Living in Brussels center: an expat mini-guide

By Andy Sto Published 17/06/2024

Known as the European Capital, Brussels may seem small, but it is home to nineteen municipalities, all of which offer something unique. In this article, we’ll be talking about one of the most famous communes, Bruxelles-Ville, also known as the city center of Brussels. 

The Ville-Bruxelles is the largest municipality in Brussels, extending over 32.6 ㎢. The municipality comprises six different sub-regions, including the center district (also known as the Pentagon), Neder-over-Heembeek, Haren, the south Louise-Roosevelt axis, and the European Quarter (Léopold, Schuman, and the squares).

But why should you consider Ville-Bruxelles as your permanent or temporary home base? Let’s look deeper into the popularity of this municipality. 

Why stay in the center of Brussels? 

There are many reasons why the center is one of the best neighborhoods in the city for coworking, coliving, or just experiencing the city’s overall vibe. Here are just a couple of those reasons. 

Everything is close by

In the center of Brussels, everything you will ever need, from shopping to museums to restaurants, is just a short walk away. The city center is relatively small and can be easily explored on foot. The area has also been transformed into a pedestrian-only zone, which will continue to extend to other areas in the future, like the area of Rogier. 

But even if you want to adventure outside the city center, many of the main city offerings are located quite close to one another. 

Green spaces

Although Brussels is a metropolis and a European capital, it also has many parks and green spaces that can be found in every corner of the city, including the center of Brussels. 

Fun fact, Brussels is one of the greenest European capitals. This city has around fifty parks that you can explore. 

Along with various smaller parks, like Square Ambriorix, this commune is home to Brussels Park and the famous Parc du Cinquantenaire. 

Brussels Park, also known as the Royal Park, is located right in front of the Royal Palace and was once used as royal hunting grounds. It is the largest urban park in central Brussels and was the city’s first public park.

Parc du Cinquantenaire is a large urban park, approximately 30 hectares or 74 acres. It is known for its U-shaped complex, which houses the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, the Art & History Museum, and the Autoworld Vintage Car Museum. It is also known for its gorgeous gardens, waterfalls, and ponds. 

The best part is that many parks host annual events, like music festivals, art exhibitions, and food fairs. They are also the perfect place for outdoor activities, like picnics, yoga, running, or an outdoor boot camp class. 

History is everywhere

One of the most magical things about the center is that culture and history can be found at every corner. 

Many people are familiar with the Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Manneken-Pis, but there is more to discover than just these two iconic sites. You’ll find the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries just a short walk from the Grand Place. These galleries were inaugurated in 1847 and were the first glazed shopping arcades in Europe. Some say they are still the most elegant. 

Other sites include Saint Gery, Mont des Artes (the museum quarter), the Royal Palace of Brussels, the Comics Art Museums, and the Musical Instrument Museum

Fun fact, the King and Queen of Belgium do not reside in the Royal Palace. However, they do work here. Every summer, the Palace opens its doors to the public for a set period of time, free of charge. 

Transport connections

The center of Brussels is hands-down the best commune in terms of transport connections. The commune is home to numerous metro, bus, and tram stops, many of which are just a short walk away from wherever you are staying. 

Along with trams, buses, and the metro, Brussels center is also home to the second busiest railway station in Belgium, Gare Central, or Brussels Central Station. It is also next to the St-Gilles commune, home to the Brussels-Midi train station. In both locations, you’ll be able to catch the Intercity Brussels trains that travel throughout Belgium and the Netherlands. 

Brussels-Midi is the main train station of Brussels. It connects the city to other national and international destinations like Paris, Cologne, and London with companies like Thalys and Eurostar. Midi is also where international bus companies depart from and where you’ll catch the bus if you are heading to Charleroi airport to catch a low-cost flight to another European destination. 

Where to stay in the center of Brussels

So now that you’re considering a stay in Brussels, you’re probably wondering where you should be looking for an apartment. Due to the neighborhood’s sheer size, there are several possibilities for apartment locations, perfect for every type of individual. 

The center district, or the Pentagon region, is perfect for anyone looking for a central location close to bars, restaurants, nightlife, shopping, groceries, and historical/cultural sites. Whatever you need, you’ll be able to find it here—plus, everything is within walking distance. 

Another bonus of this area is that it is the main location of the Brussels Christmas Market, one of the best Christmas markets in all of Europe. 

Just outside of the city center is the up-and-coming neighborhood of Les Marolles.  This area is known for its pubs, antiques, indie fashion, restaurants, and hipster-style stores. If you are looking for one-of-a-kind furniture pieces, this is the place. Surrounding the central Place du Jeu de Balle, which hosts a massive daily flea market, are modern galleries featuring international and Belgian artists. 

For a more residential type of experience, the areas surrounding the European Quarter and Parc Cinquantenaire, like the area of Ambiorix, offer peace and quiet, while still being close to restaurants, bars, and public transportation. And if you are looking for something a little more upscale and luxurious, yet close to the city center, then opt for a place in Sablon. 

What to do in Brussels Center?

In reality, what can’t you do in Brussels Centre? There is so much to do, see and experience that we don’t have the time (or the space) to list everything for you. But we can definitely try to highlight some of the best things to do in this commune. 

Restaurants & nightlife 

Brussels Center has the largest concentration of restaurants and bars than any other area in Brussels. The center district’s streets are lined with bars and restaurants serving every type of dish and drink imaginable. 

Brussels is a multicultural city, evident by the diverse range of restaurants serving international cuisine. In the Pentagon area, for example, you’ll be able to eat all-you-can-eat barbecue, Chinese, Romanian, Belgian, fish and chips, brunch options, Thai, Indian, and more—all of which are just a five-minute walk from each other.

For drinks, there is the famous Halles St. Gery area, which gets so popular during the weekends that it is almost impossible to walk through the streets without pushing through crowds. 

Other areas like Sablon, Les Marolles, and Ambiorix also have restaurant and nightlife options, but not as many as the central district.

Shopping

Along with Ixelles, the center is famous for its shopping. Here you’ll be able to find luxury, boutique, budget, independent, second-hand, and so much more. 

One of the major shopping areas is the pedestrian-only shopping street, Rue Neuve. Here you’ll find every store imaginable, including various restaurants. 

On one end of the street, you’ll find City2, a small shopping mall, home to various shops, a Media Markt, and the Inno department store chain. On the other end, you’ll find yourself at the Place de la Monnaie, just steps from the city’s historic center. The type of stores you’ll find in the city center are incredibly varied. The best thing to do is just get lost and explore.

The commune is also quite known for its local shops, antique stores, independent boutiques, thrift spots, and the famous daily flea market held at Place Jeu de Balle. 

Fun fact, Place Jeu de Balle is the world’s only flea and antique market open 365 days a year. The best times to visit are during the weekdays as there are fewer crowds, and it’s easier to haggle. Make sure to take the time to explore the surrounding streets (Rue Blaes and Rue Haute) to discover some more antique and second-hand treasures.

Lastly, head to the Royales Saint Hubert or Grand Sablon for luxury shopping. 

Local markets, international food & organic options

Local weekly markets are popular in this Brussels commune. It’s safe to say that there is a market in the center every day of the week. 

On Tuesday mornings, the Place Anneessens transforms into a small market where local vendors sell food and textiles. On Wednesdays, you’ll find the organic food market at Place Sainte-Catherine, and on Thursdays, there is the gourmet market at Place du Grand Sablon. There is also a zero-waste market at Place Sainte-Catherine on Saturdays and a local arts and crafts market every week at Place Agora. 

The center is quite famous for organic shops, including zero-waste shops, especially in the Place Sainte-Catherine area. For international food options, there are various ethnic shops for international food options, including a small Chinatown street next to the Grand Place. 

Coffee shops (perfect for coworking) 

Small independently owned coffee shops are pretty common in the center. These locally-owned shops offer a comfortable space, a never-ending supply of coffee, and some delicious (often vegan-friendly) food to keep you focused on what you need to get done. Even if you aren’t working, they are the perfect place for an impromptu meeting with a colleague or a friend. 

Why stay in the center? 

So why is the center one of the best neighborhoods in Brussels? One of the best things about the center is that it offers various options depending on your needs. 

Those that prefer a quieter space that is still quite close to the center can choose to stay in Les Marolles, Sablon, or the European Quarter. However, the historic center is perfect for those who want to be smack dab in the middle of the heart of Europe.

Whatever you need, you’ll be able to find it in this commune (all within walking distance), and that is why it is one of the best neighborhoods in Brussels. 

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

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