The Ultimate Traveler’s Guide to Brussels on a Budget

The Ultimate Backpacker’s Guide to Brussels on a Budget

Gothic and Baroque-infused squares, a laid-back café scene, and beloved moules frites and local beer. Here’s everything you need to know: our Brussels travel guide – on a budget. 

Travel Costs: Detailed Breakdown

Brussels, the charming capital of Belgium, caters to a variety of budgets. Whether you’re a backpacker or a comfort-seeking explorer, the city offers something for everyone.

Suggested Budget per person

  • Low: €50-€75
  • Mid-range: €75-€125
  • High: €125+

Detailed Costs


  • Low: Hostels or budget guesthouses: €20-€40 per night
  • Mid-range: Mid-range hotels or B&Bs: €40-€80 per night
  • High: Luxury hotels or upscale apartments: €80+ per night

Read: Best Hostels in Brussels.

Public Transportation:

  • Metro ticket (single): €2.10
  • Daily pass: €7.50
  • 3-Day tourist pass: €24

Entrance Fees:

  • Low (mostly free activities): Grande Place, Parc du Cinquantenaire, free walking tour
  • Middle: Museum of Fine Arts: €12, BELvue Museum (history of Brussels): €8
  • High: Mini-Europe (miniature park with EU landmarks): €18.50,  Atomium (includes museum): €16


  • Low: Frites (Belgian fries): €2-€3 (small portion)
  • Mid-range: Restaurants: €15-€25 (main course)
  • High: High-end restaurants: €30+ (main course)

Popular Food Staple: Waffles

  • Low: Street vendor waffle: €2-€3
  • Mid-range: Cafe waffle with toppings: €4-€6
  • High: Restaurant waffle with extravagant toppings: €8+


  • Low: Takeaway or at a local bar standing: €1-€2
  • Middle: In a cafe: €2-€3
  • High: Specialty coffees or in very touristy areas: €4+

Beer & Wine:

  • Low: At a local bar or pub: €3-€4 (local beer)
  • Middle: In a mid-range restaurant or trendy bar: €4-€6 (beer), €5-€8 (glass of wine)
  • High: Craft beer or special vintage wine: €6+ (beer), €8+ (glass of wine)

Read: Best Party Hostels in Brussels.

Exploring Brussels: Things to See & Do

Brussels may be the beating heart of the European Union, but it doesn’t have to leave a hole in your wallet. This city offers a mix of history, culture, and delectable treats, all within reach.

Must Do

  1. Marvel at the Grand Place: This stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site is Brussels’ crown jewel. Picture a dramatic square lined with opulent art nouveau buildings and the Gothic masterpiece, the Brussels Town Hall. Don’t forget to snap a selfie with the iconic (and tiny) Manneken Pis fountain.
  2. Take a Whimsical Trip to Mini-Europe: Shrink down to the size of a Smurf and wander through a miniature wonderland featuring iconic landmarks from across Europe.
  3. Explore the Atomium: This giant, futuristic sphere, a leftover from the 1958 World’s Fair, offers panoramic views of the city and houses a fascinating permanent exhibition.
  4. Unleash Your Inner Chocoholic: Brussels is a chocolate haven! Sample the finest Belgian pralines at charming shops like Mary Chocolatier or Pierre Marcolini, and take a delectable walking tour to discover hidden gems.
  5. Wander Through Time at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts: Immerse yourself in Belgian and international art, from the Flemish Masters to contemporary works.
  6. Delve into the History of Beer: Belgium boasts a rich brewing tradition. Take a tour of the iconic Stella Artois brewery, or visit Cantillon, a family-run brewery using centuries-old techniques.
  7. Explore the Marolles Flea Market: This lively market, held every Saturday morning, is a treasure trove of antiques, vintage finds, and local crafts.
  8. Seek Serenity at the Parc du Cinquantenaire: Escape the city bustle in this sprawling park, adorned with neoclassical architecture and home to several museums, including the Royal Museums of Art and History.

Free things to do in Brussels

  1. European Quarter: Don’t miss the European Quarter, where you can admire the impressive buildings housing the European Parliament and other EU institutions.
  2. Saint-Géry: Immerse yourself in the trendy heart of Brussels, buzzing with bars, restaurants, and eclectic shops. Discover unique street art adorning the walls, adding a touch of urban flair.
  3. Le Marolles: Delve into the historic center, a labyrinth of charming streets lined with antique shops, quaint cafes, and the iconic Notre-Dame du Sablon church, a stunning example of Brabant Gothic architecture.
  4. Ixelles: Explore the artistic and intellectual hub of Brussels, home to museums like the Ixelles Fine Arts Museum and trendy bars frequented by locals. Admire the Art Nouveau architecture and discover hidden green spaces like the serene Ixelles Ponds.
  5. Schaerbeek: Experience the multicultural heart of Brussels, known for its diverse ethnic communities and street markets. Explore the Rue de Brabant, a haven for international cuisine and shops selling unique goods from around the world.
  6. Uncover Hidden Gems on a Free Walking Tour: Learn about Brussels’ fascinating history and hidden corners from a local guide. Many free walking tours operate in the city, offering a budget-friendly way to explore. Remember to tip what you think the tour was worth!
  7. Bois de la Cambre: Relax in this sprawling park, a local favorite for picnics, boating on the lake, or simply soaking up the sunshine. Rent a bike and explore the numerous trails, or visit the nearby Brussels Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum for a dose of artistic inspiration.
  8. Jardin Botanique: Immerse yourself in the diverse plant life at this botanical garden, showcasing over 6,000 plant species from around the world. Explore the serene greenhouses, admire the seasonal flower displays, or simply relax amidst the calming greenery.
  9. Admire Street Art on the Comic Strip Trail: Embark on a self-guided walking tour following the Comic Strip Trail, a unique route marked by over 70 murals depicting iconic Belgian comic strip characters like Tintin, the Smurfs, and Lucky Luke. This free activity is a fun way to explore the city while discovering the world of Belgian comics.
  10. Browse the St-Job Market: Held every Sunday morning, this lively market offers a unique glimpse into local life. Browse through stalls overflowing with fresh produce, local crafts, and vintage finds, soaking up the atmosphere and interacting with friendly vendors.


From the quirky Magritte Museum showcasing the works of the surrealist painter René Magritte to the vast collections of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels has something for every artistic fancy.

  1. Royal Museums of Fine Arts: Explore Belgian and international art from various periods, with free admission for under-18s and every first Wednesday of the month.
  2. Musical Instruments Museum (MIM): Immerse yourself in the world of music with an extensive collection of instruments from around the globe. Free admission for under-18s and the first Wednesday of every month.
  3. Museum of the City of Brussels: Delve into the city’s rich history and culture, with free entry on the first Wednesday of every month.
  4. Belgian Comic Strip Center: Celebrate the iconic world of Belgian comics, including Tintin and the Smurfs, with free admission every first Wednesday of the month.
  5. Horta Museum: Discover the architectural genius of Victor Horta, a pioneer of Art Nouveau, in his former home.
Brussels architecture

Where to Stay on a Budget

While Brussels offers a variety of neighborhoods to explore, some areas are naturally more expensive than others. The city center, encompassing the Grand Place and surrounding streets, is the most popular and pricier area to stay in.

Here, you’ll be right in the heart of the action, with easy access to all the major sights and attractions.

However, if you’re on a tight budget, there are plenty of other beautiful and characterful neighborhoods to consider.

Here are four popular and affordable neighborhoods to stay in Brussels:

1. Saint-Géry:

  • Trendy and energetic, Saint-Géry is a hub for bars, restaurants, and eclectic shops.
  • You’ll find a youthful vibe here, with a mix of locals and international visitors.
  • This area is known for its trendy bars and street art, making it a great choice for those seeking a lively atmosphere.
  • However, keep in mind that it can be noisy, especially on weekends.

2. Le Marolles:

  • Le Marolles is the historic center of Brussels, known for its charming streets lined with antique shops, quaint cafes, and the iconic Notre-Dame du Sablon church.
  • This area offers a more traditional and relaxed atmosphere, perfect for those seeking a taste of old-world Brussels.
  • With its narrow streets and hidden squares, Le Marolles is a great place to wander and explore. However, it may not be ideal for those who prefer a modern or contemporary vibe.

3. Ixelles:

  • Ixelles is the artistic and intellectual hub of Brussels, home to museums like the Ixelles Fine Arts Museum and trendy bars frequented by locals.
  • This area offers a mix of historical charm and modern energy, with a diverse population and a lively atmosphere.
  • Ixelles is a great choice for those who want to be close to museums and cultural attractions, but also enjoy a bit of nightlife.

4. Schaerbeek:

  • Schaerbeek is the multicultural heart of Brussels, known for its diverse ethnic communities and street markets.
  • This area offers a more local experience, with a mix of traditional Belgian shops and international restaurants.
  • Schaerbeek is a great choice for those who want to experience the everyday life of Brussels residents and enjoy a taste of
  • different cultures. However, it may not be as centrally located as some other neighborhoods.

Eating and Drinking

Brussels might be a chocolate paradise and a haven for beer aficionados, but that doesn’t mean you need a king’s ransom to enjoy its culinary scene. 

Water: Unlike some destinations, Brussels boasts refreshingly drinkable tap water. So, fill up your reusable water bottle and stay hydrated for free as you explore the city.

Affordable Eats

Dine Like a Local: 

  • Bouilloneries: Immerse yourself in the local experience at a bouillonerie, a traditional eatery serving up hearty stews, soups, and other Belgian classics like “carbonnade flamande” (beef stew) or “waterzooi” (fish stew) at unbeatable prices. Look for “formules,” fixed menus with multiple courses, to maximize the value.
  • Friteries: Don’t miss Brussels’ iconic street food scene! Grab a cone of piping hot frites (fries) from a friterie, a ubiquitous street vendor. These crispy delights are best enjoyed with a variety of sauces – the classic “andalouse” (tomato-based) or the garlicky “sambal” are local favorites.

Pro Tip 1: Skip the tourist traps! Restaurants in heavily touristic areas tend to inflate their prices. Venture a little further and discover hidden gems frequented by locals for a more authentic (and budget-friendly) experience.

Pro Tip 2: Embrace the lunch menu (menu du jour)! Many restaurants offer a special “menu du jour” at lunchtime, featuring a starter and main course at a significantly reduced price. This is a fantastic way to sample local specialties without breaking the bank.

Market Munchies: 

  • Marche du Midi: Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the Marche du Midi, a market offering an abundance of fresh produce, local delicacies like cured meats and cheeses, and international specialties like exotic fruits and spices.
  • Marolles Flea Market: This lively flea market isn’t just about antiques! Sample traditional Belgian waffles, warm and dusted with powdered sugar, or indulge in local cheeses like Gouda and Maredsous. Keep an eye out for stalls selling “speculoos”, spiced cookies that are a local favorite and perfect for a sweet treat.
  • Place Sainte-Catherine: This market offers a delightful mix of fresh produce, street food vendors dishing up everything from gözleme (Turkish flatbreads) to falafel wraps, and local specialties like “mitraillette” (a baguette filled with meat, fries, and sauce).

Affordable Eats: 

  • Sandwiches: Baguettes overflowing with cheese, meats, and vegetables are a delicious and budget-friendly lunch option. Head to a local bakery (boulangerie) and choose from a variety of pre-made sandwiches or have one custom-made to your liking.
  • Falafel: A vegetarian delight, falafel wraps are packed with chickpeas, vegetables, and a flavorful tahini sauce. They’re a filling and affordable option, perfect for a quick bite on the go. Popular spots include Falafel King near Saint-Géry and Chez Antoine in Schaerbeek.
  • Speculoos: These spiced cookies are a local treasure and can be found at most bakeries. Enjoy them as a sweet snack on their own, crumble them over yogurt for an added flavor boost, or indulge in a “speculoos latte” – a creamy coffee drink flavored with speculoos syrup.

Pro Tip 3: Bakeries often offer discounted “pain surprise” (surprise bread) in the late afternoon. These are baguettes with a surprise filling, offering a fun and affordable way to try something new.

Grocery Gems: 

  • Aldi & Lidl: Popular discount supermarket chains like Aldi and Lidl offer a wide range of everyday essentials at competitive prices. Stock up on groceries, snacks, and beverages without burning a hole in your wallet.
  • Colruyt: If you’re looking for a wider selection of quality products at competitive prices, head to Colruyt, a local supermarket chain known for its own-brand products and frequent promotions.

Bonus Tip: Many supermarkets offer “unsold” items nearing their expiry date at significantly discounted prices. These can be a great way to score bargains on fresh produce and other products, perfect for budget-conscious travelers. Just remember to check the expiry dates and make sure the items are still fresh and safe to consume.

Brussels street art

How to Get Around

Brussels boasts a compact and walkable city center, making exploration a breeze. 

Understanding Brussel’s Public Transportation

  • Metro, Trams, and Buses: Brussels’ public transportation network, operated by STIB-MIVB, offers a convenient and affordable way to get around. Single tickets cost €2.10, but consider these options for bigger savings:
  • 5-journey ticket: €7.30, perfect for exploring various areas on the same day.
  • 10-journey ticket: €11.20, ideal for longer stays with frequent travel plans.
  • Day Pass: €4.10, grants unlimited travel within a 24-hour period, ideal for jam-packed sightseeing days.
    Brussels Card: Offers free public transportation access alongside discounts on attractions and museums. Consider your itinerary and usage frequency to determine if it’s cost-effective.

Pro Tip 1: Purchase tickets at metro stations, tram stops, or authorized retailers. Always validate your ticket upon boarding to avoid fines.

Pro Tip 2: Download the STIB-MIVB app for real-time information on routes, schedules, and potential disruptions.


  • Rental Bikes: Several companies offer bike rentals at affordable rates, allowing you to explore the city at your own pace and enjoy the fresh air.
  • Brussels’ City Bike System: This public bike-sharing program offers a convenient option for short trips. Download the app, locate a nearby docking station, and unlock a bike with your credit card. The first 30 minutes are free, with extended usage incurring charges.

Taxis and Ride-Sharing: While convenient, taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber can be a pricier option compared to public transportation. Consider using them only for specific situations, like late-night travel or heavy luggage.

Cheapest Way to Get To and From the Airport in Brussels

Brussels Airport (BRU): 

  • Train: The MIVB operates regular trains connecting the airport to Brussels Central Station in about 20 minutes. Tickets cost around €9.
  • Bus: De Lijn buses connect the airport to various locations in Brussels, with fares starting at €3.
    Shuttle Service: Several shuttle services operate between the airport and the city center, usually costing around €15-20.
  • Pro Tip 3: If you’re arriving late or have heavy luggage, consider booking a pre-paid taxi or ride-sharing service for a hassle-free arrival.

Charleroi Airport (CRL):

  • Flibco Bus: Flibco offers a direct shuttle service between Charleroi Airport and Brussels-Midi station, the city’s main train hub. Buses depart every 30 minutes, with tickets costing around €17 one-way. 
  • Train: A combination of bus and train can be the most economical route. Take the TEC bus line from Charleroi Airport to Charleroi-Sud station (around €6). From there, a train to Brussels Central Station costs around €8 and takes about an hour.

Note: Be aware that Flibco buses don’t operate at night, so if your flight lands after dark, you might need to factor in additional costs for a taxi or consider alternative travel arrangements.

Best Time to Visit Brussels

  • High Season (June – August):

Pros: Warmest weather, great atmosphere with tons of festivals and events (think: Summer Music Festivals and the world-famous Foire du Midi amusement park).

Cons: Peak tourist season, meaning higher prices and bigger crowds.

  • Shoulder Season (March – May & September – October):

Pros: Pleasant weather with fewer crowds and more affordable accommodation.

Cons: Spring can be a bit rainy, and some shops and restaurants may have shorter hours in the shoulder months.

  • Low Season (November – February):

Pros: Budget-friendly flights and hotels, and the city transforms into a winter wonderland with charming Christmas markets. Cons: Coldest weather of the year with frequent rain, and some attractions might have limited hours.

Things to Consider:

  • Holidays: Prices tend to rise during public holidays like National Day (July 21st), All Saints’ Day (November 1st), and Christmas & New Year’s Eve.
  • Weather: While Brussels experiences rain year-round, the low season can be particularly wet and cold. Pack accordingly!

National Holidays & Peak Festivals

  • Zinneke Parade (March): A quirky and colorful carnival celebrating Brussels’ unofficial mascot, the Zinneke dog.
  • Brussels Jazz Weekend (May): Immerse yourself in the city’s jazz scene with free concerts and jam sessions.
  • Iris Day Festival (May): Witness the Grand Place adorned with a stunning flower carpet depicting intricate designs.
  • Ommegang Festival (early July): Travel back in time to a Renaissance fair with jousting tournaments, historical re-enactments, and plenty of beer.
  • Brussels Summer Festival (August): A two-week extravaganza of free concerts, performances, and cultural activities.
  • Christmas Markets (November – December): Magical festive markets offering delicious treats, unique gifts, and a cozy atmosphere.

Essentials, Money & Safety Tips

Brussels may be compact, but its cobblestone streets and hidden alleys demand a few tips and tricks.

Safety Tips

  • Metro Savvy: Pickpocketing can occur on crowded public transport, especially at rush hour. Keep valuables close to your body, preferably in a money belt or a cross-body bag worn in front. Avoid using your phone while standing near doors.
  • Beware the “Distraction Theft”: This common trick involves someone approaching you, maybe asking about the time or directions, while an accomplice bumps into you or tries to “help” with your bag, giving them an opportunity to steal valuables. Stay alert, and don’t hesitate to walk away from anyone who seems suspicious.

Common Scams

  • The “Change for the Tram” Trick: This scam plays on Brussels’ iconic trams. Someone might approach you claiming they lack fare and request change. Don’t be pressured into offering money, politely decline, and move on.
  • The “Petition Scam”: You might be approached by individuals, often young, asking for signatures on a petition. This can be a distraction tactic for an accomplice to steal your belongings. Politely decline and keep walking.

Budget-Friendly Passes

  • Brussels Card: This all-in-one pass grants free entry to over 40 museums, unlimited public transport, and discounts on various attractions and restaurants. Ideal for sightseeing enthusiasts.
  • Brussels Museums Card: If museums are your jam, this pass offers free access to 50 museums over 3 consecutive days, perfect for art and history buffs.

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