brussels for the first time
June 12, 2008 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Brussels: Where to stay, what to do, what to avoid, what to eat, etc.

I'll be in Brussels, Belgium, this Saturday evening through Tuesday morning.
I am: female, 25, traveling solo, speak English and French, and it's my first time in Belgium.
I love: music, art, food, people watching, talking with strangers, walking, exploring.
I have: a tight budget, a mostly-vegetarian diet, a curious mind.
I need: a place to stay (favorite hostels?), and some suggestions of places to explore, good places to meet people, places to stay away from, your favorite beer, etc.
Your recommendations will be much appreciated.

If there are any Brussels mefites around- hey, a meetup would be great fun!
posted by purplefiber to Travel & Transportation around Brussels, Belgium (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I stayed at the 2Go4 Hostel last November. They're a little fussy... it's not staffed by the typical random backpackers who need a job, but by a pair of brothers who own it. Real locals so that's fun. They close the common areas during the day for cleaning, and at night, which is a bit annoying. It's not the kind of place you hang out in the common areas and drink in the evenings. But the place was immaculate, and the beds were really comfy. And the building has clearly had a long history.

Delirium Cafe is definitely fun and unique. Famed for having 2000 or so different beers. You want to go downstairs. It can be a bit mad and crazy, especially if they have a live band, but where else can you get coconut beer served in the appropriate glass (a coconut shell, of course).
posted by smackfu at 3:57 PM on June 12, 2008

The Musical Instruments Museum is simply not to be missed if you're a fan of music. Obviously you'll want to check out Grand Place for a while, it's quite stunning. When you're ready to start exploring the city, just head straight for Grand Place- the entire area around it is a hotbed of activity, and as such there are plenty of cafes, restaurants, etc. in the area. Of course it's all somewhat tourist oriented but the areas of Brussels we visited that weren't touristy or historic were somewhat dull.

For beers, Chimay Blue is an international favorite and an excellent selection. The great thing is, though, they don't serve shitty beer in Brussels. I think some places carry Budweiser because people who don't know any better order it, but if you sit down and just order something you're going to be amazed. The trappist ales are world famous and Belgium is the best place to get them- Chimay (so good I named my bunny after it) and Orval were my favorites.

Another highlight of the trip for us was visiting the Cantillon Brewery, although it's somewhat outside of the city and not very near any other interesting stuff. That said, it was a killer experience- we were there on the first night that it was chilly enough for them to start brewing, so there was quite a bit of hustle and bustle going on. They make lambic using traditional spontaneous fermentation techniques- this is how beer was brewed for thousands of years before the advent of brewer's yeast, which thereafter basically eliminated the traditional techniques (it's a lot cheaper and faster to brew using brewer's yeast, thus more profitable). If you're anything like a beer aficionado and you're in Brussels, you shouldn't miss this historic place.
posted by baphomet at 4:02 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

We stayed in Ixelles, which seemed like a very fun and vibrant area, with a big Congolese street market. It also had a fantastic beer store, almost like a beer library – this place I think. You’ll have a hard time finding beer or food that isn’t fantastic in fact. Searching out the tastiest (and sourest) Krieks can be fun, they have stuff that’s a lot less sweet than the kinds you find abroad.

I’d check out the comics museum, even if your’re not that much into French language comics you’ll see some great artwork and the building is pretty interesting. Archetecture in general is a bit of a draw, you’ll want to check out the Art Nouveau building and particular Horta. The crazy crammed-in medieval architecture fo the guild square is also worth a visit.
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have a waffle on the street...a Liege waffle, that is. It isn't the big, puffy, covered in whipped cream concoction you'd think (athough you can get those too). It's a small, dense waffle filled with crunchy sugar crystals. Awesome.
posted by cabingirl at 5:54 PM on June 12, 2008

I had about 6 hours in the center of Brussels a month ago and spent most of it walking around the Grand Place area, soaking up the atmosphere and (ahem) trying a beer at a bunch of amazing establishments. All of these are within a few minutes' walk of one another and highly recommended:

Delirium Cafe (Impasse de la Fidélité, 4A) Good stuff. Right down the alley from the Jeanneke Pis, the funnier little sister of the Mannekin Pis.

A La Mort Subite (Rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7) A nice, old timey place right across from the Galeries Royales St. Hubert. Try the Mort Subite, the house brew.

Le Cirio (Rue de la Bourse 18-20) Similar to La Mort Subite, this is a very classic kind of place that looks like it's been around since the 1800s.

La Bécasse (Rue De Tabora 11) You will be served by a guy dressed up like a monk. Be sure to try their lambic doux, which is served in old-timey stone jugs.

L'Imaige De Nostre Dame (Impasse Des Cadeaux) Very cozy and enjoyable because it has a "hidden" feel to it. Off Rue Marché Aux Herbes 8 and down an alleyway right near La Bécasse.
posted by dhammond at 6:16 PM on June 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

The Liege waffles are not to be missed....if you can find one. I found that the sidewalk waffle guys weren't really around once it got warm. I really hope I am wrong about that because going out for a stroll to fetch a waffle or two was a favorite weekend past time for me.

As for people watching you might do well in the Place Louise. There is an metro stop there for easy access and a few of the avenues off of the Place have some great window shopping and people watching. All the real high end boutiques are there. It is essentially the Rodeo Drive of Brussels.

As for beers, there are tons to choose from and one that I really loved but so far haven't seen in the states is Rodenbach and Rodenbach Grand Cru. I am big fan of the Hooegarden as well, but that is increasingly a very common thing to find here in the States.
posted by mmascolino at 7:19 PM on June 12, 2008

That beerstore link should go to here:
posted by Artw at 9:06 PM on June 12, 2008

Brussels is a great city. I'd recommend:

- The fries with mayonnaise.

- The Musical Instruments Museumas already noted.

- If you have any interest in Art Nouveau, The Horta Museum and a walking tour of the Art Nouveau buildings (such as these).

- The Museum of Ancient Art (15th to 18th century).
posted by jeri at 9:32 PM on June 12, 2008

My favorite beer is Westmalle Tripple (Trapist ale). Another is Bar Bar Honig Beer (honey beer. Not especially sweet). Personally, I hate Hooegarden, but I don't like light beers. The Lambics are highly variable, and the more traditional the less I find them appealing (a 'dusty' flavor).

I also recommend the Liege waffles, also known as sugar waffles (they're made from a dough, rather than a batter, with large pieces of sugar called pearl sugar). But with beer, you might be amazed how well it goes with a chocolate desert of some kind.

Do not miss the french fries (pomm frites) with mayonaise!

And I like odd buildings, and they don't get much stranger than the Atomium, which was built for a World's Fair in 1958. It's a 1950's vision of something futuristic.
posted by Goofyy at 9:34 PM on June 12, 2008

I was there last summer. Here's my advice:

- Eat liege waffles and frites with mayo from a street vendor. (They were the highlight of my vegetarian not-really-beer-loving girlfriend's trip.)

- Eat chocolate from somewhere other than Godiva or one of those Cote d'Or outlets.

- In case it isn't clear, my favorite things to do in Brussels were eating and drinking--both expensive over time. If you want to stay within a budget, I think you should spend as much time as you can just wandering around (plenty of beautiful, ancient, decrepit buildings and gorgeous statues all over the place), and visiting museums like the Museums of Ancient Art and Modern Art, or the above-mentioned Cantillion Brewery.

- Once you're done walking around and looking at art, it's time to start drinking. I loved the patio at Poechenellekelder, the bar across the street from the Manniken Pis, and disliked Delirium Cafe, the bar that shares an alley with Jeanneken Pis and has a beer menu the size of a phone book. Your mileage may vary. (And don't forget to drink slowly; that's how the locals have adapted to the fact that their beer is typically at least half again as strong as ours)

- As for beer: First, try anything trappist (made by monks!). This includes the exceptional Westmalle, Rochefort and Orval, as well as the good Chimay, the decent Achel, and the legendary but unavailable Westvleteren. Then have an authentic lambic or gueuze from a brewery like Cantillion, Drie Fonteinen or Girardin. Then, if you survived the sour barnyard flavors of the gueuze, it's time to start exploring. (I could really use a beer from De Dolle, De Struise or the Popperings Hommelbier right now. Or just a St. Bernardus.).

(don't forget the advice in this earlier askme post either.)
posted by tsmo at 10:52 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your suggestions, folks, this is great!
posted by purplefiber at 11:18 PM on June 12, 2008

I was told by a professor here that if I was ever in Brussels I HAD to check out the dinosaur exhibit at the Natural History museum. Supposedly, they have the skeletons reconstructed as if the pack of 29 iguanodons are running through the place.
posted by pwb503 at 11:54 PM on June 12, 2008

Things you must do:

- buy chocolate at Marcolini's (Grand Sablon place)
- buy some patisserie at Wittamer's (also Grand Sablon) - he makes a mean éclair

they are not cheap, unfortunately.

- drink Orval, or any trappist, as others have said (watch out for hangovers, they're quite heady)
- eat French fries at 'Maison Antoine' on the Place Jourdan (near metro Schuman), these are the best in Brussels
- there's also a great pizzeria on Place Jourdan (Mamma Roma)

and very important:
- AVOID THE RUE DE BOUCHERS (it's the red light district of food, near the Grand Place, a seemingly "cozy" neighbourhood with a lot of terraces where all kinds of atrociously salmonella ridden food is on display)
posted by NekulturnY at 12:05 AM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Basically, most shops are closed on Sundays (some on Mondays as well), and most museums are closed on Mondays. There is a Sunday pass for the group of museums on Kuntsberg/Mont des Arts. The Museum of Costume & Lace, however, does open for a few hours on Mondays.

Note that in small shops it may be more tactful to speak English rather than French. Look up the Flemish for a few traveller's phrases.

If you had longer then a daytrip to Bruges or the less touristy Ghent would make sense. Just take a look at them on the web in case they are your dream destination.
posted by Idcoytco at 1:06 AM on June 13, 2008

I notice that you're travelling alone and need a place to stay, and it's your first time in the city (so you probably don't know any locals). Somehow I always pop into these travel threads to say have you tried Couchsurfing?

This is the bestest way ever to meet locals, have a roof over your head (or just meet to hang out or go touristing), and really get to know a place besides the tourist highlights. I have only ever met wonderful people through CS, and whole-heartedly recommend it. I cannot imagine traveling any other way now. (I wish I had a specific recommendation on a Brussels-based host for you, but alas, I don't...).
posted by whatzit at 5:41 AM on June 13, 2008

Regarding what whatzit said - Putting out feelers for a Brussels MeFi meetup to coinicide with your visit might work.
posted by Artw at 10:41 AM on June 13, 2008

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