We arrived in Brussels by train at the Gare du Midi one of the three stations in the centre but by far and away the biggest dealing with all international trains as well as other services. It is also a transport hub for metro, tram and bus lines. Brussels airport has a direct train link to the centre with stops at all three stations.
Travel within the city is simple and a travel card called MOBIB Basic costing 5 Euros can be bought at metro stations, it is valid for 5 years, can be used by more than one person and is topped up with money. This gives discounted fares on all forms of transport. Confusingly as well as trams running above ground they also have three or four lines called trams which run underground along with the metro. Get a transport map when you get your ticket and getting around will be simple.
Using www.booking.com we chose The Park Hotel opposite the Gare du Midi, this was mainly done because of it’s proximity to the station as we were travelling by train. The hotel is part of the Radisson chain and was a good standard business type hotel that was reasonably priced. We enjoyed the fact that it was close to two interesting local areas St Gilles and The Marolles. There is obviously a wide choice of hotels in the city and people may prefer to stay closer to the tourist centre around the Grand Place, we enjoyed the more local areas close to the hotel.
Mille et Une Nuits, Rue de Moscou, is just off the main square in St Gilles called the Parvis de St Gilles. It is a lovely Moroccan restaurant, very popular with locals and visitors and bookings are essential at weekends. The food was excellent, the service lovely and it is very reasonably priced.
Le Forestier, 2 Rue Haute, is just down the hill from the chocolate heaven of Place du Grand Sablon, we chose it for an evening booking as it was packed at lunchtime and the food looked very good. We were delighted with the homely cooking and pleasant service and it was great value for money.
La Mer du Nord or De Nordzee, 45 Rue de Saint Catherine, is a Brussels must, it is really a fish shop but with tables outside on the square and an oyster bar next door. This is the only place to be on a Saturday morning when the market sets up in the square, you can choose from freshly prepared dishes as you sit or stand at the outdoor tables, wine and beer can be bought at the oyster bar next door. Alternatively if you get a table inside the oyster bar you can eat your oysters there pop next door order some mussels or calamari pay there and they bring them in for you – a great place.
Pistolet, Rue Joseph Stevenstraat, just off the Place du Grand Sablon is a cool trendy sandwich shop doing filled rolls, cold and hot, soup and drinks. Incredibly popular it is not cheap but it is fun for a quick lunch stop.
Cafes & Bars
Brasserie Verschueren, 11-13 Parvis de St Gilles, is a classic large bar and café on the main square of St Gilles. Very popular and with a wide variety of both draft and bottled beers as you would expect, they also offer a small selection of hot dishes. Service can be erratic but it is well worth a visit to enjoy an original and local bar.
Brasserie de L’union, 55 Parvis de St Gilles, is another classic bar in the square, slightly down at heel and with patchy service it is still so worth a visit, again a good selection of beers and wines.
There are many bars in the square, the classic old ones as above, the new loud and trendy ones and a number in between, the area is very popular and locals in their droves sit outside in temperatures that certainly drive me inside.
Le Marseillais, 163 Rue de Balle, Place Jeu de Balle, is on a corner opposite the weekend flea market in the heart of The Marolle district. This is a throw back to a back street bar in Marseilles, as well as a wide variety of beers they have a huge selection of Pastis, and the sandwich bar next door has a wide choice including fresh sardine sandwiches.
Beer, beer and more beer, what else to drink in Belgium a country famous for it’s beer. There are roughly 180 breweries in the country, the residents drink on average 84 litres of the stuff a year and there is a huge choice of beers mainly bottled. It is worth doing some homework before as there are so many types, Trappist, Lambic, Blond and Flemish Red to mention only a handful, that looking at the beer menus in bars is can take some time. One note of caution is to check out the strength as some can be incredibly strong.
Brussels is so different to it’s neighbouring capitals, Paris and Amsterdam, a bit greyer, more polluted and slightly tatty in parts but it has more of a feel of a real place where people live and work. There are of course many grand parts including the Grand’Place, various palaces and museums and galleries but also high on most people’s list is the Manneken-Pee, for some obscure reason. The city also has some great cartoon murals among the highlights showing that it is a city with a sense of humour.