Brussels: Not Boring but Open-Minded, Arty, and Cool

Street art Brussels

Before I went to Brussels I asked a few friends if they wanted to go with me. None of them did. I didn’t take it personally, “It’s not you, it’s Brussels” they said.

“What’s wrong with Brussels?” I replied.

“It’s a bit meh”

“Meh?”

“Yeh, it’s just a bit boring”

Another friend even labelled it “lame”

Some people might have been put off visiting Brussels after hearing a wishy-washy flow of excuses but I wasn’t. Every city has something worth seeing and I knew Brussels would be no exception.

So after trying but failing to find any willing participants I latched onto my twin brother. He didn’t have much going on so I managed to twist his arm under the condition that I was to take care of organising the Eurostar and accommodation. It was a deal.

I know I could have gone by myself but I just really fancied the company. However, as it turned out my brother, who’s an artist, received a last minute commission which rendered him confined to the flat we had rented out, so it was really no different to going on my own in the end.

The main reason why I wanted to go to Brussels was to see the Flower Carpet, a festival that only happens once every two years in mid-August. But now that I’ve had a chance to reflect on my brief visit to Brussels, it’s easy to say the best part of my trip wasn’t the flower carpet but meandering through the streets.

ROA Street art, Brussels

I was surprised to find them filled with murals, wall gardens, gorgeous design shops as well as coffee shops – and not so surprisingly – every girl’s reliable pick-me-up: chocolate.

Brussels Chocolate Museum

Chocolate Belgium, Brussels

But chocolate wasn’t the only thing I knew about Belgium. Now is probably a good time to admit something embarrassing about myself. I first learnt about Belgium through its association with Hollywood action hero, Jean – Claude Van Damm aka the Muscles from Brussels. He was my first childhood crush, along with Steven Seagal, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hulk Hogan. Thank heavens my taste has evolved since then, and the men I like are more advanced on the evolutionary scale too.

Anyway, less about muscles and more about Brussels.

As you walk down the streets there’s every chance of spotting greenery weaving up the walls, encircling windows and shop façades like a dreamy suburban house. All urban development should take a leaf from this city.

Brussels, belgium

For the first two days I couldn’t understand why one of my friends had called it lame, we may not have the same taste in everything but lame is one of those words that usually doesn’t alter much. In other words, if it’s lame it’s usually lame. A word that no city wants to be identified as.

Street art in Brussels

However, on the third and fourth day, I went looking for a pharmacy and in doing so I discovered where Mr Lame himself was hiding. It was 5pm on a Sunday, and all the shops were closing so I needed to be fast. My only hope was the shops near the main square. I raced down the nearby shopping street and the more I looked the less I seemed to find. Apart from feeling really touristy, it felt…. lame. There was a lack of character, style and it felt dated, like I had been transported to the late 1990s. I finally saw where my friend was coming from.

But what this also means is that my friends probably didn’t explore far from the main square. They didn’t wonder around the north-western part of the city near the fish market where you’ll find lots of pop-up restaurants and independent clothes shops. And for anyone who enjoys going away and buying pieces for their house then head south west of the city to the Flea Market and Grand Sablon Antiques Market, one of the finest in Europe.

Flea Market Brussels

All around this area are shops dedicated to design from antique to modern. This area is strikingly cool, stylish and hip – and whatever you do – don’t forget to drop by Bali Africa, this place is mind-blowing!

Bali Africa Brussels

Bali Africa Art Brussels

You’ll also find small art galleries dotted throughout the city. Some more surprising than others…

And it would be foolish to miss the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.

Royal Museum Fine Art Brussels

Something else that’s important for any city is a liberal, supportive and opened-minded character to make any visitor from any ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation feel welcome. Many cities around the world don’t have this but Brussels does in abundance and it’s proud of it. Twenty-five percent of the population comes from a foreign background, and adding to the multi-cultural vibe is Belgium’s three official languages: French, Dutch and German.

The city also expresses its open-mindedness through its street art. If you head over to Chaufferette Street you’ll find a row of vinyl street art advocating sexual-equality. It put a big smile on my face seeing them because this is what every city should be striving towards:  a place that has a sense of community, a sense of belonging. It makes me angry to think of people marginalised from a society because they are considered the wrong colour, the wrong gender, the wrong sexual orientation, or the wrong religion. And it’s clear Brussels thinks the same way…

Brussels street art

“Hi! You don’t know me. You don’t see me! I come from a country far away and I happen to love women! I’m proud of who I am! But I’m not ready to share my identity with you… Where I come from it is not easy to be a lesbian. You actually go to prison if you are ‘exposed’. So, ‘coming out’? I don’t know… Maybe, one day…’

Equality Street Art Brussels

Street art, Brussels, Belgium

Have you been to Brussels? If so, what are your thoughts about this city?



A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.


'Brussels: Not Boring but Open-Minded, Arty, and Cool' have 17 comments

  1. September 17, 2014 @ 1:16 am RealGunners

    I concur, the best tourist attraction of any city is usually the streets.
    It’s funny, when I joined a Europe Tour some time back, the tour guide gave us a brief introduction on all the countries we will be visiting. “France is a very sexy country, and Paris famous for Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe… ; Germany is famous for pork knuckles and beer…” and so on. This was his introduction about Belgium: “Belgium is strategically located in the middle of France, Germany and the Netherlands. We will be visiting Brussels as we pass by”. What?! That’s it?

    Reply

    • September 30, 2014 @ 12:30 pm admin

      Haha, yes, ‘What?! That’s it?’ Hmmm your tour guide wasn’t doing her job properly! I disapprove!

      Reply

  2. September 17, 2014 @ 5:46 am Wesley Pechler

    A great article once again! 🙂 I’ve been to Brussels once for a full day with my mum when we were having a spa weekend in the southern Netherlands and I would love to go back. The atmosphere on a sunny summer day was incredible and the art and architecture to die for. In general, Belgium cities are awesome places to visit!

    Reply

    • September 30, 2014 @ 12:32 pm admin

      Thanks Wesley, glad you enjoyed its vibe too. I must see more Belgium cities now!

      Reply

  3. September 17, 2014 @ 9:45 pm Richard

    I bet you like those double-denim Coors Light adverts with van Damme? I liked Brussels and thought there was a lot going on – I suppose it gets its boring tag from the business/EU area, and the fact it’s not as pretty as Antwerp, Ghent or Bruges.

    Reply

    • October 7, 2014 @ 5:10 pm admin

      Haha hell no Richard! I want to cherish my childhood thoughts of Van Damme without them being tarnished by those embarrassing adverts!

      Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges are definitely on my agenda for 2015!

      Reply

  4. September 19, 2014 @ 8:10 pm Charlie

    I’ve not been to Brussels, but the street art looks awesome! Did you find any good cafes on your wanders? My favourite thing about nearly all cities is wandering around and finding out little coffee shops.

    Reply

    • October 7, 2014 @ 5:16 pm admin

      There’s loads more street art in Brussels too which I’m going to write another post about! Hmmm there were loads of awesome cafes especially around Marche Au Charbon Kolemarkt however the thing that surprised me about Brussels was how expensive it was so I ate in at my Airbnb apartment and mainly drank water through the day, alas!

      Reply

  5. September 21, 2014 @ 12:59 pm Charlotte Steggz

    I LOVE graffiti! I’m going to have to make a trip there now!

    Reply

    • October 7, 2014 @ 5:16 pm admin

      Ahh good good, that’s what I want to hear 😀

      Reply

  6. September 24, 2014 @ 6:53 am Shikha (whywasteannualleave)

    Such a cool post – only been to Brussels once for a day trip but going again in November and now full of lots of ideas about where to head for some of the more undiscovered streets – some of the independent shops and cafes etc sound lovely!

    Reply

    • October 7, 2014 @ 5:24 pm admin

      Hi Shikha! I hope you have a fabulous time, yes once you move away from the main square (which is nice but the area around it isn’t so much) you’ll find lots to enjoy! Have fun!

      Reply

  7. October 10, 2014 @ 7:16 am Escape Hunter

    At first, I also found Brussels rather boring, but digging a bit deeper, I discovered the surprises.
    It’s quite an “uneven” city with plenty of hidden attractions, great to photograph.

    Reply

    • October 10, 2014 @ 10:24 am admin

      Ahhh I’m really glad you agree too! Brussels can be a slow burner but if you dig a bit deeper lots of hidden attractions can be found!

      Reply

  8. November 7, 2014 @ 4:28 pm Escape Hunter

    I had very little time, but next time I’ll try visiting the places you showed us 🙂

    I’ve been to the Atomium. Slow process of climbing, so many people, so crowded inside!

    Weird building…

    Reply

  9. November 30, 2014 @ 1:26 pm Nikita

    Great, this is what I wanted to hear coz I am meant to go to Brussels in a month and everyone makes it sound so lack luster. haha so thanks 🙂 can’t wait to explore. Can you recommend a place to stay in Brussels Shing?

    Reply

  10. November 30, 2014 @ 3:47 pm admin

    Hi Nikita! Good, good, I’m glad I’ve reassured you 🙂 but as I stated, you have to ensure you jump on the metro, and see what there is to see, instead of just staying in the main square (the main square is beautiful but I don’t really like the area around it, it’s a bit tacky and dated).

    As for a place to stay I used Airbnb, the apartment was a little out of the centre but very nice and just a 3-minutes walk from the metro. Do you want me to send you a link to it? Alternatively I would recommend staying somewhere around Sainte-Catherine on the Metro because there’s more of an atmosphere there at night with lots of little restaurants and bars all within walking distant.

    The place I stayed at was near Schuman on the Metro.

    Reply


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