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A modern city with good infrastructure, getting around in Brussels is relatively easy. Expats have various options when it comes to travelling in the city, with good public transport and road networks.
Public transport in Brussels
The comprehensive public transport system in Brussels can be a bit overwhelming at first. Almost all public transport within the city is run by the state company, known as STIB-MVIB. Tickets allow passengers to use a combination of the Metro, trams or buses to get to their destination.
Tickets are available at kiosks in Metro stations and from machines at public transport stops around the city, and if bought from drivers are generally more expensive.
Buses in Brussels are grey and metallic orange in colour and are assigned a number and a colour on transport maps and signposts. Routes and timetables are on the STIB-MVIB website, and maps and timetables which detail bus routes are usually available at stops.
Ticket machines are the same on buses, trams and the Metro and there's often more than one on each bus. There are also displays and announcements inside the bus telling passengers which stops are coming up. Passengers should get on at the front and move towards the back of the bus as it gets nearer to their stop, exiting from one of the rear or middle doors.
There are also other bus companies which operate in Brussels. These serve the regions to the south and north of the city, rather than within the city itself.
The Brussels Metro is fairly simple, with only six overlapping lines. The metro service is reliable and journey times are fairly short, although some routes get crowded during rush hour.
Metro lines are easy to see on network maps. Passengers need to identify where the train they want is heading, in order to get on the platform to go in the correct direction.
Most trains have a display and announcements in multiple languages, telling commuters the stop as well as giving a map of the line they are on.
Due to the lack of elevators, most of the metro stations in Brussels are not accessible for those with physical disabilities.
Like buses, trams in Brussels are identified by numbers and colours on network maps. Signposts display the letter “T” and the number of the relevant line. Trams are mostly above-ground, making them useful for seeing the city and gaining a sense of direction. Some trams also go to metro stations and run underground in places.
As with the Metro, most trams have a display to indicate their next stop and destination.
Taxis and ride-sharing services in Brussels
There are many different taxi companies in Brussels. Taxis differ in appearance, but almost all have a sign on the roof. Taxis in Brussels operate in different zones, with different rates depending on the location and the time of day. As taxis can use bus lanes, they tend to be a bit faster than private vehicles.
Ride-sharing services and applications are also widely available in the city, although often made unnecessary by its excellent public transport network.
Cycling in Brussels
Cycling in Brussels is a good way to get around and see the city. However, riders will need to be moderately fit to cope with its many hills. There's an extensive network of cycle routes which are easy to navigate. It's reasonably safe to ride around the city, though it's better to use cycle routes to avoid the busiest traffic. There are also several cycle hire schemes in Brussels for commuters who don't have their own bikes.
These bicycle hire schemes have racks all over the city and are constantly expanding. Bicycles can be hired from automatic racks or a longer subscription online. The first 30 minutes are sometimes free and bikes can generally be picked up and dropped off as often as commuters like throughout the day. While the automated machines can take a bit of getting used to, they work in multiple languages and mostly work as advertised.
Driving in Brussels
The road network in Brussels is generally very good, although there are a few junctions and areas where road surfaces could be better. A ring of freeways circle the city, several parts of which go all the way into the city centre.
One unusual feature is the network of tunnels in Brussels, which allows for getting in and out of the city centre quite quickly. In some places, these go right under the city's famous landmarks and parks.
Expats should also be aware that the city's known for having some of the worst traffic in Europe. Drivers in Brussels also have a reputation for impatience. This can make for an interesting combination.
Walking in Brussels
The centre of Brussels is relatively small and the majority of its attractions and amenities are within easy walking distance of each other. The European Quarter, which houses the EU buildings and the major banking and insurance companies is, however, a distance from the tourist sights.
While there are areas which should perhaps be avoided after dark, walking in Brussels is generally safe. The biggest issues during the daytime are likely to be crossing the road. Trams always have right of way, even over pedestrians, so it doesn't pay to get in front of one. Expats should also be aware that some cycle paths share the pavements, which can be hazardous if pedestrians are not aware of their surroundings.
►See Transport and Driving in Belgium for more about getting around
►The official STIB/ MVIB website is useful for network maps and prices
"You don’t need a car in Brussels itself, and in fact it could be a liability in some neighbourhoods..." Read more about David's experiences in Brussels.
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