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Up my street: The Bulletin's neighbourhood guide to Laeken

21:47 06/10/2018

Until 1921, Laeken in the north was its own municipality, but for almost the past 100 years it’s been part of the City of Brussels. Its most famous landmarks include the Atomium, built for the Worlds Fair of 1958, and the royal greenhouses with their spectacular floral displays. It’s a popular, laid-back neighbourhood, stretching from the Flemish border on its northern edge to Tour & Taxis on the canal, and taking in the city’s largest, stateliest parks. We asked Bulletin readers to tell us what it’s like to live there.

“It’s underestimated in many aspects, but mostly for its geographical situation with regards to the city centre,” says German expat Patricia. “No, it’s not ‘so far away’: from Tour & Taxis it’s just 20 minutes’ walk to Sainte-Catherine, and the other parts of Laeken have all means of transport to get to the city centre in an average of 15 minutes. With the train it’s even faster.” She appreciates Laeken for its many parks, its monuments, its historical significance and the fact of being ‘neighbours’ of the royal family. “But while shops and cafes have developed in other areas of Brussels, they have been cruelly neglected in this part of the city,” she adds, “despite the fact that we have some of the main attractions of Brussels in our neighbourhood.”

“From the canal to the parks, from Tour & Taxis to the Atomium, the more you know Laeken, the more you love it,” says one resident from Belgium. “There are amazing parks, nice architecture and a great dynamic social life. It used to be little known but is now in the spotlight more thanks to major development projects such as the Docks Bruxsel and Neo shopping centres. There’s a fast train connection to Schuman from Bockstael (10 minutes), but train frequency could be better.”

While Laeken has its own town hall, which offers certain administrative services, for many procedures it’s necessary to visit the town hall in the centre of Brussels. “Getting anything done at the ‘antenne’ town hall at Bockstael is a nightmare,” one resident told us (though others reported more positive experiences). “Fortunately, there is another one at Neder-over-Heembeek which is much more efficient. And the central place on Boulevard Anspach is much better than it used to be.”

After four years in the area, one British resident is a big fan. “It’s relaxed, accessible for almost everywhere and it’s really easy to live there,” he told The Bulletin. “A bit dull if you’re young and wild, maybe, but great if you’re older or you’ve got kids. You’ve got all the major amenities within easy reach, really good shops, great public transport links to the city centre, great big parks and great creches. And it’s very relaxed (outside of the school rush hour). Housing is better value than a lot of Brussels areas as well. Apparently, someone thought it was a good idea to stick loads of schools in one area and have them all start and finish at the same time; I wouldn’t mind them tackling that. And there are some really good places to eat, but a decent bar or cafe or two wouldn’t go amiss.”

“I love Laeken because it’s part of the big city but a little bit separate, with its own identity, and with a developing active community of citizens,” says Thomas from Ghent, who’s lived here for five years. “But it is suffering for not receiving the attention needed from 1000 Brussels, its parent. There seems to be no vision, no plan.”  

Favourite spots

AtomiumRoyal greenhousesCemeteryParckfarm urban collective farm • Tour & Taxis • Jardin du Fleuriste de Stuyvenberg • Maison de la Création, a cultural centre hosting workshops and shows • Chinese Pavilion & Japanese TowerDocks shopping centre • Cite ModèleBrasserie du Heysel • Belvédère castle • Royal crypt • Sobieski Park • La Perle, a cafe on Rue Léopold with a back-to-the-80s atmosphere • Ossegem Park • Auguste Rodin’s original bronze statue The Thinker at the cemetery • French and Italian restaurant Il RifugioBrasserie de l’Expo • Green Theatre • Brosella folk and jazz festival in summer • Delizia restaurant near Houba-Brugmann

Positives

  • Very green with lots of nice parks
  • Good access to shops, cinema and restaurants
  • Good transport links – metro, train, tram and bus – to most areas of the city
  • Combines grandeur, simplicity, history, multiculturalism and open space
  • Diverse in all aspects: multicultural, rich and poor, old and young, old ‘chic’ and hipsters
  • Growing number of collaborative, inhabitant-occupied gardens

Negatives

  • Streets can be dirty
  • Drivers often go too fast
  • Some poor, run-down neighbourhoods
  • Not very exciting
  • Lack of cycling infrastructure
  • Noise from the airport, especially at weekends
  • No cosy or cool cafes like in livelier areas such as Saint-Gilles
  • Many administrative tasks require a trip to Boulevard Anspach in city centre
Written by Sally Tipper