Where the locals go in Brussels

Ah, Brussels. The capital of Belgium and… Europe? Well, it is of the European Union at least, and many Europeans closely identify it with all the fun and joy of bureaucracy, politics and sterile central administration. But here we are to show you that in fact places with such a reputation might not wholly deserve it. Plus, its central location means it’s really possible you’ll pass through it if you’re visiting this side of the continent. “The crossroads of Europe” has a lot to secrets most visitors miss  — here are tips by Brussels locals to get you started.

Start your visit here

You might think Brussels is flat, but uptown really is higher up than the rest of the city. An easy, comfortable way to reach it is by using this elevator in Breughel L’ancien square (usable by bikes too!) Go up and a beautiful panorama of much of the city and its attractions will open up in front of your eyes. From here, it becomes a choose-your-own-adventure game.

Historical ice skating rink

Ice skating | Local tips Brussels

Photo by Davy Verbeke

Poseidon has been around for more than 50 years. To give you an idea, Belgium’s current king, Philippe I, used to come skate here as a little boy. Now you can also do it like the locals and enjoy everyone’s nostalgia-filled rink. The atmosphere is decidedly laid back (you can tell from the teddy bears everywhere) and no matter your experience level, you will feel welcome here. Even better: the roof can be drawn away “in 3 minutes” if weather permits, and what’s better than ice-skating under a clear starry sky?

It’s Belgian fries!

Belgian fries | Local tips Brussels

Photo by Sarah Filion

Don’t go around calling ‘frites’ French fries in Brussels or it might take you some extra time to make friends here; Belgians are proud of having gifted the fried potato to the world, and rightly so. As such, it’s kind of difficult to find a place that makes them horrible, but Bintje would be one of those that make them amazing. Unpeeled, organic potatoes, homemade sauces (though you can also play it safe and stick to mayonnaise), even local beer and a burger on the side (yes, here it’s the other way around), it’s an ideal spot for a snack before or after drinks.

Brussels = beer

Beer Project | Local tips Brussels

Photo by Sarah Filion

We can’t mention the fries without touching on the other thing Belgium is famous for: its exquisite brews and ales. As with the fries, picking out a single or even a handful of bars is an almost impossible task, but Brussels Beer Project would be a sure bet for a sample of what there is to enjoy. Located in hip St-Catherine, their beers resemble the abbey-dense traditional Belgium beers but with a modern twist, and are brewed right on the premises. As an alternative to this taproom, you can safely skip the touristic beer shops and head straight to Malting Pot for up to 200 different labels.

Old “impasses”

Impasses in Brussels | Local tips Brussels

Photo by Sarah Filion

Brussels is a city with a lot of history, even though that might not be immediately obvious. If you want to get this rustic small-town feel, look out for these tiny impasses (dead-ends) or alleys. Local Sarah has a soft spot for Rue de la Cigogne in St-Catherine — “Its entrance arch, little houses, old cobblestones, the trees… adorable, and so cute!” Also check out the famous impasses leading to old-school bars L’Imaige Nostre-Dame or Au Bon Vieux Temps.

Real Syrian food

Syrian food | Local tips Brussels

Photo by Renata Riva

Named after the flat pita-like bread baked right before any meal is served, as is tradition, My Tannour is a fresh Syrian restaurant with special iron & clay ovens (their slow-baking of lamb here takes up to 16 hours!) to make everything taste as authentic and delicious as possible — just like owner Georges and long-time Syrian immigrant wants it. Choose your ingredients (vegetables & either lamb, chicken or cheese) and get a taste of the pleasures of Brussels’ multicultural side.

Brusselite sense of humor

You’re most probably aware of Manneken Pis, the world’s most famous peeing boy. Since 1987, long before feminism had really captured mainstream global attention, there has also been a peeing girl — Jeanneke Pis. Continuing in this tradition, and if you pay close attention, you can also find the immortalised peeing dog Zinneke. In general, there are many humorous and/or daring artworks around the city that go to show how light-heartedly locals take some things that might be considered taboo elsewhere.

Books in 20 languages!

Librebook | Local tips Brussels

Photo by Librebook

As the EU’s de facto capital, Brussels is the home of thousands of people from all over the continent who work in administration and its institutions. Walking on the street you might overhear conversations in dozens of languages, and now you can feel the same effect in written form too — in multilingual bookshop Librebook. Second-hand furniture (from banks!), good European wine, a cozy feeling, even gigs, this cozy little cultural hub does a good job emulating the Brussels state of mind: it’s “mixed, chaotic, curious, odd, open, irregular…”

For more local favorites to see during your Eurail trip, check out Spotted by Locals.

Header image by David Bruyndonckx on Unsplash