Belgium cheap? I have a tendency to believe “Europe = expensive,” but it doesn’t have to!
Today, we have from-a-local insight on a $21 Airbnb directly across from a palace (!!!), $2.50 fries, and free walking tours!
Hi, I’m Isabelle, a forty-something French literary translator. I spend most of my free time blogging, going on city trips, posting my travel pictures on Instagram, practicing aerial yoga and playing escape games. 11 years ago, I fell in love with a Belgian guy and have since spent half my time in Brussels.
The capital of Europe is a small city size-wise but boasts a thriving cultural life, partly thanks to the huge expat community.
There’s always tons of great stuff to do for locals and tourists alike. And although the cost of living is not that high compared to Paris or London, you can stay here for even less money if you follow my advice!
Cheap Lodging In Brussels
If you’re really broke and feeling sociable, there’s a big couchsurfing community in Brussels – people who will let you crash on their sofa for the pleasure of your company. Otherwise, here are your best options:
CAMPING CIEL OUVERT – 7€($8.50)/PERSON + 7€($8.50)/TENT
This is the only camping site inside of Brussels, within a stone’s throw from the Parlamentarium. Open every year from July the 1st until August the 31st. (Belgium is a pretty rainy country anyway; believe me, you’d rather have a roof over your head the rest of the year!)
AUBERGE DE JEUNESSE JACQUES BREL – FROM 22€ ($26.50)
By far the best hostel in Brussels: located in the heart of the city, it has parking, free wifi, a bar furnished with numerous local beers, themed evenings, impeccable hygiene and a friendly staff.
AIRBNB – FROM 18€ ($21.50)
Try this room across the street from the royal palace, or this one next to the gare du Midi, where you can catch the Thalys train to Paris (a 1h25 ride) or Amsterdam (2h10), or the Eurostar to London (1h50). Both are well situated and have excellent ratings.
And if you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!
Cheap food in Brussels
FRITKOTS – 3€ ($3.50) FOR A BIG PORTION OF FRIES, 2-3€ ($2.50-3.50) FOR A POULYCROC OR A FRICADELLE (FRIED IN BREADCRUMBS CHICKEN/MIXED MEATS SAUSAGE)
Did you know that so-called French fries are actually a belgian invention? So it makes sense that the best fries in the world would be found in Brussels.
Their secret: they’re cooked first in vegetable oil, then in beef fat. In Belgium, chip shops are called fritkots. Here’s a complete list of the ones in Brussels.
My personal favorite is Frit’Flagey, on a square surrounded by nice bars and restaurants and bordered by a series of ponds. Opening hours are long, but so is the waiting line!
MER DU NORD/DE NORDZEE – 5€ ($6) FOR A BOWL OF FISH SOUP, A SALMON OR CRAB OR SHRIMP SALAD
Three seafood and fish restaurants where you eat standing in the street around high tables. An informal setting for extra fresh and local food.
EXKI – FROM 3,50€ ($4) FOR A SANDWICH, 3,75€ ($4.75) FOR A BIG BOWL OF SOUP WITH BROWN BREAD AND BUTTER, 2,95€ ($3.50) FOR A SPINACH & GOAT CHEESE EMPANADA
An organic fast food chain with 20 restaurants in Brussels (including one at Zaventem airport). Great options for vegetarians and free wifi. They also do takeaway, which is slightly cheaper.
Brussels has dived headfirst into the food truck craze, even creating a very successful (and yummy!) Foodtruck Festival that had its second edition earlier this year. I particularly like:
Banh Mi Vietnamese Street Food: 6€ ($7) for a banh mi sandwich (pulled pork, carrot, cucumber and fresh coriander in crusty french bread)
Chang Noi: thai food; 8€ ($9.50) for a big pad thai
Crêperie Ty Penty: large flat pancakes, sweet or savory, as made in french Brittany, from 2.50€ ($3)
Sin Street Food: delicious, filling vegan burgers for 5€ ($6)
While you’re here, I would also recommend trying:
– Liège waffles (shops and food trucks all around the city sell those for 1€ ($1.20), a little more if you want toppings) and/or Brussels waffles – the two are very different – at Le Funambule;
– Belgian beer – Delirium Café has more than 2.000 different ones (tap or bottle), plus great decor and music.
Cheap things to do in Brussels
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT – FREE
Visit the place where European laws get voted. The ground floor has a nice museum with interactive exhibitions, as well as a shop full of quirky souvenirs.
Discover the historic center of Brussels and its magnificent Grand-Place which is a UNESCO world heritage site, or the Art Nouveau buildings – there are dozens of them, mostly by architect Victor Horta, and they make great Instagram fodder!
MAP WITH COMIC BOOK WALLS – FREE
One of the things Belgium is famous for (and rightly so!) is its comics books. Armed with this map and a comfortable pair of shoes, walk around the city admiring the numerous frescoes that adorn the side of whole buildings.
This flea market teeming with people is one of the most traditional places you could visit in Brussels. There’s treasure to be bought for a few Euros if you look closely enough… Every day of the year, 6:00 AM – 2:00 PM
A beautiful covered shopping arcade, full of costly temptations. But window shopping is always an option.
SERRES ROYALES DE LAEKEN – 2€ ($2.50)
Although they are a bit out of the way, the royal greenhouses are a wondrous sight to behold, and people come from very far to visit them. They are open to the public every spring for 3 weeks only (usually the last two of April and the first of May). They would be worth timing your stay in Brussels around those dates.
There are also a lot of parks and other green spaces inside the city. The Parc du Cinquantenaire and the Bois de la Cambre (where you can ride a bike or even a horse, rent a row boat, visit an old abbey…) are notably huge and beautiful. The botanical garden is also free.
Museums tend to be expensive, but a lot of them are free on the first Sunday of the month or on other specific days. Among my favorites: the BELvue, about Belgian culture and history, with an cheap restaurant and beautiful closed garden where you can eat or have a drink.
Unassuming as it may seem compared to its more prestigious neighbors like Paris and London, Brussels has a lot to offer. Generally speaking, people here are friendlier, less stressed-out, and most of them speak decent English. The city is also small enough that you can walk almost everywhere.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights, Isabelle! Do you guys have any questions for her? If you’re a fellow Belgian, what would you add to this list?
P.S. If you’re trying to save money for a trip, a spending diet is a great place to start!