Local traditions and culture in Brussels

  • Frites home made.
    Frites home made.
    by breughel
  • Moules in my dish.
    Moules in my dish.
    by breughel
  • Chocolate - Brussels
    Chocolate - Brussels
    by solopes

Most Viewed Local Customs in Brussels

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Poems on the walls

    by Nemorino Updated May 1, 2014

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    While cycling around Brussels I came across poems on the walls in several parts of the city.

    This one is in several languages, and includes the message: "Life is illegal."

    Thanks to VT member kris-t for translating the Russian words in this wall poem: "Air that was stolen by lungs not certified. Life is illegal."

    Second photo: You can also see elaborate wall paintings in several Brussels neighborhoods.

    1. Wall poem 2. Wall painting
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    A Bridge Between Two Worlds

    by Nemorino Updated May 1, 2014

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    In Brussels there are said to be at least 1500 homeless people.

    I noticed this one particularly because he was sleeping at the front entrance of the opera house, perhaps one meter to the right of the front door, just as opera goers were starting to arrive for the premiere of Massenet's Werther.

    That sleeping bag looks very thin for a cold December night, and those flimsy pieces of cardboard underneath are certainly not providing much insulation. His belongings are in a couple of backpacks and a plastic shopping bag by his head, and his dog is curled up on a jacket beside him.

    Some other night you might conceivably find this same man sitting next to you in the opera house, because the Brussels opera has a program called Un Pont entre Deux Mondes / Een brug tussen twee werelden, meaning A Bridge Between Two Worlds. The main aim of this program is "to make culture, music and opera accessible to an underprivileged public."

    Among other partners, they work together with an organization called Jamais Sans Toit (JST), meaning "Never Without a Roof", which tries to "fill the gap between the rich and the poor people" and let the poor "be a part of society, by letting them go to concerts and museums” -- and to the opera, where they get (free) places in the front rows or on the first balcony, among the other visitors.

    Website: http://www.jamaissanstoit.be/
    Related tip/review: They have had a past, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon Local Custom Tip by Nemorino.

    A homeless man and his dog at the opera
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  • breughel's Profile Photo

    No Herve cheese in Brussels!

    by breughel Updated Aug 8, 2013

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    Just a remark about that Herve cheese from Roadquill.
    This is NOT a local cheese of Brussels. Herve is located near Liège at more than 100 Km from Brussels.
    In Brussels when I was a kid one could find "stinkkeis" (stinking cheese).
    Disappeared of the market; there are no cows or goats anymore in or around Brussels.

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  • Roadquill's Profile Photo

    Local Cheese

    by Roadquill Written Jul 30, 2013

    After procuring a nice bottle of Bordeaux, I went across the street and asked the woman at the Fromagerie for a flavorful local cheese. She recommended La Herve du Vieux Moulin. I think it would be better translated as old shoe rather than old mill. That was one stinky cheese. I made the mistake of getting some on my fingers and I almost couldn't get through US Customs five days later.

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    Everhard Serklaes Touch

    by Kuznetsov_Sergey Updated Jan 11, 2013

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    There is a legend that if to touch a sculpture of Everhard Serclaes, you will return to Bruxelles once again. We tried to touch a sculpture twice - it is come true!

    You can watch my 4 min 05 sec Video Brussels out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.

    Brussels - Everhard Serklaes Touch Brussels - Everhard Serklaes Touch Brussels - Everhard Serklaes Touch Brussels - Everhard Serklaes Touch Brussels - Everhard Serklaes Touch
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    Brussels lace

    by Kuznetsov_Sergey Updated Jan 11, 2013

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    Brussels lace is famous all around the world!
    Brussels lace is a type of pillow lace that originated in and around Brussels. The term "Brussels lace" has been broadly used for any lace from Brussels, however the term strictly interpreted refers to bobbin lace, in which the pattern is made first, then the ground, or réseau, added, also using bobbin lace. Brussels lace is not to be confused with Brussels point, which is a type of needle lace, though is sometimes also called "Brussels lace".

    Brussels lace Brussels lace Brussels lace and Irina
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  • breughel's Profile Photo

    Frites - Forum answer.

    by breughel Written Oct 20, 2012

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    FORUM REPLY.
    Best frites are those made by my wife.
    Outside on the streets there are "fritteries" or what we call "fritkot" snacks where they serve only frites. I wrote years ago a tip about them http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/193ee3/
    In Belgium it is difficult to eat bad frites; even in a Turkish kebab snack they make frites in the Belgian way and serve them with the kebab!
    Warning: never eat ketchup with frites but mayonnaise, pickles, mustard or just salt.

    Now near the Grand Place you could eat mussels with frites (moules frites here my tip http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/20aa8b/) at Chez Leon already mentioned here.

    Btw don't forget to visit the collection of Flemish Painters at the Musée Royal des Beaux Arts otherwise you might deceive me! Belgians combine always the pleasures of the belly with the pleasures of the brain.

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  • breughel's Profile Photo

    Not much respect for laws.

    by breughel Updated Sep 10, 2012

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    The present Belgium is independent only since 1830. During almost two thousand years her inhabitants knew invasions and foreign dominations. At first Romans who after defeating the Belgian Celtic tribes imposed the Roman order and civilization and made of this country the most northern Latin country even if presently the majority of the Belgians speak a Germanic language Flemish/Dutch.
    Written Flemish is identical to Dutch but spoken it is different like English from the UK differs from English from the USA.

    Often divided vertically into three parts the Belgians made the experience of some good foreign rulers like the Dukes de Bourgogne, but more bad ones like the Spanish domination under king Felipe II. The term "Spanish fury" stayed in our language and memory.
    All the nearby countries occupied Belgium except the British.
    This long period of foreign domination marked the Belgian character. Belgium is probably the country which has most laws and regulations which are not respected by the citizens. In our mentality laws are made to get round them.

    Belgian Revolution of 1830.
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  • breughel's Profile Photo

    SELF-DERISION.

    by breughel Updated Sep 10, 2012

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    More than frites, mussels, pralines self-derision seems to be a Belgian specificity at least according to those who observe this country.
    According to the dictionary self-derision is "laughing at oneself with sarcasm " it is not humour (British) "shape of spirit which consists in presenting the reality so as to show its pleasant and unusual aspects" it is not the "esprit français" which is to the detriment of others.
    Our "auto-derision" is also different from self-deprecation; there is a good part of fun in our "auto-derision"

    Mind you, all Belgians do not practise self-derision; you will find in Belgium numerous persons whose oversized ego prevents them from any self-derision. In Brussels we call them "dikke nek". We also have more and more mentally underdeveloped people unable to laugh at themselves.
    With a little luck you will meet Belgians who practise this magnificent virtue of self-derision and I am certain that you will take pleasure in this practice.

    A result of self-derision is that in the Belgian political discourse you will not meet patriotic expressions like: "God bless …, God save …, Proud to be …, Nation, Patrie ".
    That does not mean that "patriotism" is not existing; patriotism exists but only when Belgium is invaded!

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  • breughel's Profile Photo

    PRALINES (NOT "chocolates").

    by breughel Updated Sep 9, 2012

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    IT IS NOW 100 YEARS AGO THAT JEAN (II) NEUHAUS INVENTED THE PRALINE IN BRUSSELS.

    Genuine Belgians use the word PRALINES for what is called "chocolates" by tourists. If outside the touristic centres you ask for chocolate you will get a bar of chocolate.

    The production of pralines in Belgium is now in hands of a number of companies who have industrialized the process what does, fortunately, not mean that quality has diminished. These larger companies have oriented their production to the export making of the Belgian pralines a luxury export product of world wide fame. There are also a good number of artisanal workshops.
    Belgians consider that brands like Neuhaus, Godiva, Corné are the better ones at least among the big producers. Leonidas is lower in rank but also in price. When a Belgian offers pralines, he will buy the better rated ones, but for his own use he might take the Leonidas because the difference in price is wider than the difference in quality. When offering pralines we usually buy a ballotin (box) of 500 or 750 gr. mixed (assortment). For our own use we select the types we like most. My favoured praline types, for example, are the "manons" especially the"manons sucrées" of Neuhaus.
    I prefer to stay with the traditional Belgian taste of the pralines so that a Marcolini is not on my list.

    What is remarkable with Belgian pralines is the significant price increase as soon as they cross the Belgian border. Worst increase of price is when they are sold at luxury shops like Harrods in London. Multiplication by 2.5 of the Belgian price. I can understand that the poor Londoners buy Belgian pralines at Harrods by only one or two pieces at the time! Therefore, when you leave Belgium buy some kilos at the Brussels airport. There are good shops with a large variety of the best pralines.
    A price idea: 40 - 50 €/kg

    Are pralines good or bad for health? They are certainly good for the moral, they induce a euphoric feeling. Some addiction to pralines has been reported. I am one of these praline addicts.

    Ballotin de pralines.
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  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    The Belgian Flag

    by Nemorino Updated Aug 3, 2011

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    When people display the Belgian flag from their balconies it's not just to support their football team. It's a political statement, meaning they want Belgium to remain one country and not be split in two.

    When Belgium became an independent country in 1830 the French-speaking southern section was the rich part and French was the only official language. Now 177 years later it is Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern part of the country, that is riding on a wave of prosperity with lots of new high-tech companies, while the once-proud South wonders what to do with the ruins of its nineteenth-century heavy industry.

    The two linguistic communities already have a high degree of autonomy, but some Flemish politicians suggest going one step further and dividing the country so that Flanders would no longer have to subsidize the formerly haughty French-speaking southern region of Wallonia.

    Brussels, the capital, is officially a bilingual city, so everything has to have two names, one in French and one in Dutch.


    When I was in Brussels I was surprised to find that the language spoken in Flanders was always referred to as Dutch / néerlandais / Nederlands, not Flemish. I was told that the official languages are French and Dutch, not Walloon and Flemish. Evidently they only use "Flemish" for the people or the local dialect, but not for the official language as used in books and newspapers, for instance. Also on the web, when Belgian websites have three languages to click on they are called Français, Nederlands and English.

    Second photo: Here's another flag on the Avenue Winston Churchill, as it is called in French, otherwise known as the Winston Churchilllaan in Dutch.

    1. The Belgian Flag 2. Avenue Winston Churchill=Winston Churchilllaan

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  • scottishvisitor's Profile Photo

    Forget me nots for the Unknown Soldiers

    by scottishvisitor Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The Colonne du Congres the Congress Column is a fitting tribute to the nationhood. The colonne commemorates the founding of Belgium in 1830. On the top is a statue of the first King of Belgium Leopold l at his feet sit four female figures symbolising the human rights denied to the Nation in the past. Their rights to Freedom of Education and Religion - Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Assembly. At the base of the column a flame burns within the tomb of the unknown soldier a memorial for the victims of both world wars.
    Around the column there are little gardens, my favourite flowers were in bloom - Forget me Nots - A fitting tribute indeed.

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    Local customs I didn't like

    by scottishvisitor Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Lots of Cities encounter problems with graffiti but I was surprised to see so much of the p.... artists work with spray paint all around the city. Unlike the lovely murals and comic strip art - this is most definately not art but indeed an eye sore which fast becomes a copy cat practise
    One other thing bugged me here and I did wonder where to write about it. Not a warning or danger but a reality - the dog fouling is almost everywhere. We saw no signs warning dog owners to clean up after their dogs no threat of fines just the evidence left behind. I realise these things are a people problem but I'm sure wheels could be set in motion (pardon the pun) to try to sort it out.

    an eye sore doggy doo doo more yuk Maybe these guys can get on the case
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    Why the Statue is so polished

    by scottishvisitor Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Walking down a narrow street we came upon the recumbent bronze statue of folk hero Everard 't Serclaes. He briefly freed the city from the tyrannical counts of Flanders in 1356. The local hero has been polished to a shine by the many people who pass by hoping for good luck. I didn't bother after all his efforts to free the city he suffered a fate of execution - doesn't sound too lucky to me. My husband could not resist = I'll tell you later if he wins the lottery!

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    The Cheek of the Street Artists

    by scottishvisitor Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The Street Performers in Brussels can catch you out with a little bit of a scam, they are a lot of fun but be aware there is an extra charge involved. Taking a picture as they pose as statues, then leaving a few coins is not enough for these guys. You will, after the obligitory photo is taken, be press ganged into buying a postcard. Treat it as a little bit of fun = have a laugh = then wonder who you can possibly send the postcard too!!

    Vincent who??
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