Brussels Neighborhoods & Towns
Brussels is divided into 19 communes: The first of which is located in the heart of the city within the Petite Ceinture/Kleine Ring (Inner Ring), an avenue that traces the line of the old city walls. Other communes surrounding the Petite Ceinture are easily accessible from the center city by public transportation. Note that many of the other neighborhoods outside of the Petite Ceinture, aside from the Schuman and Ixelles districts, are primarily residential.
Accessible via De Brouckère subway station.
Basse Ville (Lower Town) stands on the site of Brussels' original settlement, which dates back to the 10th century. Surrounded by the Petite Ceinture, the Lower Town is the core of historic Brussels, featuring some of the city's most beloved landmarks. At the heart of Lower Town is the Grand-Place, one of Europe's most ornate and theatrical squares. Surrounding the square are numerous popular attractions, including the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral (Cathédrale St-Michel et Ste-Gudule), a towering gothic church that dates back to the 13th century. The Rue de l'Etuve, a street branching off of the southwest corner of the Grand-Place, leads directly to the Manneken Pis, Brussels' most popular monument.
Accessible via Trone, Porte de Namur/Naamsepoort and Louise subway stations.
Upper Town, Haute Ville, is also contained within the Petite Ceinture, lying just east of the Grand-Place. The former royal residence, Palais Royal, sits along the southern edge of the large Parc de Bruxelles, once a game park for the royal family that now features intricately-designed gardens and plenty of paths for strolling or jogging. This area is also home to the city's Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium) and the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR). Sitting southwest is the Place Louise, arguably the most fashionable part of the city with its exclusive designer shops and trendy boutiques littered along Avenue Louise.
Accessible via Schuman subway station.
Sitting outside the eastern section of the Petite Ceinture is the Schuman district, home to the European Union (EU). The towering steel and glass EU Institutions, including the European Union Parliament and the European Council of Ministers, surround Place Schuman. Many of the institutions are open to the public and offer guided audio tours. This district caters mainly to business travelers, boasting numerous top-notch hotels and Michelin-rated restaurants. This district also features several notable museums, including the Royal Museum of the Army and Military History, which sits in the expansive Parc du Cinquantenaire, and the nearby Museum des Sciences Naturelles.
Accessible via Trams 23, 24, 25 and 94.
The Ixelles commune lies south of Schuman along the southern rim of the Petite Ceinture. Its main street, Avenue Louise, leads south to the Bois de la Cambre and Foret de Soignes, a large forest in the southern edge of the city. Experts say that this neighborhood is popular amongst nature lovers because of the Etangs d'Ixelles (Ixelles Ponds), which are lined with elegant weeping willow trees and home to numerous species of waterfowl. However, Ixelles also draws those in search of fine dining and haute couture. The streets closest to the Petite Ceintureare filled with trendy boutiques, upscale restaurants and business-class hotels.
Accessible via Heysel subway station.
Because they are primarily residential, Brussels' northern suburbs are often ignored by visitors. However, Heysel features several interesting kid-friendly attractions. The most popular site in this area is the Atomium, a building shaped like an iron molecule that features numerous exhibition spaces showcasing everything from artistic masterpieces to scientific research. Resting nearby the Atomium is Mini-Europe, a five-acre park featuring more than 300 models of famous landmarks like London's Big Ben or Paris' Eiffel Tower. Neighboring Mini-Europe is Océade, a water park featuring slides, a wave pool and Jacuzzis.
Brussels is relatively safe, but you should watch out for pickpockets, who are known for being pretty aggressive. Wikitravel says: "Pickpockets, sometimes in teams, operate in crowded tourist areas, and the train and metro stations (particularly at night) as well as parks (even at daytime) attract drug addicts and other shady types. Travellers should be particularly alert for distractions such as being asked for the time or directions and having attention diverted from their hand or shopping bag."
You should also be particularly mindful of your surroundings in the Parc de Bruxelles; and some outer lying suburbs, such as Schaarbeek, Brussels North, Brussels Center, Molenbeek and Anderlecht, should be avoided.