Areas and suburbs in Brussels

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A little known fact about Brussels, at least for the recent arrival, is that it is a city of neighbourhoods. To best get a feel for the
city and to choose a place to live, it’s essential for expats to understand this mosaic of streets and squares.

Communes in Brussels

Houses in a Brussels communeAs Paris has its “arrondisments”, Brussels has its “communes”: 19 different neighbourhoods with their own name,  four-digit postal codes, and bilingual signs (French/Flemish).
Communes are represented by government officials, much like a mayor or city hall, and is the first authority to which all citizens, residents and expats of Brussels turn to when it comes to civil issues and local policies. This includes registering your arrival and establishing residency, obtaining a driver’s license and addressing work permit-related questions.
Certain communes are more desirable than others, but choosing a particular location depends on where you will work, study, and/or if you have a family. There is really something for everyone in each of the 19 distinct communities in Brussels, but the following are perhaps the best and most popular choices for expats:

Most popular communes for expats in Brussels

Brussels City 1000
The "Pentagon" is what lies between the boulevards of the inner ring, also called the "little ring" by locals. The area is marked by plenty of historic Brussels architecture like the Grand Place and the Royal Palace and its museums; charming squares like the Sablon; bar and nightlife venues that surround the bourse; and Place Sainte Catherine, which brims with other cultural attractions.

It is generally the place where you’d take visitors to show off the best of Brussels, but thanks to major renovation works destined to attract new inhabitants, the downtown area is increasingly regaining its charm for residents.
Traffic is definitely a problem getting in and out of this area during peak times, lunch hour and weekend nights. Parking is also a concern if you have a car; garages and parking spaces are rare. It’s also apartment living. If you’re an urbanite working downtown or studying for a while in Brussels, this is the area for you.
Etterbeek 1040
Etterbeek incorporates the European district and the Cinquantenaire/Jubelpark complex - the Arc de Triomphe-looking monument and park built in 1880 and commemorating the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence. This particular commune includes the shopping districts of La Chasse/Jacht, Rue des Tongres/ Tongerenstraat, Chez Antoine and Place Jourdan/Jourdan plein, with its renowned market and famous French fry shack. Etterbeek is also more affordable than other communes and still offers advantages of city life like access to public transport. If you are working in the European quarter and want to walk or take a short Metro ride, Etterbeek is ideal. However, commuting to the international schools requires a car.
Ixelles 1050
With a multitude of theatres and cinemas, restaurants and shops, Ixelles is probably the most diverse commune in the city and a place for lively life in uptown Brussels. This commune is made up of a mix of different neighbourhoods offering a variety of choice for potential residents: the African quarter Matonge, the student area around the ULB, the charming upscale neighbourhoods around Place Brugmann and Place Chatelaine, and the art deco homes around the ponds of Ixelles. 
Ixelles is also home to the busy Place Flagey with its famous cafés and buzzing sidewalk scene, and the chic shopping street, Avenue Louise. The Abbey de la Cambre is also found in Ixelles. Parking is always a challenge here as most of the above-mentioned neighbourhoods are popular shopping, dining out and market destinations. Some apartments provide parking and during off-peak hours, parking is sometimes possible on the street. 
Many expat families live in these areas and it’s not uncommon to see strollers parked outside of the neighbourhood restaurants. Central to downtown and the European quarter, Ixelles is great for couples, singles or a young family. The commute to the international schools requires a car.
Woluwe Saint Pierre 1150
Apartments in Brussels, Photo by Mark hoganThis cosmopolitan commune is mainly residential, with a large amount of green space found in parks and forests. The Parc de la Woluwe/Woluwepark, the Mellaerts Ponds (With mini golf and paddle boats) and the Forêt de Soignes/Zoniënwoud are wonderful places for strolling, biking and relaxing outdoors. The commune is also a favourite of embassies. Housing here is a mix of apartments, townhouses and large homes, many with private gardens. 
Parking is also a non-issue in most of the commune. The Avenue de Tervueren/Tervurenlaan is one of Brussels’ main arteries in and out of the city and dissects the commune. Surrounding streets hide beautiful homes and commercial centres like Stockel (Place Dumon) where shops, restaurants, hair dressers, banks and a popular weekly market are frequented by families and young people alike. There is also a Metro and tram stop here, making it easily accessible to the rest of the city.

WSP also has a wonderful sports centre with a pool, tennis courts and soccer pitch which is open to residents of the commune for a small fee. For access to the highway, airport and downtown, WSP is ideal, albeit expensive. The commune authority itself is also very well organised and accommodating to foreigners and newcomers to Brussels. The commune of Kraainem, is almost an extension of WSP, though more residential.
Watermael-Boitsfort 1170
Watermael-Boitsfort is in the south of Brussels and borders Uccle, Ixelles and Auderghem. Until the 19th century, Watermael/Watermaal and Boitsfort/Bosvoorde formed two separate hamlets. But King Leopold II's urban renewal project turned things upside down and joined the two.

With easy access to the city, it gradually became a highly sought-after residential area. Half of the commune's territory is covered by the Forêt de Soignes/Zoniënwoud, making it ideal for bikers and walkers, and clusters of semi-rural housing and village houses give the commune a quaint charm; large villas are also plentiful. The International School of Brussels (ISB) is located here, and there is easy access to the highway.

Other suburbs of Brussels

Outside of Brussels, the communities of Tervuren, (only 10 minutes from Woluwe Saint Pierre and Kraainem), Overijse, and Waterloo are popular for expatriate families. These suburbs are preferred mainly for their availability of large homes at a lower cost, and their proximity to the international schools. They are still close enough to commute into the city, though car traffic into Brussels in the morning is very heavy. Tervuren is home to the African Museum and has several tram stops that access the city centre.

Our Brussels Expert

KLovato's picture
Los Angeles, California, USA
Brussels, Belglium
I am a freelance American writer and author of a soon to be released culinary travel book Walnut Wine...

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