Brussels is many cities in one. It is the bilingual capital of Belgium, where the official languages are French and Dutch; it calls itself the Capital of Europe, home to both the EU and NATO headquarters; medieval and modern architecture are only blocks apart; and visitors may experience two widely different cities: a gray, bureaucratic town and a culturally rich city with spots of charm. Drawing a diverse European and international resident population, Brussels is a multinational gem in the heart of the continent.

What is it known for?
Today, thousands of EU and NATO employees from all over the world live and work in Brussels, not to mention those employed at the attendant institutions, organisations, lobbying groups and media that round out the city's political universe. It makes for a diverse cultural scene overlaid onto a seemingly staid bourgeois city. “You can find people from every corner of Europe, from Lisbon to Tallinn, as well as communities from Africa and Turkey,” said longtime resident Genevra Forwood. “Plus there is the ongoing political, cultural and linguistic wrestling match between the Flemish [Dutch speaking], Walloons [French speaking] and Bruxellois [bilingual].”

The heart of the city is the dazzling Grand-Place, a central square lined with ornate 17th-century guildhalls. The streets in the surrounding Sablon district are lined with fabulous antique stores, lovely little cafes and fine chocolatiers such as Pierre Marcolini and Jean Galler. Stunning examples of Art Nouveau architecture abound throughout the city; examples include the Horta Museum, designed by Victor Horta, a pioneer of the style in the 19th Century, and the Maison Cauchie, designed by another famed Belgium architect and artist, Paul Cauchie, The Magritte Museum is dedicated to the works of surrealist Rene Magritte, one of Belgium’s most famous artists. 

Today’s artists and designers are also having an effect on the city. The cool design shops and avant-garde fashion that people expect from hip sister city Antwerp can now be found in Brussels, especially in the Dansaert district. There are also grand parks, fine cultural institutions, the cream of Belgian beers and endless amounts of moules frites (mussels and fries), all in a walkable area. “Everything is much more accessible,” Forwood said. “Housing prices mean you can actually live in the area you want more or less and have garden or decent outdoor space. The city is small enough to cross town in half an hour on public transport, and you don’t need to book tickets or a table three months in advance.”

Where do you want to live?
Brussels is made up of 19 communes, including the city centre, which date back to the 13th Century. The communes of Ixelles and Etterbeek, just south of the centre, are popular with internationals and their families. Just further south, the districts of Uccle and Woluwe are affluent residential areas with a mix of apartment buildings, single-family homes, villas and abundant green spaces. “For the international community, these locations provide the easiest commute, the most welcoming local community and the greatest selection of international schools,” explained Jean de Kerchove of Immobiliere Le Lion, a Knight Frank affiliate.

Other communes that are gaining popularity include multicultural St-Josse and diverse Schaerbeek, just north of the city centre. In addition, expats are also drawn to suburbs such as Waterloo, about 15km south of Brussels, as well as peaceful Wezembeek-Oppem and family-friendly Kraainem, about 10km to the east.

Side trips
Brussels is located in the middle of Belgium, so on the weekends many Bruxellois head north to coastal towns such as Oostende and De Haan, or Cadzand in Dutch Zeeland in the Netherlands. They also travel south to the forests, valleys and enchanting villages of the French-speaking Ardennes region, such as Dinant, La-Roche-en-Ardenne and Spa. There are frequent connections to Belgium’s other major cities of Antwerp and Ghent, as well as to canal-laced Bruges.

The Eurostar connects Brussels to Paris in 90 minutes and to London in two hours, while Amsterdam and Luxembourg are both about two hours away by rail. Many German towns are also within easy driving distance, including Aachen and Cologne, a popular winter destination for its superb Christmas market. There are direct flights to most European cities and many international destinations from Brussels Airport.

Practical info
The housing market in Brussels is currently flat, and it is a buyer’s market with increased stock and low demand. “The buyer is seeing a greater degree of choice, and this naturally puts pressure on pricing, especially if the property is outside the core locations,” de Kerchove said.

Most international buyers are interested in single-family homes, and the average price in the popular districts is between 1.5 and 2.5 million euros. The average cost of a two-bedroom apartment is around 750,000 to two million euros.

The average rental price for a three-bedroom apartment in the city centre is around 1,500 euros per month.

Further information
Brussels Street Style: a blog of street fashions from around town

My Secret Brussels: a quirky guide to the best of the city

The Word: a hipper-than-thou contemporary culture magazine