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 in January/ February and the Pink Screens festival rolls around in November, but also screens films throughout the year. For Belgian Pride, held in April/May, the streets around rue du Marché au Charbon/ Steenstraat are car-free.
Eurolines connects most cities in Europe by coach with over 500 destinations. For this next year (through March 31, 2018) their Eurolines Pass provides unlimited travel for 15 consecutive days between 50 cities, including Brussels, for between 225 (low season) and 320 euros (high season); or 340-425€ euros for 30 days. For those under 26, youth fares cost almost 20% less.
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, Pegasus, TUI, and WizzAir land. Shuttle buses from here get you to Charleroi-South railway station, from which you can catch the train into Brussels center.
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 24/7 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 LGBT community center with services, library, cafe/bar, and a magazine that's been in print for 30 years.
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€.
Rainbowhouse / Maison Arc-en-Ciel (42 rue du Marché au Charbon; Kolenmarkt 42), LGBTQI community center, home to several organisations and groups; information resources, Out In Brussels and Pride guides, social events, workshops and conferences.
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 Commerçants), 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/ Kolenmarkt) near Grand-Place in lively Quartier Saint-Jacques; two double rooms, private bathrooms, Wi-Fi connections.
We list these and another 21 hotels on our map & listings pages.
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/ Kolenmarkt), 1920's decor, gay-friendly pre-club warm-up pub, international mix of artists, musicians, actors, and creative types congregate.
La Boule Rouge (52 rue des Pierres/ Steenstraat), mixed gay-friendly restaurant/ bar fine dining, karaoke, drag shows; Fridays' LaDiva, Latin Sundays.
Le Boys Boudoir (25 rue Marche au Charbon/ Kolenmarkt), 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.
Le Detour (57 rue des Pierres/ Steenstraat), gay bar at city center, mixed young crowd; former location of L'Homo Erectus.
La Moon (90 rue Marché au Charbon/ Kolenmarkt), stylish gay-friendly cafe/lounge bar and terrace; lunch sandwiches, soups, salads, pastries, evening cocktails, weekend DJ sets and drag shows.
La Reserve (2A rue Petite au Beurre/ Korte Boterstraat), oldest gay bar in Brussels, small, packed on weekends with all types and ages.
Le Plattesteen (41 rue du Marché au Charbon/ Kolenmarkt), gay-friendly restaurant/bar, lunch and dinner, big terrace at the center.
Recyclart (25 rue des Ursulines/ Ursulinenstraat), 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-only fetish cruise bar at the center; naked/ underwear nights, sneakers and sportswear events, bear parties, and "gang-bangs."
Station Bxl (27 rue du Marché au Charbon/ Kolenmarkt), gay bar/restaurant, burgers, pasta, toasts, salads from 5pm; mostly guys/bears, DJ sets, theme nights, friendly staff.
CLOSED: Duquesnoy (12 rue Duquesnoy), men-only fetish/naked cruise bar; Le Can-Can (55 rue des Pierres/ Steenstraat), 24-hour karaoke bar, show nights; L'Homo Erectus (57 rue des Pierres), gay party bar, videos, go-go boys, drag; Le Club (45 rue des Pierres), gay/ lesbian/ mixed cocktail bar.
Dance clubs and parties
La Demence (208 rue Bleesstraaat), huge monthly circuit party at Club Fuse; 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.
Club 3000 (9 Boulevard Jamar), pan-sexual 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, dark room. Top floor private rooms and communal video; barwith snacks. Closed Tuesdays.
Macho Sauna (106 rue Marche au Charbon/ Kolenmarkt), large facility, pool and terrace, sauna, hammam, solarium, massage, bar/cafe, video room; 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; bar, bear nights, special brunch and dinner buffets.
In Ghent: Spades 4our (Koning Albertlaan 172), large popular gay sauna, young crowd; traditional and infra-red saunas, hamam, steam bath, Jacuzzi, pool, video lounge, cabins, and SM maze.
Argos Video (13 rue de Riches Claires/ Rijkeklarenstraat), 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.
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.
CLOSED: 2b Fashion & Underwear (31 rue du Lombard/ Lombardstraat), designer jeans, tops, underwear, and accessories in top brands. See their store in Brugge (Wollestraat 53) or shop online; Man2Man / RoB Brussels (rue des Riches Claires 11/ Rijke Klarenstraat), leather/fetish clothing, accessories; see RoB Amsterdam and Paris stores, and online sales.