Dining is serious business in Belgium, where both the French and Flemish consider themselves serious gourmands. Besides enjoying the national dish, beer, which, in Belgium, is often dense enough to qualify as a full meal, eating out in Brussels leaves food snobs licking their lips, and famished travellers patting their bellies after a full day of sightseeing.
For quick eats, visitors should embrace humble street-side cafes, where Belgium waffles, chocolate, French fries and beer all make great snacks. The city's fine dining usually revolves around French cuisine, though mussels with chips, and the Flemish stew waterzooi, which translates to 'watery mess', are not to be missed (the latter certainly tastes better than it sounds).
Restaurants are generously sprinkled throughout the city's districts, but several fine dining clusters can be found close to de Broukere, and many options surround the Grand Place as well. A service charge is included in the bill, but great service is often rewarded.
Shopping in Brussels can almost be termed a sport, as a lot of the wealthy residents spend an awful lot of their time and money competing with each other for the best buys and designer goods. Fashion-conscious visitors should head down to the Boulevard de Waterloo area, Avenue Louise, where all the designer shops and boutiques can be found. Here, travellers can expect to see names such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Versace, Chanel and Bvlgari, to name a few. Speciality shops can be found in Rue Haute and Rue Blaes.
The Rue Neuve is the main pedestrian shopping street in Brussels. Shoppers who venture that way will find mostly international chain stores, while more original independent stores are located between the Grand Place and the Rue Lemonnier. The Westland Shopping Mall boasts around 140 shops and has all the usual big department stores and trendy stores, great for clothing, jewellery, books and more.
Most shops close at approximately 6pm during the week and at 7pm or 8pm on weekends. The sales tax is 21 percent and can be refunded to non-EU citizens by any of the shops affiliated to Global Refund Belgium. Shops that participate will issue a global refund cheque, which can be stamped at customs and cashed upon leaving the country.
Like a jazz rhythm that defines so much of the city's music, Brussels's nightlife is impromptu, at times schizophrenic, alternately relaxing and cool, or hot and fast. Although there are a host of choices for eclectic nightlife, the city after dark is often outshone by brighter and more vibrant European cities.
Most locals anchor the afternoon to the night with a pint or two of the city's world-famous beer. This is best done in one of the many Old World-style pubs or cafes dotted about the city, such as in Place Brouckere. These are more after-work meeting places, popular with all ages, than party destinations. A mellow evening can continue with jazz concerts in the many jazz clubs, or with theatre and dance shows.
An edgier side of Brussels herds late-night bar flies and club goers into eccentric themed venues. Rue du Marche au Charbon is a lively strip of bright bars. Upper-town clubs tend to be more trendy and expensive than lower-town, where a more casual clientele dances the night away to electronic beats. Renowned DJs frequent Brussels's clubs and a regular line-up of heavyweight bands play at the city's concert venues.