Brussels for beginners
As a tourist on a visit to Brussels, you share the city with its locals. Therefore, it is only right to try to blend in, get acquainted with the local customs and habits, and understand the peculiarities that give the metropole its unique vibe.
Belgium is a small country with a lot of cars. When on the road, you might get stuck in traffic quite frequently. In the city centre, the many traffic lights, the pedestrian zones and the lack of affordable parking spots make it unattractive to move by car. In the suburbs, the big ring road is home to many a traffic jam as well, especially in the morning and around 5pm. An easy way to avoid getting stuck is to opt for public transport. Train, metro and tram are ideal, but also the buses and taxis can save you time as they have priority on the highways. Note that services like Uber do not offer this benefit.
The Brussels Capital Region is a low emission zone. Check on lez.brussels if your car is still allowed to enter the city and its suburbs.
Tipping? Don’t! Service is always included on your bill in Belgium. In a more up-market establishment, you might want to simply round up the total. Otherwise, you only tip if the service or food was really extraordinary.
Being late? Don’t! Belgians are quite punctual, and they will expect the same from you. If you have a reservation or an appointment, try to arrive on time. If you arrive over 15 minutes late without notifying the other person, it is considered very rude. Ironically, public transport in Belgium is often far from punctual, so if you arrive five minutes late at the station, chances are you can still catch your train.
Smoking? Do – where appropriate! Belgium is not a country of smokers. As such, you can hardly ever smoke inside. Restaurants, bars and other public places are strictly off limits. Some establishments might have designated smoking areas, but waiters are not allowed to serve food there, so you’ll have to pick up your plates and drinks at the bar.
Hopefully, once back home, you’ll find that reading this part turned out to be a complete waste of time. Yet, should something go wrong during your stay in Brussels, you’d better know where to go for help.
Like in the rest of continental Europe, the general emergency number is 112. If you call this line, they can help you in Dutch, French, German or English. For ambulance, police or the fire brigade, this is the number to call. Regarding moderately urgent health issues, you can go to the nearest doctor or hospital. On evenings, weekends or public holidays, you can consult the on-duty doctor (find out which on gbbw.be). A general consultation with a doctor will cost you about €25. If tests or procedures have to be done, this can be more expensive. If you have an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card), you’ll be refunded the difference between what you’ve paid and what you would have paid for the same procedure in your home EU country. As a European citizen, having private travel insurance is not strictly required when visiting Belgium.
Belgium has both a federal and a local police force. The former, you will only meet when at the airport. The latter is divided into 185 jurisdictions, each with a proper office. If you need police assistance in the city of Brussels, you can find their office close to Grand Place (Rue du Marché au Charbon 30).
If your passport gets stolen or for any other reason you need to reach your country’s authorities, you can head to the British (Avenue d’Auderghem 10) or American consulate (Boulevard du Régent 27). Most other nations have a consulate or embassy in the European capital as well.
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