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Why Go to Brussels

Brussels has been the de facto capital of the European Community (and now European Union) for decades, and for a good reason. The city’s gothic- and baroque-style squares, set between medieval streets, are the playgrounds of international politicians and adventurous tourists alike. Authentic Belgian fare offers full three-course meals, and daily doses of chocolate and beer are worth every cent. Brussels is cosmopolitan in ways other cities are not — it's truly multilingual (French and Dutch) and almost a third of its residents aren't Belgian. The multicultural influences have led to an explosion of museums, marketplaces, restaurants and boutiques that make it far more than just a sleepy alternative.

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Brussels Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit Brussels is between March and May and September and October, the shoulder seasons; this is when room rates are cheaper and fewer crowds clog the top attractions. This city also experiences all four seasons, and rain is a possibility year-round. Average highs range from about 40 degrees in winter to 70 degrees in summer.

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What You Need to Know

  • Brussels is a melting pot Dutch, French and English are all spoken in the city where a third of residents aren't even Belgian. 
  • Ditch the handshake Handshakes are common greetings in the states, but not in Belgium. When meeting new people, Belgians are similar to the French in that they give two kisses, one on each cheek, to say hello.
  • Eat, drink and be merry Belgians pride themselves on their country's cuisine. Just as you wouldn't go to Italy without eating pasta and gelato, you shouldn't visit Brussels without splurging on beer, waffles and chocolate. Frites, or what we know as French fries, are also a popular snack. 

How to Save Money in Brussels

  • Buy a Brussels Card Available in 24-, 48- and 72-hour versions, this card will get you free entry to 30 museums as well as discounts at shops, bars, restaurants, select tourist attractions and tours.
  • Stay away from Grand-Place dining Although the famous plaza affords great views and traditional Belgian fare, locals say the plaza, and the restaurants surrounding it, is a tourist trap. Instead, they recommend taking a walk to the nearby Boulevard Anspach for better food at a lower price.
  • Order from the Prix Fixe Three-course Belgian dining can get expensive, so stick to the fixed price menus instead. Your wallet and stomach will thank you.

Culture & Customs

The official currency in Brussels is the Euro (EUR). Since the Euro to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates often, be sure to check what the current exchange rate is before you go. Major credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and shops.

When dining out in Brussels, it's considered polite to keep both hands (not elbows) above the table while eating. It is also polite to finish all the food on your plate; if you find yourself too full to finish, indicate that you have finished eating by placing both your knife and fork on your plate with the handles facing outward. Unless you are eating Belgium's beloved dish, moules-frites (steamed mussels with fries), it's not proper to eat with your hands. Gratuity is normally included in the bill, but you should feel free to round up the total or leave a few extra euros for exceptional service.

What to Eat

Brussels offers an abundance of Michelin-rated restaurants, serving meals inspired by both French and Dutch cuisine. And a trip to Brussels is not complete without steamed mussels and a side of fries (moules-frites). If you're not hungry enough for a full meal, grab yourself a snack (such as a paper cone of extra-crispy frites served with a mayonnaise-based dipping sauce) from one of the city's many streetside snack shops.

Restaurants can be found in clusters around tourist areas like Grand-Place and Schuman. Unfortunately, meal prices are generally high. To save money, order off the prix-fixe menus, which offer choices for two or three courses for a set price, or walk to Boulevard Anspach for affordable Belgian cuisine.

If there are two things for which Belgium is known for, it's chocolate and beer. Brussels was once home to the famous Côte d'Or chocolate factory. Although the factory closed in the 1970s, You can learn about the production of chocolate at the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, where you can also pick up a few samples to savor. Brussels is also famous for its mouth-watering waffles.

If you're not one to indulge your sweet tooth, succumb to your love of hops instead. Belgium is home to approximately 600 different types of beer, most of which you can find at the city's many cafés and pubs. Travelers say a great way to experience a good number of Belgian brews is to tag along on a Belgium Beer Tour. For those looking to grab some Belgian beer, or any beer really, head over to Delirium Cafe, which has more than 3,000 beers to choose from. Delirium Cafe is less than a mile north of the Grand-Place. Visitors can also find an abundance of waffle places near and around Grand-Place.

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Safety

Brussels is relatively safe, but you should watch out for pickpockets, who are known for being pretty aggressive. Oftentimes, these pickpockets work in groups in crowded tourist areas, and train and metro stations. Stay alert at all times and keep your hand on your bag. Don't go to any parks at night and be wary of your surroundings during the day as well. 

You should also be particularly mindful in the Parc de Bruxelles, and some outer lying suburbs, such as Schaarbeek, Brussels North, Brussels Center, Molenbeek and Anderlecht, should be avoided.

Getting Around Brussels

The best way to get around Brussels is on its extensive public transit system, the Brussels Intercommunal Transport Company (often referred to by its French acronym STIB). There is a special bus line, the Airport Line, that provides an express service from the Brussels Airport (BRU) to the European District, which is about 2 miles east of the city center. 

Metro trains, trams (streetcars) and buses stop at or near the three major train stations, all of which handle international high-speed rail traffic: Gare Centrale, located in the heart of the city; Gare du Midi, which sits southwest of the city center; and Gare du Nord, just north of the city center.

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Entry & Exit Requirements

A valid passport is required for citizens of the United States to travel to Belgium. U.S. citizens can stay for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. At customs, you'll have to present a return airline ticket, as well as a passport that is valid for at least three months after the date of return. If you're planning to stay in Belgium for more than 90 days, you'll have to obtain the proper visa before leaving the U.S. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State's website .

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