Edited by Matthew Wears
Traveling to Brussels alone has to be one of the most exciting things to do as a traveler, I think. This city has so many different cultures and languages, so you’ll always feel totally at home, no matter where you’re from. As an Italian who has lived in Brussels for ten years, I know what it feels like to travel around the Belgian capital on your own. If you’re worried to solo travel Brussels then you really shouldn’t be, it’s one of the friendliest places in the whole world! You could sit down in a bar at night and start of a conversation with pretty much anyone, it’s really that sort of place. There’s also a ton of super cool things to do in Brussels on your own, so don’t be worried about finding them. That’s my job! I’ll be sharing with you some of my favorite spots to come when I’m on my own, as well as some cool ideas for you to experience the unique nightlife in Brussels too. It’s the bars and restaurants where you’ll find so much of the city’s character, so these are important places to come if you want to meet some new people. So here’s my personal Brussels solo travel guide!
Where to stay
I think for people travelling to Brussels alone, you’re going to want to find somewhere that’s got a bit of a vibe about it. The first place I would recommend staying would be in would have to be the Marolles area, a part of the city that sits just on the edge of the historic central district. In recent years, this neighborhood has begun to get super popular with tourists and expats, so you’ll definitely be mixing with similar people here. This sudden influx of visitors means that Marolles has gone from being a pretty working-class kind of neighborhood, to one of the most exciting in the whole of Brussels. Expect to find lots of antiques markets, traditional styled buildings, and of course plenty of local spots to grab a few beers at night. One of my top tips is stay away from boring hotels, there’s loads of really quirky private rooms available here that are much more exciting.
This being said, the beauty of Brussels is that wherever you end up staying, you’re never going to be far from the center. Just south of Marolles lies the neighborhood of St. Gilles, another super popular expat area that oozes typical Belgian culture. There is absolutely tons of cool stuff to see down in this part of town, from cinemas, theaters and art galleries, some of the best solo activities Brussels has to offer can be found in St. Gilles. Another great place to stay would be super vibrant and slightly more upmarket Ixelles area. This is still popular with locals and tourists, but you’re not going to get that same bohemian vibe that you find with St. Gilles. Instead, you’re going to find cool cafes and trendy bars with a pretty stylish feeling about them. The African quarter, Matongé, is also worth checking out for those of you who want to experience some unusual nightlife in Brussels.
What to do
Despite its small size, Brussels certainly has an awesome range of tourist attractions that should be on your travel itinerary. Of course, the main sights such as the Grand Palace and the Manneken Pis aren’t restricted to this Brussels solo travelers guide, but they’re still must see attractions. For somewhere that’s vibrant and full of all kinds of people, you should check out the Marolles Flea Market that takes place every morning in the Place du Jeu de Balle. This is a pretty amazing selection of weird antiques, interesting artworks and everyday items such as vinyl’s and books. There’s also plenty of vintage clothing to be found here, so if you’re like me and love to find that second-hand bargain, this is definitely the place to go. This is one of my favorite things to do in Brussels on your own, I still come here now after ten years.
For some other cool things to do in Brussels on your own, you should really head downtown to the Ixelles and St. Gilles neighborhoods. Not only are these two of the best places to stay, but I’d also recommend you spend an afternoon exploring them. Brussels is one of Europe's greenest cities and there’s plenty of places to chill out during the day. Ixelles is filled with loads of tranquil green spaces, especially the Tenbosch Gardens. This 19th century walled garden is one of the most beautiful parks in the whole city, especially during summer when the flowers start to bloom and many locals sit out on the grass. Another place that’s worth checking out is the beautiful Kings Gardens. This is actually a private garden, although there are group tours that operate every day which would work well if you wanted to mix with some new people.
When I’m travelling on my own, I love to find the best views wherever I am. In Brussels, you should definitely go to the beautiful Poelaert Square. This is located right in front of the grand Justice Palace, which still to this day remains one of the biggest buildings in the whole of Europe. From here you can not only see the law courts, but you can also get stunning views of the rest of the city too. Also, you couldn’t solo travel Brussels without visiting the iconic Atonium building either. This weird and unique building in the center of the city is a maze of metal tubes and staircases, with some of the best panoramic views of the city. Another cool thing to do would be to take a day trip out of the city! Because of Belgium's small size, you can travel to nearby cities such as Bruges or Antwerp and back all in one day.
Where to eat
Like pretty much anywhere else, searching for where to eat in Brussels really depends on what kind of food you want, as well as how much you’re looking at spending. For anyone looking for a medium budget option that’s going to give them a taste of some real Belgian favorites, then you have to try Beat. This stylish spot is perfect if you want to socialise with locals or travelers, and the food is really great too (especially the brunch). One of my favorite places to eat has to be 52 and the Secret Garden down in the Ixelles neighborhood. The food is a fairly simple Italian classics, but the restaurant itself is easily one of the coolest in the city. The quirky European furniture give this place a really unique, vintage kind of vibe, and as you might expect, there’s also a very hidden garden area that’s great for warm nights.
Even though Belgium isn’t particularly famous for its food, that’s not to say you can’t find some super interesting places to eat around the city. La Quincailleirie is undoubtedly one of these places, and I’d say visiting here is one of the most unusual things to do in Brussels. The building is an old ironmongers’ shop that really doesn’t look like it’s changed too much over the years. This looks like the set of a movie and you can still see a lot of the original features, such as the dark wood walls, the huge clock and of course amazing central iron staircase. This is a great place to come to splash out! For all you budget travelers, try going to Mano à Mano down in Ixelles. This is a super cheap pizzeria that’s very basic, but very tasty! This is a real locals spot too, so it’s great if you want to go and make some new friends and practice your French.
Most places in Belgium are totally safe for you to walk around at any time of day, but is Brussels safe to travel alone? The answer is yes, although I would recommend not to walk around the downtown areas alone after dark. If you do, make sure you keep to the well-lit areas with plenty of people. Also, make sure you take your travel documents with you when you’re walking around the city. I’ve heard of a few cases where people have been asked to show them but haven’t had them available. One more thing I’d say is don’t litter - apart from being a lazy, row-rate thing to do, you’ll get fined for it! For transport around the city, there’s only one way I’d completely recommend; bicycle. To solo travel Brussels and not rent a bike would be totally crazy, it’s one of the best cities in the world to pedal around. Because it’s so small, you can pretty much ride everywhere in no time at all. Just be warned, there’s plenty of hills that will get your blood pumping.
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