My girlfriend and I currently live in London and were thinking of moving to Brussels as we wanted somewhere a bit smaller with a better quality of life.
We picked Brussels as we thought it would be the ideal location – on the Eurostar, French and English speaking (we speak both), cheap housing, good healthcare, and jobs.
We went there this weekend to check it out and were utterly disappointed.
Being the Easter weekend we expected the city to be buzzing. We found it deserted, depressing and unwelcoming.
Most of the city is dead. The only part which is not (the very centre) is full of crap restaurants and kebab shops.
We liked the Sablon area but it’s full of rich posh looking people and every other shop is an expensive empty art or antique shop (there must be 50 to 100 in the 8 or so streets that make up this neighbourhood). A few cakes and a quiche in a patisserie cost 28 Euros here.
We read the Place Flagey was the hippest of the hip places to go. All we found there was a dark empty square, with one better than average bar on a corner and a few other places that were empty.
The city is full of boarded up or closed down shops. The stuff that is open looks like it was built in the 70s and not touched.
For some reason smoking is still allowed in bars. I thought every progressive European country had banned this (I also thought this was a European directive coming from Brussels)
Walking 20 minutes from our hotel to the centre we struggled to find one good place to get a coffee and breakfast.
I live in Wood Green in North London (it’s not the greatest of areas to say the least but we were happy to get back to it.)
It's weird, but I was in Brussels on the Easter weekend as well with a friend. It's my first time in Brussels and we went there on Friday on our way to Brugge. It wasn't a public holiday but it was dead quiet.
We walked from Brussels Midi to the Grand market (or whatever the central square is called) and there weren't many people. The shops on both sides were mostly closed on the street that we walked through.
I'm glad we were only there for the day. It seems that Antwerp are more lively than Brussels on the Friday but Gent is dead on Monday (with it being a public holiday and nearly all the shops were closed). But then it could be that Belgium's enjoy their public holiday so much that they like to take extra days off and go somewhere.
Maybe you should go back to Brussels on a weekend where there isn't any public holidays and see how it goes because it may be totally different when people aren't on holiday and all the people that you see are foreigners.
You need to know local inhabitants to appreciate any euro city. I think its quite clear that as a tourist staying in a hotel you are hardly likely to come across anywhere happening immediately. I had one of the best times of my life in Brussels and in the surrounding countryside. Only because I have Belgian friends who are artists and musicians. Belgium is a country which needs to have its surface scratched. The Grand Place????!!!!!, Boring. No one goes there unless its three in the morning to get a kebab. The bars around Brussels often have live music and don't close til you want to leave. The art galleries are amazing and the flea market is a great place to hang out. It's also fairly socialist and there is a good community feel with festivals and street fairs all the time despite the shite weather.
I was just in Istanbul and found that to be really soulless. I was expecting something far more vibrant. Then again I know no Istanbulians. Ill be off to Brussels this Summer for a week, just to catch up on the eccentrics there, enjoy the flea market and hopefully catch a festival.
As the locals say,"Brussels is one of those cities that grows on you". When I went there I wasn't very impressed, main attractions include drinking copious amounts of beer and pissing on a church. Each day I actually enjoyed the city more and more. I was there for only 3 days but overall would rate as a postive experience.
There is more to do than I orginally thought and the locals are very friendly as well. Food and beer to die for.
I lived in Belgium three years and Brussels is a fantastic city, much better than a lot of cities I've seen around Europe (Geneva for example is depressing, so is Zurich, Milan, Turin, big cities with nothing to do where you can really become bored!!!)
The not so good impression you got from Brussels can be attributed to the fact that you went during a holiday and just about every place was closed and everyone probably went somewhere out of the city for the day.
Brussels is a city that growns on you, at first I wasn't so impressed but after you know the city and you learn about the colorful flea markets on sunday, the many multicultural festivals on the weekends where everyone relaxes and has an awesome time, the awesome pubs that only locals know, coffee shops that are laid back and very belgian, beer halls like the gignol one near the grand place and so on, you start feeling like you belong in there!!!!
I miss Brussels, to be honest I like it far more than London, that seems just an overpriced, massive city full of people and smog! (No offense)
[ Edit: Edited on 15-Apr-2010, at 05:00 by obbie ]
I like Brussels, but I'm a little soulless and bland myself. Personally I liked the mix of new and old - it was like Paris, but with more modern buildings.
Remember that living in a city is very different than visiting as a tourist. The more important questions are about cost of living, quality of life, etc. What you might want to do is search for housing to figure out what areas of town you can afford to live in, and then take another trip to check out Brussels and check out the neighbourhoods. Are they lively? Do they have good shops? Well connected to transit? etc. Go out to the local restaurants and bars around that area, and see what the food and nightlife is life. I think this will give you an idea of what living their would be like.
Brussels is an attractive city was well because it is very well connected to other locations. In addition to London on the Eurostar, Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, Frankfurt, etc. are all very close on the train (and much cheaper to get to than London - fares of Eurostar are pricey!).
Greg, one of the many people in London dealing with all that smog.
Brussels? An Ok patch, but Antwerpen is better for people and beer, in my opinion.
Personally, I have never fancied Brussels either. I have pieced together bits of information from friends and family and decided it's probably not one of the places I'd fork out to visit.
However, on previous trips to other areas of Belgium I have always enjoyed the beer and food over a weekend. I often came across pork belly cooked in cherry beer in restaurants which is now a favourite (top 5!) of mine. It sounds simple but the chicken and chips always seems to fill a hole and I find myself craving that dish along with moules and frites!
Brussels always comes across as a city for business. So perhaps with all that fine wining and dining that goes on you would probably find the best example of the meals I mentioned above in this very city, which is a saving grace. You may in fact be in for a gastronomic holiday! Bruges is the prettier destination.
If your keen to explore Eurostar destinations, I went to Lille for a Valentine's Day weekend. Very small and not much going on but again, food was delicious, the streets in the old parts are very quaint (even my boyfriend had to admit it was very pretty) with seafood cafes, bakeries, sooooo many patisseries and (ladies), absolutely fantastic shopping in the boutiques!
Personally I liked Brussels a lot. Granted we were there for 6 hours on a train layover between Amsterdam and Paris, so only spent time in the city center.
I had a friend that lived there for a few months, apparently what you saw there is a pretty accurate representation of the city - it's pretty dead most of the time.
I might be late to answer but I live in Belgium 30km from Brussel and I study in Brussel.
I agree with other people who told you it's not the same when you visit as a tourist or as a resident but the first feeling you have is probably the best...
In fact this is true when there is a "jour férié" holiday day, everything is closed and the city is pretty empty.
It is the same on sunday but otherwise,everything is crowded during the week.
Brussel has still many positifs aspects:compared to other capitals it is quiet cheap to live there and to rent something, plus there is a lot of activity to do and there is a lot of green space (parc,wood,etc).
It's a very multicultural place.
But there is also disadvantages: as you've seen, there are places who are really expensive such as le sablon or louise they are also the safer place in Brussel because there is insecurity in some neighborhood (anderlecht,schaerbeek,molenbeek,the center,...).
Plus the shops close at 7pm and 8pm friday, it is quiet early and some shop closes their doors at 6pm.
It is quiet grey over there and actually I don't really like Brussel but if you consider living in Belgium, it is such a small contry and you can go easily by train or car everywhere included brussel.
I can advice you the periphery of brussel which is safer and cheaper better to prosper have kids,etc,it is calmer but better in my opinion and you are so close to brussel.
In Flanders I can advice you Antwerpen,Leuven,Hasselt and in Walles(i don't know if it's called like that in english-wallonie) you might consider Liège which is also a big city who has a lot to offer,or Wavre and Louvain-la neuve which are smaller places but so damn good to live in (especially louvain la neuve if you are young)
Hope my answer is interesting for you and if you have other questions about Belgium I will be glad to help you.