This article is focused on events and activities in Brussels. In the heart of Europe, this tiny city (1 million inhabitants) is world-famous for being the seat of the European Commission, the European Parliament, having countless embassies and a gazillion other international institutions. But on the other side, there is still a way of spending a cheap weekend. Let’s assume you just hopped off the train, wanting to see Brussels during a couple of days.
You are now probably standing in Bruxelles-Midi (Brussel Zuid in Dutch), the main station of Brussels. There you find a tourist office, which can provide you with city maps, hostel addresses and your first view of a Belgian. (Brussels has 5 stations ; Gare Centrale is the closest to Grand’place)
Other tourist offices can be found on the Grand’place (Grote Markt), in the airport and also Rue royale.
To travel inside Belgium, I definitely recommend using the Go-Pass and Rail-Pass: 10 journeys for 50€ and 73€, respectively (according to your age: below or above 26 years old). You can travel between any two Belgian stations. But check the price of the intended journey on the SNCB-NMBS website : some short journeys will cost less than 5€ (or 7,3€) (ex. Bruxelles-Leuven). Keep in mind that weekend and week day schedules are different (i.e. less trains for the regional traffic in the weekend).
Given that Belgium is relatively small and the train system works quite satisfactorily, hitchhiking between cities is rare. However, it may be useful for arriving into and leaving the country (Eurostop – www.taxistop.be ; www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de for Liège, Bruxelles, Anvers)
In Brussels itself, use the public transportation. Car parks are rare and expensive. The single fare costs 1,60€. (5-journeys-ticket 7,30€ ; Airport Line 4,00€ (30min) ; 3-days-ticket 9,50€) It is always more expensive to buy the ticket in the vehicule (use the machines or the ticket offices)
The Brussels Card gives free entry to 25 museums (and very good ones, actually!), free public transport and other discounts (20€ for 24 hours, 28€ for 48 hours, 33€ for 72 hours). It may be a good idea if you plan to visit at least 3 museums, I would say. However, please remember that students can get discounts in most museums: compare prices before buying the card.
Be sure to try the fritkots/frietkots: a small portion of French fries is about 3-4€ max (depending on the touristicness of the place) ; explanation here. Another option is the “pitta street”, a street filled with Turkish or Greek shops selling… pittas, you got it. The real name is “Rue du Marché au fromage – Kaasstraat”, but every local knows better about “pitta street”. (a couple of pictures here)
Firstly, be advised that many Bruxelles museums are closed on Mondays! Secondly, my tip for (young-looking) non-students: with some foreign random member card/season ticket/library card, you should try to get the student discount. Foreign alphabet or language can possibly deceive the cashier 😉 Tertio, the Brussels card can be advantageous in case of a museum frenzy (I recommend the following ones: Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art (CBBD), Museum of Ancient Art, Natural Sciences Museum of Belgium, Royal Museum of Central Africa, Scientastic Museum, Cinquantenaire Museum, Autoworld Brussels – I don’t know the other ones).
For last minute tickets to spectacles (i.e. for the evening the very same day): go to Arsene 50 (obviously, 50 like „50%“ of the original price). You have to go in person at “billetterie de Flagey” or “Cinéma Arenberg” (Tuesday-Saturday from 12h30 to 17h30). Tickets for Sunday and Monday are sold on the Saturday. No phone- or Internet-booking.
Another solution, although more haphazard, is to buy tickets from individuals.
Every first Wednesday of the month, a couple of museum have free entry. The list is here. My selection: see supra “BrusselsCard”, tertio.
Other free events : try to find those two free weeklies: Zone02 and La Tribune de Bruxelles (TBX). They contain a lot of local news. Other newspapers include a weekly cultural addendum: ex. MAD (in Le Soir, Wednesday) and La Libre culture (in La Libre Belgique, I couldn’t find which day this comes out; please comment).
Also, browse the following sites:
The ex-“Musée du cinéma” is now called Cinematek ; their selection is always of high-quality. Each showing costs only 3€ (don’t hope to find the blockbusters, though). It is located very close to the Gare Centrale and the Grand’Place.
The Palais Belvue (Belgian history) asks only 3€ for entry.
Brussels, the city with 4 Parliaments
The European Parliament is open to visitors (for free) from Monday to Thursday (10h and 15h) and Friday (10h). Unfortunately, it is limited to the non-sitting periods of the Parliament: check the calendar beforehand!
The European Commission seems a bit less flexible: send a request several weeks in advance.
The Belgian Parliament’s sessions are open to anyone (Belgian or not). Refer to the schedule of the sittings online. Just bring your ID and go to the Welcome Center (Centre d’accueil – rue de Louvain, 13).
(BTW, the 2 last Parliaments are the Brussels Region’s Parliament and the Flemish Parliament).
How not to ruin yourself:
The various bookstores on Bd. Maurice Lemonnier (metro Bourse or Anneessens) offer a huge choice of super-cheap used books – take some time to search the book racks, you might find a real gem!
Beers, speculoos and Belgian chocolate are outrageously overpriced in specialized stores ; don’t get scammed and go rather in supermarkets! For the chocolate: Côte d’Or, Galler, Meurisse, Neuhaus, Jacques are a safe bet no matter what the price is. For the beers, I will ask my readers to advise 2-3 beers! “Lotus” speculoos are my favorites 🙂
Like I explained two weeks ago, Belgium is “a nest of cartoon writers and artists”. In Brussels, the CBBD (Centre Belge de la Bande dessinée – Belgian Center of Comic Strip) is a must-see for the enthusiasts. Potentially a little too pricey for penniless travellers, though (7,50€). 2009 will see numerous events promote comic strips in Brussels: the BD Comic strip 2009. Have a look, who knows?
The Musée Hergé opening is planned for May 2009, so I don’t know yet if it’s worth it (located outside of Brussels – one hour by train – train ticket 4,80€). But it is in Louvain-la-Neuve, which is definitely worth it!
Slightly costlier, you can consider about Toone theater, a typical puppet show in Brussel’s dialect (also in other languages on request) (10€ – 7€ for students). A nice and original activity for all of you who kept a child’s spirit 😉
Beers! Last but not least!
This page is the Bible for all the bars of Brussels. Some nice places are: Le Pantin, Le Delirium, la Lunette, Le Gauguin, … You should dash for it! Avoid the Grand’Place, which is beautiful yet schweinteuer (über-expensive). Another selection can be found on Wikitravel.
Visiting a brewery is a definitive must-do. In Brussels itself, there is unfortunately only one left: the Musée bruxellois de la Gueuze (Brewery Cantillon, 5€ with a drink).
Miscellaneous free events:
- June (18-19-20-21) 2009: 25th fête de la musique. Free concerts in the streets of Brussels.
- July-August: in the Summer, after the National day (July, 21th), the Royal Palace is open to visitors.
- August (9): Meyboom. Inhabitants of Brussels and Leuven used to be in a quarrel about beer taxes… “Brusseleers have to erect a May tree (the “Meyboom”) at the instersection of two streets (“rue du Marais” and “rue des Sables”) as a reward of feat of arms in the 14th century. This erection always take place on the 9th of August, on Saint-Laurent’s eve, before 5 p.m. (otherwise this honour would be lost and given to the people of Leuven”. Source: http://www.meyboom.be/
- October (end of the month): 24h of Louvain-la-Neuve. A round-the-clock bike race in the student city – and one of the biggest beer consumptions in the world. Trains to Brussels during the whole event.
- November (20) : Saint-V, a huge student party (Brussels).