Life in Brussels : pros & cons


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Brussels has many attractive points as well as some disadvantages as a place to live. Here is my review compared to a few major developed cities in the world.

Brussels Capital Region

First of all, a good reason to live in Brussels is because it is the capital or headquarters of so many things. It is the capital of the European Union, of Belgium, of the state of Flanders... It is the headquarters of NATO, and of most big Belgian companies, as well as some major international companies, such as Toyota, Honda and Subaru Europe.

Salaries vs taxes

All this have contributed to make of Brussels the city with the second highest salaries in Europe, after central London. The drawback is high taxes on these high salaries. Belgium now has the highest income tax in Europe. This tax-money is reinvested in the education system, social security (including an overly generous dole), and health care. If you have a good job, no children and are in perfect health, this may not be the most attractive package for you, though.

Central position

Being at the heart of Western Europe almost makes of Brussels a convenient base for a company or business people often on the move. Thanks to the Thalys, Eurostar and ICE bullet-trains, Brussels is only 40min from Lille, 1h20min from Paris, 2h30min from London, 2h15min from Cologne, 3h30min from Frankfurt-am-Main. By regular train it is 2h30min from Luxembourg and 2h45min from Amsterdam.

Click here to see the TGV network from Belgium

Houses & Architecture

Brussels is a city of contrasts, lacking homogeneity. Beyond the small 17th and 18th-century touristic centre, the city is a mixture of Paris-like 19th-century white-painted or beige stone buildings, as well as early 20th-century Art Nouveau and Art Deco houses.

The newer suburbs (further from the centre and main roads), like Woluwe-St-Lambert, Auderghem or Watermael, are mainly in Belgian Art Deco (not colourfully painted as its American counterpart), a style that I personally despise.

Art Nouveau houses, common in Saint-Gilles and Uccle, can be very beautiful (e.g. Horta's house), but are more often on the weird side, mixing different colours of bricks for a less than satisfying result.

Fortunately, quite a few neighbourhoods (parts of central Brussels, Etterbeek, Ixelles and Saint-Gilles) are endowed with magnificient 19th-century architecture, such as these ones :


The richest and nicest neighbourhoods are concentrated along the greenery of the Forest of Soignes to the East and South, and in no less green embassy districts such as Tervuren Avenue (in Etterbeek and Woluwe-St-Pierre) or Roosevelt Avenue (along the Bois de la Cambre).

Poor immigrant neighbourhood make most of the West, North and North-East of the Brussels Region. These areas are best avoided, even for shopping or strolling.

Choosing one's neighbourhood will be one of the hardest thing to do if you move to Brussels. Choosing the quiteness, safety and cosiness of residential suburbs will be to the detriment of convenience and proximity to the centre.

Public transports & cars

The bus and tramway network is quite extensive, with fairly good buses and tramways (although not really reliable for timetables). However, the metro of Brussels is probably the worst in every regard out of about 20 metros that I have taken in Europe and Asia. It is ugly, dirty, badly lit, it stinks, and exits are not well indicated (most don't even have numbers). It doesn't even have the quaint charm of old metros like Budapest, Paris or London, as it was built in the 1970's, as brown and bright orange decoration remind us.

I only use Brussel's metro because it is still the fastest way to move around, given the traffic jams or numerous traffic lights on the road. Line 2, going around the historic centre, is particularily shabby. The irony is that the nicest stations are the furthest away from the centre, and sometimes in the poorest area of the city, because they are the newest.

It is no wonder, given the little attractiveness of the metro, that about 75% of the commuters prefer the comfort of their car, and only 5% use the bus, tram or metro. The city consequently has serious traffic problems during the rush hours - a problem that the Belgian government is now trying to tackle. Between 4pm and 6pm, it can take over 2 hours to reach the motorway from the centre, less than 10km away.

One of the problems in Brussels, compared to London or Tokyo, is that if you live in a nice residential neighbourhood, you will absolutely need a car, as they are always far-away from the metro (for obvious reasons), and usually not too near from bus and tramway lines either. Residential districts also lack all kind of shops or conveniences, which makes the car all the more necessary. If you don't have children or do not need a big garden, living closer to the centre is fine, as far as public transports are concerned.

Restaurants & Supermarkets

One of the strongest point of Brussels is its food scene. Restaurants are usually excellent, whatever the range of price or type of cuisine. Belgian, French, Italian and Thai cuisines are probably the best to sample in the city.

Supermarkets in Belgium are mainly Belgian (Delhaize, Colruyt), French (Carrefour, Intermarche, Champion, Match) and German (Aldi, Lidl). My favourites are the two remaining Belgian chains : Delhaize has the best quality and the most varied and original products, while and Colruyt is cheaper than others at equal brand, and has an efficient cashier system. They are also the only two to provide a home-delivery service.

Parks and Greenery

Brussels does not lack greenery, and its parks and usually beautiful and well-tended.

Downtown, the Park of Brussels (pictured below) has a particular charm as it is encompassed by the Royal Palace, Parliament and other elegant 18th-century buildings. The park in itself has lots of broad paths with classical statues and fountains.


In the same style, the Jubilee Park, between the EU district and Etterbeek, enjoys the view of the world's biggest arch of triumph, as well as some of the country's biggest museums .

The Botanic Garden (pictured below) separates the business district from the dodgy neihbourhoods of Saint-Josse and Schaerbeek, but is nevertheless the most beautiful of all as far as flora diversity and landscaping is concerned. The garden is built on hilly grounds and has an upper and lower part, divided by a road.


The Park of Laeken, between the Atomium and the Royal Castle of Laeken, enjoys an advantageous location thanks to its famous neighbours. Its royal status also granted it a refined appearance. Unfortunately, it has become the playground of the not-so-well-mannered immigrants of Northern Brussels.

The Bois de la Cambre (pictured below) is the largest park in the capital, and also one of its most pleasant. It is connected to the Forest of Soignes, which allows for longer hikes, or even horse riding, on sunny days.

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Great synopsis

You forgot to mention that delectible Belgian chocolates in cozy little chocolateries are easily found in Brussels.

Maciamo has done an impeccable analysis. It's hard to add to a receipe that already works, but I will just say a couple of things. Life in Brussels is unique for all and one. I think eveyrone has a different experience in this city. This is a city that runs parallel life spheres ( separate enclaves of people) living at the same time at the same place but hardly converging. The fact that it's a town with a 1/3 foreign population adds greatly to this fact. Rarely do lines cross between these enclaves. Furthermore there is a very strange and unique atmosphere in this town. At night for example when you are driving in the empty streets it's hard to recongize the same town that it is by day, this is not very true in many other cities. I think Brussels is a very reflective and introspective city. It caused one to look a lot inwards and is a perfect town for studyin/working because the weather limits outside activities a lot. You develop a real sense of the home in Brussels because u spend a big part of time in it, even when you dont want to. Fact is that sometimes the weather and atmospheric conditions cause you to remain inwards. If your are looking for the adventures of your lifetime, the experiences of one and only, Brussels is not the town for you. This is a town made of ordinary things but is filled with unique perceptions and changes, sometimes something very small can change your life style, social circle or enclave in the blink of an eye. There are a lot of hidden things to discover in Brussels; after many years here i'm still discovering new things i never knew about. It's a town made of small hidden points and for each discovering and finding these little truths within the town is a different journey.
I realised that one another drawback of living in Brussels (or most of Belgium), is that the tap water is so calcareous, so there are calcium deposits on the kitchen sink, shower, inside the washing machine, etc. If we don't use anti-calcium sprays it always looks dirty. Even with that we have to clean almost everyday to keep sinks, taps and mixing valves shiny. :eek:kashii:
Choosing one's neighbourhood will be one of the hardest thing to do if you move to Brussels. Choosing the quiteness, safety and cosiness of residential suburbs will be to the detriment of convenience and proximity to the centre.
I have lived and worked in Brussels for a good few years in the nineties, but I was lucky enough to live in Sint Peeters Leeuw, just outside the city, a very quiet, clean and almost rural town on the edge of the infamous ring. Over the years, I worked in Evere, Uccle and in the historic center. One conclusion: I will never live there. From what I gather in the papers since I live abroad, the situation is getting worse by the day, with a recent communication from the US embassy to their citizens: avoid the metro stations in Brussels, just too dangerous. Now, get me right, these Yankees are paranoid, but the recent wave of stabbings, robbing and delinquency in and around the stations gives them reasons to think caution is surely the best way to avoid trouble. Lack of security, gang violence and general laxity contribute to a very unhealthy atmosphere in the city centre after office hours. The best way to have a balanced life in Brussels is to commute to the posher areas where the cops still do their jobs. Sadly, most of these still affordable areas are flemish, and non bilingual French-speakers are there confronted to another kind of problem...
On another hand, Brussels has a thriving cultural life and is a gem that needs to be thoroughly visited to discover her hidden treasures. The proximity of Antwerp, Ghent, Liège and the neighbouring countries makes her in my eyes even more attractive.

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