A collection of practical, pre-trip tips to (hopefully) prevent too many embarrassing moments. As I recently had a friend who said he would love a reality TV show following my Belgian mishaps, I’ve added an extra piece to this post — post a comment here or on Instagram to hear the funny embarrassing stories that created these tips! Each tip has a suggestion of a story that’s worth hearing.
- It rains a lot here, so don’t forget an umbrella! The cobblestone streets are slippery and uneven, watch your step or choose to walk on a smoother sidewalk. If it’s snowing or sleeting, expect to fall on your face a few times. Ask me about my first full day in Brussels.
- Once the bus doors close, you can only enter at the front entrance. if you’ve just barely missed the closing of the doors, run to the front and you’ll make it! Blue buttons request a stop and open the door while at a bus stop. On some cars in the metro, you have to PULL the door handles for them to open. Ask me about the multiple times I’ve missed a stop and missed meetings because I couldn’t open a door.
- While the shops dedicated to waffles and their endless toppings are tempting, the best waffles are from the yellow food trucks that are parked around town. They are all 2 euros (plus 1 for toppings). Ask me about the time I bought a waffle with toppings from a shop and then struggled to actually eat it.
- The south of the city is generally safer than the north. Areas around Schuman (European Quarter) or Cimetière d’Ixelles are filled with students and internationals, great spaces to eat and go out.
- Belgian chocolate is expensive. Belgian beer is not. Ask me about my poison of choice.
- There are so many parks! If you have the extra space and the weather’s okay, bring a Frisbee, a picnic blanket, or running shoes! Ask me about the time I wished I was a boy scout.
- Download the STIB app, it shows schedules and maps for all of the public transit in the city! Make sure Google maps is downloaded as well, it shows walking routes, driving routes, and also integrates public transportation routes. Ask me about my life pre-google-maps-download.
- Don’t worry too much about a language barrier — you can speak English! While French and Dutch are the most widely spoken languages in Belgium, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Brussels to who doesn’t at least speak a few words of English. For most, English is their second language (as opposed to their third or fourth, which, shock of shock to Americans, it is normal to have). Ask me about my attempts to learn Dutch or the quality of my “Franglais.”
- A good lunch can be purchased for 5 euros (a simple sandwich usually costs 3 or 3.50). Coffee (espresso, remember! Check out this post for more caffeine help!) is anything from 90 cents from a vending machine to 4 euro cappuccinos. Dinners or restaurant lunches will probably cost between 15-20 euros per person. Ask me about what living with a host family does to one’s coffee consumption.
- Belgians aren’t picky about fashion. Wear whatever makes you comfortable. I’ve seen everything from heels and dresses to sweatpants out on the streets. No fashion judgement here. Ask me about the time I showed up (Belgian-minded) ready to go to a bar in Ireland and was sadly under-dressed.