When researching this hipster guide for Brussels travel tips I came across the term “BoBo” or Bourgeois Bohemian. In all honesty, with Brussels’ reputation as the “capital of Europe,” BoBo is a more accurate description of many of the places to see in this travel guide.

What is a Bourgeois Bohemian and what sets them apart from a hipster? Well, not much. BoBos are just more likely to have and to spend more money. While there are plenty of thrifty and even cheap things to do in Brussels, if you’ve got the money, you might as well spend it. In Brussels, you can enjoy a very Bourgeois Bohemian lifestyle—even if you’re just in town for a weekend.

The beauty of Brussels is that it hides so many of its charming features. The downtown area, though beautiful, is only interesting for so many tourists—and even then it can’t keep many young travelers’ enthusiasm. But leave the city center and explore some of the other parts of town (Ixelles, for one), and you’ll quickly discover how much fun the city can be.

Sightseeing & Activities

Hipsters in Brussels

  • Embrace your inner child at the Belgian Comic Strip Centerthis museum is the heart & soul of the comic industry in Belgium. Comic Book Museum
  • Visit the Magritte Museum – I can’t rave enough about this museum. It’s well worth your time even if you’re not into surrealist art.
  • Belgium is known for chocolate, no doubt, and in Brussels, you can even take a short course and learn how to make your own chocolate. I did a chocolate workshop at Zaabär just off the trendy Avenue Louise.
  • Beer. Really, is there something that Belgium isn’t known for more than beer? Maybe frites, but we’ll stick with the drinking. There are hundreds of beer bars in Brussels, but if you wan’t to do something a bit more off-beat, consider a beer tasting at Spirit of Wallonia.
  • Keeping with the DIY theme (and yeah, hipsters like to make and to create), you can also take short courses on comic book drawing. I spent a few hours hanging out with Belgian artist De Marck who helped me work on my severely lacking drawing skills. Keep your eyes out for my forthcoming graphic novel, “Adventures of the Hipster!
  • And when it’s raining in Brussels, what is there to do? Visit one of the many independent movie cinemas. There’s the Galeries Cinema in the historic Royal Galleries and Cinemateque at Flagey Place which both offer English-language indie movies.
  • If you want a personal tour of Brussels, get in touch with the Brussels Greeters! This is a seriously cool experiment by VisitBrussels.be. They’ll hook you up with a volunteer from Brussels who will show you off the beaten track sites. My guide took around Ixelles and helped me spot many of the trendiest cafes and bars for an hipster like myself—and all those trendy Bourgeois Bohemians, too.
  • There’s an abandoned building just near the Comic Strip Center. It provides a nice panoramic of the city below and is a kind of cool place to explore. I wasn’t able to get inside the building when there, but the deserted park below and the empty plaza it sits in seemed to be a haven for graffiti and other tagging.

Shopping in Brussels

Brussels covered market

  • The daily flea market at Place du jeu de Balle offers a random assortment of junk. Yes, junk. But if you’re shopping for 1920s kitchen cutlery, you won’t find a better place to look in Brussels! Bizarre but fun for a good stroll.
  • Art Books? Try the spacious Libraire d’art in Galleries Royal St Hubert—downtown and easy to find.
  • Do you use the word dapper to describe yourself or your beaux? Check out the old-fashioned shops across from Librarie d’art. One’s speciality is gloves, the other hats.
  • There are a myriad of second-hand bookshops inside the 19th century Bortier Gallery off Rue Madeleine. You’ll also find a shop there that sells second-hand comics.
  • Second-hand clothing can be found at Les Petis Riens—”the small nothings.” There are a few shops scattered around the city and they’re working to make Brussels a better place. They employ workers who really need jobs—those on social welfare and the like—and to give back to the community, the shop also has an annual fashion show to showcase young Belgian designers.
  • Avenue Louise is where you’ll find Gucci and the likes, but there are also plenty of independent art galleries for some window-shopping.
  • The Vintage Market at Halles Saint Géry Vintage is just once a month but you’re certain to run into other hipsters there. The vintage market is the first Sunday of every month and you’ll find vintage clothing & kitschy, second-hand goods.
  • Veals and Geeks (website) is an indie record store in trendy and über-hipster Ixelles. They also run vinyl record street fairs.

Bars and cafes

  • Cafe Belga – one of the trendiest cafes in town. You’ll hear Bjork and her ilk on the stereo. During the day it’s crowded with people hanging out on the sun loungers outside, in the evenings popular for enjoying some quality beers
  • Champagnotheque – Champagne bar where you can buy by the glass—a novelty for champagne!
  • À La Mort Subite – “Sudden Death” bar, famous for their Lambic beer on tap and a healthy mix of locals, tourists and funny old folks
  • Place Saint Boniface in the summer – lots of people hanging out in the plaza
  • Le Pantin – cosy bar with board games and chess sets for people to use
  • Recyclart – a non-profit cafe & art center (and in the evenings, it’s a nightclub) – some nights they even offer quirky courses such as woodworking or bread baking
  • Potemkine – good brunch, often has DJs and small concerts. Also shows free movies
  • Moeder Lambic – one of the best beer bars in town, ranked as one of the top 10 in the world, waiters are trained to recommend beers (mostly Belgian) based on your mood/taste

Gay Brussels

The LGBT and gay area of Brussels is centered along one main street in the downtown quarter: Rue du Marché au Charbon. On evenings (especially the weekend), it’s a popular spot for drinking and other shenanigans. Personally, I checked out the gay scene at La Fontainas which was a great cafe & bar. Grab a beer and enjoy the view on their outdoor patio—it’s one of the most popular gay bars in Brussels.

Food

  • ExkiThese quick eateries are scattered around town and offer healthy, organic foods. A welcome break from all the unhealthy snacks so popular in Belgian cuisine
  • Frites, of course! – Best I had were at the stand at Place Flagey (Friterie Flagey Frituur). Fritland is also popular (and decent), but probably only because it’s the most popular in the downtown touristic areas. If you’re looking for a bit of, um, adventure with your fries, try the local “Pickle” sauce.
  • Arcadi Cafe – a hyper-local place that’s family-owned and downtown, too. Try a quiche!
  • Capoue – Generally, regarded as some of the best ice cream in town
  • Mamma Roma – Pizza for which you pay by the pound. They also serve up some interesting pizzas like “potato-truffle”

Nightlife

  • Place Saint Boniface - The street just in front of the church offers up some affordable and quality restaurants. If you want to enjoy a summer night in Brussels without the partying but still a lot of people-watching and good times, consider checking out the cafes & restaurants here. Bonus: The street closes down for a summertime street-party at least once a year!
  • Saint Gery area near downtown, lots of people drinking outside in the summer. Great atmosphere and you don’t even have to hang out in one of the bars.
  • Weekly events such as Piknik Elektronik  (every other sunday in a different park, electro DJs) and Apéros Urbains (summer schedule) offer the chance to explore new parts of Brussels each week. While each started as more of an underground movement, these days they’re more popular as networking events for Bourgeois Bohemians and European Union socialites.
  • Recyclart – Located inside an underground train station, it’s a very hip atmosphere. Check their Facebook for parties.
  • Mr Wong – A new trendy bar which offers a hip alternative to the nightclub scene. DJs every Friday and Saturday.
  • The Fuse – This club has been around for a while but is still one of the most popular nightclubs around.

Brussels Travel Tips

  • You can bring your frites into the bars, no one will mind!
  • Keep your eyes open for street art by Bonom (map)
  • Try the Jupiler and Vedett beers – cheap & easy Belgian beers available at most places.
  • Grab a free copy of the Brussels “map for young travelers.” It’s got some of the best travel tips and they’ll even hook you up with additional maps if you’re looking for vintage clothing or skate parks.
  • The free weekly magazine Agenda has listings in English, French and Dutch for things happening in art galleries, clubs or music venues. It’s available at most of the bars & cafes I’ve listed above.

Brussels Blogs for Insider Tips

Brussels

As always, the best way to get the most local tips is to check out the local blog scene. Here are some blogs I found useful when exploring Brussels for the trendiest things to do, places to see and local events happening.

  • Best of Brussels - It calls itself a city guide for locals, expats and visitors and it just does that and then some. There are posts about food, style and of course the major tourist attractions, too.
  • Brussels Life - A very comprehensive site with information on Brussels restaurants, shopping and just about everything else.
  • Bruxelles la Belle - This local blogger shares personal, hand-picked tips on her favorite spots in Brussels. Everything from fashion to food.
  • Cheese Web - An English-language resource for Brussels with extensive reviews for things to do around Belgium.
  • For blogs and travel sites about Brussels in French, try the BXL Blog and My Brussels.

Did you find this hipster guide to Brussels useful? Be sure to check out my other hipster city guides!

32 comments

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  1. Hey fellow wanderlusters!
    I’m planning a trip to Brussels in February and wondering where the best neighborhood is to stay for us in the 23-25 crowd? Thanks so much!
    Laura

    • Hey Laura – try to stay in Ixelles if you can!

  2. Brussels is one of my favorite cities on earth and this is a great write-up. There are some great breweries to check out in and near Brussels. Just south, in Beersel, there’s Oud Beersel and 3 Fonteinen. Cantillon in Brussels is also worth a look. So. Much. Delicious. Beer.

    • Oh thank you Joe for the brewery recommendations! Will keep it in mind for my next trip

  3. Anna

    Hi adam,

    You write in one of the comments you know of some nice hotels in Brussels? I’m looking for something a little bit above the hostel price range, thought Pantone would be cool but unfortunately that’s fully booked for my dates. Maybe you have some tips? THX!

    • Hey Anna – try The Dominican which is in the city center – they usually have availability. Rooms are nicer than usual but it’s nothing “out of this world.” Also nice is the Vintage Hotel.

      I’ve written reviews of them both here:
      The Dominican
      Vintage Hotel

  4. Thanks for the guide Adam! These are great tips for things a little offbeat in Brussels. We’re contemplating a trip there for my birthday next month and this post may have just tipped the scale.

  5. jane

    Thanks Adam this will be great for when I arrive next week! Made spontaneous booking today! Am coming from Australia for the Brussels Design Market and will be my first visit to Belgium. Any tips for great vintage finds whilst I’m there besides the Market? Cheers

  6. Merel

    Great tips! thanks. I will use your guide when I visit Brussels next month! Thanks!

    • Glad to hear you found it useful Merel. Enjoy your trip!!

  7. M

    U forgot l’Archiduc in rue Dansaert, a jazz club from the 30’s… With the best cocktails in Town :)

    • Thanks for the tip! Sounds like an awesome club

  8. What a great guide! I have literally only just stumbled on your blog by change I will have to subscribe look forward to seeing more!

    • Glad to hear it Terry! I’ve got some more hipster city guides – just use the navigation above

  9. Megan

    Dear Adam,
    I’m simply in love with your guide, it’s all I needed and more. But..where to sleep? I’m considering The Vintage Hotel, but I’m not quite sure. I’m looking for something cool, cosy with nice, relaxed atmosphere, could be hipsters and gay friendly as well. I just want to enjoy the best time with my boyfriend and feeling like at our home in Brooklyn would be dreamy.
    Thank you, all the best
    x

    • Hey Megan,
      Sorry I only just saw this message! Did you end up staying at the Vintage? I know of a few other nice hotels in the city as well..

  10. Hey Adam,

    Nice to read great things about the city I’ve been living in for 20 years!
    I so much agree with you, the bobo culture is alive and thriving here.

    Just like Melissa (comment above), I think you can add the Dansaert-Place Sainte Catherine area to your list because if there’s a hipster place in town, this one is the über-hipster, no doubt…and it happens to be my area ;-)
    You can find there the trendiest belgian designers (Maison Martin Margiella, Anemie Verbeke, La Petit Marcel de Bruxelles…), vintage shops like Oxfam f.i., trendy bars like L’Archiduc or typical belgian restaurant like La Villette. And the Vintage Market used to happen in the old building K-Nal (http://www.k-nal.be), a bit further before it was moved to the Halles Saint-Géry, 2 months ago.

    All our family little outings start or finish there. It’s one of the oldest and still trendiest area in town, old Brussels meets the new generation!

    Last thing: thanks for sharing some addresses I didn’t know! I often told my husband that we should embark on a bus and visit our city like tourists…

  11. This article made me smile, Adam! ;D
    But, you did miss two very important spots of many Brussels Bobo’s and hipsters:

    – The whole Dansaert-Sainte-Catherine-rue des Chartreux area where the Flemish hipsters congregate. The über-hipsters of them all in Brussels!

    – Saint-Gilles, where everyone you meet on the Cafés of the Parvis de Saint-Gilles is an artist/writer/comedian/thetre director or something like that. ;) Must be all the Art Nouveau houses there that inspire them to come. ;) One of my favourite area of Brussels actually!

    And I do really recommend the Zaabar workshop… I still remeber our jaws dropping when the master chocolatier poured the bucket of melted chocolate on the marble countertop… ;)

  12. Adam
    Love the definition of BoBos! I will add it to landlopers and vagabonds.
    Cannot wait to use your guide to enjoy Brussels.
    Thanks for the tips!
    Lisa

  13. Heyyyyy Bobo! ;) I guess the Hipster infestation is complete. Ground zero, I believe, was the Pacific Northwest.

  14. Great round-up Adam! Also if you’re looking for a great place to drink wine by the glass (outside of the main tourist centre) Etiquette Wines is fantastic! http://www.etiquette-wines.com/

  15. Raül

    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for the interesting tips.

    I might be mistaken as I cannot check the addresses but here you have some corrections or clarifications.

    The abandoned building near the Comic Strip Museum is part of the “Cité administrative de l’État”, currently under reconstruction to host the police headquarters.

    I presume Arcadia Cafe refers to Arcadi Café, at the back of the Royal Galleries.

    The Capone ice-cream probably is the Capoue. (http://www.capoue.com/)

    While the Momma Roma seems to be the Mamma Roma (http://www.mammaroma.com/).

    In any case, again, thanks for the trip.

    • Adam

      Hi Raül,
      Thanks so much for the amendments! I didn’t know about the abandoned building being under reconstruction. It was a pretty cool place for some urban exploring and it seems like a great location—so not too surprising that they’re trying to do some redeveloping. And thanks for the links for Capoue and Mamma Roma!

    • Adam

      You’re probably right, hah. I think the bobo culture is alive and thriving in Brussels!

  16. What a great review! You’ve put together a really good list of some of the best places in Brussels. And thanks so much for including me in your blog list :)

  17. I traveled with a French girl in Oz who taught me the term “BoBo”. It’s very fitting I think. Great guide! I visited Belgium when I was 16, but not this in depth. I think I mainly just ate waffles and chocolate. I would love to go back and try out some of the things you mention here.

  18. Hi Adam, I’m so not a hipster :), but I loved this guide. Chocolate workshop at Zaabär, here I come!

    • Adam

      Oh!! Thanks for sharing that site, too! I discovered it as well and really liked some of the articles on there but had already forgotten it by the time I put this together. Thanks for the reminder!

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