Brussels on a budget: 7 travel hacks to save on your trip
Brussels, the largest city in Belgium and the home of the European Union, is an underrated travel destination for fans of beer, history, and relaxed culture. But the Belgian way of life, although extremely enjoyable, isn’t inexpensive. Delicious Belgian beer is famously indulgent and pricey. Cafes and restaurants focus much more on quality than pumping out cheap eats.
However, there are plenty of ways to save money when you visit Brussels. All it takes is a little planning. Arranging travel to get the best flight deals, finding convenient and affordable luggage storage in Brussels, and searching for free and cheap things to do are ways you can stick to a modest budget.
Here are the top tips for visiting Brussels on a budget:
Cheap places to stay in Brussels
Like other European cities, Brussels has a wide range of lodging options, from world-class hotels to approachable youth hostels. Depending on your budget, you could spend as little as $25 per night visiting Brussels, and there's a suitable Brussels neighborhood for everyone here. Here are a few inexpensive places to stay:
This basic hostel located in Ixelles may be named after one of the swankiest places in America, but you’ll find approachable, simple accommodations here. Double rooms start at $75, but they are spacious enough, and some even come with balconies. Wi-Fi is included, but you won’t find premium features like a kitchen or bar onsite. The rooms and facilities, however, are well-kept, and the hostel certainly gets the job done.
Jacques Brel Youth Hostel
This is your standard modern hostel, done right. While rooms start at less than $30 per night, there are comfortable, well-maintained facilities at Jacques Brel Youth Hostel, including free breakfast, Wi-Fi, a kitchen, and even a bar. The best feature (besides the price) has to be the hostel’s attractive courtyard, where other backpackers will be lounging over a coffee or beer and socializing.
Meininger Brussels City Centre Hostel
If you’re trying to do Brussels on a budget, one of the best ways to really cut down on costs is to stay at a hostel. One of the best locations you’ll find for cheap lodging is the Meininger Brussels City Center Hostel, with rooms starting at $30 per night.
Perhaps the best money-saving feature is the kitchen, where you can head to the grocery store or market to buy ingredients. While you’ll want to spend some of the money you saved on a room at the bar on mussels and frites, fixing a dirt-cheap breakfast or lunch can help you save money in the long run. There’s also a bar at the hostel, which gives this Meininger location a fun and social atmosphere.
La Vieille Lanterne
Located near Grand Place, it’s hard to imagine a better-situated budget hotel in Brussels. Double rooms start at $80 in the low season, so it’s not the cheapest place to stay. But La Vieille Lanterne’s location will mean you won’t have to arrange transportation for most major landmarks and activities. You’re less than a five-minute walk from Manneken Pis.
If you’re looking for a trendy place to stay but don’t want to blow your entire travel budget on a boutique hotel, this is your best bet. With decor and a vibe that is reminiscent of thrift shops and record stores Vintage Hotel in St. Gilles is perfect for traveling hipsters looking for a no-frills place to stay. The guest rooms are a little cramped, but the location near nightlife hotspots and restaurants is well worth the $82 price for a double room.
Cheap things to do in Brussels
Whether it’s something simple like a free walking tour around the city centre and European Parliament or trekking up to the best view of the city, there are plenty of free and cheap activities for visiting Brussels on a budget.
Free walking tour
When the famously finicky Brussels weather cooperates, this is an extremely walkable city. Around the historic city center, there are dozens of independent tour guides (mostly students and passionate locals) giving free walking tours around Brussels’ historic landmarks. It's a great way to learn about Belgian history, and they are often as entertaining as they are informative. Just remember to tip your guide.
The most famous landmark in Brussels is also its most silly. Situated in the city center is a bronze statue of a little boy emptying his bladder into a fountain. It perfectly represents the whimsical nature of Belgian culture, as this statue is beloved both locally and nationally. There are also the Jeanneke Pis (a little girl) and a dog named the Zinneke Pis in the Brussels city center as well.
Mont des Arts
With views of the Grand Place and the city’s gardens, the Mont des Arts (hill of fine arts) is the perfect place to take a quick hike and appreciate the beauty of Brussels. The views are gorgeous any time of day too, as Grand Place lights up at night.
Comic Strip walking tour
At one point in time, Brussels was the comic book capital of Europe, with dozens of iconic brands and titles originating in Brussels. Most notably, the legendary character Tintin became Belgium’s most famous export besides chocolate. The Comic Art Museum curates a series of large murals throughout Brussels and programs a self-guided tour you can take that’s absolutely free. This free walking tour is one of the most popular for a reason, as these murals tell the fascinating story of Belgium’s legendary comic strip heritage.
The largest square in Brussels is located in the stylish Eloise neighborhood and commands a stellar view of the rest of the city. Take the Polaert Elevators, which are made with glass so that your view on the way up is almost good as well. The square has panoramic views of the Brussels city center, and it’s a popular place for locals and tourists to enjoy the sunset. If you want to have a picnic or pick up some beer or wine, it’s the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon.
On the first Sunday of every month, more than a dozen museums open up to the public. There’s no catch here, either. Access to these museums is entirely free. You can explore everything from the local Brussels art scene to the history of the Freemasons in Europe. Taking advantage of the Brussels free museum days offer allows you to have a full day of exploring iconic sites like the Royal Museum without spending a penny.
Cheap places to Eat in Brussels
When you visit Brussels on a budget, there are a few dishes that should be non-negotiable for your trip: delicious Belgian beer, french fries, mussels, and a waffle. Luckily, all of these staples are relatively affordable. Another way to save money on food is to head to the local grocer or farmers market and prepare your own meals. Additionally, with all the amazing street food in Brussels, this is a great way to save money and still experience the culinary scene.
Marché du Midi Market
This is one of the largest public markets in Europe. You’ll find everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to meats, cheese, bread, and even prepared foods. All of these are fresh and sold directly by local producers. It’s a fun market to walk around, regardless of whether or not you want to buy anything. But if you want to save money on food by preparing your own meals, the best option is to visit Marché du Midi and make a picnic to enjoy at a park or along the canal.
Snack on Belgian fries (frites)
Nothing pairs better with beer than a cone of French fries and an aioli dip. In the city center near Grand Place, there are countless places to grab a serving of fries for about $5. It’s certainly not something you should eat more than once a day, but it’s the perfect street food snack.
Easily accessible between Manneken Pis and Gland Place, head to Waffle Factory for an affordable treat while you're out sightseeing. While this isn't exactly a meal, the waffles are large, and having one is a Brussels rite of passage.
Cheap bars in Brussels
If you’re visiting Brussels, you’ll want to try some world-famous Belgian beer. The Belgians have one of the proudest brewing traditions in the world, with a variety and quality that predates America’s craft beer renaissance by hundreds of years. But these are premium products, and if you’re exploring Brussels on a budget, it can get tricky to find cheap places to drink. Here are a few:
While it’s generally a hangout for students and twenty-somethings, you’ll find a few locals sipping on Jupiler or other cheap beers at this classic tavern. If you’re hungry, La Bastoche has an eclectic (and surprising) menu of cheap eats. Spaghetti and Belgian beer aren't a traditional pairing, but it’s cheap and surprisingly delicious.
If you’re looking for Brussels’ nightlife scene but are tight on money, head over to this Ixelles bar. Tavernier’s excellent sound system, exposed brick, and hip decor make it perfect for traveling hipsters. When the weather is right, the outdoor terrace is the place to be!
This casual café is the perfect place to head for a full afternoon or evening. Situated along the canal on trendy Dansaertstraat, Walvis serves affordable but delicious Belgian bar food alongside a nice selection of local beers. While younger locals and students hang out here, it’s also a place for families to enjoy lunch along the canal. At night, the scene gets more social, but the café is spacious enough that it’s always comfortable.
Bonus budget tips for Brussels
If you’re backpacking Brussels on a budget, you’ll need all the helpful tips you can get.
Brussels has a solid public transportation network, especially in the city center. In order to avoid expensive taxis, invest in a Brussels Card so you can make using public transit even more affordable. With unlimited public transit uses, this is a worthwhile investment. From the Brussels Station in the city center, the whole metro area is your oyster, and using a Brussels Card, you can access the full network starting for around $20 per day.
Rent a bicycle
The best way to get around and discover Brussels is by bicycle, especially when the weather is nice. Being mostly flat and a manageable size, Brussels is a great city for cycling, so renting one can go a long way towards saving money on getting around. It’s also a great way to work off the calories from eating Belgian waffles and French fries. Look into bike rental companies in the city centre. Many hostels also offer affordable bike rentals.
Avoid restaurants near tourist attractions
If you’re going to visit Brussels, chances are you’ll spend plenty of time in the city center near museums and landmarks. That doesn’t mean you need to eat near these attractions because cafés and restaurants are almost always overpriced at these locations. The best way to avoid this is to find a few restaurants near your hostel or in the residential neighborhoods and enjoy a classic Belgian meal (of mussels, frites, and beer) at a reasonably priced local establishment.
Because of Belgian culture’s insistence on quality and refinement, you’ll certainly have to pay attention to your budget when you visit Brussels. While world-renowned Belgian beer is anything but cheap, it’s absolutely worth sampling and pairing with mussels and french fries. The fortunate thing for budget travelers is there are many free things to do in Brussels, so you'll end up saving money on parks and museum visits. However you end up spending your time in Brussels, you’ll enjoy the city’s history, culture, and of course, a delicious Belgian waffle.