By C H Kwak—
With plenty of Eurocrats flaunting their nontaxable income, Brussels can be a tricky place for Cheapos. But eating and shopping in Brussels don’t have to cost an arm and a leg (although they can, if that’s what you’re into). Let me give you a few splurge options–and their budget alternatives.
It’s indisputable that Belgians know how to make phenomenal chocolate. You can choose from a number of chocolatiers in the historic Old City, although you’d be wise to veer away from the perennial mall faves like Godiva and Neuhaus. If you want to splurge, you should look no further than the museum-like Pierre Marcolini boutique (39, Grote Zavel). Marcolini has some of the most inventive and delicious truffles, and you can even buy them by the piece.
Still, Marcolini’s gorgeous works of art don’t come cheap. That’s where Leonidas (12, Galerie du Centre and throughout the city) steps in. Though Leonidas’ truffles are good enough to be sold in upscale department stores abroad (i.e. Galeries Lafayette), they’re at the bottom of the steep chocolate hierarchy in Belgium, making them absurdly affordable. A 250g box goes for €5—and makes for a great souvenir.
Lunch with a view
The Musical Instruments Museum (2, Hofberg) is housed in a gorgeous Art Nouveau mansion, and its terrace affords a stunning view of the city. The top floor cafe also happens to offer good bistro food, friendly service and a chance to mingle with the city’s Bright Young Things. But, with drinks and dessert, even its lunch deal can run close to €20.
For a cheap meal with a fine view, grab a sandwich from a bakery. Take the glass elevator up to Place Polaert, from where you have a beautiful panorama of the city–tout gratuit.
Art Nouveau elegance
Brussels is arguably the capital of Art Nouveau. The granddaddy of the movement, Victor Horta, lived the way he preached in a beautiful house. Today, the turn-of-the-century house is a museum (25, rue Américaine) that showcases gorgeous stained glass, beautiful arches and elegant wrought iron decorations. The only trouble is, it’s open only three hours a day, with visitors snaking around the block. Plus, admission is, at €8, not cheap.
As an alternative, you can head to the tourist information center and grab the helpful downtown Art Nouveau map that highlights some of the best examples of the movement. The whole city is your Art Nouveau museum, free of charge.
Le Sablon square is the address for exclusive antique shopping. On weekends, when vendors set up tents, you’ll see well-heeled Parisians strolling with wads of cash. The stores surrounding the square are posh, everyday of the week.
If you’re less than awash in cash, you should beeline straight to the Place du Jeu de Balle, a flea market in the gentrified but still charming Marolles. It’s the kind of place where you’ll see 18th century dressers next to piles of used t-shirts. You might find stupendous reproductions of Magritte–or an oil portrait of someone’s great grandma.
And if you want to keep shopping, the surrounding streets are dotted with eclectic boutiques. (This neighborhood might be the only place on earth that outnumbers Berlin’s number of per-capita vintage stores.)
Get there before hipsters like you and me ruin it forever. Oh, wait…