Central Brussels is surprisingly compact and easy to walk. The city is centered around the picturesque Grand Place, and tourists can feel the square's gravitational pull. But there's so much more to the city than one square. Choosing a hotel in any of the neighborhoods we list here will put you within walking distance of most of Brussels' sights and transportation hubs.
Near Gare du MidiLocated south of central Brussels' ring, the Gare du Midi train station is flanked on one side by Constitution Place and on the other by the tree-lined Avenue de la Porte de Hal.
During the day, the area hustles and bustles with the city's commuters, but provides few points of interest to travelers. By night, the area can seem a bit dodgy (observe caution). It does, however, offer its share of cheap hotel deals (especially convenient if you're catching an early train).
Near Gare du NordThe two options for exiting Gare du Nord, the city’s northern train station, afford radically different first impressions. Take the Bolivar exit, and you’ll find yourself in a garden of 1960s high rises. Take the Aarschot exit, and you’re in the shady red light district, which borders the commercial thoroughfare of the Middle Eastern communities.
This neighborhood has its share of budget hotels, as well as mid-price shopping centers and cheap eateries. The highlight is the Botanic Garden, a green oasis amidst office buildings and heavy traffic. The garden also has a famous concert venue. From Gare du Nord, the Grand Place is a 20-minute walk south.
Grand PlaceGrote Markt, Grand Place, or whatever you want to call it, this impressive square facing the medieval Town Hall (built in 1402), is the undisputed tourist epicenter of Brussels. The surrounding neighborhood—sprinkled with hotels, cutesy cafés, restaurants and chocolate shops—draws throngs of shutter-happy tourists day after day.
A maze of cobblestoned alleys radiating from the square leads to the opera house, a commercial drag or the gay district, depending on which turn you take. Ornate guild houses, sidewalk cafés and souvenir shops crowd the neighborhood, making it a lively place around the clock.
IxellesFrom the snooty designer stores on Stefania Square to the bustling African neighborhood of Matongé, the Eurocrats in navy suits at the Commission to tiny Japanese noodle restaurants, Ixelles has everything it needs to be a microcosm of all that is Brussels. The neighborhood is divided the lovely Avenue Louise, the "Rodeo Drive" of Brussels, with its boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. During the day, it’s abuzz with traffic, trams and shoppers, but the area becomes much quieter at night.
Plenty of inns and hotels, mostly family-run properties, are tucked in the leafy residential areas, which are well-connected to the city center by public transit. Many offer more personalized service than the budget hotels and chain properties near the Grand Place.
MarollesLocated five minutes south of the Grand Place, Marolles is a lone Flemish neighborhood in the middle of Brussels. Once a medieval leprosy colony, the neighborhood's insalubrious reputation continued well into the 1990s, thanks to high (by Belgian standards) crime rates. However, all that is changing faster than you can pronounce “gentrification.” Today, thanks to an abundance of shops and bars, Marolles is one of the most sought-after addresses among the city’s trendsetters. The famous flea market at the Place du Jeu de Balles is a favorite activity for both locals and tourists.
St. GillesBrussels’ bohemian heart beats in Saint Gilles, a lovely residential district just south of the city center. Majestic mansions and elegant Art Nouveau townhouses crowd the tight web of narrow streets radiating from the church square, where a daily market is held. The slightly shady northern part, surrounding the main train station, is home to young and diverse communities.
Ste. CatherineSainte Catherine, situated just a 10-minute walk northwest of the Grand Place, has come a long way from its days a medieval shipping port. The neighborhood’s street names still reflect the products—wood, bricks and the like—that were once sold here, but these days Scandinavian furniture is much more common tha firewood. This is a fast-changing neighborhood where you might see a rundown townhouse holding out against a wave of boutiques, galleries and restaurants.
Underneath the veneer of gentrification, the neighborhood’s original charm is undeniable. The medieval cathedral of Saint Catherine (patron saint of firefighters and guardian against sickness) is an imposing sight, and the alleys radiating from the church provide a delightful respite from the hectic tourist zone by the Grand Place.