Capital of Belgium, administrative center of the European Union, and home of the headquarters of North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Brussels has a reputation for bureaucracy.
But this city is also a cultural capital, home to more than 40 fascinating museums. It’s main square, the Grand Place, is one of the most beautiful anywhere, with gilt-covered guildhalls soaring heavenward on all sides. Around another square, Place Royale, you’ll find most gay establishments. The scene is surprising vibrant and diverse, with many bars and restaurants, circuit parties and alternative/indy parties, music and art happenings.
In Brussels, cineastes can take their pick of two gay film festivals. The Tels Quels festival takes place is late January and early February. The Pink Screens festival rolls around in October. Belgian Pride is held each mid-May. The streets around Rue du Marché au Charbon are car-free for the event.
Many visitors fly into Brussels National Airport, 11 km (7 mi) to the northeast. Taxis into town cost around 45€. The Brussels Airport station, located at basement level 1 below the terminal, offers up to 4 depatures per hour to the downtown Brussels North, Central and Midi stations; also direct train services to the East, South, West and North of Belgium. For a simplified guide to area public transport see Brussels.info.
De Lijn operates bus services from arrivals hall level 0 to the Brussels North railway station (number 272 or 471), and Roodebeek station (buses 359 and 659), plus other regional destinations. The MIVB/STIB Airport Line has 30-minute express buses between Brussels Airport (platform C on level 0) and the European quarter. There are ticket vending machines, or pay the driver (a slightly higher price). For more connections see the Airport website.
Brussels South Charleroi Airport in Gosselies, Charleroi, 46 km (29 mi) south of central Brussels, is where low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and Jetairfly land. Shuttle buses from here get you to Charleroi-South railway station, from which you can catch the train into Brussels.
For Belgian and international trains in and out of Brussels see the Belgian Railways website and select the station for your arrival or departure. You can now buy tickets on your iPhone. With direct Brussels-to-London service, the Eurostar train has encouraged many more English-speaking visitors than in the past. Trains depart St Pancras International every two hours and pull into Bruxelles Midi station just two hours later.
Brussels is a compact city, and most of the sights are within walking distance of each other. Alternatively, underground trains, trams, buses, and taxis are easy to find, with day and night services, and quite inexpensive. STIB is your key to public transportation here, with a website in French, English and Flemish. Note that street names are in both French and Flemish.
Villo! is the public bicycle rental program, with about 5,000 bikes for rent from 360 sites around the city - only 450m apart in many places. Just buy a subscriber card or a 1 day or 7 day ticket (see website for details). A MoBIB card from STIB, the Brussels mass transit authority, can be also be used to access a bike; and the AllBikesNow app works on either iPhones or Android devices.
Most of the tourist attractions are concentrated at the center, in a few of the city's 19 municipalities: Brussels-City, Ixelles, Saint-Gilles, Schaerbeek and Koekelberg.
Small, cobbled streets cluster around the magnificent Grand-Place, and the the restaurant-lined rue des Bouchers and Petite rue des Bouchers, are part of Ilot Sacré. Saint-Gery and Sainte-Catherine to the north of Grand-Place are known for trendy cafes and restaurants. The nearby rue Antoine Dansaertraat is a fashion and jewelry center. On place de la Monnaie, find the Monnaie opera house and ballet theater. South of Grand-Place, the Mont des Arts area is full of museums and monuments. The streets all around Grand' Place is home for many of the gay community businesses of Brussels
In one of the oldest city neighborhoods in Upper Town, place du Grand Sablon is a good place to look for antiques at the Saturday and Sunday markets, or for art at the local galleries. The area is also known for good chocolate and pastries. Les Marolles just to the south, where the real “Brusseleirs” are said to live, has many typical restaurants and cafes, and every morning flea markets at place du Jeu de Balle.
For high end shopping Avenue Louise leading to the south, and the nearby Galerie Toison D'Or have some big name fashion stores. A bit further on place du Chatelain du Liban, has cafes and a Wednesday afternoon/evening marketplace; and south of the Central Station, Saint-Gilles is a diverse community with vibrant streets both day and night.
People of foreign origin make up almost 70% of the population of Brussels, adding to the multicultural atmosphere of this bilingual city of French and Flemish speakers. Matonge in Ixelles, home to many in the Sub-Saharan community, has many African shops, cafes and restaurants. The recently built European Quarter is full of expats and Eurocrats. English is widely spoken throughout the city; a second language for about a third of the population.
To the north, the Bruparck recreation complex is home to the Mini-Europe theme park, a modern maze of stores, cafes, and restaurants, the Kinepolis multiplex cinema, and the Océade water park with 14 slides, wave pool, saunas, restaurant and bar.
Currency and Money
Belgium is part of the Euro Zone, so the euro is the accepted currency. There are plenty of ATMs in the downtown area.
Media & Resources
Tels Quels is the GLBT community center with services, library, cafe, and a magazine that's been in print for 30 years.
EGG, the English-speaking gay group in Brussels, have a website at Away Magazine.
The Brussels Gay Friendly guidebook, written by Têtu Magazine's Christophe Cordier, has listings and tips on local bars, restaurants, shops, cruising areas, events, accommodations and general tourist information. The print edition costs 20€, but the download is just 5€.
For a city map with locations and website links to businesses below and more, plus restaurant suggestions, museums, theaters and concert venues, see our gay Brussels listings pages.
Travel and accommodations
Hotels in Brussels are often fully-booked due to the city's role as de facto capital of Europe; hotels seem to be less busy on weekends, but book ahead if you want good value.
Residence Les Ecrins (15 rue du Rouleau), large century-old building, quiet area of cobbled streets near St. Jean Baptiste church, easy walk to gay district, gay-owned/mixed clientele. Standard rooms to luxury suites, small apartments with adjoining terrace.
Brussels @ Heart (32 rue des Commercants), chic guesthouse, spacious rooms with dining areas and kitchenettes, some with balconies; ample breakfast of fresh juices, cheeses, ham, toast, tea, coffee, and chocolate. Free Wi-fi.
La Casa BXL B&B (116, rue du Marche au Charbon) near Grand-Place in lively Quartier Saint-Jacques; two double rooms, private bathrooms, Wi-Fi connections.
Royal Windsor Hotel (5 rue Duquesnoy), 266 rooms and suites, many gay visitors during pride and the frequent La Demence parties.
Le Baroque (44 Rue du Marché au Charbon/ Kolenmarkt), bear community downtown pub, rustic atmosphere; open nightly 5pm-5am.
Le Belgica (32 rue Marché au Charbon), 1920's decor, gay-friendly pre-club warm-up pub, international mix of artists, musicians, actors, and creative types congregate.
Le Boys Boudoir (25 rue Marche au Charbon), chic restaurant and piano bar, open nightly. Weekend nightclub dancing, shower boys, casino nights, drag shows and special events.
Chez Maman (7 Rue des Grands Carmes) small cabaret club for men, popular drag shows, Thurdays through Saturdays until 5am.
ChristoBar (12, rue de la Fourche/ Greepstraat), mostly men, "no labels nor strings attached, just simply a bar."
Dolores (40 rue Marché au Charbon/ Kolenmarkt), small locals' bar behind the Grand Palace, patio tables, mature crowd of bears and regular guys.
Duquesnoy (12 rue Duquesnoy) - CLOSED - intimate drinking and cruise bar for men only; three floors, dark rooms; leather, latex, rubber, uniform or nothing at all.
Le Can-Can (55 rue des Pierres), small karaoke bar with largest catalog of songs in Brussels, professional sound system; show nights, theme and holiday parties.
Le Club (45 rue des Pierres), gay/ lesbian mixed crowd cocktail bar, international guest DJs on weekends.
L'Homo Erectus (57 rue des Pierres), open daily, dancing, strip-tease go-go dancers, erotic videos, live music, drag shows and snacks; open nightly 4pm until dawn.
L'Homo Erectus Classicus (5, rue du Marché au Charbon/ Kolenmarkt), gay party bar, videos, go-go boys, drag shows, theme nights, open 5pm-3am.
La Reserve (12 rue Petite au Beurre/ Korte Boterstraat) oldest gay bar in Brussels, small, packed on weekends with all types and ages.
Recyclart (Ursulinenstraat 25), multi-disciplinary arts center in the old Brussels-Chapelle train station; photo and art exhibits, music concerts, special parties, film and video screenings.
Stammbar (114 rue du Marché au Charbon/ Kolenmarkt), men's and fetish cruise bar at the center, naked/ underwear nights, sneakers and sportswear events, bear parties, and "gang-bangs."
Station Bxl (2A rue Petite au Beurre/ Korte Boterstraat), oldest gay bar in Brussels, mature but lively crowd; burgers, pasta, toasties, salads.
Dance clubs and parties
La Demence (208 rue Bleesstraaat), huge monthly circuit party at Club Fuze; muscle men, leather types, twinks, and older guys from far and wide, by the busload for high-energy night on 3 dance floors, cruisy darkroom - among most exciting party nights in Europe.
Rebellious Dolls, periodic dance events, mostly women.
Revelation at Bazaar (63 rue Capucins/ Kapucijnenstraat), Pride dance party, leather-fetish theme, kinky male dancers, top DJs.
Club 3000 (9 Boulevard Jamar), six-floor complex, just south of main gay area, includes bar, cinemas, sex shop, internet station, inside and outside Jacuzzis, steam sauna, and restaurant/lounge, massage services. Open "big screen" playroom for men in towels and those in street clothes.
La Griffe (41-43 rue de Dinant), well-equipped facility, open daily, strong-jet Jacuzzi, hammam, steam, sauna, showers. Top floor private rooms and communal video; bar, 5pm free buffets. Naked Sunday 1pm.
Macho Sauna (106 rue Marche au Charbon), large facility, pool and terrace, sauna, hammam, solarium, massage, bar/cafe, cabins and mystery room for discrete liaisons.
Sauna Oasis (10 rue van Orley), Finnish sauna, whirlpool and massage pool, Turkish steam, cold bath, cabins, and darkroom. Also with bar and big Sunday buffet brunch from noon.
Spades 4our (23-25 rue Bodeghem), one of Europe’s biggest and most popular gay saunas, young crowd; traditional sauna, infra-red sauna, hamam, steam bath, whirlpool, sunbed, roof garden and SM labyrinths/ catacombs.
2b Fashion and Underwear (31 rue du Lombard/ Lombardstraat), spacious shop at center of gay area; designer jeans, tops, underwear, and accessories; labels such as Calvin Klein, Andrew Christian, and Gsus, at prices to feel as good as you'll look.
Argos Video (13 rue de Riches Claires/ Rijke Klarenstraat), huge selections of international DVDs, clothing, leather gear, thongs and underwear. Toys include solid brass cock castings in gold, silver, and black. Flyers, magazines, and club information and events too.
Boris Boy (95 rue du Midi/ Zuidstraat), condoms, lubricants, toys, leather, and rubber. Online shop has slings, aromas, undergear, DVDs, and douches, Mr.B products.
Darakan Bookstore (9 rue du Midi), gay literature, crime novels, photo and cinema books, magazines, DVD porn and classic movies.
Galerie Toison D'Or (17-20 ave de la Toison d'Or), refurbished 1960s shopping arcade, around 40 stores including men's and women's fashions, and a FNAC electronics store; also a multiplex cinema and a theater.
Rob Brussels (rue des Riches Claires 11/ Rijke Klarenstraat), leather/fetish clothing, accessories, DVDs, bondage, toys; local branch of the Amsterdam home store.