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Up my street: The Bulletin's neighbourhood guide to Saint-Gilles

09:04 30/10/2018

From the seedier areas round Midi station to the elegant townhouses in the streets surrounding the beautiful town hall, hilly Saint-Gilles is a diverse, popular commune with a bohemian vibe. We asked readers of The Bulletin to tell us what it’s like to live there, and what they would change.

“Saint-Gilles has always attracted the innovative and unconventional. With the diversity in the quartiers it’s hard not to find one where you wouldn’t feel at home or enjoy as a regular hangout,” says Franklin Mamo from Malta. “There are practical advantages, like being close to the centre and being very well-served by public transport, including international train travel via Midi. Being so close to the city centre has advantages but that also means an inordinate amount of traffic.”

After three years, Greek expat George Charonis is a big fan. “It combines everything! Great location, bars, parks, food, and of course people,” he says. “There’s a great choice of bars and restaurants and lots of places to discover; the Parvis and parks are just amazing in summer, and the town hall and the streets just around it are very nice. I’d like to see garbage collection bins rather than having to leave it on the street, but that’s a Brussels-wide problem. And the traffic at Barrière still bemuses me.”

Irish expat Siobhán Caughey also reckons Saint-Gilles has everything: “From Gare du Midi to good shops and restaurants, as well as nice residential areas, green spaces and good public transport links. I love being central to everything.” What would she change about it? “Residential streets need lower speed limits and traffic calming measures, and the trams need more dedicated tram lines so they don’t get stuck in traffic.”  

Belgo-Kiwi Adam Vink has lived here for eight years and appreciates it for its bars, architecture and “scene”. However, “parking is a sham – why do we pay the same as other Brussels residents but have the right to park in such a small part of the city? There is lots of rubbish, way too many cars and bad drivers, terrible footpaths and not enough pedestrian zones. And Midi is among the worst major stations in Europe in terms of its environment.”

“It’s lively but away from the hustle and bustle of the centre,” says Andy Furniere from West Flanders. “It’s diverse, full of beautiful places to discover and places to eat and drink in a relaxed way. There are classy residential places but also more down-to-earth spots. But like everywhere in Brussels, there’s a lack of proper bicycle infrastructure.”

“Saint-Gilles is lively, filled with people from all over the world, yet it feels like a homely village. There’s any kind of entertainment at your fingertips,” according to one expat from Russia. “It’s a two-sided neighbourhood,” according to their Belgian neighbour: one side of young local hipsters with cute restaurants, one side that’s cosmopolitan and multinational. I like the ambiance, little restaurants, quiet streets, hidden parks… but there are some not-so-safe streets as well.”

“It’s urban, mixed, the inhabitants are diverse in origin and income,” says one Belgian resident. “It’s affordable yet really central, with lots of bars. Though it can be loud in terms of drunks sometimes and cars.” An anonymous reader described it as “the Brooklyn of Brussels: it’s vibrant, young and affordable, with a great selection of interesting new specialist stores and restaurants. But there are also many homeless people, beggars, some littering and drunkenness in the parks.” 

Favourite spots

The Parvis on a summer evening • Bar du MatinLe Verschueren for a beer, Dillens for some quick food, Ci Piace for cocktails, Boule d’Or for Belgian dishes and La Buvette for fine dining • Café Maison du PeupleHorta Museum • Monday evening market at Place Van Meenen and Thursday evening market on the Parvis • Parc Pierre Paulus • La Belladone Art Nouveau bar • Little Miss Bagel bakery • The town hall • Cafe des Spores • Restaurant Le 203Chouconut patisserie • Bottega della PizzaHoly Smoke Texan barbecue restaurant • Malt Attacks beer shop • Dynamo beer bar • Porte de Hal museumMoeder Lambic beer cafe • Rubis wine bar

Positives

  • Alternative and relaxed
  • Cosy village atmosphere with friendly people       
  • Art Nouveau & Art Deco architecture
  • “Pseudo-Parisian hipster vibe”           
  • Lots of nice shops and small restaurants that are sometimes a bit hidden
  • Bar culture            
  • Multicultural and diverse    
  • Property still affordable in places       
  • Administrative tasks can increasingly be done online
  • Town hall generally easy to deal with

Negatives

  • Not many good supermarkets
  • Dirty with lots of rubbish in the streets
  • Too many cars, inconsiderate drivers
  • Bad footpaths, not enough pedestrian zones
  • Area around Midi station is ugly and unwelcoming
  • Doesn’t feel 100% safe
  • Many people living on the streets
  • Very densely populated
Written by Sally Tipper