Brussels: a user's guide

HOW TO GET THERE
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The Independent Travel
By train: Eurostar takes three and a quarter hours from Waterloo. The cheapest fare open to all is pounds 59, which is available for travel out and back from Monday to Thursday, with a minimum stay of one weekend. The next fare up, pounds 69, is valid for travel on any day but requires eight days' advance booking and three nights or a Saturday night away. Enquiries and bookings can be made on 0345 881881. STA Travel (0171-361 6161) is offering Student Specials for pounds 49 return. Until 1 September anyone can buy a day return from Ashford for pounds 49, compared with pounds 89 (Saturday) and pounds 99 (book eight days in advance) for the day trip from Waterloo.

International trains arrive at the Gare du Midi, 10 minutes by train or metro from the Gare Central, the closest of Brussels' stations to the Grand' Place.

By air: the airport is 10 miles outside Brussels - trains to the centre run every 20 minutes and buses run every hour. The cheapest return fares all require a Saturday night stay. Until the end of September, the best fare is from Stansted with Air UK (0345 666777) for pounds 85.70 (including tax). British Airways (0345 222111) has a World Offer fare until 31 August of pounds 90.70. Sabena (0181-780 1444), the Belgian airline, starts at pounds 91 from Heathrow, pounds 158 from Manchester. British Midland (0345 554554) has a fare of pounds 91 from Heathrow.

By car and ferry: travelling by ferry has become a very economical way of getting to the Continent. This is especially true for groups, as most prices are for a car rather than per person. Sally Ferries (01843 595522) has offers on sailings between Ramsgate and Ostend. There are six crossings a day. For a car and up to five passengers you pay pounds 30 for a three day return.

If you prefer catamarans to ferries, Stena Line (01233 622558) has fast crossings between Dover and Calais. A 48-hour return for a car and up to five passengers starts at pounds 39. Crossing the Channel on Le Shuttle (01303 271717) is the fastest way to cross (35 minutes). Currently a five-day return for a car and up to nine passengers costs pounds 69.

By bus: Eurolines (0171-730 8235) is running a special offer until 31 August from London to Brussels for pounds 29 return, valid for one month. To qualify for this fare you have to leave at 9 am on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday in each direction. Hoverspeed (01304 240241) has a fare of pounds 28 for a six-day return from London Victoria to Brussels but this ticket must be bought 14 days in advance.

Shoestring: Brussels sous les Etoiles (644 1681), 205 chaussee de Wavre, is the only campsite actually in the centre of town. It costs pounds 4.20 to put up your tent here.

Budget: Hostels are the best deal for budget accommodation. Try CHAB, rue Traversiere 8, (217 0158), Jacques Brel, rue de la Sablonniere 30 (218 0187) or Sleep Well, rue du Damier 23 (218 5050). All charge around pounds 12 per person per night for a double room. Sheets cost extra.

Characterful: Pension des Eperonniers, rue des Eperonniers 1, (513 5366) is pretty basic but is very close to the Grand' Place. Rooms start at pounds 33 for a double although there are reductions for students.

If you're looking for local colour, try staying at someone else's home. Bed and Brussels (6460737), 58, rue Victor Greyson, has a long list of B&B possibilities.

Hotel L'Auberge St-Michel, Grand' Place 15 (511 0956), is a 17th-century building with large rooms facing out on to the square. These start at pounds 90 for an en-suite double.

Hotel Welcome, 5 rue du Peuplier (219 9546), offers guests reduced prices at the restaurant next door, La Truite D'Argent. Its six rooms start at pounds 47.

Upmarket: Hotel Metropole, 31 Place de Brouckere (217 6450) offers real luxury and a chance to mingle with the stars. If you can't afford their rooms, which start at pounds 179 for a double, settle for a coffee in their grand surroundings instead.

Breakfast: Wittamer's on the Place du Grand Sablon has a stunning array of cakes, pastries and croissants. Fruit juice, coffee and two pastries is 360BF/pounds 8.

Elevenses: Off the Grand' Place is the rue au Buerre, full of waffle stands, patisseries and shops selling little spice biscuits - speculoos. If you prefer to sit down try Dandoy's, rue Charles Buls 14, a biscuiterie founded in 1829.

Lunch: The Falstaff bar on rue Henri Mauss, with its lavish art nouveau interior, is well known as a place to go for an evening drink and is equally pleasant for lunch. For something more informal, graze your way along the Greek kebab take-aways on rue Marche aux Fromages.

Tea: Tea for Two, chaussee de Waterloo 394, is the perfect place to stop off on the way to the art nouveau delights of the Horta Museum. You can drink a cup of plain tea with biscuits for 60BF/pounds 1.30; a cup of "lover's dream", China tea with orange, hibiscus and lilac petals is 120BF/pounds 2.60.

Dinner: Stroll around the Rue de Bouchers, a foodie's delight packed with seafood restaurants offering special menus for around 700BF/pounds 15. If you fancy something traditionally Belgian try L'Estrille de Vieux Bruxelles, close to the Place du Grand Sablon at 7 rue de Rollebeek, where you could try rabbit cooked with geuze and prunes for 495BF/pounds 10.60.

The Grand' Place The ornate centre of the Lower Town, surrounded by grand buildings, is like a giant magnet attracting visitors - you'll find yourself returning to it time and again. Its flamboyant facades and elegant buildings include the Maison des Brasseurs, decorated with hop leaves and spikes of corn, and the home of a brewing museum. For 100BF/pounds 2.10 you learn about brewing at the same time as quenching your thirst with a beer. If you have enough time, pay a visit to the friendly Geuze Brewery Museum at the Cantillon Brewery, five minutes' walk from the Gare du Midi, at 56 rue Gheude. It's open Mon-Fri 8.30am-4.30pm, 10am-1pm Sat and costs 70BF/pounds 1.50, including a free geuze beer. When the museum is not open to the public they're busy producing the stuff.

Galeries St-Hubert Europe's first shopping mall, built in 1847 - and the epitome of elegant, covered shopping - is a good place to browse, sit in an elegant cafe or gorge yourself on a box of chocolates from Neuhaus, one of the top Belgian varieties - especially if the weather isn't great. If you want to see chocolates being made visit Planete Chocolat at 57 rue du midi. They also make their own ice-cream.

Manneken Pis A bronze fountain in the shape of a boy perpetually urinating stands on the corner of the rue de l'Etuve. It is a symbol of the city's "rebellious" spirit but the rather small symbol is overshadowed by the number of visitors peering through the gates which protect it. Not something you really must see but if you don't you may well spend your time in the city wondering why Brussels is full of shops selling little naked boys made of biscuit.

Horta Museum, 25 rue Americaine Brussels is full of art nouveau architecture and although many of Victor Horta's buildings have been destroyed, his fantastic house and studio, not far from the Janson stop on tram 92, have been preserved for the public to visit. For the passionate, the tourist information office (at the Town Hall, open 9am-6pm daily in the summer) publishes art nouveau walking tours which start at 10am. Tickets: 120BF/pounds 2.60 week, 200BF/pounds 4.30 weekend. Open Tues-Sun, 2-5.30pm.

Comic Museum, 20 rue des Sables With 1996 being the centenary of the comic strip and Belgium being the natural home of the bande dessinee, this is the perfect time to visit the comic museum, especially one housed in a department store designed by Horta. Be prepared to find all the exhibits and descriptions in Flemish or French. Tickets: 180BF/pounds 3.80. Open daily except Mondays, 10am-6pm.

In 1919 the Vandervelde Law banned the consumption of spirits in cafes, so Belgium became home to a serious beer culture. Once you've been to the brewery museums and learnt about production techniques, you'll want to make a start on the consumption. The thing to do in Brussels is to go to a bar and ask for the enormous beer list. Fortunately Belgian bars don't close early so you have plenty of time to choose and, in case you forget what you're drinking (or, indeed, why), the glasses for each beer are marked with the name.

A La Mort Subite (sudden death) on the rue Montagne-aux-Herbes-Potageres is a 1920s bar that gave its name to a dark beer. Mirrored walls and a high ceilings give it a really opulent atmosphere. Beer sampled: Peche au fut 115BF (pounds 2.50)

The Cercueil on the rue des Harengs, just off the Grand' Place, is not a place for the faint-hearted. Coffins serve as tables and the drinks appear in skull-shaped mugs all to the sound of slow morbid music. Beer sampled: Jupiter (half litre) 240BF (pounds 5.10)

The Cirio, on the rue de la Bourse, has an old Parisian feel to it and the waiters here are as friendly to visitors as they are to the locals. You could almost imagine you were in a saloon if it weren't for the elegant Brussels ladies sipping their bieres blanches by the window. Beer sampled: Framboise Belle-Vue 80BF (pounds 1.70)

Au Grand Mayeur on the Place du Grand Sablon has live Slavic music most evenings from 9pm onwards. If you feel hungry try the Bortsch for 450BF or just enjoy a glass of beer in the wacky interior or on one of the tables overlooking the Place. Beer sampled: Hoegaarden blanche with a twist of lemon 115BF (pounds 2.50)

Two "olde worlde" bars in the Grand Place are also worth mentioning - the Roy d'Espagne and the Rose Blanche or Witte Roos. Watch out for the stuffed horse and hanging pigs bladders in the Roy d'Espagne. Le Roy d'Espagne beer sampled: Leffe 120BF (pounds 2.60). De Witte Roos beer sampled: Chimay Blanc 115BF (pounds 2.50).

Belgian Tourist Office, 29 Princes Street, London W1R 7RG (premium rate: 0891 887799)

Brussels Tourist Information Office, 61 rue Marche-aux-Herbes, Grasmarkt B-1000 Brussels (504 0455).

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