Practical City Guide – Brussels

  • Post category:Resources
  • Post last modified:November 23, 2022
Brussels
Welcome to Brussels, the ugliest-most-dangerous-and-awful city in Europe (and the world?)

Are you sure you want to go to Brussels?

I’m asking because between theft, harassment, and police sirens, there are nicer destinations to fly to.

But if you are sure, ok. Brace yourself.

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 supermarket companies
  • which hostels I stayed into
  • where to find food

In summary, all the “practical” 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 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

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.

Download the app called “SNCB/NMBS” to get live updates.

Don’t use Google maps. Trains in Belgium are constantly canceled, or late.

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. Get a taxi and go straight to your hotel.

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 enables you to choose which train station to stop at in Brussels.


Accommodation

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.

IMG 20220726 164710
The city center of Brussels.

Moving Around

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 unless it’s leg day for you, don’t 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 doors with you in order not to pay, so €2.4 for two people isn’t that expensive when you think about it.

Besides that, the transportation system is dirty, smelly, dangerous, and there are people sleeping everywhere at every station. Hence I suggest you take Bolt’s scooters or electric bikes. Other micro-mobility companies include Dott, Bird, and Voi.

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 his car” with my bike. The truth was that I was faster than him and he got annoyed, which can be dangerous with some drivers.

Another time, one driver ran into me then bullied me into giving him a hundred euros.

I don’t go to that part of town anymore.


Food

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.
  • Aldi
  • Lidl
  • Colruyt: Colruyt is supposed to be the cheapest chain of supermarkets 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 an 1950 abandoned warehouse. The line at the till is extremely slow because of their stupid system.

In general, supermarkets sell cheap fruits and veggies but the meat (beef, especially) 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 in Europe there 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. The meat will be two or three times cheaper there than in a Belgian butchery.


Language

Theoretically, French and Flemish are the official languages, but you will mostly hear English nowadays as the city has become a hub for international technocrats.

The other languages you are likely to hear are Portuguese, Polish, Romanian, Turkish, Italian, 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 (probably in the world too). Second, it’s a huge pain.

Here’s why.

  • You will have to wait at least one hour in the shop before you get served and the salesperson won’t speak English.
  • 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 they themselves engineered.

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.


Culture

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 a result, it’s a cultureless city.

Whatever national day is celebrated in the world will be celebrated in Brussels too.

When a dictator is shooting at its people, the local community will come protest in front of the Central Station.

Folklore!

When it comes to the actual Belgians, I can tell you that they 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.


Safety

Brussels is one of the most dangerous cities in Europe.

If you have never heard of that, it is because local people don’t adventure outside after a certain hour which on paper, makes crimes inexistent.

A dangerous city isn’t a city with a lot of crimes, but a city with low crimes because people know they should not go out at night – so there are fewer crimes.

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 (holds true for both men and women).

Wallet and phone theft are common, and it will happen to you if you do not take care of them.

Finally, around 5-10 people will ask you for money per day.

The risk of terrorist attacks is low but remains present.

For Women

I urge solo women to be careful when traveling to Brussels.

Street harassment in 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 interruptions from guys, 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, 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.

Good luck, and may you be safe!

For more technical city guides, head to auresnotes.com.

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