So now and then I am hired to meet with a high-level incoming expat manager to talk about “daily expat life in Brussels”. This service comes as part of their transition package organised by their company or organisation, which also involves some intercultural training and relocation services (offered by specialists). Literally the first thing I always say during those meeting is to go out there and explore their new city of residence. Brussels is not like Paris, Amsterdam or London, it’s less lively, less homogeneous, and it’s sometimes a bit hard to know where to go to. But at the same time, I make the promise there are many hidden and not-so-hidden corners, bursting with live or beauty, just waiting to be discovered.
If you don’t follow my simple advice, you may soon find yourself again in a fast-paced work rhythm again. Monday early morning to Friday evening, work work work. And since shops close early in Brussels, your only day to do real shopping would be Saturday, while on Sunday you may be just so tired that you stay home and do nothing (or just cleaning up).
Expat Club organises a lot of events and trips. We make it easy for you to explore this city and country, as well as the countries around Belgium. This way you won’t have to organise everything yourself, while you can be certain of a pre-screened activity or destination. But even we can’t be everywhere at the same time, and sometimes you just feel like doing something on your own. In those cases my advice of getting out there would come in place.
1. Find square square roots
Squares have played an essential role in city life in Europe’s history. They were and remain places to meet, sell, see, celebrate, demonstrate, relax. The Grand Place is Brussels’ most famous square, and arguably one of the world’s most beautiful. But there are many others; each with its own story, charm and culture.
Technically speaking, Place Sain-Boniface is just a split in the Rue Saint-Boniface, but it’s still accepted as a square, nonetheless. It’s small, but yet, so full of life. This square always offers a uniquely warm experience. Smack in the middle of the Matonge, the heart of Brussels African quarter, it is choc-a-bloc with shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants. Give it a try next time you meet with friends. An excellent suggestion would be the Art Deco Bar l’Ultime Atome.
2. Park it over here
Go green in Brussels. Everybody knows the Bois de la Cambre, the centrally-located Parc de Bruxelles (Warande) and the Parc de Cinquantennaire. But also your own neighbourhood probably has a park you can wander through for a daily constitutional. But for die-hard green enthusiasts, Brussels is a treasure trove.
Jardins du Stuyvenberg
From the era of Leopold II, this small park lies in the shadows of the much larger Parc de Laeken. Together with the adjacent Jardin Colonial and Jardin Jean Sobieski, this beautifully designed green space is dedicated to landscape gardening. It’s a peacefully organised green atmosphere with fantastic panoramic views of Brussels.
3. Becoming streetwise
Finding your way around this city isn’t always the easiest. Brussels can undoubtedly be quite the labyrinth! Even when the plan is to leave town, finding the main ring road may be a big challenge. This can be an excellent opportunity to discover some of the many beautiful streets Brussels has to offer. And it will make you appreciate this city again a little bit more.
Avenue Franklin Roosevelt
This grand lane that runs along the Bois de la Cambre is not one where you’ll find shops, bars or restaurants. But what you’ll find is majestic avenue home of unparalleled and unique architectural diversity. Art- Déco, beaux-arts, modernism and several other styles make a visit to this avenue a visual feast. This street, which still has 1000 as postcode, is home to stunning villas, many Embassies and the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
4. We Built This City
Urban planning is certainly not Brussels strongest point. In fact, did you know the term Brusselisation existed? It stands for “the indiscriminate and careless introduction of modern high-rise buildings into gentrified neighbourhoods.” Luckily we’re also able to enjoy countless buildings in Brussels that are real architectural gems. It’s not difficult to pass by any neighbourhood in town and find these unique constructions so full of history and charm.
This UNESCO World Heritage site was commissioned by art collector Adolphe Stoclet in 1905 and built by architect Josef Hoffmann in Vienna Secession style, an art movement Hoffmann was a part of. The palace is actually a private house, so, unfortunately, it is not open to the public. But if you take a stroll around Avenue Tervuren, as we suggested earlier, you will be able to admire its stunning facade.
5. For The Culture Vulture
Brussels may not be the largest European capital, but culturally it has relatively a lot to offer. The Wikipedia list of museums in our town shows no less than 83 of them! Each museum in Brussels has its own history, purpose, and unique stories to tell. They are part of the city, and thus, discovering these places can be a great way fo you to integrate into Brussels life.
Van Buuren Museum
An Art Deco villa is hidden deep inside the municipality of Uccle in Brussels. The museum was firm home to its namesake, David and Alice Van Buuren. Built in 1928, Van Buuren was a banker and patron of the arts. His wife, Alice, set up the foundation that oversees the museum’s overall preservation. The home presents an impressive collection of art that includes names such as James Ensor, Vincent van Gogh, and Peter Brueghel, the Elder. Equally impressive are the six garden spaces that span over 1.6 hectares.
Ready to discover more?
As we said above, Brussels is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered . All you have to do is to put on your shoes, open the front door and walk out. It’s that easy. A great way to begin to feel at home in a foreign city is to visit parts of town that are usually skipped by tourists; places where people live, work and recreate. Whether just arrived in Brussels or living here for several years, as an expat, there’s always something new to see in this wonderful town. All it takes is to learn about the various places, “take off” a Saturday or Sunday morning, jump into a tram or metro and go there. Walk around a bit, sit on a bench to observe Brussels life, go into a local café for a coffee and croissant, and go home again after a while. Now you have discovered yet another part of Brussels! I have no doubt if you do this regularly, that you will start feeling more at home in your new town of residence.
If you feel like more inspiration, you are in luck! Because we have created the e-book While in Brussels exclusively for Expat Club’s audience as a way to re-discover their (new) city of residence. Through 7 themes, each with 7 specific locations we give you some great ideas to explore Brussels on your own. Also for those who have been living here already for a decade or longer, we are sure you will enjoy seeing these new places. All you need to do is fill out the below form, and we will make sure you will be reading this e-book within a minute.