I’ve been thinking of writing this post for weeks, months even, but after looking hard for my own new apartment I honestly needed a break from house hunting. As some of my friends liked to point out, I am quite picky. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I got pickier after each experience as I defined my standards and minimum requirements. I also believe that in a market like that in Brussels it is good to be a little picky and to have perhaps three minimum requirements, but up to you to decide that.
Firstly, the thing to know about the Brussels market is that it’s terribly fast. It’s often the case that by the time you’ve called for information on an ad that was posted that evening, the apartment/room has already been rented. So, be fast!
Second bit of advice: if you can spend a week at a friend’s place before choosing your new place do so. It is always best to see the apartment/room before deciding anything. If you don’t have this option, choose something temporary – lots of students sublet for a few weeks, especially during the summer – and take your time to visit and decide.
There are many nice areas in Brussels and your choice will be influenced by your place of work/study and your evening habits. I’ll try to name some of the areas I think are nice to live in, listing the pros and cons.
Park du Cinquantenaire/Merode (Etterbeek): I’ve been living in this area for a year and I personally really like it. It’s not too busy so it’s not hard to get a good night’s sleep, but not deserted either. You have a park very close for the rare sunny Sundays. Plenty of shops – and grocery shops of course! On the other hand there’s not much to do in the evenings (a couple of bars and the Atelier 210) so you always have to commute. It is extremely well connected: two metro lines, a tram, several buses and a night bus too. If you don’t mind walking, you can even walk from the centre to Merode. I’ve done it a few times when it was too late for any public transport and have never had a problem even though I was a woman and alone, but it’s quite a walk – 45/50min at least.
Flagey & Chatelain (Ixelles): I know a couple of people living in these areas and they are very happy with their neighbourhood. They are both lively and there are plenty of bars to hang out in, not to mention nice restaurants. Flagey is mostly – but not only – populated by students, while Chatelain is becoming more and more trendy. They can be a little noisy on some evenings and the biggest disadvantage is that they are not very close to any metro. You’ll have to make do with a tram and several buses.
Fernand Coq & Saint Boniface (Ixelles) + Place Jourdan (Etterbeek): I don’t know anyone that actually lives here, but I would personally like it here. Again both areas are lively and quite noisy on weekend nights, with plenty of bars and nice restaurants. They are both very close to a street full of shops and one of the UGC cinemas is just around the corner, not to mention the small alternative Vendôme cinema. Connections are not great, only a couple of buses go through these areas and they are often stuck in traffic. For the first two you can easily walk to Porte de Namur which is the closest metro station, while from Jourdan you’ll have to walk as far as Maelbeek or Schuman. You’re not too far from the centre either so with a 20/30 minute walk you could easily reach Bourse.
Rue Haute (Saint Gilles): I just love this area! Beautiful architecture, cool shops – although mostly expensive – and nice vibe. Recyclart is not too far, as is the Porte de Hal metro station. The centre is in walking distance and the Sablon is a couple of streets over. It could be hard for grocery shopping if you don’t have a car.
Saint Catherine (city centre): a good friend of mine lives here and she’s very happy with her neighbourhood, and no wonder! Very busy and with a dynamic, vibrant vibe is just around the corner from many nice bars and clubs, not to mention just five minutes’ walk from the Grand Place. Madame Moustache is on the square and Mr Wong just a few metres further. Naturally this is not the place for you if you want peace and quiet. But it’s super well connected with a metro stop on the square and a few buses going from De Brouckère. Shops and supermarkets are well in reach too.
Botanique & Madou (Saint-Josse-ten-Noode): again some friends live here and are enthusiastic. It’s probably the cheapest area on my list and doesn’t lack shops. There are plenty of small delis run by Arabs that sell very cheap fruit and veggies, as well as cheap butchers – lacking some pork of course. There are a few bars and a couple of places worth spending your evenings in, namely the Botanique and Les Halles! In addition, both have a metro stop and buses and trams pass through these areas too. You don’t even need much transport as you’re quite close to the city centre, so walking is not an issue. Just keep in mind that not all of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode is great. Even if it’s small, some areas are dodgy especially if you’re a girl. Nothing too dangerous, but not too pleasant either: men wolf-whistling or harassing you on the street late at night.
In general: Ixelles and Etterbeek are ‘good’ communes with differences in transport links, vibe and shops depending on the exact area, and they are both quite big. Saint Gilles depends on the exact area, I’ve seen some places I wouldn’t want to live in for free. The centre is quite touristy, but again it really depends exactly where, there a few street corners I’d love to live in. The area around Midi Station is not recommended in general and I’d be very selective in Schaerbeek if I were you. The other communes I must be honest I don’t know well enough to suggest or not suggest them. Some of them, like Woluwe Saint Pierre, are further from the centre and mainly residential which makes them quieter.
There are many very active channels where you can do your house hunting, but depending on what you’re looking for I’ll advise different ones.
I personally found my first studio through Immoweb, a free portal with different search options. There’s a huge offer of both furnished and unfurnished apartments, but watch out for agencies – unless you want one – as many ads are managed by them. You can also find some ads for rooms, but I never found these very appealing.
One of the most used portals for house sharing is Appartager. Like the name suggests, it is mainly aimed at students/young workers who are looking for a room in a shared apartment. I personally am no fan of this site as it has a weird system for which at least you or the person publishing the ad has to be full member of the website (paying a small fee) to really have the chance to ask for more information and get in contact. Naturally there are ways around it, but I just find it too time consuming.
I would instead recommend a Facebook group (too bad if you don’t have Facebook!): BXL à louer which is especially active at the times of the year when students and/or trainees are finishing their time in Brussels (Aug-Sep/Feb-Mar). Sometimes it is hard to keep up with all the posts and not all the members are reliable, but it’s a very dynamic and varied source of information. There are also plenty of ads for studios and small apartments for one person or couples.
Maybe you know Craigslist from previous experience? Well, of course Brussels has its own version, but I must say, it doesn’t seem to be that well-used. Others will suggest plenty of other websites, but my advice is to pick one or two and stick with them if you like them, otherwise it becomes too time consuming and you’ll be drowned in information.
Remember that in Brussels people still put out ads on the apartment door, so if you have a favourite area you want to move to, you can also have a walk around and keep an eye open for the ‘à louer/te huur’ ads.
Let’s hit a nerve, how much will your stay in Brussels cost you? Well, apparently things have changed in the last few years and Brussels has become more and more expensive. Naturally it depends quite a lot if you decide to rent a room in a shared house or if you look for a studio to live on your own.
If you’re a couple it’s reasonably easy to find a cosy apartment for €700-800. Some studios can be cheap, from €450, but it really depends on the area and on your requirements. For example, often studios don’t have a washing machine or a proper oven.
Decent rooms in shared houses can be found from €300, but the best ones are more around €450-500. Usually the price of the rent in Brussels includes the rent and the common charges (heating, water, building maintenance and garbage) while electricity and internet are often separate (sometimes gas too).