Like Belgium, Brussels has many faces... and almost all are under appreciated. Most tourists flit into Brussels for a quick photo of a urinating lad and a hop into a chocolate shop.
If you stay in Brussels for more than a moment, you’ll find a rich metropolis where street art dominates cityscapes, Art Nouveau flirts with façades, and proud locals effortlessly switch languages.
Each neighborhood in Brussels has its own tale to tell, but there are too many to see in one trip. Instead, start with our five favorite neighborhoods in Brussels.
Best area for a quick visit
Brussels’ center and nearby Saint-Gery neighborhood, encompassing the gilded Grand Place and the ever-busy lanes leading to it, are the best place to begin. Walk from the center in any direction, and you’re guaranteed to come across at least one museum, restaurant, and/or shop selling miniatures of the Manneken Pis within minutes.
As with many European capitals, Brussels’ city center is a big beautiful tourist trap. Its streets are often crowded with selfie-snapping travelers, souvenir shops are standard, and prices are higher than in other areas of Brussels. Touristy as it may be, the center is still undeniably picturesque and can be a rollicking time in the evenings thanks to its Belgian beer bars and live music options.
If you only have one night in Brussels or want to have easy access to some of the most popular things to do in Brussels, the historic center is one of the best places to stay in Brussels.
Best area for art and restaurants
For a fun neighborhood to stay in and explore in Brussels, Ixelles is currently the place to be for locals and visitors alike. Once a suburb of Brussels, the city has since consumed the district stretching south from the center to the verdant Bois de La Cambre. Artsy Ixelles hosts trendy new restaurants of every cuisine as well as classic haunts like Cafe Belga, a corner cafe in a towering Art Deco building where artists chat over beers as nomads type on Macbooks. Stroll from the traditionally Congolese neighborhood of Matongé to the diplomatic homes along Avenue Saint Louise, and you’ll see there’s no singular stereotype for people in Ixelles.
Ixelles is also a must-visit for art and architecture aficionados: it’s a hub of 19th century Art Nouveau architecture. Stay in one of the boutique hotels in the central Châtelain neighborhood and you’ll be within a stone’s throw of curling columns and flamboyant iron balconies designed by Victor Horta, one of Belgium’s most prominent Art Nouveau architects. In addition to the Musée Horta now situated in the artist’s home and studio, several of his Unesco-listed townhouses are in Ixelles.
Best neighborhood for luxury living
Sablon oozes class. Its cobblestoned streets are decorated with art galleries, museums, and windows into some of the country’s finest chocolatiers. Down the street from Neuhaus and Marcollini, gothic Église Notre-Dame du Sablon stands watch over the fountains and sculptures of the Place du Petit Sablon gardens.
One of the quietest neighborhoods in Brussels, the Sablon is calmer than other parts of the center, save on weekends when the Sablon Antiques Market takes over the central square so vendors can cut deals over stately antique artwork, furniture, and more.
Sablon’s lavish luxury comes with a hefty price tag, as you can imagine. Accommodations here are not affordable for everyone, but those with deeper wallets will find Sablon is one of the best neighborhoods to stay in Brussels. Only a few minutes’ walk away from popular tourist sights, Sablon is still in the city center without the tourist masses and souvenir shops.
Best neighborhood to live like a local
Throughout history, Marolles was the haunt of Brussels’ working class: a diverse neighborhood where Brusseleir dialects ran thick and friends bonded over beers in wood-paneled cafes. Present Marolles hasn’t escaped the gentrification creeping throughout the capital, but it still retains its hold on the past: antique shops of all trades line its streets and stalwart old brasseries persist, while newer restaurants come and go.
If you’re looking for the best place to stay in Brussels, Marolles is the ideal neighborhood to see a slice of local life. Though there are plenty of modern hotels inside refurbished historic buildings, the neighborhood isn’t bending over backward to cater to tourists.
That’s not to say tourists will be bored in Marolles. Quite the opposite! Brussels’ most famous flea market takes place every day of the week on Place du Jeu de Balle. Thrifty shoppers can hunt in the countless vintage and antique stores around Rue Haute and Rue Blaes. As night falls, diners can sip cocktails or savor late-night nibbles as lively crowds make their way to one of Brussels’ most popular nightclubs, Fuse.
If you want to get a feel for daily life in Brussels without having to head too far away from the central sights, the Marolles district is the place to be.
Best neighborhood for budget travelers
Few people think of Saint-Gilles when choosing which neighborhood to stay in Brussels, which makes it all the better for those who do. Southwest of the center but still connected by tram, Saint-Gilles’ array of affordable restaurants, vintage shops, and event venues draws a decidedly younger student crowd — the ideal area for travelers visiting Brussels on a budget.
Not unlike its easterly neighbor, Ixelles, Saint-Gilles has a diverse, artistic vibe... but at a fraction of the price of nearby neighborhoods. You’ll still find streets of the Art Nouveau homes typical of Brussels, but you’ll also encounter colorful shops and restaurants where you can treat yourself to Moroccan flavors and Turkish delights.
Saint-Gilles is also well-situated for travelers hoping to take day trips from Brussels. Brussels has three major train stations and the southernmost, Gare du Midi, marks the western border of Saint-Gilles.