Brussels is best explored on foot and it’s easily done: all the main sights are within a 1km radius of the central Grand Place. However, walking on uneven cobblestones all day can become tiring, so if you find yourself at the opposite end of town from your hotel at the end of the day, then make use of Brussels’ excellent public-transport system which combines a métro system, buses and trams. The system is efficient, but can be confusing for first-time visitors; hints and tips are listed under the relevant sections. Run by STIB/MIVB (www.stib.be), the network is open 5am—midnight Monday—Sunday.
Tickets are valid on all three services (métro, bus and tram) and can be purchased at the métro station ticket offices or the GO self-service machines, on board buses and trams, tourist information offices and most newsagents, and are available in the following formats:
One journey (allows unlimited number of changes for one hour) 1.80 euros
A return (within 24 hours) 3.30 euros
Five journeys 7.30 euros
10 journeys 12.50 euros
One-day pass (unlimited travel) 4.50 euros
Three-day pass (unlimited travel) 9.80 euros
It’s cheaper to buy tickets before travel, rather than buying them from the driver. Alternatively, you can purchase the Brussels Card (www.brusselscard.be), a museum-pass that also includes a transport ticket valid for 72, 48 or 24 hours.
Once purchased, tickets should be entered into the orange ticket-processing machines located at the start of escalators on the underground and near the doors on buses and trams. This only needs to be done once at the start of a journey or when changing mode of transport, so it’s clear you’ve switched, say, from métro to bus.
There are six underground lines: lines 2 (orange) and 6 (blue) serve the same purpose a London Underground’s Circle Line, stopping at major junctions around the city-centre ring road; lines 1 (pink) and 5 (yellow) are akin to the Central Line running east to west through the EU district and the centre of town; and lines 3 and 4 act like the Northern Line and are serviced by trams instead of trains, running north to south through the city centre. All stations can be accessed from street level, just look out for the distinctive white ‘M’ on a blue background. Handy route planners suspended from the platform roof illuminate red to show the current position of the next available train and how long you have to wait until it arrives. Note that passengers are responsible for opening the doors at a station stop — pull the door lever on the old carriages, or press the green button on the new ones.
By tram and bus
There are more than 2,200 stops; pick up a full network map from the tourist office or any transport office. The rules for using the tram and bus service are very similar. First of all, stop signs are clearly labelled: at the top it indicates whether the route is serviced by tram (‘T’ in a circle) or by bus (‘B’ in a circle), underneath this is the name of the stop followed by a list of the various lines that stop here and their final destinations. There will be a separate sign underneath indicating whether these routes are serviced by the Noctis night bus service.
Trams and buses only stop on request, so raise your hand to indicate to the driver you’d like to board; similarly, when you want to get off, signal to the driver by pressing the blue button. You can buy a one-journey ticket on board, but drivers are reluctant to change anything larger than 5 euros.
When boarding buses you enter through the front doors and exit via the back doors; with trams you can enter/exit via any door. Trams have priority over all traffic, including pedestrians.
Villo (+32 (0)78 95 11 10; www.villo.be) have 180 bike-hire terminals dotted around town. Open 24 hours a day, you can use them free of charge for the first 30 minutes, or rent them for the day (1.50 euros) or a week (7.50 euros).
A fixed charge of 2.40 euros applies at the start of all journeys (this increases to 4.40 euros at night) and the journey is then calculated at 1.35 euros/km in the city centre or 2.70 euros/km in the outer communes. You’ll be given a printed receipt at the end of your journey. Tips are included, but a little extra is always appreciated. If you’re hailing a taxi on the street, only use taxis bearing the official yellow-and-blue Brussels taxi sign. When pre-booking, most companies will collect you from wherever you are.
Taxis Bleus (+32 2 268 00 00)
Taxis Orange (+32 2 349 43 43)
Taxis Verts (+32 2 349 49 49)
Taxis for disabled travellers (+32 2 349 45 45/ 2 527 16 72)
Getting to the city
For advice on getting to the city centre, see the subsections on my Brussels flights page.