How to make the most of 6 months in Brussels

By Andy Sto Published 23/02/2023

Brussels, the heart of Europe, is more than just a tourist destination. While its stunning architecture, delicious cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene are certainly appealing to short-term visitors, the city has much more to offer to those who choose to stay for an extended period of time. From its diverse and welcoming community to its central location within Europe, Brussels provides a unique and enriching experience for those who call it home. In this article, we will explore the many reasons why Brussels is not just a place to visit, but a city that can truly enhance your quality of life in the long term.

Essential experiences

Popular attractions

Brussels is a city full of attractions and activities that can keep you entertained for months. Some of the must-sees during your 6-month stay include the Grand Place, a stunning square with impressive architecture and a lively atmosphere; the European Quarter, where you can visit the European Parliament and other EU institutions and learn about their role in shaping the continent; the Manneken Pis, a small but famous statue of a peeing boy that embodies the quirky spirit of Brussels; the Atomium, a futuristic structure that offers great views of the city; and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, a collection of impressive artworks ranging from the Flemish Primitives to modern art.

While visiting the popular attractions in Brussels is a must, it’s important to keep in mind that these places can attract large crowds, especially during peak tourist seasons. There are a ton of awesome photo spots, but you should be prepared. To avoid crowds, it’s best to visit these places during off-peak hours, such as early in the morning or in the late afternoon. Another option is to visit these places on weekdays, as weekends tend to be more crowded. It’s also a good idea to check the schedule of these attractions, as they may have special events or exhibitions that attract more visitors. Finally, consider booking tickets in advance, as this can help you skip the queues and save time.

Hidden gems

If you’re looking to experience the lesser-known side of Brussels, the city is filled with hidden gems waiting to be discovered. One such attraction is the Belgian Comic Strip Center, where you can learn about the country’s comic book culture and admire the works of famous Belgian comic book characters.

For a taste of the city’s eclectic neighborhoods, make sure to visit the Marolles district. Here, you can explore winding streets and colorful buildings, and browse the lively flea market at the Place du Jeu de Balle. Don’t forget to stop by the local cafes and bars for a taste of the neighborhood’s unique character.

The Cinquantenaire Park is another hidden gem in Brussels, featuring vast public gardens, fountains, and a triumphal arch that was built for the 1880 National Exhibition. You can also visit the park’s museums, such as the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History or the Autoworld museum.

For a more unique experience, climb the Black Tower located in the trendy Saint-Gery neighborhood, where you can take in panoramic views of the city and watch the sunset.

Alternatively, take a stroll down Rue de la Cigogne/Ooievaarstraat, a narrow street filled with traditional Belgian bars and restaurants where you can indulge in local specialties like moules-frites and Belgian beers.

The Erasmus House is another hidden gem worth visiting, a 16th-century house once owned by famous Dutch philosopher and theologian Desiderius Erasmus, which has been turned into a museum dedicated to his life and works.

Lastly, don’t miss the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, a collection of 19th-century greenhouses that are only open to the public for a few weeks each year. Here, you can stroll through the elegant corridors and admire the stunning architecture and exotic plants and flowers on display.

Festivals and events

Brussels is a city that loves to celebrate, and there are numerous festivals and events that take place throughout the year. One of the most popular events is the Flower Carpet, a biennial event where a large carpet made of flowers is laid out on the Grand Place, creating a stunning visual display. The Brussels Jazz Festival is another must-see event for music lovers, featuring a diverse lineup of jazz performers from around the world. For beer aficionados, the Belgian Beer Weekend is a fantastic opportunity to sample some of the best Belgian beers and learn about the brewing process.

Day trips from Brussels

While Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges are undoubtedly popular day trip options from Brussels, there are also many hidden gems nearby that are worth exploring. For instance, Leuven is a charming university town with a vibrant cultural scene, featuring a picturesque old town, beautiful parks, and a bustling market square. The town is known for its beer culture, so make sure to visit one of the local breweries to sample some of the famous Belgian brews.

Another lesser-known day trip destination is Gaasbeek Castle, a stunning castle located just outside of Brussels, with beautiful gardens and a fascinating history dating back to the Middle Ages. The castle features a museum with a diverse collection of artwork, from medieval tapestries to contemporary paintings.

For those looking for a more peaceful escape, La Hulpe Castle is a great option. This picturesque castle is surrounded by lush forests and gardens, perfect for a tranquil walk or a picnic. The castle itself also features a museum showcasing modern art, making it an ideal spot for art enthusiasts.

Lastly, Hallerbos is a must-visit destination for nature lovers. This beautiful forest is known for its breathtaking bluebell blooms in the spring, creating a surreal and magical atmosphere.

However, even outside of the bluebell season, the forest offers beautiful walking trails and stunning scenery, making it a great option for a day trip from Brussels.

Making the most of your experience

While Brussels and the surrounding areas may not be the most budget-friendly destinations in Europe, there are numerous ways to experience the region’s attractions without breaking the bank. Consider getting a Brussels Card, which offers discounts and free access to many museums and attractions. If you’re looking to save on food, check out local markets or street vendors, where you can find delicious and affordable options. Using public transportation is also a great way to save money, as taxis and rental cars can be expensive.

Local life and culture: immersing yourself in the city

Daily life in Brussels can be both charming and exciting, with its many neighborhoods, markets, parks, and cafes. From the trendy and multicultural Saint-Gilles and Ixelles areas to the historic and upscale Sablon and Marolles neighborhoods, Brussels has something for everyone. The city is also known for its numerous open-air markets, such as the popular Place du Jeu de Balle flea market or the lively Marché du Midi food market, which offer a glimpse into local life and culture. Additionally, Brussels has many green spaces and parks, including the Bois de la Cambre, the Parc de Bruxelles, and the Josaphat Park, which are perfect for picnics, walks, or bike rides. Lastly, Brussels is full of cozy and atmospheric cafes, where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or a beer while people-watching or reading a book.

If you want to immerse yourself in the culture and meet new people, there are many ways to do so in Brussels. If you are not already familiar with the basics, we suggest learning some French or Flemish to better communicate with locals and understand their culture. There are numerous options to learn these languages in Brussels, including the Alliance française, a renowned language school that offers French courses, and the Dutch Language House, an excellent resource for Flemish learners. Additionally, the Brussels Commissioner’s website provides a useful list of language courses.

Finding community in Brussels is easy thanks to the many opportunities available. One way to get involved in the community is by joining a book club. Brussels has a number of book clubs that cater to different interests and languages. You can also meet people through sports teams, as there are many recreational leagues and clubs throughout the city. If you are musically inclined, joining a choir or music group is another great way to connect with people who share your interests. Additionally, volunteering for local charities or organizations is a way to give back to the community while also making new friends.

Brussels is known for its vibrant arts scene, with numerous cultural events taking place throughout the year. The Art Brussels fair is one of the city’s largest art events, showcasing contemporary and modern art from around the world. The Brussels Food Truck Festival is an excellent opportunity to sample delicious food from both local and international vendors. For music enthusiasts, the Couleur Café festival offers a variety of genres ranging from hip-hop to reggae.

During the summer months, the Roller and Bike Parade invites people to skate or cycle through the city while enjoying the sights. In winter, the city hosts charming markets where visitors can enjoy hot wine and other festive treats. These events are not to be missed, providing a perfect opportunity to connect with the local community while experiencing Brussels’ rich culture.

While living in Brussels can be a wonderful experience, it also comes with its own set of challenges and surprises. The weather can be rainy and unpredictable, so make sure to bring a good raincoat and umbrella. For those who are relocating from other parts of the world, the bureaucracy and paperwork involved in moving to Brussels can be overwhelming, so it’s important to give yourself enough time to sort out visas, permits, and other administrative matters. Additionally, the language barrier can be a hurdle if you don’t speak French or Dutch, but don’t worry – many people in Brussels speak English and are happy to help. Joining language exchange groups or practicing with locals can also help you improve your language skills and feel more confident in social situations.

The best of Brussels: food and drink

Brussels is a foodie paradise, with its diverse cuisines, world-famous dishes, and top-notch drinks. Among the city’s must-try dishes are the classic moules-frites (mussels with fries), the deliciously sweet waffles, and the spicy and crispy speculoos biscuits. Belgium is also known for its chocolate, and Brussels is no exception, with many artisanal chocolatiers and sweet shops scattered around the city. But perhaps the crown jewel of Brussels’ gastronomy is its beer culture, with over 1,500 different kinds of beer and countless cozy bars and taverns to enjoy them in.

Each neighborhood in Brussels boasts its own unique character and cuisine. One of the most famous areas for food is the historic Ilot Sacré, which is home to some of the city’s oldest bars

and restaurants. Here, visitors can savor traditional Belgian cuisine, such as stoemp (mashed potatoes with vegetables), waterzooi (creamy stew), and carbonnade (beef stew cooked with beer). For those with a sweet tooth, there are plenty of patisseries and bakeries that offer decadent treats, such as macarons, pralines, and speculoos.

The trendy Sainte-Catherine neighborhood is another popular foodie destination in Brussels. Its location on the waterfront makes it a great place to enjoy seafood and other fresh produce.

Visitors can sample oysters, mussels, and other shellfish at the many seafood restaurants in the area. There are also several trendy bars and cafes that offer craft beers, cocktails, and local wines.

For a more diverse food experience, head to the vibrant Flagey neighborhood, which is known for its multicultural cuisine. Here, visitors can find everything from Italian pizza and pasta to Japanese sushi and Korean barbecue. The neighborhood is also home to many trendy cafes and bars, where visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee or a craft beer.

No matter which neighborhood you choose to explore, there is always something delicious to eat and drink in Brussels. From classic Belgian dishes to international cuisine, the city’s food and drink scene has something to satisfy every palate.

Nature and athleticism

For outdoor enthusiasts and sports lovers, Brussels has plenty to offer. From scenic hikes in the nearby Sonian Forest to leisurely bike rides along the Canal de Bruxelles, there are many ways to stay active and enjoy the city’s natural beauty. If running is more your thing, there are many parks and trails to choose from, such as the Bois de la Cambre, the Parc de Bruxelles, and the Promenade verte. For those who enjoy swimming, there are many public pools and aquatic centers in and around Brussels, such as the Piscine de Laeken and the Nemo 33 diving center.

One of the most iconic spots in Brussels for outdoor activities is the Atomium, which offers stunning views of the city and a range of sports facilities, including a mini-golf course, a zip line, and a climbing wall. In addition, the city has many public sports centers and facilities, such as the Centre Sportif de la Forêt de Soignes, where you can play team sports, practice martial arts, or try your hand at archery.

When exercising outdoors in Brussels, it’s important to dress appropriately for the weather and be mindful of safety. During the summer, it’s important to stay hydrated and protect your skin from the sun, while in the winter, it’s essential to wear warm layers and non-slip shoes for icy conditions. It’s also a good idea to exercise during daylight hours and to stick to well-lit and populated areas. Finally, be sure to bring a map or a mobile device with you, so you can stay on track and enjoy all that Brussels has to offer.

Navigating transit and transportation

Getting around Brussels is a breeze, thanks to the city’s excellent public transportation network. The metro, tram, and bus lines run throughout the city and are a reliable and affordable way to get from one place to another. To use public transportation, you’ll need to get a MOBIB card, which can be topped up with credit at most metro stations or online. You can also download the STIB app, which provides real-time information on schedules and disruptions.

If you prefer to explore the city on your own, renting a bike or an electric scooter is a fun and eco-friendly option. There are many bike rental shops and electric scooter providers in the city, such as Villo! and Lime, which offer a range of rental options and prices. Walking is also a great way to discover the city, especially in the historic center where many attractions are within walking distance.

If you plan to drive in Brussels, keep in mind that the city has a low-emission zone, which restricts access to the most polluting vehicles. Make sure to check your car’s emissions rating before driving in the city center. Parking can also be a challenge in Brussels, especially in busy areas like the city center. It’s best to use public transportation or alternative modes of transportation whenever possible.

Why stay in Brussels

Brussels is not just a tourist destination, but a city that provides a unique and fulfilling experience to those who choose to stay for an extended period of time. With its diverse offerings, the city caters to everyone’s interests, from foodies and music lovers to sports enthusiasts and architecture aficionados. Whatever it is that you seek, you’re sure to find it in Brussels. And with Cohabs’ community-driven events, dinners, and parties, you’ll not only find a place to live but also a welcoming community that will make you feel right at home.

About the author Andy is a seasoned digital nomad from Brussels. He runs a blog for digital nomads, remote workers, and remote company leaders: He enjoys hiking, singing, playing improv games and discovering hidden gems all over the world.