Description of Brussels

Brussels (French: Bruxelles) is the capital of both Belgium and Flanders, and is the de facto capital of the European Union. Although many travelers opt for a city trip to Bruges, Antwerp or Ghent, Brussels should certainly not be overlooked. Brussels is known for the beautiful Grand Place with the photogenic Manneken Pis statue nearby. In addition, the European quarter is worth a visit for its modern architecture, as is the renovated Atomium.

The city arose around the eleventh century around a small harbor on the Senne. The name Brussels is derived from 'Broek-Zele' which means settlement near the marsh. Although culturally and historically the city belongs to Flanders, it was strongly Frenchified in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. As a result, the city belongs to the Flemish cultural area, but French is the dominant language (although the city is officially bilingual, which means that all street names are displayed in both Dutch and French). Due to the complex situation, the city is politically outside the Flemish Region, but it is the capital of Flanders.

The city has a strong international image. Due to the establishment of European and international institutions, English is also increasingly spoken. The city is therefore known by several names: Brussels in Dutch, Brüssel in German, Bruxelles in French and Brussels in English. Bruxelles is not pronounced by French-speaking Belgians as it is written, but they say brussèl. Inhabitants of France pronounce it brukselles.



Brussels City

Grand Place (Grand Place). Historic square where the Gothic town hall of Brussels is also located. Several tourists say "this is the most beautiful square in Europe, perhaps in the world". The Grand Place of Brussels is completely surrounded by historical buildings. You can find buildings from the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods. Because the market was almost completely destroyed by French guns (except for the town hall) in 1697, it was rebuilt, and has hardly been changed since, the buildings form a beautiful whole, and it is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. You imagine yourself completely in the Middle Ages. You can find historical buildings with a nice name such as: the bread house (where the clothes of Manneke Pis are kept), Den Coninck van Spaignien, Den Cruywagen, Den Sac, De Wolvin, De Vos, De Sterre, De Zwane, In Den Gulden Boom, The Rose, Den Berg Thabor, The House of the Dukes of Brabant, The Gulden Boot, The Pigeon, The Ammans Room. All the buildings are oriented vertically, so tall and narrow in construction, in the direction of God. The dukes of Brabant wanted to show that they were a bit more than the guilds and you can see that, their building is ten times as large. If you don't know where the Grand Place is, you should always walk down, the Grand Place is a low point in Brussels. Free.
Brussels Town Hall, Grote Markt/Grand Place. It is a monumental building, a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. Two architects worked on this building and you can see that, if you look closely you can see that there are several asymmetries in the building, the most striking is the entrance gate, which is not in the middle. If you then look left and right of the tower it will become clear. The town hall opens its doors, but it is rare that you can see all the rooms, if you have the chance you should do it, it is beautifully decorated.
Everard 't Serclaes (Near the Grote Markt). Whoever rubs his hand over this statue will be married within a year. Wonder if this is a man or a woman?
The fair. The stock exchange building of Brussels where Euronext Brussels is, neoclassical building. There are cozy cafes around the Beurs.
Grass market. If you go outside Central Station and you walk a few hundred meters further, you will arrive at the Grasmarkt. Cozy market and a nice street.
Sint-Hubertus Galleries (Entrances: Grasmarkt, Beenhouwerstraat, Arenbergstraat and Predikherenstraat.). Architect: Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar. Beautiful large Neo-Renaissance shopping arcade and in 1847 also the very first covered shopping street in the world (of that size), it is literally a building on a large foot, the glass dome is 20-30 meters high and 200 meters long. You will find luxurious shops with pralines (Neuhaus) and luxurious cafes. The gallery consists of the Queen's Gallery with the much smaller Prince's Gallery to its right and, in its extension, across Beenhouwerstraat, the King's Gallery. In the middle, the linearity of the gallery is broken by an obtuse angle, which gives an infinite visual effect, because you cannot see the back. You have the best view of the gallery when you are on the first floor, but you can't just go up there. The Sint-Hubertus Gallery was built on a place that used to be a dirty and poorly reputed neighborhood (Sint-Huybrechtstraat). It formed the direct connection between the Grote Markt and the Warmoesberg, where a new chic neighborhood had arisen around 1800. The innovative combination of glass and steel allowed people to shop indoors under the sunlight and without the rain. Seven of these galleries were originally built in Brussels, three of which still exist, the Sint-Hubertus Gallery, the Bortier Gallery and le Passage Nord.
Vossenplein/ Fox Square. daily 07:00-14:00. Flea market in the heart of the Marolles. On Saturdays and Sundays, the offer is more extensive and perhaps a bit more expensive, since tourists then walk past the stands in dense droves. The sisters of Mary of Collentes gave their name to the Marolles in the Middle Ages. These sisters de Maricollen cared for the lepers who were banished outside the city walls and came to this place. Until 1845 there was a locomotive factory on the Vossenplein called Les ateliers de Mr Renard. That's how the Vossenplein got its Dutch name, but it was also a popular place to play handball on the handball court and that's how the square got its French name: place du jeu-de-balle. Kaatsspelplaats became the unofficial Dutch name. At the end of the 19th century, local residents could go to the Fourneau Economique for a cheap meal. The Fourneau Economique stood in the center of the square. From 1902 to 1949, a public bathing place also stood there. You will find numerous cafes around the Vossenplein. Den Skieven Architek (The crooked architect) is definitely worth a visit. The name refers to Poelaert, the architect of the gigantic courthouse, who had hundreds of houses razed to the ground in order to build his courthouse. He was therefore little liked in the Marolles. Skieven Architek is therefore the expletive par excellence in Brussels if you want to drive someone into the ground.
Porte de Hal. Tue-Fri 09:30-17:00, Sat Sun 10:00-17:00. Leave the Vossenplein via the Blaesstraat at café In den Blauwen Lemmen. The second street on the left is the Aanaardingstraat. You walk into it until you reach the Zuidlaan. Diagonally in front of you you see the Hallepoort. This is a remnant of the second city wall that enclosed an area of 509 ha and contained 74 towers and 7 city gates. Until 1976, the Hallepoort housed an impressive collection of weapons and all kinds of antiquities. But the building was so dilapidated that restoration was necessary. Since 2008, the Porte de Hal is open to the public again. Curiosities of the collection are the mounted stallion of Archduke Albrecht and the mare of the infante Isabelle. €5.00.
Atomium, Atomium Square (Atomium Square), ☎ +32 2 475 4777. Open every day from 10:00-18:00. During weekends and the tourist season it is a bit of a queue.. Remarkable monument that represents a greatly enlarged iron crystal (magnified 160 billion times to be correct) and was built on the occasion of the Expo '58 world exhibition. The height of the Atomium is 108 meters and in the top sphere you can eat in the restaurant 'Atomium' while enjoying the view. It has recently been beautifully renovated and in the evening you can admire the beautiful dynamic lighting, for which extensive use has been made of ecological LED lighting. The plan for Expo '58 envisaged that the Atomium would be demolished after the exhibition; it turned out differently, the Atomium has become the symbol of Brussels and perhaps of Belgium. The 9 spheres that make up the Atomium represent the then 9 provinces, Belgium is currently divided into 10 provinces. On top you have a beautiful view of the city of Brussels and the surrounding area. For children and schools there is a special sphere with futuristic beds in which you can spend the night. At the foot of the Atomium are large flat natural stones on which you can lie with your back, giving you a beautiful view of the sky with the flickering lights of the Atomium. You have a beautiful view of the Atomium from the Kraaiberg in Grimbergen. Entrance fee: €9.00 for adults, €6.00 for children, students and seniors, children under 12 enter for free.
Mini Europe (near the Atomium). Very nice for the children, you can walk around in a theme park where all major cities of Europe and the sights are depicted on a small scale.
Martyrs Square.
Cafe Falstaff, Rue Henri Maus 19. Superb cafe built in Art Deco and Art Nouveau style.
Scientastic (In metro station 'Beurs'). 101 interactive and surprising scientific experiments. €7.90; children €5.30.

Musees Royaux des Beaux- Arts/ Royal Museum of Fine Arts



The famous red light district of Rue d'Aerschot is located at the rear of Brussels North station. It is not really a cozy neighborhood, but it is an attraction in itself. The cars drive at walking pace to see the ladies of pleasure, but because of the many accidents involving cyclists, the municipality of Schaerbeek has decided to reverse the direction of the street so that the cars can see the cyclists coming. In the middle of the street is a church, if you have sinned you can immediately go to confession. If you are in Brussels-North, take a look at the (official) graffiti on the wall at the bus platforms of De Lijn. They are very recently applied huge airbrush paintings with an amazing eye for detail. The themes are detailed drawings of people's heads.
Town Hall of Schaerbeek
Royal Saint Mary's Church



Herb garden (Botanique), ideal for a walk, a picnic or just sitting on a bench by the pond.
Proximus and Belgacom towers, the high-rise buildings of Brussels are concentrated around the Brussels-North station, the most striking skyscrapers are the Proximus towers, which are illuminated at night with the colors of Proximus (purple-blue). On the thirtieth floor (approximately) there is a bridge that goes from one tower to the other.
Dexia Tower
finance tower
Ellipse Tower
Madou Tower



Museum of Ancient Art, Regentschapsstraat 3 (near the Royal Palace)
Museum of Modern Art, Regentschapsstraat 3
Both museums have an exceptional collection of art, and can be visited for free on the first Wednesday afternoon of the month, on other days for €2.00 to €5.00.
Museum Kanal (Centre Pompidou), Akenkaai, ☎ +32 2 435 1360, e-mail: 12:00-22:00, closed on Tuesdays. Museum of modern art in a former Citroën garage. €14.00.
Autoworld, museum of the automobile, located on the Cinquantenaire.
Beer Museum, the Grand Place. It is a very small museum that can be visited in less than half an hour. At the end you will also be offered a fresh pint.
The Cantillon Brewery, Rue Gheude 56, Anderlecht. Also called the gueuze museum, here you can see how the famous beers 'gueuze' and 'kriek' and other types of beer are brewed in a traditional way and you can taste beer. The brewery is still fully economically active, you can walk around while there is business activity. The people are very friendly and speak with a nice greasy Brussels accent. If you buy several bottles, you will be helped with your cargo up to the trunk of your car. You can get the beer they brew here all over Belgium, albeit in the better pubs. Buy it here because you pay at least € 7.00 for it in a café.
Musée Schaerbeekois de la Bière, Avenue Louis Bertrand 33-35, Schaerbeek, e-mail: This museum was founded by volunteers because of their great love for Belgian beer. You can see the history of beer and taste beer. They are real Brusselleirs, if you like to hear a Brussels Vloms accent you have to be here. A real Brusseleir knows neither Dutch nor French, he speaks "Brussels" and that is a bliss to hear. You can drink a pint with the owners and have a nice chat. Buy the museum's home-brewed beer here.
Musical Instruments Museum, in the beautiful Art Nouveau Old England building.
Army Museum, Cinquantenaire Park 3, nice museum with a lot of military equipment such as cannons and airplanes. During the holidays, workshops are given for children who can then completely lose themselves in their camouflage clothing and with camouflage make-up.
The royal museum of art and history located next to the Cinquantenaire Park and within walking distance of the army museum and autoworld. It has a rich collection on Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome and non-European civilizations.
Museum of Natural Sciences, Vautierstraat 29, Brussels. 10:00-18:00, closed on Mondays. The Gallery of the Dinosaurs is an imposing restored hall of about 3000 m². There are 22 small and 7 large skeletons. 11 Dinosaurs are just as they were when they were found a good 100 years ago in the coal mine of Bernissart in Belgium. €7.00.
Trainworld, Place Princess Elisabeth 5, Schaarbeek (In and at the station of Schaarbeek). 10:00-17:00, closed on Mondays. Belgian train museum, newly opened in September 2015. €10.00.


Churches and monasteries

Basilica of Koekelberg, Basilica forecourt 1 (Parvis de la Basilique 1). Church: 08:00-17:00, panorama: 09:00-17:00 (summer) and 10:00-16:00 (winter). The basilica is the fifth largest church in the world. Leopold II dreamed of having a religious building that was as large in appearance as the largest civil building in Brussels (the Palace of Justice). The plateau of Koekelberg was chosen. You can see the Basilica of Koekelberg from anywhere in Brussels. It was built in honor of Belgium's 75th birthday, in neo-Gothic style and a lot of marble has been used for the Art Deco interior. Some speak of a dragon of a building, others are completely crazy about it, the basilica always provokes reactions. From the balcony you can enjoy a view over Brussels. The basilica is a bustling monument, the army does its exercises there, there are always exhibitions.
Church of Laeken, King Baudouin, among others, is buried here.
Saint Michael and Saint Gudula Church (Saint Gudula Cathedral), Saint Gudula Square, Treurenberg, ☎ +32 2 217 83 45, fax: +32 2 219 96 55, e-mail: Monday-Friday 07:30-18:00, Saturday 07:30-15:30, Sunday 14:00-18:00. Prince Philippe and Prince Laurent, among others, were married here, near Brussels-Central station. Free guided tours every Saturday at 2 pm (except when there is a wedding or funeral). Free.
Beguinage Church (Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste-au-Béguinage), Begijnhofstraat, ☎ +32 2 411 62 56, e-mail: Built as a church of the beguinage, founded before 1247 outside the first city walls. Destroyed during the Calvinist occupation from 1577 to 1585, and rebuilt in Baroque style in 1657 with a very beautiful facade.



The Black Tower: one of the few remnants of the old city wall, unfortunately almost completely enclosed by modern buildings.
De Munt: this is where the Belgian Revolution broke out after a screening of Portici's Stomme in 1830.
Saint-Géry : this is where Brussels was born.
The Sablon
The little Zavel,
The Palace of Justice, when it was founded in the 19th century, this eclectic building was the largest in the world, a megalomaniac project of King Leopold II, who also had the central avenues of Brussels built. The architect is Poulaert, not very popular among some Brussels residents because the former residents were forced to move elsewhere when the palace of justice was built. He was called the "schieve" architect, not because his buildings are crooked, but because "ne schieve" means "bad person" in Brussels. Victor Hugo called the courthouse the great inkwell. The palace was built on an inclined plane between upper and lower Brussels. The difference is 20 meters. So there are entrance gates on different levels. The total built-up area is 26,000 m2. There are 8 courtyards, 27 large and 245 small halls. A dome of 24,000 tons and 142 meters high crowns the building. New techniques were used for that time, such as combining metal and stone. In 1883 the cost of this project was 45 million Belgian francs. It was initially estimated at 12 million francs. When you are in front of the building you will see a white steel construction on the right. It is a lift that connects Brussels above and below for free and quickly.
the social district of Watermael-Boitsfort, a pleasant district in which the windows of the houses are painted according to colour, the inhabitants must always respect this colour.
European Parliament, Wiertzstraat 60, Brussels (By train: Brussels-Luxembourg stop on line S5 from Mechelen). 09:00-18:00. The grounds of the European Parliament (and other European institutions) can be visited free of charge. You can view the room in which the more than 700 members of parliament meet (the Hemisphere) from the public gallery, there is a museum about the history of Europe, and in the Parliamentarium you will find interactive information and films about the current activities of the parliament. Count on half a day to see everything. Free.

The Horta architecture:
Hotel van Eetvelde, Palmerstonlaan 4. UNESCO World Heritage.
The Comics Museum
Socialist house, unfortunately you can't visit this anymore, it has been demolished, it is still worth mentioning because this was one of the most beautiful buildings in Brussels.
Central Station


Getting here

By plane
Brussels Airport (located in Zaventem, IATA code BRU) is located 12 km northeast of the center of Brussels. Both scheduled flights and charters depart from here. Brussels Airport is a modern airport and the main airport for Belgium. The Belgian airline Brussels Airlines has its home port here. From the airport you can reach Brussels Central station within 20 minutes by train (Airport Express), located in the heart of Brussels and within walking distance of the Grand Place. Another possibility is to go by taxi, there are always a number of taxis waiting for you. There is also a bus connection from the bus company STIB from the airport to Place Schuman and Luxembourg in the European quarter.
Brussels South Charleroi Airport (IATA code CRL) is located 60 km south of Brussels. Several low-cost airlines operate from Brussels South Charleroi Airport, of which Ryanair is the most important. You can buy a combined ticket (train+bus) for €11.30 one way to any Brussels train station. It takes just over an hour from Charleroi-Sud train station to Brussels-Central. You can also opt for shuttle buses that run to Brussels South (€13.00 one way/€22.00 return).
Antwerp airport, IATA code ANR, has a good train connection with Brussels. This is more of a small airport for business travelers.

By train
The main stations of Brussels are Brussels-South (Bruxelles-Midi) (mainly for international trains and actually the main station of Brussels), Brussels-Central (Bruxelles-Central) and Brussels-North (Bruxelles-Nord). There are several trains per hour on the South-Central-North axis that always stop at these three stations, except for certain international trains that only stop at Brussels-South. Note: many people sometimes confuse Bruxelles-Midi and Brussels-Central because they think that Bruxelles-Midi is in the middle and then miss their appointment that is waiting in Brussels-Central. If you want to be on the Grand Place, you have to get off at Brussels Central station. As is generally the case near large stations, it can be less safe. There are also the stations of Schaerbeek, Brussels-Luxembourg (the European district, right below the buildings of the European Union), Brussels-Schuman, Etterbeek, Vorst-East, Vorst-Zuid, Brussels-West, Bordet, Jette, Bockstael , Brussels Congress and Brussels Chapel Church.

The Brussels-Central station was designed by the famous architect Victor Horta. The tunnel of Brussels-Central is the weak point of the timetable in Belgium, all trains of the North-South connection have to go underground here and only 6 tracks are available. If a delay occurs here, this will escalate to train traffic throughout Belgium. To solve this problem, the regional express network will be built in the future. Brussels Central has been largely renovated since 2009.

By car
Five motorways go to Brussels : the A12, the E19, the E40, the E411 and the E429. Via the E19 in a northerly direction you can reach Antwerp and if you drive further through Breda and Rotterdam, via the E19 in a southwesterly direction you can reach Bergen, Charleroi and Paris. The E40 runs to Ghent, Bruges and Ostend in a northwesterly direction and to Leuven and Liège in an eastern direction. The E429 runs southwest to Lille. The ring R0 runs around Brussels and has many entrances and exits. Please note that the ring road does not completely enclose Brussels because the Sonian Forest is located in the south. The E411 takes you to Namur and Luxembourg, which is the road to the Ardennes. The A12 runs parallel to the E19 and you can hardly call it a motorway, it is a dangerous road that is a motorway for a few kilometers and then becomes a normal motorway with very strange exits without a sorting lane. Due to the central location of Brussels, you can reach any place in Belgium within an hour and a half.

Attention: the entire Brussels Region is a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) where specific rules are in force to combat air pollution. Whether or not you can enter the Region with your car depends on a number of criteria that you can check on the Brussels LEZ website. As a rule, vehicles older than 10 years and diesel vehicles are prohibited. Even if your car is allowed to enter Brussels, you must register it online for free. Driving around with an unregistered vehicle risks a fine of 150 euros. This also applies to vehicles with a Dutch number plate!

By bus
The Eurolines bus holding company has its headquarters in Brussels and practically all of Europe and part of Morocco can be reached directly by bus from Brussels. The prices are competitive with air travel. The buses stop at the back of Brussels-North station (the main bus stop) and Brussels-South. Gulliver is a collaborating partner of Eurolines.

Flixbus also has connections to Brussels from several European cities, including Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and Berlin.

By boat
Brussels has a port.


Around the city

STIB (Society for Intercommunal Transport in Brussels) or in French: STIB (Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles): STIB has numerous bus and tram lines as well as four metro lines: 1, 2, 5 and 6.

By train
Try not to focus solely on the STIB network for your journeys in Brussels. The NMBS (National Company of the Belgian Railways) has numerous stops on the Brussels territory. You can also validate your STIB ticket when you use the train in the Brussels region. You therefore do not necessarily have to buy an SNCB ticket for your journeys within Brussels. Please note that you get off at a station located on the territory of the Brussels region. If you travel to Vilvoorde or Halle, you do need to buy an NMBS ticket. This can be purchased at the counter or electronic distributors. If you are in a smaller station without a ticket office (or a large station where the ticket office is closed), you must contact the train conductor on the train to purchase a ticket, please note that a surcharge of €7 will be charged on board the train. 00 on top of the ticket price. It is therefore best to buy your ticket before you board, at the counters.

By bike
Brussels is not entirely bicycle-friendly, there are few bicycle markings in the city. Recently, the city council has been making more efforts to stimulate bicycle use by constructing additional bicycle infrastructure. In Brussels (as in the rest of Belgium) people often work with bicycle lanes instead of fully-fledged cycle paths. Moreover, there are many hills in Brussels. It is not recommended to travel by bicycle in certain parts of the city, especially between heavy car traffic. For example, you can cycle very well in the Zoniënwoud or the pedestrian zone in the center.

City bikes are also available in the Brussels region, namely Villo!, a cheap and convenient system to move around smoothly. A ticket for 1 day costs €1.50 and a ticket for 7 days costs €7.00. If you have a ticket, the first half hour of cycling is free, after that you pay €0.50 for the next half hour. You do need a credit card to purchase your ticket. In the high-lying stations it is sometimes difficult to find a bicycle, in the lower-lying stations it is sometimes difficult to get rid of it. This can partly be explained by the fact that the bicycles are somewhat heavier than the city bicycles in, for example, London or Paris.

On foot
Visiting Brussels is very easy on foot. The center of the city (the pentagon) can be reached on foot in just 25 minutes. Since June 2015, Brussels has a 50-hectare pedestrian center, the second largest in Europe after Venice.



Middle Ages and Duchy of Brabant

The area within which the city rights applied was called the Kuip van Brussel. It then flourished under the Duchy of Brabant and then strongly rivaled Leuven. Both cities were alternately the capital of the Duchy. Brussels more or less became the capital of the Habsburg Netherlands and later the Southern Netherlands. Towards the end of the Austrian Netherlands it gained the upper hand over Leuven. Several noble families settled there, as did (parts of) the government.

Brussels consolidated its capital function for the first time under the French regime. During the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, it was the seat of parliament, together with The Hague. In the Belgian Revolution of 1830, Brussels was the center of the rebels, where the Provisional Government established itself.


Belgian capital

The new Belgian state significantly accelerated the development of Brussels. Before 1830, Brussels was a Brabant, Dutch-speaking city. After independence, it experienced a strong influx of Frenchmen (refugee revolutionaries and others), and of Walloon officials, whom the young Belgian regime attracted from the Walloon provinces to man its national administration. That regime was dominated by the higher bourgeoisie and the nobility. Only these groups then enjoyed voting rights. They wanted to develop the national institutions only in their own language, French. As a result, Dutch was radically banned from all institutions and from the administration.

This linguistic discrimination coincided with severe social and political discrimination against the workers and the Flemish Dutch-speaking bourgeoisie. In the nineteenth century, Brussels also experienced strong industrial development. Due to this pressure from the government and the settlement of Walloons and French, the Frenchification of the population, the verbeulemanization, increased. However, it was not until the middle of the twentieth century that French speakers formed the majority in Brussels.

Along with this evolution, the metropolitan area also grew. At the beginning of the 19th century, there were only six municipalities around the capital. As urbanization and Frenchification progressed, surrounding municipalities were annexed. This happened during ten-yearly language censuses. As soon as the number of francophones and bilinguals exceeded certain limits, the municipality concerned was added to the metropolitan area.

Since the 1960s, Brussels became the de facto capital of the European Community, later of the European Union. Urban planning interventions, such as the demolition of existing buildings, sometimes entire districts, were permitted without aesthetic aspects being heavily weighted. Art Deco houses disappeared, unless they were already protected. This architectural cacophony of old and new gave rise to the term Brusselsization.


Own Brussels institutions: agglomeration and region

Brussels acquired its own political institutions only quite late, first with a Brussels Agglomeration Council, and then, ten years after the Flemish and Walloon regions (in 1989), with its own capital regional institutions: the Brussels-Capital Parliament and the Brussels-Capital Government. In addition, a legal regulation was developed to protect the Flemish minority in Brussels (according to the most optimistic estimates about 20% of the Brussels population, but less if one takes the election results of the Dutch-speaking parties as a benchmark). For example, the Brussels regional government (as well as the federal one) has a parity composition, which means that there are an equal number of Dutch-speaking and French-speaking ministers (with the exception of the Prime Minister). Later, the Flemings also received a guaranteed number of seats in the Brussels-Capital Council, because otherwise their number of seats threatened to fall below a critical threshold.

In addition, the Flemish and French Communities also exercise powers in the Brussels Region; these are the typical community powers, also referred to as 'personal matters' (eg culture). For the Flemish Community, these powers rest with the Flemish Community Commission (VGC), for the French Community with the COCOF. There is a Joint Community Commission for a limited number of matters.

The current institutional arrangement for the Brussels-Capital Region is the result of several rounds of state reforms, with the French speakers trying to develop Brussels into a fully-fledged region ('une région-à-part entière'), while the Flemish want to see Brussels more as a lower, intermediate form of government – a highly upgraded agglomeration cum province or even city (with a merger of the 19 municipalities). The Brussels Region has a slightly different legal status than the Flemish and Walloon regions.



In terms of territory, the current Brussels-Capital Region coincides with the bilingual region of Brussels-Capital and the arrondissement of Brussels-Capital, which, in addition to Brussels, includes 18 other municipalities that grew urbanistically with the core city in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, unlike most other large agglomerations in Belgium (such as Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi and Liège), the Brussels agglomeration was not involved in the merger operation of municipalities in 1977, so that the number of municipalities remained unchanged. In the past (1922) only the municipalities of Laeken, Haren and Neder-over-Heembeek were incorporated by the municipality of Brussels.

Soil & relief
The Brussels-Capital Region is located in the Brabantse Loam region on the northeast side of central Belgium at an altitude that varies from 9.40 meters in the valley of the almost completely covered Senne, which cuts through the region from south to north, to 148 meters in the Zoniënwoud on the southeast side. In addition to the Zenne, its tributaries the Maalbeek and the Woluwe in the east of the region also cause considerable differences in height. Forests and parks together account for about 20% of the total area of the region, they are mainly concentrated in the southeast of the region (Zoniënwoud, Ter Kamerenbos). In the west (including Anderlecht) there is a limited area of pasture and arable land. Undeveloped lands (including forests, parks and farmland) together account for one third of the territory.


Demography and diversity

When Belgium became independent in 1830, the municipalities that are now part of the Brussels-Capital Region had about 135,000 inhabitants, of which Brussels itself, with about 95,000 inhabitants, made up about 70% of the total. The other municipalities were then still villages, only a few of which had more than 3,000 inhabitants, which had not yet grown into the city. In 1900 the agglomeration already had 626,075 inhabitants and around 1960 the milestone of 1,000,000 inhabitants was reached. The share of Brussels in the total was then only 17%. In the 19th century, it was mainly the municipalities directly adjacent to Brussels that grew spectacularly (Anderlecht, Molenbeek, Schaarbeek, Saint-Gilles, Ixelles, Saint-Josse), in the In the 20th century, the growth mainly occurred in the municipalities of the outer periphery.

In 1990, just after the creation of the region in 1989, the agglomeration had a population of 991,355, while in 1970 there were still 1,075,136. Until 2000, this number would continue to fall to 959,318, roughly equal to the 1947 level (955,929). In the first decade of the 21st century, the trend reversed to reach 1,200,000 in 2019. This strong growth is mainly concentrated in the municipalities of Anderlecht, Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Schaarbeek, Ixelles, Sint-Joost-ten-Node, Koekelberg, Laeken (Brussels II) and Sint-Gillis, and is the result of a high natural balance (high birth rate and low death rate, mainly due to the large proportion of the young immigrant population), as well as strong migration from abroad. Despite this growth, some of these municipalities (Brussels, Ixelles, Saint-Gilles, Etterbeek and Saint-Josse) still have fewer inhabitants than at their peak. The other municipalities have a lower growth rate, which is closer to the national average. However, the phenomenon of urban escape, which originated in the second half of the 20th century, still occurs, because the internal migration balance remains negative year after year (more inhabitants leave the region for Flanders or Wallonia than vice versa).

At the end of 2008, some 68% of the inhabitants of the Brussels-Capital Region were of foreign origin. About 35% of the inhabitants of Brussels are of non-European origin. The percentage of Brussels residents of European origin and of non-foreign origin is both 32%. Refugees make up the remaining 1%. It should be noted that residents of mixed origin (both Belgian and foreign) are counted as being of foreign origin.

According to a 2006 report by the Brussels Observatory for Health and Welfare, 46.3% of the inhabitants of the Brussels-Capital Region are of foreign origin (ie not born in Belgium). 26.8% of the inhabitants of Brussels do not have Belgian nationality (are immigrants). In some areas of the region, it mainly concerns migrant workers. In other districts, non-Belgians are mainly employees of international organizations or foreign students.


Population density per municipality

The Brussels-Capital Region has an average population density of more than 7,400 inhabitants per km², which is about 20 times higher than the national average. However, there are large differences in population density between a number of municipalities in the region. The centrally located municipalities and also the historic city center of Brussels, the so-called pentagon, have a much higher density than the municipalities of the second crown, which urbanized later. For the municipalities of the southeastern edge (especially Watermael-Bosvoorde, but also Uccle, Auderghem and Woluwe-Saint-Pierre), this can partly be explained by the fact that a large part of their surface is taken up by the uninhabited Sonian Forest, and on the other hand because they also have a free have a large residential zone with detached buildings. For the city of Brussels, including the absorbed municipalities of Laeken, Haren and Neder-Over-Heembeek, the explanation lies mainly in the presence of the large royal domain and the port zone, where there is hardly any habitation. Although Sint-Joost-ten-Noode is the most densely populated municipality with almost 24,000 inhabitants per square kilometer, the highest concentration at district level can be found in the Bosnia quarter of Saint-Gilles, where the density is 38,000 inhabitants per km². Both Saint-Josse and Saint-Gilles had an even higher density of about 25,000 inhabitants per km² in the middle of the 20th century (before the start of the urban flight).


Belgians and residents of foreign origin by municipality

The Local Civic Integration and Integration Monitor 2018 published by the Flemish Community provides the following figures regarding the diversity of the population for the 19 municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region.

Of the nearly 1.2 million inhabitants, 65% have Belgian nationality, 35% have another nationality. By nationality, the French are most strongly represented in 10 of the 19 municipalities and the Romanians in 6 municipalities. Bulgarians, Moroccans and Indians each come first in 1 municipality (Schaarbeek, Molenbeek and Evere, respectively). In Ixelles, Sint-Gillis and Etterbeek, almost 50% of the inhabitants each have a nationality other than Belgian, Watermael-Boitsfort and Sint-Agatha-Berchem are the only municipalities where just over 80% of the inhabitants have the Belgian nationality .

At the end of 2017, 71.8% of the inhabitants of the Brussels-Capital Region were of foreign origin (born abroad themselves or at least one of the parents was born abroad). 28.3% of all inhabitants have roots in one of the countries of the European Union, 43.5% have ties with countries outside the EU, 24.6% come from the Maghreb or Turkey, which, thus far, are the main immigration regions. Sint-Joost-Ten-Node is the only municipality with more than 90% inhabitants of foreign origin, Watermael-Boitsfort as the only municipality with less than 50%. Molenbeek has the largest share (65%) of residents from non-EU countries, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre the least with 17%.


Heterogeneous territory

The region is heterogeneous: there are significant differences in population density and average wealth between the different municipalities. This is reflected in a different view of the districts and municipalities.

Centrally, there is the city of Brussels, with a very great attraction to work and experience culture, with a great variety in socio-economic and spatial terms. Around the canal zone, there are the municipalities of Vorst, Anderlecht, Molenbeek and Schaarbeek, in industrial reconversion, with a strongly increasing, mostly foreign population and a lower than average income. In the municipalities in the "first belt" (Etterbeek, Ixelles, Saint-Gilles and Saint-Josse-Ten-Node) there is also a lower income than average, a high population density, especially singles. There are many office buildings.

In addition, there are residential communities in both the northwest and southeast. In the northwest, these are Ganshore, Evere, Koekelberg, Jette and Sint-Agatha-Berchem, municipalities with increasing population numbers, especially families, and slightly wealthier than average. In the southeast, these are the two Woluwes, Auderghem, Uccle and Watermael-Boitsfort. These municipalities are relatively richer, with a stagnant and aging population.




The region has Dutch and French as official languages. Almost all official (administration, police, court, street signs, ...), semi-official businesses and institutions (STIB, Bpost) and various private entities (such as large retail chains) are bilingual. Most other designations can also be found in the two languages. Nevertheless, the language of communication on the street is mostly French, in accordance with the distribution of the population: 80 to 90 percent use French as the language of communication, 20 to 10 percent Dutch, depending on the source and the standards used.

However, such percentages do not always give a clear picture. Many residents who state French as their first language also speak Dutch, whether or not at native level. These can be (mostly older) residents who speak Dutch, French and the Brussels dialect, but also people who were brought up in French and went to a Dutch-language school. Around 2010, a trend can be discerned for French-speaking parents to send their children to a Dutch-speaking school, because that would give them more opportunities, and because French-language education in Brussels has a reputation for being of inferior quality. Many French-speaking Brussels residents speak Dutch for commercial reasons: after all, 200,000 to 300,000 Flemish or other Dutch-speaking commuters work in the city. Finally, it should be noted that a large proportion of the inhabitants have another language at home (including Arabic, Turkish, English, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian and various African languages), whereby French and/or Dutch are essentially are second or third languages for these inhabitants.

The municipal council of each of the 19 municipalities of the region usually has one (or exceptionally sometimes several) Dutch-speaking alderman(s), who is sometimes competent for all Dutch-speaking matters. Municipal officials who interact with the public (such as counter clerks) should be bilingual. In practice, official reports confirm that large numbers of monolingual (in practice mainly French-speaking) civil servants are employed. Most mayors have a good knowledge of both languages.

Occasionally there are incidents between French speakers and Dutch speakers. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, there was the Schaerbeek mayor Roger Nols, who took various measures to virtually bully Dutch speakers away. The best example of this is the counter issue: Roger Nols ensured that there was only one counter for Dutch speakers in the town hall, although a Dutch speaker should be able to go to any counter in Dutch. Due to the number of inhabitants of Schaarbeek, the highest after that of Brussels-City, there was a need for more counters for Dutch speakers. Within Brussels, these tensions seem to be easing. Rather, the language problems moved to the Vlaamse Rand around Brussels, where many French-speaking inhabitants of Brussels have settled. In some municipalities they are even a large majority, which is in contrast to the fact that those municipalities belong to Flanders and are therefore formally Dutch-speaking.

Of all commercial companies with their registered office in Brussels, 35 percent use Dutch as an internal working language and as a communication language with the authorities. One-third of all job offers require bilingualism, one-fifth also requires knowledge of English. Multilingual jobs are usually filled by Flemings. Of all advertising campaigns in Brussels, about 41.4 percent are bilingual French-Dutch, one third monolingual French, one tenth bilingual French-English and 7.2 percent trilingual. In 2006, 230,000 commuters came from the Flemish Region (65% of the total) during the day, considerably more than the 126,500 commuters from Wallonia (35%). These numbers remained the same in 2018.


Linguistic evolutions

The original language of Brussels, a local variant of Brabantish, is one of the forerunners of contemporary Dutch. The current Standard Dutch has developed over the centuries from various dialects, in which Brabant and Dutch have played a leading role. Within the Brussels-Capital Region, French and Dutch are official languages, but most people (residents, commuters, foreigners, and the casual visitor) use French as a language of address.

Brussels is one of the Brabant dialects of Dutch. Before the French occupations and Belgian independence, French was only used by the higher nobility and their domestic servants, and in relations with neighboring French-speaking regions such as the region around Nivelles, Hainaut and Namur. During the French occupations, French was harshly imposed as the language of administration. At the time of Belgian independence, the local population of Brussels was still more than 90% Dutch-speaking. The number of French speakers increased during the 19th century due to the settlement of French refugees and the recruitment of Walloon officials for the central administration of the new state. After all, the new state opted for the language of a very limited group of voters, the exclusively French-speaking nobility, higher bourgeoisie and higher clergy.

In the last decades of the twentieth century, the Brussels-Capital Region has developed from a bilingual to a multilingual area, thanks to the settlement of European civil servants and their families, foreign workers from the Mediterranean, immigrants from the former Belgian colony of the Congo, refugees from all parts of the world and recently many Central and Eastern Europeans. English is increasingly being used as a language of communication and other languages are also gaining importance, especially as a home language and means of communication within population groups, such as Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Berber, Italian, etc.

After the last language census in 1947, in which 74.2% stated French and 25.5% Dutch as the most spoken language, no official statistics on language use in Brussels have been kept. Since 2000, periodic surveys of language relations have been carried out by the Brussels Information, Documentation and Research Center (BRIO), a scientific research institute. The development of the home language in Brussels shows that in recent years the share of monolingual (French) families has fallen sharply and the share of bilingual families has increased. It is remarkable that between 2000 and 2012 the share of families where only or partly French is spoken decreased slightly (from 82% to 78%), while the share of families where only or partly Dutch is spoken rose sharply (from 14% to 22% ). This is probably partly due to the popularity of Dutch-language education in Brussels.



Government and Parliament

Since 1989, the inhabitants of Brussels have been able to elect their own regional representatives: the Brussels-Capital Parliament. This council appoints the government of the Brussels-Capital Region. This government must have a parliamentary majority in both language groups and, by analogy with the federal government, must also have an equal number of ministers from each language group (in practice two each), led by a prime minister to whom this language parity does not apply. In addition, a few secretaries of state, subordinate to one of the ministers, can also be added to the government, but the language parity does not apply to them either. The respective councils for the Flemish and French-speaking community are also composed from the council (VGC and COCOF).

Important administrative tasks are entrusted to institutions of the two communities in Brussels, being the Flemish Community Commission (VGC) and the Commission Communautaire Française (COCOF), as well as a small Joint Community Commission (GGC). VGC and COCOF each have their own elected council and their own board. The community councils consist of the elected members of their own community in the Brussels parliament.



As for all elections in Belgium, voting for the Brussels-Capital Parliament is also compulsory. In 1989, the number of voters was 582,947 representing 60.45% of the population. In 2014, the number of voters remained almost unchanged (584,310), while the population has now increased by twenty percent. Because these new inhabitants are almost exclusively non-Belgians who do not have the right to vote, the voter/inhabitant ratio has fallen to 50.22%, which is significantly lower than is the case at national level and in the other regions. In addition, high absenteeism (16.5% in 2014) is also characteristic of the Brussels region.

Originally, the parliament had 75 members and there were no fixed number of seats determined per language group. With the Lambermont Agreement of 2001, the number of seats was increased to 89 and a fixed number of seats was provided for each language group, 72 for the French-speaking lists and 17 for the Dutch-speaking lists. This 80%-20% ratio does not reflect the actual voting ratio between the two language groups. Since 1989, the share of votes for the NL-language lists fell from 15.01% to 11.54% in 2014, while on the FR-language side it rose from 84.99% to 88.46%. It should be noted here that votes for NL-language lists cannot necessarily come exclusively from NL-language voters, conversely this also applies to votes on FR-language lists. It is not possible to determine how large this phenomenon of cross-language voting is, but it is true that the Vlaams Belang (formerly Vlaams Blok) has deliberately conducted a bilingual campaign a number of times with the intention of also conquering FR-language votes, which for 1999 and 2004 would explain the higher number of votes for NL-language lists.

Due to the reserved number of seats per language group, bilingual lists are not possible for these elections. Dutch-speakers who apply for a French-speaking list are considered to be French-speaking and vice versa. There is also an electoral threshold of 5% for these elections, although in this case this applies per language group and is not calculated on the whole of the votes cast.

A special feature is that parties within the same language group can enter into a list connection (apparenting) with each other. The technique of apparition, which in Belgium only exists in provincial elections and previously in federal elections, but between lists of the same party in different electoral districts, is therefore used here for lists of different parties in the same electoral district. The aim of this was to prevent the Vlaams Blok from obtaining a majority of the seats because smaller parties, such as N-VA, spirit, Agalev or Vivant at the time, would not reach the electoral threshold. In this way, in 2014 the PTB*PVDA-GO! winning four seats although falling below the electoral threshold at 3.86%. After all, the party entered into a list connection with the parties Pro Brussels, Belgian Union-Union Belge and the Pirate Party. In sum, the four parties together obtained more than 5%, and seats were thus allocated to them; these eventually all ended up with the PVDA. The parties CD&V, sp.a, N-VA, Open Vld, Groen and Vlaams Belang did not enter into a list connection in these elections.