer and very particular in taste. Le Pantin has a whole description of every beer, so just have a look and try something different!
Last but not least: Brasserie Verschueren. It’s located on Parvis de Saint-Gilles, very close to Maison du Peuple which I mentioned before. This little square is always busy and cozy and the building itself is a beautiful example of Modernist architecture, which gives it a little extra. Brasserie Verschueren is the perfect spot to enjoy a beer with your friends and watch the people walk by. Because everyone enjoys some people-watching from time to time.
That’s quite the list, isn’t it? Brussels definitely doesn’t belong amongst the cheapest cities in Europe, but if you make an effort it’s totally possible to keep it budget-friendly. And of course you can make things even cheaper – but you’re on holiday so it’s nice to eat some good food and have a drink on a nice terrace. 50 euros a day – including accommodation, food, and activities – should be manageable. Challenge accepted, right?
For more local tips, check out Spotted by Locals Brussels.