First Impressions of Brussels

Like most cities I visit these days, one visit does not nearly seem enough to see all there is to see in Brussels. However, during the short week stay I had in Brussels, these are the things which stood out to me most:

Cosy Pubs and Belgian Beer

Brussels surprised with the amount of cool, laid back pubs, array of beers, and variety of places to go out at night. Admittedly, prior to going to Brussels I didn’t do a huge amount of research. I prefer to have a surprise when I arrive somewhere new, and therefore my only knowledge of Brussels and Belgium in general was that they made  good chocolate, and were the home of the European Union parliament.  Every time I read about Brussels it’s usually just to do with the EU parliament (Brussels being the base for the EU parliament buildings), so I had somehow formed an opinion that this would not be a party city, but I was very wrong in my estimations. I was very fortunate to be able to stay with a friend while in Brussels who was able to take me to cool hangouts, and places where I could try a whole array of local beers. I became particularly fond of the popular fruit beers they have here, and with the sheer amount of drinks on offer outwith the usual international brands that you get most places (although of course they had these on offer too), I was able to go out each night of the week and try a new local or unfamiliar beer. A really cool pub that I came across in the city centre was Delirium, for anyone looking for a place to meet people and try a huge array of beers. I found a lot of international students there, so it was by no means a “locals” pub, but there was around 30 different local beers to try, and it was a great place to meet other people if you were on your own and travelling solo.

Dwindling Budget

Brussels is expensive. There’s no doubt about it. Especially if you are eating and drinking out it can be very pricey. Prices for accommodation are also comparable to places like Paris, so it’s best to budget accordingly if you plan on coming here. I was very fortunate in Brussels in that I was able to crash at a friend’s flat for a week whilst I was there. This saved me quite a bit of money, which I was then able to use on eating out in nice restaurants, and drinking out in cool pubs each night of week. If you don’t know anyone who lives in Brussels however, you may want to try Couch Surfing, or other similar services, to try save a bit of much needed cash.

Homeless

One thing I distinctly noticed about Brussels, which was unfortunately more a negative aspect of the city, is the number of homeless people who live on the city’s streets. Now don’t get me wrong, I come from Scotland, where you can find many homeless people living on the streets of most of our main cities, and I don’t have a problem with homeless people, but there seems to be a major problem here in Brussels with alcoholism and people living on the streets which doesn’t seem to be publicised much outside of Belgium.

Each day I would go out and about in the city centre, I would see countless people who just looked completely deflated and broken. One guy in particular I saw was walking around with only one shoe on. His other foot appeared to be severely swollen, to the point where I assume it was just too big and sore to fit into his other shoe. He was walking around aimlessly, with clothes that looked like they hadn’t been washed in several months, and a look that showed he had just completely zoned out from the world. You couldn’t help but feel so sorry for this guy, and were left feeling very helpless towards his situation. Another example I experienced was an old middle eastern woman. She was sitting outside an underground station. She wasn’t begging, she was just sitting there, staring straight at the ground with a look that look that was just completely dissolute. You could see in her eyes, which didn’t look up or try to connect with you, that she had seen and experienced something horrifying. As I was walking out of the station, I spotted her sitting there, just as a drunk walked up to her and started yelling some abuse in her direction. He made a threatening gesture, to which she didn’t even look up at or flinch, and then he was pulled away by his other drunk homeless friend, and they left shouting something else in French in the distance.

Brussels need to tackle it’s problem of alcoholism and homelessness. There are people here in dire need of help, and I really hope they do something soon for their homeless population, because the city itself has so many other incredible positives.

Stunning Architecture

A lot of the time when you see an iconic piece of architecture or tourist spot, it can be a disappointment. Sometimes all the hype can make something seem a whole lot better than it actually is. Occasionally however, you find that something lives up to the hype that preceded it, and Grand Place-Grote Markt was just simply breath taking. Maybe it was just because the sun was out when I was there, which really highlighted the architecture in all it’s beauty, but I remember just looking around me and standing there in the middle of the square just thinking “I’m glad I found travel”. A lot of the buildings in the Grand Place-Grote Markt are also over 300 years old, so it’s a great place for any history buffs to check out too, aside from the just the sheer beauty of the architecture.

Cuisine

For some reason I imagined the Belgian cuisine to be very like the British or the Dutch. Bland and full of potatoes! How very wrong I was! The cuisine in Belgium simply blew me away. Of course, with a strong French influence they were always going to produce something top class. Then there is the famous Belgian chocolate, and the amazing pastries that they do. Contrary to popular belief, the famous frites that the people of Holland love so much actually originate from Belgium too! Belgium has a long history of creating tasty food, and I make no exaggeration when I say that every restaurant I ate out in in Brussels, I came away from thinking I’d had one of the best meals of my life. It’s worth forking out some cash and paying to eat in a really nice restaurant in Brussels while you are here. It may be expensive, but you pay for what you get.

Bi, Tri, and Quad Lingual People!

Brussels puts many other cities to shame when it comes to speaking other languages! Every local I met here could at an absolute minimum speak fluent French and Flemish, with around 95% of locals I met also speaking very good English. It wasn’t unheard of for some to even speak 4, 5, or 6 different languages. It really was incredible! On one hand, this was really good for a traveller like me because it meant that I could communicate with people very easily, make friends very easily, and just get by and do the things I needed to do without any hassle. On the other hand however, it is so easy to get lazy in Brussels and not even attempt the local language. I think this would be a very bad place for people looking to learn French because it is just so easy to converse in English with everybody, however a very easy place to make friends with other English speaking people as there is a huge expat community here from English speaking countries. My friend Donagh, who I was staying with while I was in Brussels, regularly meets up with other expats via the MeetUp.com website. I tagged along to one of their meet ups to go bowling, and had an awesome time meeting up with other British, American, Irish, and other English speaking expatriates living in Brussels. Your French may not come on as quickly as living in a village somewhere, but it would certainly be a fun place to live and make new friends from around the world.

– I really enjoyed my time in Brussels. I never expected to like Brussels that much, and was really just using it as a stop over, and as a taster for what Belgium had to offer, but in the end it became one of my favourite places to go in Europe. I look forward very much to my return.

5 Responses to “First Impressions of Brussels”

  1. Anna says:

    I enjoyed reading this because Brussels is one of my favorite cities and it’s interesting to see what others think. One thing I love about it is the variety of art. Modern murals live next to thousand year old buildings and antiques sit inside of glass houses. I love the great mix, the infamous Tin Tin murals are my fav.

  2. G says:

    I’m from Brussels and it’s always funny to hear comments from foreigners about the city you live in.
    I’m glad you liked Brussels. It’s really a nice city to live in. Even if Belgium can be a complicated country !

  3. Rhona says:

    Thanks for the update. You know, when I look at the map and plan on which country/city I want to hit up next, Brussels has never been one of them. You made it sound really fun and interesting. I love gorgeous buildings so that would attract me. And, good food. I mean, come on! I am sad to read about the huge homeless issue they have. I guess that is prevelant in most big cities but it is still sad to hear.

  4. E.S says:

    Am visiting here in a month…. Never been here just booked it cause it fit with airmiles…… hoping it was a great choice…. looking forward to seeing Europe, with my daughter…

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