Are you really sure you want to go to Brussels?
I’m asking because between theft, street harassment, and the constant screaming of racing police cars, I suppose there are nicer destinations to fly to.
But if you are sure, ok. Brace yourself then.
You won’t find the best restaurants, activities or sightseeing in this guide. Rather, I’ll tell you
- how to get from the airport to the city center
- what are the supermarkets companies
- which hostels I stayed into
- where to find food
In summary, all the “technical” information a classic city guide won’t tell you.
How to get from Charleroi or Brussels Airport to Brussels City Center
Before I tell you how you can get to the center, you need to know at which airport you will arrive.
It’s not so easy because they both have the same name: Brussels Airport. The devil is in the details.
The proper Brussels Airport is called Brussels Airport Zaventem and its code is BRU.
The other one is called Brussels-South Charleroi Airport and its code is CRL.
How to get to Brussels from BRU airport
There is nothing easier. You will find a train station within the airport, at the -1 level. Going to Brussels will take no more than 20 minutes.
Step off at Brussels Central because this is the least dangerous train station.
How to get to Brussels from CRL airport
That airport is located an hour by bus from Brussels.
You have two choices for the commute.
The first and easiest one is to take a Flibco bus. Buy your ticket in advance so it is cheaper and you are guaranteed a seat on the bus. The bus is direct and will drop you at the Midi station in Brussels.
Be careful if you travel by night as that area of Brussels is very dangerous.
The second way to reach Brussels is to take the TEC bus (yellow and red) that commutes between the airport and the train station. You can buy your bus ticket at the train ticket machine (don’t try to understand, welcome to Belgium). It costs 6€.
Once you are at the train station of Charleroi-Sud, you will take a train to Brussels. This option is nice as you will be able to choose which train station to stop at in Brussels.
Obviously, I have never stayed in a hostel in Brussels. Here’s what I can tell you, however.
A good hostel option is Safestay. The only problem is that it is located in a not-so-safe area of the city.
Another option is the Meininger, but it is far from the center and also really not safe.
In my opinion, 2GO4 is your best bet.
Honestly, there aren’t many places to go to, so I suggest you just walk.
Brussels has public bikes (the Villo, by JCDecaux) but the problem is that they are really heavy and Brussels isn’t a flat city, so it wouldn’t be practical for you to rent them.
If you want to see what disastrous public space management looks like, I suggest you take the public transportation system called STIB. One ticket will cost you €2.4 and one day ticket will cost you €7.5.
The reality is that someone will probably pass through the automatic door with you so €2.4 isn’t so expensive for two people.
Besides that, the transportation system is dirty, smelly, dangerous, and there are people sleeping everywhere at every station. Hence I suggest you take Lime’s scooters or electric bikes. Other micro-mobility companies include Dott, Bird, and Bolt.
Be careful when you are riding. I once got mogged by a driver that got out of his car to insult me because I was “too close to him” with my bike. The truth was that I was faster than him and he got annoyed.
The main supermarkets are:
- Carrefour: you will find big and small Carrefour throughout the entire city. I exclusively shopped there when I was living in Brussels.
- Delhaize: if you do all of your groceries at Delhaize, then it means you are very successful financially.
- Colruyt: Colruyt is supposed to be the cheapest chain of supermarket for branded products, but in my experience, it is just as expensive as Delhaize. The lighting is bad and it feels like you are walking in a warehouse from an 1950 abandonned port. The line at the till is extremely slow.
Supermarkets sell cheap fruits and veggies but the meat is horribly expensive. I suggest you go get it at the Brussels Slaughterhouse, open from Friday to Sunday. You will also find the third biggest open-air market of Europe around the slaughterhouse on the weekend.
If you need meat during the week, I suggest Dela Fresh, one of my favorite butcheries, or any Arabic/Romanian/Polish butchery you can find since the meat will be two or three times cheaper than in a Belgian butchery.
Theoretically, French and Flemish are the official languages, but you will mostly hear English nowadays as the city has become a hub for the international technocrat elite.
The other languages you are likely to hear are Portuguese, Polish, Romanian, Turkish, Arabic, Flemish, and finally, French.
Therefore, no need to learn any word from any of them, just stick with English.
Mobile Network and Sim Card
Do not get a sim card in Belgium.
First, it is the most expensive country in Europe for communication. Second, it’s a huge pain.
- You will have to wait at least one hour in the shop before you get served
- If you order online, you will have to wait three days
- You will have to give up all of your ID details since the state gave up privacy to fight terrorism
As a result, I suggest you use the wifi from bars (there are no cafes in Brussels, only bars), restaurants, and hotels.
If you really need a sim card and have time to order online, then I suggest you go whether with Youphone, a brand new virtual operator that nobody yet knows, or Mobile Viking.
Brussels is the second most cosmopolitan city in the world, which means that there isn’t a dominant culture. Rather, the city is made of cultures from everywhere else.
As such, whatever national day is celebrated in the world will be celebrated in Brussels as well.
In general, I can tell you that Belgian people do not like being alone, put a huge emphasis on politeness and mutual respect in the public space, and don’t go to cafes much because they mainly don’t exist.
Don’t talk about the political problems between the French and the Flemish, about child kidnappers, and never ever ever ever criticize one or the other cultural parties.
Don’t criticize the country, and don’t ask too many questions. Don’t make fun of people. It is always much more appreciated if you make fun of yourself.
Brussels is one of the most dangerous cities in Europe and probably in the top 10 worldwide.
The reason is poverty due to disastrous incompetence-driven public policies, political careerism, and high-ranked corruption.
Avoid as much as you can the train stations (particularly Brussels-North and Brussels-South, also called Midi station).
Try to hang out in the southeast and east of the city.
Theft is prevalent. Do not flash phones, keep all valuable objects locked in a safe in your hostel or Airbnb, and avoid dressing too nicely.
Wallet and phone theft are common, and it will happen to you if you do not take care of them.
Finally, I urge solo women not to travel to Brussels alone, be it by day or night.
Street harassment rivals that of Cairo. It is so bad that many women had but no choice to move out of the capital. The city council frequently organizes anti-harassment campaigns but as you can imagine, the problem is deeper than that.
If you go to bars or nightclubs, expect frequent interruption, and watch your drinks at all times.
Wear headphones in the subway or weird people will try to talk to you, be it for sexual favors, or money, or both.
Whatever happens to you, you will not be able to count on the police. I don’t think they are corrupt, but they only react to big threats like social unrest, terrorist attacks, or a drunkard with a knife, etc.
So, good luck! You are going to need it.
For more technical city guides, head to auresnotes.com.