Brussels International Airport, known locally as Zaventem, is a bustling hub, with direct flights from many U.S. cities. A cab ride from the airport to the city center will set you back upwards of €40 (about $50). To save euros, and time wasted in traffic, head to the train station in the airport’s basement. Direct trains to Brussels' three main stations leave every 20-40 minutes and cost about €8.
Brussels’ historic center is easily walkable, but to explore its other neighborhoods (something you really should do) you need to brave public transportation. The metro, trams, and buses all use the same ticketing system. You can ride anywhere within the system (including transfers) within an hour, for about €2. Buy a 10 "jump" ticket for €13.50 to save time and money.
The heart of Brussels is its UNESCO-listed Grand Place, but there’s plenty to experience after you’ve gotten a crick in your neck from looking up at the magnificent guildhalls. Brussels is also home to the Art Nouveau movement, and some stunning examples by local architects like Victor Horta still dot the city streets. The city’s art galleries cover the entire spectrum. See Flemish masters at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, modern art at Bozar, or up-and-coming contemporary works at tiny galleries throughout the city. Belgium’s surrealist hero, René Magritte, has his own interactive museum, and just around the corner is the whimsical Musical Instrument Museum. Every weekend, concerts, festivals, exhibitions, and performances take place around the city. The only drawback is the impossibility of experiencing them all.
Belgium has thousands of festivals covering food and drink, all styles of music, centuries-old cultural events, and the downright quirky. Brussels makes a great base for festival-hopping around the country but is also home to some of its own. Winter Wonders is Brussels' festive Christmas Market and includes food, rides, a nightly light show, international pavilions, and musical guests. The Brussels Summer Festival and Bruxelles les Bains (the city beach) keep the summer months hot, with international bands and plenty of umbrella drinks. Foodies shouldn’t miss EAT! Brussels in early September, the Megavino wine festival in mid-October, or Belgian Beer Weekend in September. Movie buffs can enjoy a week of international films in June at the Brussels Film Festival. Or transport yourself back in time at the Ommegang Festival, taking place in Grand Place since medieval times. Don’t forget the world-renowned Grand Place Flower Carpet, which happens for a week every other August.
Alison is a Brussels-based Canadian journalist and photographer specializing in travel and food. She lives to explore Europe’s hidden corners and travel the back roads of the world. She can be spotted toting a Nikon, tasting local cuisine, and wandering hidden alleyways, trailing a parade of cats. Read more of her work at CheeseWeb.