3 must-see cities in Belgium: Biking in Brussels

I love biking the European cities. Allows me to see much more in shorter time, and also enjoy city biking which, in Sofia, is almost impossible (traffic too heavy, no biking alleys, etc). I’ll share in this post how to rent a bike in Brussels, and what are the key sights I enjoyed within 4-5 hours (my top time for city biking).

In Brussels it’s possible to rent a bike using the cheap city biking service Villo (http://en.villo.be). They have many bike stands in the center of Brussels, and  some in the farthest parts of Brussels. Mind though, that the farthest stands don’t always have vacant bike positions (seems in the distant parts people prefer to use public transport, especially in the winter when I visited) and you might need to search for a stand with a free position for your bike. When returning the bike to the central bike stands there’s no such issue.

Villo is one of the fastest rental services I’ve used (not much hassle renting), but it requires a credit card deposit of 150 eur, not just your credit card number as guarantee. The bikes are in good condition, and the tires performed well even on snow.

This is what the city bikes look like..pretty decent.

Before going to Brussels several people had alerted me that it’s too dangerous to bike  in Brussels. Indeed there are hardly any bike roads, but the cars were so careful and considerate of bikers, that I didn’t feel unsafe even for a second.

The starting place for a tour around Brussels is usually Grand Place – a large square from where lots of small and picturesque streets originate. The square was voted ‘The most beautiful square in Europe for 2010’ (well, by the visitors of a popular Dutch website..but still). Until 1959 it used to be a city market, now it’s simply a lively place with lots of bars and restaurants, surrounded by impressive buildings in Baroque style like the Town hall. To reach Grance Place, get off the metro at the Central Station, and rent a bike – nearby there are a few stands.

Grand Place – the starting point for a tour around Brussels

Biking the small streets starting from Grand Place is an utmost pleasure. Most streets are closed for cars, or one-way only, and you can bike and safely look around without minding the traffic. And looking around is unavoidable – everywhere you see small bars offering beer tasting, there’s a Greek street, lots of Asian-style streets, unexpected sights here and there.

The Greek street

On one of these small streets I spotted the famous Manneken Pis – a small peeing boy, who’s become something like mascot of the city. There are many legends about this statue, check them out on wikipedia. The Manneken appears everywhere – on wafer stands, in bars, shops…

Manneken Pis. It was almost impossible to get a good sight of this statue, there’s always big crowd taking pics with the Menneken.

Beer-peeing Manneken

Turn around the corner and you see shops tempting you with Godiva chocolate-covered strawberries (absolutely amazing!), and wafers.

One of the many sweet temptations in Brussels

Mont des Arts is another impressive place – it’s basically a big garden connecting the so-called Lower and Upper town. From the gardens you can enjoy magnificent views to the Lower town.

Mont des Arts

The Museum of musical instruments is another impressive place, hosting instruments from all over the world. The museum is hosted in a former department store named Old England.

Museum of instruments

Place du Sablon was also an interesting square, made of Petit Sablon and Grand Sablon. Petit Sablon is an attractive garden in memorial to counts who gave their lives fighting against the Spanish, has interesting sculptures all around. The Grand Sablon has the Notre Dame du Sablon church at its center.

Petit Sablon

After seeing the main attractions, I continued with the more peripheral parts of the city. And every street opens up a new square, an interesting building, small cozy shops, interesting paintings on the buildings, more beer tasting shops, and from time to time kind of dark and slightly hostile immigrant quarters. But Brussels is a true multi-national city, and one has to accept this diversity.

Belgium has approx 180 beer breweries, local and international

And finally, my city tour ended with the Atomium. The Atomium is too far away from the center, so don’t bike to it but use the metro.  The Atomium was built as a symbol of 1958 World Fair, and represents the ice crystal structure magnified 165 billion times. The spheres host exhibitions, and there’s a panoramic restaurant at the top. The Atomium was undergoing some repairs when I was there, so didn’t get the chance to look it from the inside.

Atomium

Biking is Brussels was a real pleasure, despite the snow. With hardly any up/downhills, and wide roads, during the summer the bike must be the better means of transport in this European capital. There’s so much to see and enjoy, and even if you don’t like sightseeing – just bike or walk the small streets, eat wafers, taste beers and enjoy life!

Another must-see place in the spring or summer on my list 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *