Brussels has its origin from a fortified tower built around 979 on the Saint-Géry Island, in the river Senne. Nowadays, it is the capital of the Kingdom of Belgium and of the European Union. It combines modern with historical and is a must-visit destination not just for beer lovers.
Here are the basics you must know at the very beginning of your planning: Brussels 101.
ARRIVING in Brussels
Brussels is the capital of a small country. Because it borders on Germany, Luxemburg and the Netherlands, you should seriously evaluate if flights are the best option. Depending on your departure point, trains are likely to be a great, if not much better, option.
The Belgian capital is served by the Brussels Airport (BRU) and the Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL). It must be noted that while BRU has a fast direct rail connection to the city center, CRL is located much further away, and necessarily involves rail + bus, by public transport. That’s why in a cost/benefit scale, it’s best to avoid CRL and stick to BRU.
Arriving at Brussels Airport, the best option to reach the city is by rail, with a journey time of 17 minutes to Brussel-Centraal and up to six trains every hour to and from Brussels. Additionally, there are direct trains to several cities in Belgium and the Netherlands.
The station is located directly under the airport and you can purchase online tickets here. There are several ticket options, with advance or weekend discounts, for young people under 26, etc. The best way to choose is simulating a purchase. As an example, the standard single ticket from Brussels Airport-Zaventem to Brussel-Centraal costs €9.00 (2nd class) and €10.90 (1st class). The return tickets cost the same as two singles but you save time if you buy them together.
Additionally, due to the short distance between the airport and the city center (only 12km), taking the bus is a very viable option. Bus 12 is the express service running from Monday to Friday, until 20:00. At all other hours (including holidays), bus 21 runs a regular service. See the Getting Around section for info on the tickets.
The main rail station is Bruxelles-Central/Brussel-Centraal, a hub for several suburban and intercity trains. Additionally, it’s connected to the underground station Gare Centrale/Centraal Station on lines M1 and M5.
Another important hub is Gare du Midi/Zuidstation. If you need to transfer between these two, the best way is catching the S1 (2 stops), S2, S3, S6, S8 or S10 (1 stop).
There are coach stations/stops around the city, but the main stations are Brussels Nord, Midi, and Central. They are connected, respectively, to Gare du Nord/Noordstation, Gare du Midi/Zuidstation, and Gare Centrale/Centraal Station underground stations.
GETTING AROUND Brussels
The transport network in Brussels is extensive and served by the underground (metro), suburban trains, trams, and buses. For that reason, as always, I suggest a time-based ticket, as a good balance between economic and worry-free.
If you want the simplicity and flexibility of taking whatever means of transport as you wish in Brussels, you can get a STIB-MIVB 24h. It costs €7.50 and allows you to travel as much as you want from the first validation. It also covers the Bourget-Brussels Airport bus section of the network.
You can purchase this ticket on:
- GO ticket vending machines, in every metro station and most important bus and tram stops;
- KIOSK ticket offices, in the most important underground stations (Gare Centrale, du Midi, du Nord, de l’Ouest, and others);
- BOOTIK commercial agencies in select metro stations.
Alternatively, you can always buy single trip tickets: they are valid for 1 journey during 60 minutes, including connections but the Bourget-Brussels Airport section is excluded. Fares cost €2.10 (purchased outside vehicle) or €2.50 (purchased inside vehicle).
The above is ideal for short trips but if you stay longer in Brussels, it might be sensible to get a MOBIB Basic card. It costs €5.00 on top of whatever tickets/passes you load into it. With this, you have further options of 24h, 48h, 72h + BUS Airport, 5 or 10 journey combos and more. For a 3-day/weekend trip, however, the savings don’t top the €5.00 card fee. Read here for more details.Brussels Simplified Network Plan