today’s city guide comes to us from artist christina vantzou. christina is based in brussels, so today she’ll be taking us through her hometown of the last 5 years- focusing on great shops, landmarks and places to grab a bite to eat (or a great cup of coffee). christina’s guide is a detailed look at a truly beautiful european city, so if you’re lucky enough to be traveling to brussels soon, i hope her guide will help you navigate some of the best spots in town. thanks so much to christina for her hard work on the guide- click here to check out her newly renovated online screenprint shop, and here to check out her collaborative print with hammerpress.
CLICK HERE for christina’s guide to brussels after the jump!
Brussels is the capitol of Belgium, the official capitol of Europe, and has been my home for just over five years. Brussels is located a few hours from Paris, London, and Amsterdam by train, is over 1000 years old, and is highly supportive of the arts and design. The city is made up of several quartiers, or quarters, however this guide will focus on two of my favorites for shopping: The cobbled-stoned City Center and neighboring Ixelles.
Brussels has a compact center so just about everything in this guide is accessible on foot. Heading towards Ixelles gets a bit hilly, however, so there are also metros, trams, and buses for getting around town. Cyclocity is Brussels’ city bike initiative and offers dirt cheap rentals hourly or daily.
There is a museum for just about everything in Brussels and many offer free admittance on the first Wednesday of each month. The Agenda, a free weekly magazine with listings in English, is a great resource for current exhibitions.
Royal Museum of Fine Arts: 3, Rue de la Régence
The Royal Museum houses an impressive collection of paintings, drawings, and sculpture in a beautiful and spacious building. Their permanent collection includes the likes of Jan and Pieter Bruegel, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Reubens, & Hieronymus Bosch, plus a whole room is dedicated to 20th century Belgian Surrealist painter, René Magritte. A visit to Bosch’s Triptych of the Temptation of St. Anthony is hightly recommended.
Cinematek: (Film Museum) 9, Rue Baron Horta
This is a national treasure. With one of the biggest film archives in the world, the Cinematek is more than just a film museum. They screen several films daily, usually surrounding a theme or director, and you are guaranteed at least one silent film projection each day with live piano accompaniment…and tickets are only 3 euros!
Victor Horta house: 25, Rue Américaine
This is the former home of Belgium’s leading Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta. Built for himself in the late 1890’s, his home is a testament to the beauty of the Art Nouveau concept of design.
The Wiertz Museum: 62, Rue Vautier
The underrated Belgian painter, Antoine Wiertz, has his very own museum in an old mansion that used to be his studio. A relatively small Museum, it’s ceilings are just high enough to display his super-sized canvases and entry is free to the public.
Palais des Beaux-Arts: 23, Rue Ravenstein
Designed by Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta, the Palais des Beaux-Arts or Bozar as it is commonly known, functions as a museum & concert venue with several concert halls. Bozar’s calendar of events includes rotating exhibitions, live performances and films, so there is always something interesting on view. Their newly renovated museum shop is my favorite contemporary art and design book shop in the city…and it’s open until 11 pm!
Musical instrument Museum: 2, Rue Montagne de la Coeur
Another Victor Horta building, this museum is easy to spot with its shiny gold letters that say OLD ENGLAND across the dark steel facade. Taking the wrought-iron lift to the sixth floor café is free of charge and the café’s terrace offers one of the best views of the center.
Galleries and Contemporary Art
Brussels has several contemporary art galleries and one of my favorites in the city center is Aliceday. Here I discovered the lovely painter, Blaise Drummond.
Every year in April Brussels also has a contemporary art fair called Art Brussels. It’s an overview of local galleries, well established galleries from around the world, plus a sprinkling of emerging talent and young galleries.
City Center Shopping
Right in the heart of Brussels city center lies the beautiful Grand Place. The 15th century tower, Hotel de Ville, stretches high into the sky and is a good landmark to get your bearings. Just a couple minutes away on foot is Rue Antoine Dansaert full of fashionable boutiques, cafés and restaurants. Here you will find clothing shops like Comptoirs des Cottoniers, Filippa K, and Rue Blanche. Also in the Dansaert area are Rue Van Artevelde and Rue des Chartreux with several independent designer boutiques.
While in the center it’s worth taking a walk through the Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert, a 19th century shopping arcade under a handsome glass roof filled with attractive boutiques, chocolatiers, cafés, and even a cinema. And no design guide would be complete without mention of the Grand Sablon and Marolles District. These neighborhoods will introduce you to some of the best chocolatiers, luxury antiques, and second hand treasures on the continent.
City Center Shopping: Dansaert district
Mouche: 23, rue de Flandre
Friendly and adorable 20th century vintage shop for homewares. You will find a great selection of kitchen items, small end tables, lamps, and more.
Own shop: 5, Place du Jardin aux Fleurs
Clothes, accessories, and shoes for men and women. They carry A.P.C. so this is great place to buy a classy trenchcoat.
Norden: 46, Rue van Artevelde
A boutique specializing in Scandinavian fashion and design. This shop has great style AND they carry mid 20th century Scandanavian furniture.
Alexia Berckmans: 10, Rue van Artevelde
A curiously small and charming space selling eco friendly women’s and children’s clothing. A sister shop right next door, Valérie Berckmans
sells the local designer’s collection of women’s clothing plus I love how you can peep into her adorable workspace downstairs.
Eb(Espace Bizarre): 19, Rue des Chartreux
Spacious, independent contemporary design shop for the home. They have everything from pocket-sized home accessories to shelving, storage, tableware, furniture, wallpaper, and scents for the home.
Brocéliande: 44, Rue des Chartreux
Small boutique selling decorative 20th century antiques. They have a good looking selection of home accessories and are open from Wednesday to Saturday.
Atelier des chefs: 17, Rue des Chartreux
Fine products, books, and utencils for the kitchen.
Gabriele: 27, Rue des Chartreux
Vintage clothing shop with a great selection of pastel-colored slips, evening wear, and high heels.
Nicolas Dehon: 24, Rue des Chartreux
His store front is painted orange plus you can’t miss the window display crowded with children’s toys, books, games, cups and saucers, lamps, knick knacks, women’s boots and sunglasses all from the 1950’s up thru the 80’s. Open Wed – Sat 12:00 – 6 pm.
City Center Shopping: In the vicinity of the Grand Place
Dandoy: 51, Rue du Beurre
Since 1829 this Belgian cookie shop has been baking the best buttery ginger biscuits known to man. They have several locations in the center but I guarentee this flagship store (located a stone’s throw from the Grand Place) will make your heart go pitter-patter. Apparently Charles Baudelaire would agree –he was a regular back in 1860.
Posada: 29, Rue de la Madeline
Three floors of used books dedicated entirely to visual arts and design. Located close to Gare Centrale, this is a place I go for inspiration plus I have bought more than a few design books here for my own library.
Episode: 28, Rue de la Violette
With stores in Amsterdam, London, Antwerp, and Rotterdam, this vintage clothing store means business. Somehow they manage to find a big selection of specific styles for each season. So pea coats galore in the winter and dozens of patterned dresses for summer.
Privejoke: 76/78, Rue Marche au Charbon
This contemporary men’s and women’s boutique carries a variety of soft and stylish clothes from small French, Dutch, and Scandanavian designers. Great selection and reasonably priced.
Plaizier: 50, Rue des Eperonniers
Located right around the corner from the Grand Place, this shop carries books, posters, and postcards featuring classic mid 20th century photography of Brussels’ architecture and interior gems. In my opinion they have the best postcard selection in town so stopping here is a must if you want to drop a line to a loved one.
City Center Shopping: The Grand Sablon
L’atelier en herbe: 36, Grand Sablon
This florist goes above and beyond the call of duty. I love all of the greenery, fresh cut flowers, exotic plant life, and pretty potted plants against the somber hues of the interior.
Flamant: 36, Grand Sablon
This up market home interiors brand updates old style luxury with contemporary comfort and a pleasing color palatte. Like many regional brands, the store comes with its own café/restaurant.
Pierre Marcolini: 1, Rue des Minimes
Simply put, this chocolate shop changed my life. This famous Belgian chocolatier displays his chocolates ever so elegantly and the shop ladies with their little white gloves fill pretty black boxes with whatever you point to. It’s irrisistable.
Comptoir de Famille: 7, place du Grand Sablon
This boutique specializes in the French country house look with an appealing sense of nostalgia.
Côte d’Or: 1, Place du Petit Sablon
I can’t seem to get enough chocolate in my life. This little chocolate workshop/ boutique offers everything under the vast Cote d’Or umbrella. As the official supplier to the Belgian Royal family, If it’s good enough for King Albert and Queen Paola, it’s good enough for me.
More Shopping in the Sablon area:
Papiers d’antan: 19, Rue du Lombard
Their sign indicates the following shop hours: Tues – Fri 1:30 – 6 / Sat 10 – 6. (I find they are also closed for suspicious holidays). Fortunately, the window display alone is well worth the visit. They carry 19th and 20th century memorabilia and collectibles like antique tins in all shapes and sizes, stationary, postcards, booklets, pamphlets, posters, matchbooks and more. Everything in the store has that fading color and aged typography that I find irresistible.
Emery & Cie: 25-29, Rue de l’Hopital
Oh man, if only I could describe this place in words. From the street it looks like a specialty tile store and the tiles are beautiful but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They offer complete home decoration from printed fabric, ceramics, and metal work to their own line of interior house paint. The store itself is a work of art with room after room of home environments in their unique customized look.
Philippe Lange: 2a, Place de la Justice
20th century home furnishings and lighting. It’s a bit pricey but the pieces are impressive and lovingly restored.
White design: 61b , Rue de la Régence
Furniture and lighting – a high concept, very contemporary, and sometimes futuristic home store. The childrens’ furniture is cheerful and colorful.
City Center Shopping: The Marolles District
Place du Jeu-de-Balle, located in heart of the Marolles district, is a historic part of the city center and home to the daily antiques market. Go during the week for the best prices and on weekends for maximum selection.
The streets around Place Jeu-de-Balle are filled with antique dealers and second-hand shops. Here are some highlights:
D+: 83/87, Rue Blaes
20th century design and decorative arts with attractive furnishings, lighting, and well selected decorative pieces.
Stefantiek: 63, Rue Blaes
Antique store full of second hand curiosities.
Passage 125 Blaes: 121-125, Rue Blaes
Bringing together 25 antiques dealers under one roof, they have everything from19h and 20th century table ware, candelabras, chandeliers, and bathroom fixtures, to art, furniture, lighting, fixtures, and a whole room dedicated to the 1970’s.
City Center Eat nibble & sip
If you are like me and a black tea is a your idea of a stiff drink then you will be happy to hear that pretty much any old café/bar you plop yourself down in serves fresh squeezed orange juice, tisanes (herbal tea), and sweet Moroccan fresh mint tea. Plus you always get a piece of chocolate or cookie with your coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. If you like beer, I’m sure you already know Brussels is lager heaven. If it’s spring or summertime, I highly recommend a fresh local white wine called Maitrank, translation: “May drink”. It is seasonal, exclusive to the region, and can only be found in select cafés. Try Au Soleil: 86, Rue du Marché au Charbon
Le Pain Quotidien: 16, Rue Antoine Dansaert
Le Pain Quotidien was started right here in Brussels and I love their rustic interior and big loaves of organic bread in the store front bakery. Their café serves soup, salads, and tartines for lunch and you also can’t go wrong with any of their pastries, a croissant, or breakfast items.
Mer du Nord: 45, Rue Sainte-Cathérine
Right in the Place Sainte Cathérine (look for the big cathedral in the Dansaert shopping district) you can nibble on mussels, oysters, crabcakes, seafood soup, and other tapas-style marine delicacies while sipping champagne. There is something charming about the outside bar service and having a snack in front of the old cathedral.
Café Modèle – 208, Rue Antoine Dansaert
A fashionable new café on the tail end of Rue A. Dansaert serving mouthwatering hot sandwiches, salads, and baguette or bagel sandwiches plus coffee, tea, and a selection of fresh squeezed juices. They also serve a popular Sunday brunch.
Au Suisse: 51, Boulevard Anspach
This is a great place for a quick bite in the center. I like the 1950’s interior and bar stool seating in this classic Brussels sandwich shop. If you like diners you will like Au Suisse.
Den Teepot: 66, Rue des Chartreux
Welcome to my favorite health food store in Brussels. Small, yes, but they do have a deli/bakery with homemade sweet and savory baked goods and the café upstairs serves daily vegetarian specials. I recommend the deli’s arame seaweed roll if you want something to go.
Fin de Siècle: 9, Rue des Chartreux
Laid back, old-style Belgian brasserie with communal seating, generous plates of food, and a great atmosphere. They serve regional speicialities like rabbit in beer sauce, and the national dish, Stoempf—2 large sausages over a mile high pile of buttery mashed potatoes. (I hear from my carnivorous friends that it’s heavenly). They also serve salads and cheesarific quiches for vegetarians. Did you say you were vegan? Wrong part of the world I’m afraid…
Frederic Blondeel: 24, Quai aux Briques
Coffee, tea, jam, biscuits, and hand made chocolates in a mint green interior….What more could you want?
Stella Solaris: 2 entrances: 34, Rue de Laeken / Rue du marronnier (Place du Béguinage)
This restaurant/bar/café has a delicious menu fusing classic French and Asian flavors. I also happen to know they serve an addictive chocolat chaud. (hot chocolate).
Jacques: 44, Quai aux Briques
Some travel to Brussels for one reason and one reason only: to eat the Moules Frites (Mussels and French fries or Belgian fries to be exact). Follow the locals to Jacques and remember this rule of thumb: order Mussels in months that have the letter R in their name.
A la Morte Subite: 7, Rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères
Translating to “Sudden Death,” A la Morte Subite is home to the famous Geuze beers flavored with cherry and raspberry. It’s very popular among locals and visitors alike plus Jacques Brel, Belgium’s most famous crooner, used to hang out here.
Wittamer: 6, 12 – 13 Place du Grand Sablon
Chocolatier, bakery, & café with a bit of old school grandeur. Their outside terrace in the Grand Sablon is a perfect spot for taking in the surroundings over an éclaire, croissant, tea, or homemade ice cream.
Ixelles is my favorite quartier for shopping outside of the City Center. The atmosphere of artist-run shops, independent boutiques, and cafés makes for an inspiring days outing. If you happen to visit Ixelles on a Wednesday look for Place Chatelain’s farmers market from 1 – 7 pm. Here you can find organic produce, olives, nuts, cheese, bread, pastries, and tasty take away snacks. Mmmmmm……
Boucle d’or: 12, Rue du Tabellion
Adorable children’s clothing shop with a good selection of toys and books. I don’t fit into the clothes but I always seem to want to buy something for myself?
Zao: 96, Rue du Bailli
A good shop for modestly priced gifts and home accessories.
Rose: 56-58, Rue de l’Aqueduc
An attractive gift shop for the design lover….And they carry Atelier LZC!
mon amour: 36, Rue du Page
This is my favorite new design gift shop in Brussels. They carry beautifully selected stationary, cards, notebooks, tableware, wall art, and other home accessories that make you smile.
A la Page: 2, Rue du Prévot
Charming antique furniture and home accessories of yesteryear. I could easily walk away with any one of their old weathered wooden tables and live happily ever after.
Neess: 58, Rue du page
An old-fashioned frame and restoration shop that also carries specialty art supplies and their own eco-friendly house paint.
Em72: 72, Rue du page
When I first walked into this newly opened art and accessories boutique it almost looked like there was nothing for sale. But on closer inspection I discovered some beautifully delicate ceramics, drawings, and jewelry. Plus the tiny kitchen space in back has items for sale too.
Septante sept: 77, Rue du Page
A collective of local artists and designers have joined forces to showcase their creations in this friendly boutique.
Peinture Fraîche: 10, Rue du Tabellion
Contemporary Art Bookshop with titles on fine art, architecture, fashion, graphic design, packaging design, children’s book illustration, and more—a fantastic selection. They are open Thursday – Saturday.
Schleiper: 151, Chaussée de Charleroi
4 floors of arts and crafts supplies–heaven sent.
[Mmmmh!]: 92, Chaussée de Charleroi
Everything for the kitchen for amateurs and professionals alike with a focus on fine Asian ingredients. It’s fun to parouse their 2 floors of edible gifts.
Ixelles Eat nibble & sip
Teddy L: 2 locations in Ixelles: 4, Rue du Bailli / 49, Avenue Louise
I love the name, I love their logo, I love their creamy pastries. If you want to try something different, I highly recommend the scrumptious tarte au riz. Translation: rice pudding pie!
Guapa: 2b, Rue due Bailli
Fresh juices and smoothies.
Coffee Club: 38, Rue du Bailli
Step into one of the only café/eateries in town that have soymilk available for your chai or latté and a decent salad bar. There’s an attractive outdoor terrace in the back and a pile of fashion and design magazines to thumb thru while you sip and eat.
El Vergel: 39, Rue du Trône
Mostly a lunch time place with Latin American food and some classic Mediterranean dishes, this restaurant has everything I miss about home. The atmosphere couldn’t be friendlier, the food is fresh, consistent, flavorful, modestly priced, AND they have tacos on the menu! They are open Thursday evenings for dinner.
Atomium: Atomium square
Brussels answer to Paris’ Eiffel Tower, the Atomium is a giant metal representation of an iron crystal built for the 1958 World’s Fair. It has recently been polished so it’s looking shiny and new these days. There are escalators to take you up into the spheres and an elevator to access the upper-most sphere where there is a panoramic view and a restaurant serving lunch and dinner.
Parc de Bruxelles
This is the largest public park in the center of Brussels. It’s very close to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts and is surrounded by the Royal Palace of Brussels and many foreign embassies. The park has its own Metro stop and features curiously knobby trees around the perimeter. A grand fountain surrounded by replicas of classical Greek and Roman sculptures is a favorite spot of mine and there are also many grassy spots for recreation and sunbathing. Yes, the sun does come out from time to time but if you are planning a trip to Brussels it’s always a good idea to pack an umbrella.