The Belgian climate is mild with cold, damp winters and warm summers and its capital is no exception. Rain is also a predominant feature of Belgium’s weather pattern. Winter in the city is a desolate affair with very short daylight hours and most people spend a great deal of their time indoors. The best time to visit is probably after April and before October when the weather is much improved with temperatures reaching the high eighties during June and July. Unfortunately, these also happen to be the wettest months so come prepared with some waterproof gear or you’re in for a pretty miserable time.
The principal languages spoken in Belgium are Flemish, French and German but English is also widely spoken particularly in the bigger cities including Brussels.
All that US, Canadian, or Australian residents require to visit Brussels for a period of up to ninety days is a valid passport. In some cases it is also advisable to have proof of a return ticket. Citizens of EU member states must present either an identity card issued by their home country or a current passport. Nationals of all other countries or anyone intending to work or study in Brussels should contact the Belgian consulate in your home country.
The time zone used in Belgium is Central European Time which is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. The country also uses daylight saving time which is in operation between 2.00am on the last Sunday in March and 2.00am on the last Sunday in October.
The currency used in Belgium is the Euro which is made up of 100 Cent. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, 0.50C, 0.20C, 0.10C, 0.05C, 0.02C and 0.01C.
There are two principal tourist offices located in the Belgian capital, the first is specifically for the city itself and the second deals with national information. The office for Tourist Information Brussels is located in the town hall on the Grand Place and it is open daily between 9.00am and 6.00pm. It is worth noting, however, that it does close at 2.00pm on Sundays from October to December and from January 1st until the end of February it does not open at all on Sundays.
The second of the two tourist offices is located at 63 Rue du Marché aux Herbes and it open daily from June to September between 9.00am and 7.00pm. At all other times it is open between 9.00am and 6.00pm from Monday to Saturday and from 1.00pm until 5.00pm on Sundays.
In order to receive the best exchange rate, you should change any foreign currency or traveller’s cheques in any of the city’s banks. You can also change it at the airport, city train stations and the various bureaux de change but the commission will be considerably higher. While you can use the Luxembourg Franc, you should use Belgian Francs while in the country. This also applies to traveller’s cheques but there are some stores which will now also accept the aforementioned in euros. To check, look for the ‘We accept the euro’ sign or a sticker with the euro symbol which is a yellow ‘€’ on a blue background. All major credit cards are also widely accepted and if you have the PIN you can also use these to receive cash in compatible bank machines. The same applies to bankcards which are members of any of the international banking networks or Eurocard.
The electricity used in Brussels is at 220 V, 50 Hz.
Value added tax in Belgium varies between 6% and 21% but non EU-nationals are entitled to a tax refund after leaving the country. In order to qualify you must get your invoice stamped at customs and return it to the shop by mail. The other alternative is shopping in any of the number of stores which display a ‘Tax Free for Tourists’ sign.
The principal post office in the city is located in the Centre Monnaie which you will find on Boulevard Anspach. It is open from Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 6.00pm and on Saturdays from 9.00am until 3.00pm. Sub-offices are generally open between 9.00am and 5.00pm although some remain open until 5.30pm or 6.00pm.
The service charge and tax is always included in your bill in Brussels. This can also be quite high in places so unless the service was exceptional do not feel obliged to tip. And if you do, 10% is sufficient.
The international calling code for Belgium is 32 and the area code for Brussels is 02. To dial from abroad you dial 00, followed by 32, the local area code 2 and the local number. If you wish to call abroad from Brussels, you dial 00, followed by the international calling code for your particular country, the local area code and then the local number. It is worth noting that you also need to drop the first zero from the local area code for both types of call.
Public telephones in the city accept either f5 and f20 coins or cards which come in denominations of f200, f500 and f1,000. These can be purchased in any of the post offices and in most newsagents. For international calls you should use Econophone cards which are much cheaper than the regular phonecards and these are available in various agents including Thomas Cook branches throughout the city.
Up until recently most businesses in Brussels closed for lunch, even today this is the case with some of the smaller shops. For the most part, however, shops open at 9.30am or 10.00am and remain open until 5.30pm or 6.00pm in the evening. Some of the bigger shops stay open later one night every week, usually on Fridays. Banks are generally open between 9.00am and 12.00pm and again from 2.00pm until 4.00pm from Monday to Friday. Some larger branches remain open during lunchtime and open on Saturday mornings to facilitate visitors to the city. It is worth noting that museums in the city do not open on Mondays and many are only open from April to September.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Belgium they take place on January 1st, Easter Monday, May 1st, Ascension Thursday, the first Monday in June, July 21st, August 15th, November 1st and 11th and December 25th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.