Brussels Information and facts

Location

Brussels is in the valley of the Senne River in southeastern Belgium in Flemish Brabandt Province.

Time zone

Belgium’s clocks are 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States, and 1 hour ahead of Greenwich mean time in the winter and 2 hours ahead in the summer under daylight saving time.

Average Temperatures (In Fahrenheit)

High Low
January – March 51F 30F
April – June 72F 41F
July – September 73F 51F
October – December 60F 32f

When to go

Many residents of Brussels take vacations in July and August. This makes the city less crowded, but also means that some shops and restaurants will be closed. Belgium’s climate is temperate: never too hot or too cold; never too wet or too dry. Spring and autumn are cooler than summer and more changeable. A shower can spring up at any time.

Packing

It is advisable to bring a wool sweater, even in summer; if you happen to be there duirng a rainy spell, a raincoat and umbrella will be essential. Practical walking shoes are important, for rough cobblestones or for forest trails. Women wear skirts more frequently than do women in the United States, especially those over 35. Men would be wise to include a jacket and tie, especially if planning to visit one of the better restaurants.

Useful measurements

Equivalent weights and measures
1 cm – 0.39 inches
1 meter – 3.28 feet / 1.09 yards
1 km – 0.62 miles
1 liter – 0.26 gallons
1 inch – 2.54 cm
1 foot – 0.39 meters
1 yard – 0.91 meters
1 mile – 1.60 km
1 gallon – 3.78 liters

Tipping

A service charge is included in restaurant and hotel bills, and tips are also included in the amount shown on the meter in taxis. Additional tipping is unnecessary unless you wish to say thank you for very good service

Visitor information

Tourist information Brussels (TIB: tel. 02/513-8940 in the Hôtel De Ville On The Grand’place, is daily 9-6 during the main tourist season (off-season, Sunday 10-2; December through February, closed Sunday).

Religion

Belgium is a predominantly Roman-Catholic country. Most churches in Brussels are Roman-Catholic. In the Saint-Nicholas church off Grand’place services are held in other languages than French and Dutch. Most other religions also have prayer houses in Brussels. Check the phone directory to find the nearest mosque, synagogue, pPotestant church, orthodox church that is closest to your hotel or apartment.

Films

Most movies in Brussels run in two different versions. 1. The original version with Dutch subtitles, 2. The version dubbed in French. If you want to see the original version look out for the films marked VO (version originale) at the entrance of the movie theaterue

Newspapers

Most international newspapers are available in Brussels on the day of publishing. The largest choice will be available in the newspaper shops around the Grand’place, stock exchange and Place de Brouckère.

The local press consists of French-language and Dutch-language newspapers and magazines. There is an English-language magazine about Brussels called The Bulletin . It is published weekly and focuses on ‘political, cultural and social news about Belgium and Brussels’ for English-speaking residents. It also comes with a list of the TV programs on the Brussels cable network.

Electricity

To use U.S. purchased electric powered equipment, bring a converter and an adapterue The electrical current in Belgium is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC); wall outlets take continental-type plugs, with two round prongs.

Passports

All U.S. citizens, even infants, need a valid passport to enter Belgium for stays of up to 90 days.

Visas

U.S. and Canadian residents do not require visas to visit Belgium for pleasure or business trips not exceeding three months.

 

Holidays

January 1 – New Year’s Day
March or April (varies) – Easter and Easter Monday
May 1 – Labor Day
May (varies) – Feast of the Ascension,
May (varies) – Whitsunday, Pentecost Monday
August 15 – Assumption of the Virgin
December 25 – Christmas day
December 26 – St. Stephen Day

 

Emergencies

Police 101;
Accident and ambulance 100
Doctor 02/479-1818.
Dentist 02/426-1026.

Language

Brussels is the official bi-lingual capital of Belgium. All official notices such as names of streets and traffic indications, fire prevention notices, fire exits, etc…are given in two languages: French and Dutch. The majority of the people in Brussels speak French. The French language in Brussels has sometimes been influenced by Dutch phase-structures that the people in France wouldn’t understand.

The other language is Dutch. Dutch in Belgium is also sometimes called Flemish but it is the same language as the one spoken in Holland, with differences in accent, vocabulary and influences from French phrase structures. Visitors will have no problem finding English speakers.

Money

The monetary unit in Belgium is the Belgian franc (bf). There are bills of 100 200 500 1000 2000 and 10000 francs, and coins of 1 5 20 and 50 francs. Euro bills and coins are due to replace Belgian francs in 2002.

 

VAT

In Belgium, VAT ranges from 6% on food and clothing to 33% on luxury goods. Restaurants are in between; 21% VAT is included in quoted prices. Many shops advertise that goods are available tax-free. At the time of purchase, by credit card, you pay the price without VAT and you also sign a guarantee in the amount of the sales tax. You are given two invoices: one is your record and the other must be stamped by customs when you leave Belgium (or the last EU country on your itinerary). You must return the stamped invoice to the store within three months, or you forfeit the guarantee.

Toilets

There are very few public toilets in Brussels. If you find one, expect to having to pay a fee, so always carry some small change with you. You can always find public toilets in the train stations and in some metro stations.

 

Souvenirs

The most frequently purchased souvenirs are : chocolates, beer, and lace.

Belgium is the best beer country in the world. There are nowadays numerous beer shops around the ‘Grand’place’ where you can buy most of the Belgian beers. Sample packs of beer are available which contain a few bottles of one specific kind of beer together with the matching beer glass ( in Belgium every beer has its own specially designed glass. It is said that Belgian beers do not taste good when drunk from a non-matching glass. Fruit beers (cherry, raspberry, peach, etc.) are specialties of the Brussels region.

Arriving in Brussels

By air

Most flights arrive at and depart from Zaventem 02/732-3111 Brussels’s national airport.

Belgium has two international airports, the main one being Zaventem, 14km northeast of Brussels. The other one, Deurne, is close to Antwerp and has less frequent flights to Amsterdam, London, Liverpool and Dublin only. Depending on when you leave, flights to London can be cheaper from Deurne. If you’re in Europe already, a bus or train is the best option. Eurolines and Hoverspeed Citysprint operate international bus services to and from Belgium.

Brussels has three main railway stations and is the central hub, with lines in all directions. Two companies operate car/passenger ferries to and from Britain: north sea ferries (overnight from Zeebrugge to Hull) and Ostende lines/ ferries (six boats daily between Ostend and Ramsgate).

Sample flying times are as follows: 6 hours, 50 minutes from New York to Brussels; seven hours from boston to Brussels. Return flights are about an hour longer

Getting around

Courtesy buses serve airport hotels and a few downtown hotels. Inquire when making reservations.

Express trains leave the airport for the Gare Du Nord and Gare Centrale stations every 20 minutes (one train an hour continues to the Gare du Midi). The trip takes 20 minutes The trains operate from 6 am to midnight. Taxis are plentiful. A taxi to the city center takes about half an hour . You can save 25% on the fare by buying a voucher for the return trip if you use the Autolux taxi company. Beware of freelance taxi drivers. You have to go to a taxi stand (taxi’s won’t stop for you if you try to make them stop by waving in the middle of the street) Taxi’s can be of all different colors and car makes. Official taxis have an illuminated panel on top of the roof (called ‘sputnik’ by the cab-drivers) with the slogan ” Brussels gewest – taxi – région de Bruxelles”. There is a starting price (which depends on the time of day). If you go outside of the city limits, the rate goes up.

By car

Belgium is covered by an extensive network of four-lane highways. Brussels is 122 miles from Amsterdam on E19; 138 miles from Düsseldorf on E40; 133 miles from Luxembourg City on E411; and 185 miles from Paris. Brussels is surrounded by a beltway, marked “The Ring.” Exits to the city are marked “center.” There are several large underground parking facilities The one close to the Grand’place is particularly convenient for patrons of downtown hotels.

Drivers must carry a warning triangle, to be placed well behind the car in case of a breakdown. There are emergency telephones at intervals along the motorways. The speed limit is 130 kph (80 mph) on highways, 90 kph (56 mph) on secondary roads, and 50 kph (31 mph) in built-up areas. Driving with the flow may mean higher speeds than most U.S. drivers are accustomed to. At intersections, always check traffic from the right even if you’re on a thoroughfare; Belgian drivers can be reckless in insisting on “priority on the right.” Gas costs about the same as in other European countries, which means quite a bit more than in the United States.

Requirements: Your own driver’s license is acceptable. An international driver’s permit, available from the American or Canadian Automobile Association, is a good idea.

By Bus

Eurolines offers up to three daily express bus services from Amsterdam, Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, and London. The Eurolines coach station is located at CCN Gare du Nord Rue du progrès 80 tel. 02/203-0707.

The metro, trams, and buses operate as part of the same system. All three are clean and efficient, and a single ticket can be used on all three. The best buy is a 10 trip ticket or a one day card. You need to stamp your ticket in the appropriate machine on the bus or tram; in the metro, your card is stamped as you pass through the automatic barrier. You can purchase these tickets in any metro station or at newsstands. Single tickets can be purchased on the bus.

Detailed maps of the Brussels public transportation network are available in most Metro stations and at the Brussels tourist office in the Grand’place 02/513-8940. You get a map free with a tourist passport (also available at the tourist office), which, for bf220 allows you a one-day transport card and bf1000 worth of museum admissions.

By train

Eurostar trains from London (Waterloo) use the channel tunnel to cut travel time to Brussels (Gare du Midi) to 3 1/4 hours. Trains stop at Ashford (Kent) and Lille (France). There are seven daily services. First and second class seats are available. A number of promotional fares are offered. Brussels is linked with Paris, Amsterdam, and Liège by new high-speed trains, which operate at full TGV speed on French tracks. In Belgium and Holland, until new tracks have been laid, they provide a slower but comfortable ride. Belgian National Railways (SNCB; tel. 02/203-3640 is the National rail line.

Some travel times:
Brussels-Bruges = 1h, Brussels-Ghent = 40 min, Brussels – Antwerp = 35 min, Brussels – liège = 1 h, Brussels – Amsterdam = 3h, Brussels – Cologne = 2h.

Events in Brussels throughout the year

January:

Antique Fair

The annual 10 day event is held at Brussels’ Palais des Beaux-Arts in late January. It offers the best from antique dealers in Belgium and neighboring countries and is eagerly anticipated each year.

International Film Festival

This festival has been held for over 30 years. It features first release independent US and European films. It takes place at the Palais des Congrès 02/513-4130.

 

February:

Chocolate Passion Fair

Held on St. Valentine’s weekend at Place du Grand Sablon. The theme is chocolate.

Carnival

Celebrated throughout Belgium with the largest and most popular celebration occurring one hour southwest of Brussels in Binche. The highlight is on Shrove Tuesday when the elaborately costumed local men dance in the town’s central square.

International Cartoon and Animated Film Festival
This festival is a world premier of feature length films and about 100 shorts produced in Belgium and elsewhere.

 

Late April-early May:

The Royal Greenhouses
02/513-0770 at Laeken Palace near Brussels, with superb flower and plant arrangements, are open to the public for a limited period of about 10 days.

Festival van Vlaanderen

Brussels hosts this classical music festival, which continues until October.

 

May:

The Queen Elisabeth international music competition
02/513-0099 is one of the most demanding events of its kind. The categories rotate: in 2000 the theme was piano; in 2001 voice and in 2002 violin

The Kunsten Festival des Arts

02/512-7450 is a month-long international celebration of contemporary drama, dance, and music.

The Brussels Jazz Marathon
0900/00606 The last weekend in May brings jazz bands and enthusiasts to the stages all over the city for a series of concerts. Gigs and informal sessions in more than 50 clubs and pubs, plus outdoor concerts in the Grand’place and Grand Sablon featuring leading jazz musicians. One ticket for all events, includes free shuttle between venues and public transport.

Brussels 20km Run

Annual competition held in the streets of the capital on a Sunday in mid -May which attracts about 20,000 runners.

 

June:

Battle of Waterloo
Every 5 years in mid-June the battle of Waterloo is re-enacted. The next scheduled re-enactment is in 2005.

Couleur Café

During the last weekend in June, world music, dance, rap and drums come together for a three day festival.

 

Late June or early July:

Ommegang
02/512-1961 takes over Brussels’s Grand’place. It’s a sumptuous and stately pageant reenacting a procession that honored Emperor Charles V in 1549. Book early.

Festival of Wallonia

Young Belgian musicians perform classical concerts throughout Brussels and Wallonia until October.

 

July:

Foire du Midi
This huge, annual month long fun fair runs from mid-July on the Blvd. du Midi. Large crowds, a ferris wheel, roller coasters, Belgian waffles, are all part of the enjoyment of the event.

Belgium’s National Day
is celebrated in Brussels with a military March, followed by a popular feast in the parc de Bruxelles and brilliant fireworks.

 

August:

A procession of “giants” parades from the Sablon to the Grand -Place and a maypole is planted there.

A flower carpet, painstakingly laid out, covers and transforms the entire Grand’place of Brussels for two days. Even years only; next in 2002.

 

Sept.-Dec.:

Every other year, the Europalia festival honors a different country with exhibitions, concerts, and other events amounting to a thorough inventory of its cultural heritage. In 2001 a country will be thus honored in Brussels and in other European cities .02/507-8550.

Les Nuits Botanique

A week of celebrating rock, international music and pop is held in the Botanique in mid-September.

 

On National Heritage Day on selected weekends in September 02/511-1840 buildings and monuments of architectural or historical interest throughout Belgium, that are not normally accessible to the public, are opened to all.

2nd weekend in December:
The European Christmas Market in the Grand’place in Brussels features the traditions and products of many different European Union countries.

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