Where to live in Brussels - the Best Neighborhoods to Live in Brussels
Thinking about moving to Brussels? Hunting for the best Brussels neighborhoods for expats?
Famous for frites, politics and the world’s best beer (sorry Germany), Brussels is the political epicenter of the EU, making it a massively popular relocation hub for expats from around the world.
Get this – around 1 in 3 of Brussels’ residents is thought to be non-Belgian, so it’s one of the most multicultural, expat-heavy places on the planet.
For families and young professionals, Brussels is a massively popular choice for a relocation. It doesn’t quite offer the latte-laden, avocado-packed edge and excitement of bohemian cities like Amsterdam and Berlin, but it offers great job opportunities, excellent schools and a fantastic quality of life. And because of its relatively-compact proportions, it’s a very explorable city.
But don’t let Brussels’ allegedly-sensible reputation put you off – the city is way more fun than most people realize. If you know where to look, you can find endless excitement and adventure in Brussels. And luckily for you, we know exactly where to look.
In our simple guide to Brussels’ different neighborhoods, we’ve brought you details on the ten best districts to live, along with information on their most exciting, appealing and fun features. If you don’t know where to live in Brussels, you will soon.
Brussels is divided into 19 separate districts, which are known to locals as ‘communes’. For most of us, that word conjures up images of half-homeless bohemians living in a cute little community together. But that’s not the case in Belgium. So when someone asks which Brussels commune you’re going to be living in, don’t worry: they’re not trying to get you to join their cult.
We’ve included insights and information on the best districts in Brussels for students, families, young professionals, hipsters and expats of all other descriptions. If you’re moving to Brussels on a budget, we’ve included some of the most affordable districts in Brussels too.
Throughout this guide, we’ve used the words district, commune and neighborhood interchangeably, so don’t let that confuse you.
Here are the best districts in Brussels for expats:
- Brussels City Center
- Watermael-Boitsfort and Uccle
- Woluwe Saint Pierre and Woluwe Saint Lambert
- The European District
No matter why you’re moving to Brussels, and no matter who you are, we’ve got the perfect Brussels neighborhood for you.
1. Brussels City Center
Best for: residing right in the heart of Brussels, and experiencing the city like a tourist
Brussels city center (or Brussels Ville) is in truth a sprawling district which partially spans almost the entire length of the city and its outskirts.
But when most people refer to the city center, they’re not really referring to this entire area. Instead, they’re referring to the very center, or the historic center, or the old town, whatever you want to call it.
This area of Brussels is where the vast majority of tourists spend the vast majority of their time. Though its boundaries aren’t fully defined, it’s the area which incorporates most of the big tourist sites, such as Manneken Pis, the Grand Place, Parc de Bruxelles, the Royal Palace and endless museums and churches. It’s packed with charm, excellent architecture and lots of brilliant nightlife.
If you want to party, meet travelers, and live like a long-term tourist, this is of course one of the best neighborhoods in Brussels. A serviced apartment in Brussels City city center is an excellent idea if you’re only going to be around for a few months.
That said, it’s busy, bustling, packed with traffic and always full of tourists. For families, budgeters and long-term stays, you’re better off moving to another Brussels commune.
Best for: hipsters, young expats and constant excitement
Southeast of the city center is Ixelles. In some parts of Ixelles, prices have soared, attracting and alluring some of the city’s richer residents.
But most of Ixelles is home to hipster areas, brimming with trendy events, eateries and venues, packed every night with the artiest and edgiest residents in Brussels.
Ixelles is lively, trendy and fun, and there’s always something weird and interesting to do. Brussels has an unfair reputation as being the boring older uncle of Europe, but spend five minutes in Ixelles, and you’ll see why that reputation is completely unfair and unfounded. For any bonky bohemians, Ixelles is one of the best neighborhoods to live in Brussels.
It’s also a pretty diverse place to live, with a multinational population from all over the world. If you want to make friends with a diverse cast of people, consider living in Ixelles. You’ll find endless expats, a large student population, and Brussels’ excellent African Quarter.
Because Ixelles is packed with so much frantic fun, it’s one of the best districts in Brussels for students
Best for: hipsters, fun events and expats seeking a cheaper version of Ixelles
To the west of Ixelles is Saint-Gilles, one of the most exciting emerging districts in Brussels. The atmosphere here is pretty similar to what you get in Ixelles, but without some of the needlessly-high prices.
One of the real highlights of Saint-Gilles is that it’s like a physical embodiment of a compromise. It’s pretty central, pretty affordable, pretty trendy, pretty hip, pretty fun and pretty close to all the other must-visit Brussels districts. In short, there aren’t many people who wouldn’t enjoy living in Saint-Gilles.
The nightlife is great, the hangouts are trendy, and some of the architecture here is stunning, with striking art deco buildings lurking on every corner. There’s also a large expat population along with lots of excellent venues and events.
Fun, dynamic and quirky, Saint-Gilles is an excellent place to live, and, surprisingly, it’s one of the most affordable districts in Brussels.
Best for: affordable prices, multicultural friends, lots of expats and a central location
One of the most densely-populated communes in Brussels, Schaerbeek is north of the city center, but still offers a great location.
We’ve already discussed how brilliantly multicultural Brussels is. And in Schaerbeek, you’ll feel it, which has a population of around 130,00 people, made up of residents from around 140 countries. You’ll find expats here from all over the world, and with a steady stream of newcomers, you’ll always be making new friends.
Artistic, entrepreneurial and multifaceted, Schaerbeek is like a little community of its own, with a great network of friendly locals and expats.
The atmosphere in Schaerbeek is busy and vibrant, but it’s easy to escape the madness via many of the commune’s green spaces and tucked-away cafes and eateries.To the northwest of Schaerbeek is Parc de Laeken, one of the prettiest green spaces in Brussels.
One of Schaerbeek’s biggest draws is its excellent and affordable housing – it’s one of the most affordable districts in Brussels.
Just south of Schaerbeek, between Schaerbeek and the city center, is the diminutive commune of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode. Though it’s busy, dense and a little dirty, it’s often a decent option for Brussels newcomers who want a short-term place to live while they find a better long-term solution.
Best for: families, schools, job hunters, and inner-city suburbia
Quiet, peaceful and perfect for families, Etterbeek is probably the best residential district in Brussels. Southeast of the city center and east of Ixelles, Etterbeek is packed with families, expats and young professionals.
Etterbeek has three excellent international schools on its perimeter: Brussels International Catholic School, European School of Brussels 3 and Montgomery Bilingual School. Combine this with good job opportunities, affordable living, a central location, good house prices and excellent public transport links, and this is one of Europe’s best inner-city suburbs for raising a family.
Because of all these factors, lots of new international arrivals choose to live in Etterbeek, making it a great place for feeling at home. And because it’s close to the European District (where many expats work), it’s excellently-located for a charming stroll to work.
Aside from all the conveniences, Etterbeek is also a pleasant place to live. You get great stores, beautiful architecture, charming townhouses and cosmopolitan cultural venues. In short, Etterbeek offers great family living at a great price.
6. Watermael-Boitsfort and Uccle
Best for: outdoor adventures, vast green spaces, great schools and family life
These two districts are two of the biggest in Brussels, so it seems a little unfair to group them together. But that’s what we’ve done anyway, since they border one another (and since they’re pretty similar to one another). South of the city center and bordering the outskirts, these two residential areas are great for schools and green spaces, and they both offer a great compromise between relative centrality and outskirt suburbia. They’re two of the best districts in Brussels for families.
Watermael-Boitsfort is the greener of these two communes (and one of the greenest districts in the whole of Brussels), as almost 60% of the commune is covered by the leafy and languid Sonian Forest. It’s also home to Bois de la Cambre, one of the best big-city parks in western Europe. Also located in Watermael-Boitsfort is The International School of Brussels, one of the best international schools in the city.
Uccle, the western neighbor of Watermael-Boitsfort, is a little more residential and upmarket, and it’s a little like a retro village. With large houses, ornate architecture, quaint storefronts and leafy streets, it’s cosy, homely and welcoming. Again, there are great green spaces here, but they do come at a price, as Uccle is one of the most expensive districts in Brussels. One of the best schools in Uccle is Bogaerts International School, which has a great reputation.
For another district with a similar atmosphere, check out the sprawling southeastern commune of Tervuren, which has a similar vibe, even more green spaces, and proximity to lots of great schools.
7. Woluwe-Saint-Pierre and Woluwe-Saint-Lambert
Best for: families, homes with gardens and a life lived away from the city
Just like the previous entry, these two districts sit beside one another. East of the city center, they’re in some ways pretty similar to both Uccle and Watermael-Boitsfort, as they’re both green, upmarket, expansive and residential. Peaceful, quiet, pricey, and packed with large, gardened family homes, they’re two of the best districts in Brussels for families.
Here, you don’t get the intense nightlife and bustling atmosphere which you’ll find closer to the city center. But you’ll find everything you need for family fun, with great restaurants, swimming pools, an ice rink, parks, a sports center, a huge shopping center and lots of lakes and green spaces.
These two communes are well-suited to living a self-contained life. They have all the facilities and amenities you need, along with great job opportunities, lots of embassies and swathes of parking space (if you have a car). In short, both Woluwe-Saint-Pierre and Woluwe-Saint-Lambert are excellent choices for families who want a compromise between residential life and city living.
Again, both of these communes are pricey districts, so they’re only good options for families with bigger budgets.
8. The European District
Best for: lofty prices, EU jobs, European institutions and high-end friends
Also known as the European Quarter, this commune is east of the city center, north of Ixelles and northwest of Etterbeek. In short, it’s a little pocket of extravagance sitting astride and between lots of the city’s bigger districts.
The European District isn’t really an official commune, but it’s broadly considered to be the area which hosts lots of the important Euro-buildings in Brussels (and there are a lot of them).
Some of the most important buildings here include the Berlaymont, the Council of the European Union and lots of embassies, while you’ll also find exhibitions and installations on Europe at both the Parlamentarium and the House of European History.
Because the European District is a classy area packed with important buildings and workplaces, it’s a high-end neighborhood with lofty prices. If you’re going to be working for the EU (or in a related job) this is a great place to live, with good food, leafy streets and beautiful homes. But for most people, the soaring prices are prohibitively expensive.
That said, a serviced apartment in this part of Brussels is an incredible way to experience the city
Best for: young professionals, finding a job and close proximity to the airport
Lots of large companies set up their headquarters in Zaventem, making it one of the best neighborhoods in Brussels for getting a job and making some sweet, sweet cash. And because you’re close to the airport, it means you won’t have to travel far to fly away on business trips.
Headquarters you’ll find here include Europcar, DHL and NATO, along with lots of other excellent companies, both big and small. In a city renowned for its excellent job opportunities, this is one of the most fertile job regions of them all.
Zaventem is also a pretty good district for anyone who likes outdoor adventures. East of Brussels is Leuven, a beautiful (and underrated!) Flemish city. Between Leuven and Brussels, you have lots of flat, green land, perfect for picnics, fresh air, cycling and relaxing – and if you live in Zaventem, you’re well-situated for exploring it all.
But here’s some Zaventem honesty: it definitely isn’t the most exciting part of Brussels. If you’re interested in partying, nightlife and making lots of friends, don’t move here. But if you’re most interested in finding an excellent job (and not having to commute far to get to it), you’ll probably love living in Zaventem. For professionals with an eye on their career, Zaventem is one of the best districts in Brussels for expats.
Best for: affordable but central living, and experiencing the ‘real’ Brussels
If you’re interested in football, or soccer, or whatever you want to call it, you’ve probably heard of Anderlecht, the region which gives its name to the most famous team from Brussels (and arguably the most successful Belgian club team of all time)..
Don’t worry, that was just a detour – moving here doesn’t mean you have to kick a ball around all day.
But it does mean that you get to live in an excellent compromise of a district. West of the center, this expansive region stretches all the way from the city center to the great green spaces in Brussel’s western outskirts. The commune also has lots of lakes, parks and a cute little canal. If you want to live somewhere green but affordable, Anderlecht is an excellent option.
It’s also a good option if you like experiencing the alleged authenticity of wherever you’re living. Here, you won’t just be hanging around with expats – you’ll be mingling with lifelong locals who can show you what Brussels is really all about. You’ll experience authentic restaurants, bars and cafes, and you’ll get an excellent insight into Brussels, its places and its people.
Anderlecht is rapidly emerging as an exciting area to live, so get here before the prices do. It’s one of the most affordable districts in Brussels, but it won’t stay that way for much longer.