Secret spots in Brussels

Brussels is a strange old place. With its very beautiful medieval Grand’Place and oh-so-lovely Euro-architecture leviathans, contrasts are easily spotted. It’s one of the most cosmopolitan cities I’ve ever found too – you can usually hear at least 8 of the EU member state languages in a 100m stretch of the city centre. And unlike London or Paris, there is no feeling that these ‘foreigners’ should bow down to French or English tradition, but rather they melt gently into the fondue of Bruxellois / Brusselar life (delete as applicable, depending on which side of the French /Flemish language divide you like to place yourself). These are a few places lurking around Brussels that I think are great, but you won’t find them on many tourist maps. 

  1. Hidden gardens


In the summer Brussels can get pretty warm, and so you’ll want to sun yourself in a nice park. In the centre of town, most of the obvious parks get full of people, and so screaming children, pestering yoofs and other hazards can reduce your chance of getting that peaceful moment you were searching for. So, I suggest you get yourself over to the hidden park in the Cité Administrative. You walk up the hill from Place Rogier towards Botanique metro station, but turn right onto the Boulevard de Berlaiemont. You’ll notice some cheeky steps going up towards what looks like a boring office building, but you’ll find a quiet, modernist and funky park to chill out in instead. Spliffs are an optional accessory.  

  1. Bombay Express


Just opposite the gleaming windows of the European Parliament, off Place du Luxembourg is Bombay Express. It’s a tiny restaurant selling some of Brussels’ most delicious Indian food, find it on Rue de Treves just opposite the train station exit. Mr. and Mrs. Singh, a very sweet Punjabi couple, run the place. They’ll be sure to cook you some great food and give you a warm welcome. It’s also a good place to spot UK MEPs on lunch break, if for some weird reason you might want to do that. 

  1. Cathedral steps


If like me you don’t always want to hang out in bars, steps can provide a good alternative to beer-subsidised furnishing. In the warmer months of the year, I suggest heading to the Cathedrale St Michele Gidule just a little bit east of the Grand’Place. They have lots of steps and they are quite comfy. You can invite friends. 

  1. Kebab street


Maybe not so unknown, but I include it because I like the name. Rue des pittas roughly translates as Kebab Street in English, and is just off the Grand’Place. It should be easy to spot as there are lots of people and it smells of kebabs and chips. You basically have a choice between Greek and North African places – don’t try asking for hummus or tehina, they don’t know what is. Instead you can have a myriad of brightly coloured mayonnaise-based sauces that the Belgians so love. If you really have to have ‘real’ thing, there’s a Lebanese kebab place on one corner, but it’s most expensive. They also do great fresh juice.  

  1. L’Arcadi


Just behind the Place du Brouckere, you can find Rue de l’Ecuyer – follow it to the top and you find the Arcadi. A great little café, usually stuffed with people eating home made quiches, gourmande cakes and pies, pasta and more… They also do fantastic mint tea. Service can be dodgy but the food is worth the wait. 

  1. Grand Café


OK so it’s right in the middle of town, on the left hand side when you face the Bourse. Sometimes there can be a fair few tourists, especially in the summer months, but don’t let that put you off. Go inside and you’ll find a bunch of old Belgians drinking Chimay, Kriek and puffing on those grim Gauloises. The décor is old-fashioned crumbly glamour, and the food is great in a traditional Belgian stylee. I personally enjoy dropping by to slurp a few fresh oysters from Brittany – a bargain at around 6 euros a set… 

  1. Comic book ghetto


Around Rue du Midi and Rue Anspach, on the Bourse’s right side (if you’re facing it), there are loads of comic shops. They cater for just about every taste – traditional European bande dessinée, US comics, graphic novels and Asian mangas. Many of them also sell specialist figurines and limited edition stuff, and there are a lot of second hand shops too. If you never got into comics before, then Brussels is the place to start. From the most well known to the underground indie releases, Brussels has them all. 

  1. Place du Chatelain market


Go up Avenue Louise, past the swanky shops and along the treelined boulevard until you reach the Rue du Chatelain. Just off this street you’ll find Place du Chatelain, well known for it’s trendy eateries and bars. Go there on Wednesday evening between 5 and 10 pm and you’ll find a cute market full of organic food, farmers selling foie gras and smoked duck, Italian stalls stocked with salamis, fresh pasta and cheeses, vegetables, flowers… And as the evening wears on, less people shop, and more end up clustered around the various wine stalls knocking back a few verres. 

  1. L’Archiduc


A piano, cocktails, old-fashioned 1930s décor and velvety chairs. A very romantic setting, with great drinks and relaxed music. It’s on the über-trendy Rue Antoine Dansaert where you can see a lot of artistic kooky Flemish people hanging around, and spend far too much money on weird but funky designer items.

words by Lexa Lotus

Posted on Friday, July 7, 2006 at 15:30 by Registered CommenterJam | Comments1 Comment