When planning to visit Belgium, especially if you are going to use public transportation (train) you have to keep two things in mind. First, most of the routes go via Brussels, hence there is no way you can miss the city. And second, you have to pay attention to the seasons: Brussels is home to many conferences and trade shows, the hotel rates skyrocket when these events are held, so if you see that a standard three-star hotel costs over 200–220 euros per night, change the dates and see if the rates will be lower a week later.
Before you start choosing a hotel, you have to decide for yourself what your main goal for visiting the capital of Belgium is. It can be shopping, a gastronomic journey around the Ilot Sacré, sight-seeing (this deserves at least two days of your attention) and, finally, from Brussels one can explore Flanders, for example, Brugge, Gent, Oostende, Antwerpen, Mechelen, and Leuven. If you plan to travel by car, there is an option of not staying in Brussels but rather moving around from town to town but here you should decide for yourself if you are ready to pack/unpack every day or if you prefer to stay at one place and get back to the base every evening.
What Area is the Best to Stay in Brussels?
Considering that Brussels welcomes yearly not only lots of tourists but also a large number of business travelers, for example, those coming to the European Parliament, the range of available hotels and apartments in the city is quite broad. However, travelers are still recommended to choose the downtown area for accommodation – the conventional borders of which can be defined by the canal Bruxelles-Charleroi, Boulevard du Jardin Botanique, Boulevard Du Regent and Boulevard De Waterloo. The logic is simple: reaching here from residential districts means wasting extra time which you should rather spend exploring the city.
If your itinerary includes trips around the country, it makes sense to choose a hotel which is located not far from one of three main Brussels railway stations – Brussel Nord, Brussel Centraal, Brussel Zuid, which is also called Brussel Midi. All trains that pass via Brussels pass through each of these three railway stations, so there is no big difference in the proximity of which station your hotel should be located, you will be able to take the train you need from any of them. In general districts around stations aren’t as bad as many tourists picture them in Internet forums. You might come across suspicious personalities in the downtown more often than in the station area, because that’s where they can easily get lost in the crowd of tourists whereas the stations are under constant monitoring by surveillance cameras and security staff members. Besides, in the last years there is a trend of making rooms in hotels located in loud areas soundproof, so you will hardly be bothered by any noise. Finally, if you stay near one of the railway stations you will be able to save on time and sleep a little longer, besides, the hotels in the railway station areas are usually cheaper than those in the central districts located near the main tourist attractions.
Out of three above-mentioned stations I recommend to take a look at the Brussel Nord and Brussel Centraal.
Hotels in the area of the Brussel Nord
Brussel Nord is located in a modern district often called Brussels Manhattan – mirror walls of offices, banks and convention centers, sometimes you will see prime examples of modern art right there on the streets. There are not many tourists and generally recognized attractions here but at the same time you won’t have to be afraid of walking these streets late in the night because the streets are wide and well illuminated (and the banks are also well guarded). An additional bonus is that these hotels are relatively cheaper compared to the hotels around Grand Place, for example. As a disadvantage of this district I can mention the distance from the places of the main tourist worship (such as the above mentioned Grand Place, the town hall and the Manneken-Pis – they are a 15–25-minute walk away from here). Food would be another issue for this district as all stores close at around 6 or 7pm, only small stores are open (fruits, vegetables, yoghurts, personal hygiene products and beer are shamelessly expensive here, and to have a delicious hot meal you will have to walk the same 20 to 25 minutes to the quarter called Ilot Sacré where you will find a lot of great restaurants. Good accommodation options in the area of the Brussel Nord would be chain hotels, such as Crowne Plaza Brussels – Le Palace and Sheraton Brussels Hotel.
Hotels in the Area of the Brussel Centraal
Brussel Centraal is located in the center of Brussels and this area is very convenient from all points of view: tourists attractions are within easy reach, shopping is right there – both local designers, Brussels lace and chocolates stores, here you will have no problems to find some food, in the downtown you will even find a few decent supermarkets (Delhaize, which is located just across the Stock Exchange building, is a great place to purchase traditional Brussels gifts for friends and relatives – Brussels beer and chocolates). The already mentioned quarter Ilot Sacré is also here – that is a couple of streets, one restaurant after another, so that sometimes it is tough to even understand which table belongs to which restaurant. The restaurants are open till late, luring bypassers with appetizing savors and intriguing shop windows which display fresh mushrooms, sea food and fruits. I recommend trying mussels (search for Moules in the menu), usually they are served in some special large pan, and they are more than just delicious. Long story short, there are many advantages of staying in this particular district. But there are disadvantages, too. The main of them is the price – the hotels in the center of Brussels can be expensive. That too, even if the hotel is located in the old 19th century building with small rooms, ancient (not antique!) furniture and disgusting smell from downpipes. It can also happen that right below your windows there will be a noisy establishment, and you will be lucky if that is just a restaurant, and not just some striptease club. There is no universal recipe for choosing a hotel, but you can avoid making the wrong choice by checking travelers’ feedback on the booking websites before you proceed with your own booking. I think that in the area of the Brussel Centraal you should pay attention to the chain hotels, such as Ibis Brussels off Grand'Place, Radisson Blu Royal Hotel and Le Meridien Brussels, as well as to the cute hotel with a custom design The Dominican.
We should also pay special attention to two districts in the downtown of Brussels – Grand Place and Sablon.
Hotels near Grand Place
Grand Place (or Grote markt) is surrounded by incredibly beautiful buildings; it is always crowded and often concerts and various shootings take place here. Despite the noise, living here is considered to be high-class, and many hotels add to their descriptions information about how far from Grand Place they are located. So, if you don’t mind paying extra for central location and great scene from the window – till the late night you can comfortably enjoy evening concerts and the illumination – I recommend you to take a closer look at the apartments Residence Grand Place, bed & breakfast Le Coup de Coeur Brussels and the hotel Hotel Saint Michel. However, if you travel by car, you should keep in mind that you will not be able to get to the city center, you will have to search for a parking lot quite far from Grand Place and then walk all the way to the hotel with all your luggage, and maybe even climb the stairs because the building might not have an elevator. That’s the price you pay for staying in old houses not only in Brussels but in many other European cities.
Another interesting and quiet place in the city center of Brussels which you can consider for accommodation is located in the area of the Place De La Vieille Halle Aux Blés. I believe that here Brussels resembles Paris very much: ground floors are occupied by numerous cafes and restaurants where the visitors often stay very late reading newspapers and discussing the latest news. It is a relatively peaceful place within an easy reach from the Grand Place. The disadvantages include high rates, old buildings’ features – it can be cold and wet here, and again, you might start missing elevators. Here you can stay, for example, in the apartments B&B Taptoe I, B&B Taptoe II or in the Aparthotel Typically Brussels.
Hotels in the Sablon Area
Sablon is a beautiful respectable district located behind the royal residency. It is much more peaceful here compared to the Grand Place, you will hardly see any beggars here, even shopping is peculiar in this district (lots of antiquity stores), and as for public catering establishments you should definitely check out coffee and pastry shops in the area. Logistics-wise the district has a very convenient location, the railway station is a 7-minute walk away, the royal palace is within a close proximity, and in 5 minutes you can reach a large park where people go for promenades or jogging. In other words, this is an ideal place for accommodation if you prefer central location but at the same time want to avoid noise and crowds. But the rates of hotels here are as high as the rates of hotels near the Grand Place. Here I recommend you to check out B&B Villa Sablon, cozy apartments Le Coup de Coeur Apartment Sablon and an NH chain hotel Hotel du Grand Sablon.
Some of our observant readers might ask me why I haven’t written anything about the third railways station – Gare du Midi. Well, the reason is that I don’t recommend anyone staying there even despite the fact that it is quite near the center and hotels are cheaper there. The problem is that there are too many migrants, they feel quite at ease there and sometimes can be quite aggressive, so in my opinion, the area is not exactly what you would call safe for living and going around.
Hotels near the Brussels Airport
In conclusion I just can’t ignore the district near the Brussels airport. Sometimes your flight might land late in the night and there is no public transportation available to bring you to the city, or maybe you have an early flight and you don’t want to leave hotel at two or three in the morning. Sometimes you might have a connection flight from Brussels for which you will have to wait for almost twenty-four hours. Of course, you would want to see the city but you also would want to take some rest before getting on yet another flight. Staying in a hotel near the airport would be a good option, especially because you will be able to get a decent (as far as Brussels goes) rate of 70 to 80 euros in a 4-star hotel. When choosing a hotel in this area check if there is a shuttle bus available that transfers travelers from/to the airport to/from the hotel. I can recommend Golden Tulip Brussels Airport Hotel.