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Up my street: The Bulletin's neighbourhood guide to Brussels-City

20:45 14/12/2018

Cosmopolitan, chaotic, vibrant and gritty: Brussels City is a place people love to hate. We asked readers of The Bulletin to tell us what they think about living downtown.

“It’s multicultural with a nice cultural agenda, good bars and environment,” says a resident from Spain who’s lived here for four years. “But I’d like to see better bureaucracy, cleaner streets, more accessibility for people with disabilities and more space for pedestrians.” “It’s frustrating and exciting in equal measure,” adds a resident of 30 years, while a Croatian neighbour says it “takes a long time to love”. A Polish resident describes it as “lively and full of character. Every little street has something to offer. Shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, cinemas, galleries and more.”

One Spanish resident has lived in the city centre for nine years. “It’s a very interesting experience culture-wise,” they told us, “but very disappointing when it comes to services (very dirty streets, garbage everywhere, absence of bike lanes...). People who cycle every day put their lives at risk whenever they go on their bike.”

For one resident from Romania, one word is enough to describe how they feel about this part of town: home. “Noise is a problem sometimes. It’s not so much about reducing the noise (noise is life, and I like that), but about better insulating buildings.” “Sometimes it’s nice, sometimes not,” a reader from Poland says. “People seem not to be very attached to it, and it’s almost dead and empty during weekends.” A British/Finnish resident told us: “It takes a while to get used to, but it’s become a home that I love. I find Brussels a bit of a rough diamond: there’s so much beauty, but it’s hidden under a decent amount of dirt.”

“It grows on you... eventually,” says one resident from India. “I’d like to see more civic pride displayed by residents. No more dog poo on pavements, people driving like maniacs in residential zones, not stopping for pedestrians…” According to a resident from the UK who previously lived in Paris, “It’s vibrant, chaotic and scruffy. The pedestrian zone is great, but its development is being executed rather haphazardly and creating a lot of disruption and ugliness in the short term. The main thoroughfare from Rogier down to Midi is potentially a handsome avenue, but at present, it looks run-down and unimpressive for the centre of a capital city. It would be hugely expensive, but it would be nice to uncover the old river running through the centre, so the city had a river at its heart.”

“It’s perfectly situated: I can bike to everything I want and still live in a house with a small garden and roof terrace, at very low cost compared to my city of origin, Stockholm,” a Swedish resident said in response to our survey. “There are too many traffic jams (I bike past them, but the air pollution worries me).”

According to a Belgian resident, it’s “cosmopolitan yet provincial, vibrant yet hidden, low-profile yet international”. “It’s crowded, but that’s the thing I love: there’s always something happening and it’s rarely quiet,” another reader told us. A resident from Ukraine who’s been here almost two years finds it a comfortable place to live. “The Ambiorix area is clean and calm, and Sainte-Catherine is cosy, if a bit of a mess. I like the fact there are many diverse events, from official ones to little underground festivals.”

A recurring complaint is the service at the town hall, described variously as “a vortex of negative energy”, “disorganised and disrespectful”, “the most ridiculous organisation I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with”, “inefficient, lazy, too crowded”, “mostly friendly but everything takes ages”, “simply awful” and “just very, very, very slow”. A few readers defended it, however, saying things have improved with the introduction of an online appointment system.

Favourite places for food & drink

Le CoqBar des AmisGoupil le FolMonkMer du NordYi ChanLe Comptoir de TomBonnefooiCafe FontainasCafe CharbonAksumLa Pharmacie AnglaiseJatLoftCafe du SablonFabrique en VilleBia MaraPeck 47Le Seventy FiveLa Porte NoireChicago CaféAu SuisseCentro CabraliegoMoeder LambicChaffRoskamCOCO DonutsPampas RodizioAu SoleilWalvisViaviaDame JeanneMadame Moustache Cafe VelvetBij den BoerHarvestMerloBarbetonDen HenriLittle AsiaSamourai • Le CorrègeHemisphereScott’sBizonCowfish

Favourite places to visit

Bozar • Place Sainte-Catherine • the canal • Mont des Arts • Palais de Justice • Muntpunt • Royal Park • Roots and Färm organic stores • Cinquantenaire Park • Shopping on Rue Dansaert • Theatres KVS, Beursschouwburg and Kaaitheater • Galeries Royales • Rue de Flandre • Gay quarter • Place du Jeu de Balle flea market • Grand Place • Sablon • Place Saint-Géry • Korean Cultural CenterMusical Instruments Museum • Galerie Bortier • Rue de la Cigogne • Béguinage • La Tentation


  • Vibrant, full of life, events and people  
  • Cosmopolitan, friendly and multicultural      
  • Good public transport
  • Lots of bars, cafes, restaurants and shops 


  • Fly tipping and rubbish in the streets
  • Noisy and polluted
  • Lots of traffic and lack of parking places
  • Crowded with tourists
  • Lots of roadworks and construction  
  • Town hall difficult to deal with
Written by Sally Tipper


"“but very disappointing when it comes to services (very dirty streets, garbage everywhere, absence of bike lanes...). People who cycle every day put their lives at risk whenever they go on their bike.”"
I live downtown and I use my bike as main transportation:
1) the garbage men and women work hard and continuously. The fault is not with them, it's with the citizens who insist on littering. Regardless, there is NOT garbage everywhere.
2) The number of bike lanes keeps increasing every year and i don't have any feeling that I "put my life at risk" every day.

Dec 15, 2018 11:20

Some people try to romanticize the city centre instead of calling it for what it is - a dump! Yes there are several quaint corners and streets, pretty cafes and bars and cute shops here and there but the general maintenance of the whole place is shambolic. General levels of filth, badly kept buildings, badly lit streets and any attempt to upgrade the place is immediately lost the most dodgy figures start loitering the place and littering the whole area. Not not to mention the depressing stations starting from De Brouckere where lawlessness reigns supreme

Dec 19, 2018 19:30
john adams

I have been living in the city centre for over three and a half years now.
When I first arrived Brussels did seem dirty and unkempt but about three years ago a transformation started.
The central area is looking cleaner and there has been a long overdue finishing of the pedestrian street. Having lived in London all of my life and experienced living in New York I would say drivers here are far more polite than their counterparts in either of those two cities.
I'm lucky enough to live in a beautiful square with a beutiful church and water feature. The only real problem is that after it's been busy over a weekend there is usually a lot of mess made by revellers and drunks which compared to other cities is about the same....people just never appreciate the beauty of a place especially if they're drunk. The street cleaners do render this area really clean and I love living here. It's afforded me the chance to experience a different European culture and learn a new language. The people are generally friendly.
If you come from a small town almost anywhere in Europe or the USA it will seem dirty, crowded and polluted but any capital city lives with those negatives.
The real positive is, for a city so well connected on a pan-European level it's so cheap to put a roof over your head. About a fifth of the price of London both to buy and rent.
The biggest problem is dealing with commune, slow, overly beurocratic and often rude.
Every Capital is dysfuctional in some way or other, living here or any other major city just involves recognising the dysfunctionality, deqling with it and enjoying the life enricing experiences all cities bring to those who live in them.
Living in Brussels has been a positive experience for me so far.

Jan 18, 2020 00:19