History, style and a healthy dash of irreverence – Brussels is one of Europe’s great capitals. You have everything here: a tightly knit medieval core, a stately new town perched up above, filled with sinuous art nouveau architecture; great museums and galleries; and, of course, a lifetime’s worth of beer. Its hotel scene is just as buzzing, whether you choose a fun theme or a sterling architectural conversion. If you’re on the hunt for a great place to stay in Brussels, check out this list before you book.
Trust Brussels to make a grande dame a little less stuffy: this may be a five-star hotel right next to the Grand Place, but it’s also somewhere you can try a gin and tonic flight – yes, a sample of three combos – at Bar A, before delighting in modern Italian food at Ristorante Bocconi. The rooms are far from uptight, with funky patterned headboards, colour-popping furniture and, from the Armand Blaton suite, a view over the Unesco-rated City Hall. Check out the works by great Belgian artists – including Magritte – that adorn the walls.
It’s not every day you get to stay in a national monument, and it’s even less likely that you’ll sleep in a love-nest accessed by a private footbridge. Both are on the cards, however, at this Brussels stay, situated just above the shops in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, the city’s stately, glass-roofed, 19th-century shopping mall. The owner is an interior designer and it shows – midcentury furniture comes straight from the antiques market at the Sablon, and the parquet floors and colourful bathroom tiles put you in the holiday mood. And that love-nest? It’s a duplex suite, tucked in the eaves of the gallery.
In hip Ixelles, among a mixture of art nouveau buildings, buzzy bars and brilliant independent shops, is this delightful hotel, which walks a perfect line between traditional and trendy. Those floral bathroom tiles? Done wrong, they’d look like your grandparents’ house but here, they’re part of a time capsule so perfect that it’ll have you dreaming of wood panelling and flouncy bedspreads long after you get home. Some even have terraces and balconies on which to soak up the Ixelles vibe.
Your shoulders will drop, as will your heart rate, the second you walk into this modern monastery, built on the site of an authentic 15th-century predecessor. Gregorian chants are piped through a lobby scented by flickering candles, meditative flames dance around the multiple fireplaces; drinks and breakfast, meanwhile, are served overlooking the cloister. Upstairs it’s all Cistercian chic, with monastic-print carpets, granite-style nightstands, and lamps doubling as bits of faux-gothic sculpture. If that doesn’t help you fully wind down, there’s always the minibar, which is free.
Don’t be put off by its B&B status; as the name suggests, this place will really teach you the art of staying well in Brussels. In a neoclassical building near the famous Manneken Pis statue, these rooms are a cut above your average B&B, with swish parquet floors and neutral palettes, plus funky feature walls. Owner Mario also whips up a mean breakfast.
Brussels hotels can be quite intimate, so if you prefer your own space, try these furnished suites and apartments, which look like anything but your standard apart-hotel. Scarlet walls, funky patterned wallpaper and duck-egg blue sofas are par for the course in this flamboyant turn-of-century building. You’re in the European quarter here, which means you’re near the best after-work bars, and close to the European House of History – one of the world’s greatest museums, it tells the story of the continent through its objects, starting with a bust of Aristotle and finishing with a Brexit badge.
Sassy as it looks, this has been a hotel since 1911, but it was gussied up a century later by a sympathetic sibling duo, who’ve added super-soft beds and pretty feature wallpaper. Some rooms overlook a leafy courtyard while others face onto the street, right in the middle of the art nouveau buildings on the outskirts of Châtelain, perhaps the loveliest, most laidback area of the new town. Breakfast is a treat, with locally made granola, cold cuts, and the moreish Sirop de Liège.
You want history? This place dates back to 1695; though that’s not where it started – the original building went up in the 14th century, before Louis XIV destroyed the area and it had to be rebuilt. Not that you need to worry about creaky pipes and bad infrastructure; it’s a thoroughly modern, luxury property these days, with all the discreet marble bathrooms and mole-coloured furnishings you’d expect from the 21st century. Some rooms even look over a pretty garden – a tranquil view if you had too much beer the night before.
No room is the same at the rabbit warren-y Zoom, spread over three wings – you might have a rib-squeezing ensuite corridor to a huge bathroom, a sprawl-worthy sofa or a particularly arty black and white photo of the city behind your bed. This is a place for lovers of 35mm film – there’s a display of old cameras in the lobby (which are for sale) and even the open wardrobes and bed frames are made of photoshoot scaffolding. The sweet breakfast area turns into a beer bar as soon as they’ve cleared away the buffet.
Here’s a real taste of Brussels magic: five rooms, each designed by a different artist, all outré enough to make you feel like the star of your own installation. Pick from Gerlando Infuso’s deliberately distressed, exposed-brick urban fantasy, Catalina Quezada Ortega’s surreal dream of a room, or if you’re feeling brave, David Bade’s bright yellow character-filled space, halfway between a hotel and a playroom. A mansion built for a factory owner in what was once called the “devil’s corner” of town, this place is gloriously quirky.
Everyone has an inner trainspotter, and this is the place to let it out: a load of old railway carriages cantilevered above the city on top of a century-old building. Choose from train-themed dorms and ensuite rooms in the main building or – because why else would you be here – plump for a real train cabin, either in a six-bunk dorm or a gloriously old-timey, wood-panelled suite, complete with ensuite bathroom and rooftop terrace. Those interiors you want to take home? They’ve all been upcycled, so have a rootle around the city’s flea market in the Place du Jeu de Balle if you feel inspired.
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